By Dawn Ius
In the dark and ominous world of noir fiction, most heroes are looking for a light at the end of the tunnel. But for Jersey Leo, the albino bartender in John Florio’s SUGAR POP MOON and BLIND MOON ALLEY, sunshine is something to be avoided.
“Typically, people enjoy warm summer days, but in Jersey’s case, a bright, shining sun only brings more problems,” Florio says. “His albinism pits him against convention.”
In fact, the National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation has documented the number of characters with albinism featured in pop culture, and with few exceptions, most are cast as the “evil bad guy.”
“When I started writing SUGAR POP MOON, I wanted to write about an outsider,” he says. “I considered a few options. But having a hero with albinism put a different spin on things—it added another set of conflicts, another layer of tension. Looking back, I guess it was a bit of a risk.”
The gamble paid off. After a successful run with SUGAR POP MOON, Seventh Street Books purchased BLIND MOON ALLEY based on its first chapter alone—a clear demonstration of the faith the publisher had in both the character and the world Florio had created.
Set in Philadelphia during Prohibition, BLIND MOON ALLEY finds Jersey “Snowball” Leo tending bar at a speakeasy the locals call the Ink Well. There, he’s considered a hero for saving the life of a young boy. But Jersey soon finds himself running from a band of crooked cops, hiding an escaped convict in the Ink Well, and reuniting with his grammar school crush—the now sultry Myra Banks, who has shed a club foot and become a speakeasy siren.
As with SUGAR POP MOON, the second Jersey Leo book brims with evocative description, high-stakes tension, a brilliant cast of secondary characters, and a generous scoop of musical references, perhaps the result of Florio’s classical piano training, or his experience scoring music for television and film productions.
“When I write, I try to picture each scene like a movie. Sometimes, I actually hear the scoring,” he says. “Sound can really enrich a scene, just like any other sensory detail.”
Florio first learned to write through his day job in advertising—and then added an MFA from the University of Southern Maine. When not writing crime novels, he works with his wife, Ouisie Shapiro, on non-fiction sports books. It is this team effort that brought about ONE PUNCH FROM THE PROMISED LAND, a dual biography of former boxing champions Leon and Michael Spinks.
Florio’s advertising background also gave him a leg up on the art of branding. One click through his website and you’re immediately drawn in.
“I know marketing is important because I’m an ad guy,” he says. “But for a writer, it’s more of a necessary evil. At the end of the day, readers don’t care about the book cover, they care about the writing inside.”
In addition to writing, Florio enjoys playing classical piano; he spends the rest of his free time watching old movies, reading, or experimenting in the kitchen while sipping a martini “garnished with a cucumber spear.”
BLIND MOON ALLEY is available August 2014 from Seventh Street Books. For more about John and his work, check out his website.
John Florio is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in print, on the web, and on television. He is the author of SUGAR POP MOON and BLIND MOON ALLEY—the first two Jersey Leo crime novels—and ONE PUNCH FROM THE PROMISED LAND: Leon Spinks, Michael Spinks, and the Myth of the Heavyweight Title. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife, Ouisie Shapiro.
Photography credit: Donna J. Pallotta