MANCHESTER, N.H., May 19, 2015 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- They both did work for New York crime families, but that isn't what brought them together. "Well, he's eleven years younger than me," said Charlie Stella about James Guiliani. "So we kind of missed each other."
Nor was it the Brooklyn veterinarian whom both men patronize by sheer coincidence. "Rigoletto is a 14-year-old Bichon Frisé, blind and deaf and diabetic," Stella said. "I call him my $30,000 dog, when I figure in the vet bills." Guiliani's tab would be higher, with the scores of dogs and cats he has brought there.
Instead it was the memoir Guiliani was trying to write for the Da Capo Press—the story of how this Gambino family enforcer, dealing drugs and sticking people up as sidelines, and with two years in prison on his record, came across an abandoned Shih Tzu pup, sick and crawling with maggots, and how the gangster then turned his life around.
Guiliani saved that dog he named Bruno. Then he started scooping up other lost cats and dogs, nursing them back to health and finding homes for them. Finally—with his girlfriend, Lena Perelli—Guiliani opened up a legitimate business: the Diamond Collar, a pet store and grooming salon in Brooklyn's Dyker Heights.
By 2014, the Diamond Collar was also a reality TV show. The show of the same name premiered that January on Oprah Winfrey's OWN network and starred Guiliani and Perelli as they struggled to keep the business afloat while they also went about saving homeless pets.
The series lasted only a season, but is in widespread syndication, and a book deal was the next logical step. But finding a co-author for Guiliani proved to be a problem.
"They had already been through four or five writers by the time I spoke with Jeff Kleinman," said Stella. "Guiliani didn't feel like any of the writers had gotten his street voice right."
Guiliani had signed with the Folio Literary Agency, and Folio's Jeff Kleinman was also a member of the board of Southern New Hampshire University's low-residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction program. In 2013 Stella was a student in that program, working on his own memoir about growing up in Brooklyn, and when Kleinman heard Stella read aloud from his manuscript, he knew he had someone who could capture Guiliani's voice.
Kleinman had also found an already accomplished writer—thanks to the woman, now Stella's wife, who had pulled Stella out of the knock-around life.
"I met Anne Marie at a legal word processing job—midnight shift," Stella said. "She didn't know what I was doing during my days and afternoons. I saw her, fell in love, and wrote 'Eddie's World' to try and impress her as something more than a street goon. It worked—on all levels."
Published by Carroll and Graf in 2001, "Eddie's World" was the first in a series of streetwise crime novels—eight now and counting, with a ninth, "Tommy Red," in the pipeline—that have been steady sellers. "Charlie Opera" was a Publisher's Weekly 2003 Mystery Book of the Year (a "brilliant crime novel . . . electric and funny," said PW), and this spring "Johnny Porno" was published in Poland and sold to a publisher in Germany.
Stella also writes knowing the narrow limits of the term "street goon." "Never sell anybody in a street life short," he said. "They aren't all thugs. Some of these guys would run Wall Street a lot more efficiently than the geniuses who sunk the economy. Most of the guys I knew were trying to make ends meet. They had the same dreams as everybody else. Many were hustling to send their kids to college."
Charlie Stella has managed to do that, as well as impress Anne Marie. James Guiliani's dreams still include keeping the Diamond Collar open and providing a better life for the animals left to the city's mean streets. Guiliani has saved pit bulls from dogfighting rings, and once drove through six-foot snowdrifts to rescue 200 cats in an abandoned Long Island sanctuary.
"Dogfella" will hit the bookshelves on June 2nd, a book crafted by two tough guys who found redemption in trying to do something more than make ends meet by any means necessary. The story itself is all about James Guiliani, but if the voice rings true, it's thanks to the artistry of Charlie Stella—and his love not just for Ann Marie, but also, no doubt, Rigoletto.
Photos accompanying this release are available at: