An Interview with Mark Winegardner
When did you first read The Godfather?
When I was about 12. Like a lot or kids who grow up to be writers, I started reading books meant for adults looking for the dirty parts. I had good reason to believe there might be worthwhile moments there. When I heard Random House was looking for an author, I read it again with new appreciation.
Why did you want to write it?
I feel like my entire body of work has been about the mythology of America, and this book fits squarely within that. It's a magnificent opportunity to write about characters that people already know and are invested in, and in some ways, it's as big a thrill as if I were writing about Jesse James or Abraham Lincoln. Particularly when I saw how much more story there was to be told, and how little The Godfather had touched on the glory years of the mob in the late 1950's, I was thrilled to have the chance to take a whack at all of that.
Are you nervous about what the reaction will be?
I've been writing almost every day of my life for the past twenty years, and it's a wonderful thing to be the author of a book people are waiting for, whether they're sharpening their knives for it or drooling for it. A lot of writers are working away, saying, "Who will ever read this? Who will ever publish this?" The book will come out and either people will like it or not, but it's going to be read, and I'll move on and write other books after this one. There's no down side.
Is this a sequel to the novel or the movies?
The novel, definitely. Mario Puzo's book ends in 1955. The Godfather Returns will cover the period from 1955 to 1965.
But what about The Godfather II? Isn't there some overlap?
The parts that weren't in Mario Puzo's novel covered only one year, 1958-1959. A lot of other wicked things were going on that can only be revealed now. I don't address events in the films that aren't in the novel, but I don't contradict them, either. Everything fits together, and I hope readers will be surprised to discover some of these unexplored avenues. It turns out there's a lot we didn't know about the Corleone family.
Sorry. I must obey the laws of omerta.
You're a creative writing professor and you're not Italian. Are you qualified to be writing about the Mafia?
I'm not Sicilian, it's true. Not even Italian-American. I'm just a novelist with a vision of how to continue this American saga. I understand I am, however, German-Irish, same as Tom Hagen. And he did just fine in this world.
What would you like the book to accomplish?
I want it to be a good book, first and foremost. I was always impressed with the way Random House approached this book that they always seemed quite interested in this not being any kind of publishing gimmick, but a good, literary, page-turner, and I want it to be that. All things being equal, an author shouldn't think too deeply about the thematics of his own book. I'm out to write the best book humanly possible.
Why has The Godfather become an American myth?
A lot of people have pointed out the story of this family in particular and the mob in general has superceded the western as the core American mythological story. It's something that in my last two novels I was circling around, and I'm glad to have a chance to come in this time for the kill.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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