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Sopranos Star In Brooklyn to Open New Chapter In Career

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Aspiring goombas too young to watch the adult-themed “The Sopranos” can perfect their swagger by reading the latest book by one of the show’s stars. Steven Schirripa, who plays Bobby Bacala on the HBO hit, has just released his third literary venture – “Nicky Deuce: Welcome to the Family.” For grades four to six, the young adult novel, which Schirripa penned with Charles Fleming, is a kid-friendly introduction to the lifestyle of a goomba, which the actor describes as “a compadre. It’s a friend, it’s a homey.” Schirripa should know. He and Fleming previously joined forces to write “A Goomba’s Guide to Life” and “The Goomba’s Book of Love.” In “Nicky Deuce,” the book’s protagonist, Nicholas Borelli II, receives his own goomba education when he leaves his suburban New Jersey home to spend the summer living with relatives in Bensonhurst. Set to attend Camp Wannameka while his parents go on a cruise, Nicholas’ plans are derailed when a septic tank explodes at the campgrounds. Although they don’t want Nicholas spending time on the rough streets of Brooklyn, the 12-year-old’s parents have no choice but to leave him in the care of his Grandma Tutti and Uncle Frankie. Needless to say, Bensonhurst proves to be quite a culture shock for Nicholas. “He may as well have landed on Mars. He’s never experienced anything like that,” explained Schirripa, who grew up on Bay 11th Street. Upon arriving in the neighborhood wearing his pristine private school uniform and driven in a limo, Nicholas is dubbed “rich kid” by the t-shirt-and-jeans-clad tweens hanging out on his grandmother’s stoop. He is even taken aback by his grandmother’s traditional Italian meals of moist macaroni and roasted meats – back home in Jersey, Nicholas subsisted on a strict vegetarian menu of whole wheat pasta and organic tomato sauce. Hoping to help his nephew fit in, Uncle Frankie nicknames him Nicky Deuce and teachers him about the characteristics of a goomba – loyalty, friendship and respect. Believing stereotypes about Italian-Americans living in Bensonhurst – all men who talk the talk must be gangsters – Nicholas suspects that his uncle is moonlighting for the mob. “We kind of hit that stereotype on the head,” Schirripa, 48, said. “Just because guys grow up in Brooklyn and are kind of rough and tough guys, doesn’t mean they’re criminals.” Although he believes the mobster lifestyle is nothing to admire, Nicholas quickly befriends the neighborhood troublemaker, Tommy, and the two begin spending fake $20 bills for a gangster, shoplifting candy from the local corner store, delivering suspicious packages for shady characters, and quoting Robert “You talkin’ to me?” De Niro when fighting with other kids. “He gets himself into some mischief and some trouble,” Schirripa said. After crossing the wrong made guy, Nicholas turns to his family to set him on the right path. Schirripa, who wrote “Nicky Deuce” for his two young daughters, wants kids reading the book to realize that no one is perfect. “We all screw up. He makes mistakes in the book,” the author said. However, “If you have a good heart, are a good guy, and have a good soul, it will all turn out okay.” Not all of Nicholas’ antics involve the gangster lifestyle. He often gets in trouble the old-fashioned way. In one scene, he and Tommy feed their culinary cravings by stealing a juicy steak from a neighbor’s barbeque in a rather clever manner. When the unsuspecting neighbor leaves the fire in search of condiments, the sneaky pair attaches a fork to a broom with duct tape then hoists the device over a fence and quickly swipes the steak. Although it might seem like an act of fantasy, this scene was based on reality. “There was a neighbor of mine who wasn’t very nice. He had a barbeque with a big steak on it. My friend and myself got my mother’s broom, we taped a big fork to it, and we put it over the fence and we got it,” Schirripa recalled. Many of the characters in “Nicky Deuce” were inspired by people Schirripa encountered when growing up in Brooklyn. “Bensonhurst and Brooklyn have a lot of real characters,” he said. “There’s a character named Nutty in the book and there was a character in my neighborhood who would dress up as different things – some days he was a cop or baseball player, some days he was a businessman.” All of these people have provided great material for Schirripa. “I write what I know about. This is the world that I come from,” he said. “I’m not going to write about something in Minnesota.” Through the book, Schirripa wanted to bring the Italian-American culture of old-school Bensonhurst back to life. “The book takes place now but it really was Brooklyn of the 60s and 70s when I grew up,” he said. Although he now lives in downtown Manhattan, Schirripa remains connected to the borough where he was raised. “I just ate at Spumoni Gardens today. It’s my favorite pizza in all of the country,” he said. “I walked on the boardwalk in Coney Island for an hour and a half then ate a slice of pizza and two meatballs.” Schirripa credits “The Sopranos” for not only helping him build a loyal fan base, but giving him an opportunity to explore his other interests, namely writing. “‘The Sopranos’ is one of the greatest shows in TV history and it’s going to be a big part of pop culture for years to come,” he said. “Because I’m on the show, it gives me a chance to do other things. I would never have had a book published if I wasn’t on the show.” His cast mates have been supportive of his foray into writing and enjoyed reading “Nicky Deuce.” “I gave them out,” Schirripa said of the book. “They liked it.” Then he added with a laugh, “The ones that could read liked it.” Published by Delacorte Press, “Nicky Deuce: Welcome to the Family” is priced at $10.85 on www.amazon.com. It is also available wherever books are sold. For more information about Schirripa, log onto www.stevenrschirripa.com.

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