Executive Hoodlum follows the true life story of John Costello where he uses his harsh upbringing to move up the corporate world. What inspired you to put your story into a book?
Ultimately there were three reasons I wrote the book:
1. I wanted to pass on the story to my kids so they have an appreciation of their legacy. Why they enjoy certain privileges, and to make certain they remain humble knowing the sacrifices that sometimes need to be made to succeed in life and for the next generation.
2. As a volunteer boxing trainer for under-privileges kids I was able to give something back to my community. It was personally rewarding to me so I wanted to give something back in a bigger way. That is to reach a larger audience of would be under dogs to demonstrate they have the opportunity to succeed no matter what the circumstances.
3. I wanted to relieve the burden of my own guilt pertaining to the last words I spoke to my mother before she died. Those words haunted me for decades. I never reconciled my differences with my father prior to his death either. We were at terrible odds as usual but he was alive long enough to make an attempt at reconciliation but chose not to, not with me anyway. Consequently I do not carry the same guilt as with my mother. I did write most of the book and long overseas plane trips and found myself crying writing a couple chapters. Now that the truth is out there, I somehow feel better.
A little background will put the situation into better perspective:
Best Selling author Larry Elder is the one who put the book idea in my head as he is a friend for about ten years. In fact, he was originally going to be my ghost writer. However, it was decided the book had to be in my words due to my slang and other vernacular to be authentic. With my busy work schedule, I was going to drop the whole thing. Problem being, I hate to start something and not finish. Technically Larry inspired me to write as he brought up the original deal as described in my acknowledgements. Prior to beginning the effort in earnest, I contemplated the above three reasons.
Note – I never intended on writing a book because I would have to relive things in my life I was successful in suppressing. However, age and maturity helped me become more open with my early family life.
Additionally, there are individuals in Chicago, New York and New Jersey that I did not want to have to deal with when it comes to some of the content. These are friends I have maintained and kept in contact over many years. I personally spoke to each person, mob boss, made guy, associate and the outlaw biker leaders individually to let them know my intention. To my surprise, to a person they noted they respected my street savvy enough to give the thumbs up.
The characters in this book were well developed and interesting. How close did you stay true to real events and what did you take liberties with?
Thankfully, I did not have to manufacture any drama. The one upside to being born a Costello!
I took no liberties because my street and business credibility are important to me. I played down certain events due to statute of limitation consideration. Most of what is in my book can be authenticated via documents I kept (murder investigations, police reports, death certificates, pictures,letters. newsreels and other documents I collected when fact checking. Additionally, there are third parties I contacted that were with me during certain events I consulted to make certain my recollections were as accurate as possible)
I’m not a big fan of fiction. Truth and authenticity are of utmost importance. This stems from certain things I know that have been portrayed in both books and movies about people I personally know or knew, that were embellished.
John finds himself surrounded by constant turmoil with gangs, members of the underworld, murder, suicide, and drug addiction. What was the hardest thing for you to write about?
The ugly truth of my own family, especially the circumstances of deaths of my mother, brother and cousin.
What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?
There are many entertaining stories I was reminded of by friends I did not include in this book. Consequently, there may be a part two.
Meet John Costello, Vice President of Business Development and Government Relations for Microsemi Corporation, a $6 billion leader in the advanced-semiconductor market. Well known and respected in the industry, John Costello graduated from college in 1983 with a degree in Business Administration. John’s social circle includes high-level corporate executives, politicians, military leaders and movie stars. As a young boy he played Little League baseball and Pop Warner football, and went on to become an outstanding track and cross-country runner in high school, captain of his college rowing team, and an accomplished boxer in the Golden Gloves and other tournaments. With this wholesome All-American resumé, most would think that John Costello emerged from a solid middle-class family with all the usual privileges pertaining – though nothing could be further from the truth. Costello was born into a working-class neighborhood on Chicago’s north side and grew up under quite difficult conditions. His father was a talented Italian tenor with mob connections and a proclivity for violence; his mother, the daughter of an Irish street cop, was a straight-laced Catholic girl till she took to the bottle after falling victim to that violence. Surrounded by constant turmoil and hardship involving gangs, members of the underworld, murder, suicide, drug addiction as well as physical and emotional abuse, John eventually transcended his circumstances to obtain a higher education and pursue a profitable career that entailed all the perks of an executive lifestyle inclusive of the Hollywood party circuit.
Readers who might enjoy this book are those interested in true-crime stories, mob activity, murder and mayhem, as well as anyone seeking a no-holds-barred story that describes the resilience of the human spirit. Spiced with wit and humor and distinguished by the inimitable voice of tough-talking John Costello, his story touches our hearts while keeping us on the edge of our seats.
Other comparable books include The Truthbook: A Memoir by Joy Castro, which describes a similar childhood fraught with abuse and dysfunction. The theme of destructive behavior and personal downward spiral in the fight game and mobster milieu is also taken up in Raging Bull by Jake La Motta. Then there is the true-crime and gangster activity to be found in Family Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob by Jeff Coen, as well as in The Neighborhood Outfit: Organized Crime in Chicago Heights by Matthew Luzi. All these works taken together give some idea of the scope of John Costello’s life as recounted in his own book.
And that is what makes our book “unique” – John Costello’s life is unique. It has been a strange blend of two distinct worlds, but with one foot firmly emplaced in each. The fact that he is comfortable meeting with Senator John McCain in the morning to discuss government business, and can then enjoy the company of old friends from the streets of Chicago in the evening, is indicative of his parallel lives and will certainly be something readers find highly intriguing. We have an extensive collection of family photos, newspaper clippings, death certificates, court papers, and other supporting documentation for all claims made, as well as music recordings and video that would introduce the amazing voice of Johnny’s father to a whole new generation.
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Einstein’s Fiddle begins with a man abandoning his child on a doorstep of a stranger’s home; the rest of the novel seeks to reveal and understand this man. What was the inspiration for the setup to this emotional novel?
Like my first novel (A History of the World), Einstein’s Fiddle began as a short story. The story form was abandoned quickly – perforce, as soon as Davy abandoned Mitchell. The inspiration for the setup was a simple disturbing question that presented itself: What if someone – no, not just someone – a dad – left his baby boy on a doorstep? The image that first came to mind was of the proverbial unwed mother from earlier decades in this country – desperate, ashamed, alone, afraid, and apparently out of options. The obvious second question followed hard upon the first: why would any person – at least any loving father – do such a thing? And these were questions that led quickly to others – questions of personality, motivation and experience – and my poor powers certainly could not answer them, or sufficiently illuminate the depths of such a father (Davy Calhoun), in a short story.
Davy Calhoun is a multilayered character that is deftly developed. What were the driving ideals behind the characters development throughout the story?
The relationship between fathers and sons has been at the heart of my writing from the beginning. It was there in my early stories and my first novel, and it is at the center of Einstein’s Fiddle. The desire for his (or her) father’s love, approval, guidance and acceptance is deep in every child’s heart from the first breath. It is a ‘natural’ yearning and part of each one of us because God put it there. I wanted Davy Calhoun to be a character with whom we all (if we are honest about it) share common ground; and of course – like each of us – he has his own story, his own unique experience and narrative, which I hope makes the book singular and engaging. There are a number of fathers in the novel, all of them flawed and fallen in his own ways – and one particularly outstanding in his degree of fallenness; but my ‘ideal’ father in Davy’s story is the dad in Jesus’ story about The Prodigal Son, a parable which one of the characters in the book’s third section relates to Davy. Perhaps the one ‘driving ideal’ behind Davy’s development is best summed up by something a friend of mine has said more than once: “Love is the most powerful force in the universe – just largely untried.”
It’s hard to not get emotional when reading Einstein’s Fiddle. Did you pull anything from real life or personal experience to use in this novel?
I spent time in all the places where the narrative unfolds – Charlottesville, Washington, D.C., Chicago and San Francisco – and I used a lot of my experiences of those places (and the places within those places) in the book. As I imagine any author does, I created whole characters with pieces of people I know or have known. Whenever it worked well in the narrative, I used – call it stole, if you like – real-life stories that friends have shared with me over the years. In the last section, when Davy is in San Francisco, there is a scene near Pier 39, which completely replicates something that happened to a good friend of mine in New Jersey. It was a wonderful gift to me, and I gave it joyfully to everyone who reads Einstein’s Fiddle.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
The working title is Thomas, but that could change in an instant. I expect it to be much shorter than Fiddle…but that could change too. I don’t want to say much about it right now, except that it is about a life-changing relationship between a white doctor in Charleston, South Carolina, and the black man he hires to build a stable for his horses. You can safely bet that there will be fathers and sons in this book too…. I hope it will be available in a year or so. I’ve begun to work on it in my head, but I have yet to write the first word.
What kind of man leaves the infant son he loves on a doorstep in a strange town and drives away? With its present set in the summer of 1985 and its past reaching from 1950 to 1974, Einstein’s Fiddle is a dramatic examination of Davy Calhoun’s journey from home to the far country and back. The language and landscape of the novel vary between the existential and familial, tragic and comic, as the non-linear narrative – by turns realistic, lyrical, magical – focuses fearlessly on Davy’s fall, dishonor and redemption.
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The Diary of Hakim Jones is a fascinating character story about the obstacles a person faces when growing up in the inner city. What was your inspiration for the character and stories in the novel?
The Diary of Hakim Jones is basically my life story with some fiction added. Most of these experiences I write about in this book are based upon similar experiences I have been through in my life. I hope to inspire the young men and women in our urban areas to never give up on their goals no matter how hard the road ahead may seem and I also hope to make those who are not familiar with the inner cities aware of the many hardships and struggles that go on in communities where the educational system has failed, along with a depleted economic system, and the loss of just basic family and community values.
This story is about a boy growing up in Newark, NJ. The background for the story I felt was well done. How are you familiar with Newark and New Jersey?
I grew up in Newark NJ and still live their today. I am also an employee for the city of Newark. I believe readers who have grown up in the inner cities around the country can relate to my book.
This story is told in a diary format. Why did you choose to tell the story in this format? How did that play into your development of the character?
The story is written in diary form because at first I was just writing down random events that had taken place in my life. But then I thought to myself, why not write the book in a diary (format) so that I could make it possible for readers (to feel like) they are watching a movie while reading my book.
What is the next book that your fans can expect to see from you and when is that coming out?
I want to try something a little different for my next novel. I was thinking about a possible inner city horror story. As a writer I want to be able to diversify my books so I can appeal to a wide range of readers. I have already started working on it so hopefully it will be done within the next year
Life in the hood is tough; violence and drugs are everyday realities, and motivation to change can be hard to come by. The Diary of Hakim Jones is a gritty story of a young man who grew up in one of the most violent neighborhoods in America, but he finds out that through vision and perseverance, he can escape to a different life, one he would never have dreamed possible. Enlightening and inspiring for all readers, The Diary of Hakim Jones is especially meaningful to anyone who grew up in a rough environment, showing that a good work ethic and the will to succeed can break through seemingly impossible barriers. Realistic, motivational, and hard-hitting, this true-to-life novel will inspire you to see past your limitations.
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The Diary of Hakim Jones by Joseph Khalid Massenburg is a fictional tale of a young man’s childhood in one of America’s most violent neighborhoods, Newark, NJ. Through trial and error he discovers that with determination and dedication, he can turn life around and successfully achieve a dream he never thought possible.
This is a story of hardship and struggle. It is an interesting tale of transcending one’s hardships. The main character experiences the flaws in human nature throughout his life. It is told through a diary like set up, as if the main character was reflecting on his past life, where he had been and where he is going. The entries spanned different times in the narrator’s life from childhood/teenage years, his career as a cop, and his career as a journalist. The tone and style is set as a conversation, as if the reader is sitting with the narrator listening to him daze off thinking about the past.
There are several grammatical errors throughout the story ranging from capitalization, missing or wrong words, spelling errors, to verb tense and spacing. I’m unsure if this was done intentionally, but the magnitude of these errors made it difficult to understand what was being said. There didn’t seem to be an organized sequence of time; each entry jumps around rather than focusing on specific things. While the random feel of the entries make it a little harder to read, it feels more realistic. Not many people reflect on their past in a specific timeline.
Some entries seemed to tell the same story but with different word choices, but this could be because different stories overlap one another. Some things in the story were shocking, such as an entry where the narrator describes a time when he realized a woman he had relations with turned out to be his niece from a half sister he never knew about. It felt unrealistic, even though things like that occasionally do happen. The narrator speaks at length about learning lessons from life experiences, and even learning from other people’s life experiences like family members making the wrong choices.
The book has some downfalls but at it’s core is an inspirational tale that gives hope to those facing the same struggles. It provides wisdom and sage knowledge gained through experience. In The Diary of Hakim Jones the main character looks back on his life and adds reflective commentary and helpful insights such as “in order to move forward successfully a positive attitude and mind set is vital.” Statements like these stick with a reader more than a writer describing how they overcame their hardships. Throughout the story I enjoyed the narrators commentary on regrets he had in life and wishing he could do something different.
If the grammatical errors were corrected I would recommend this book to anyone, not just those residing in an inner city. It has something that everyone could benefit from.
Pages: 188 | ASIN: B00ZW4JIQ6