Fourth Grade Journey

A Fourth Grade Teacher's Journey Through the World of Books

Monday, July 31, 2017

An Inside Look #28 - Season #TWO (AUTHOR Interview)

An Inside Look With Paul Griffin

(Author of Saving Marty)

*This was a new feature I added to the blog during the summer of 2016.  It was a shot in the dark that it would work, but much to my surprise; it took off and over the last year I conducted 22 interviews with a variety of authors.  

*It has been such an honor to connect with authors and "chat" about their novel, characters, and thoughts about the story.

*I didn't have time for interviews during the school year, but I'm excited to be back for "season #TWO".  

*I'm hoping to run this feature at least once a week.  There is nothing more satisfying than sharing and promoting a book/author/character that I have fallen in love with.  

*Thank you to Paul for being the SIXTH author of the new season.  I truly appreciate it.  

*Here are links to the first TWENTY-SEVEN interviews…

*While at ALA in Chicago I was lucky enough to meet Paul in person.  He was such a great and personable guy.  I'm not a huge fan of standing in long lines for autographs, but for Paul and an ARC of his new novel; I was more than WILLING.  

*This was one of first novels I read upon my return.  I read it ONE sitting and enjoyed every single page.  I can't wait to share the story with my new group of fourth graders this fall.  

*Here is a link to my review...

*Thank you Paul for writing this novel for middle-grade readers and taking the time to share your thoughts with us here on the blog...

Saving Marty
by Paul Griffin (Released September 19, 2017)

When Friendship Followed Me Home
by Paul Griffin (New paperback cover released July 18, 2017)

1.  How did you come to know Lorenzo?
Lorenzo Ventura is very much the kid I wanted to be.  He is comfortable with who he is, a quiet kid who celebrates close friendships without feeling the need to be popular or perceived as great.  My mom is from a close-knit Sicilian family, and her mom’s family immigrated to the Pittsburgh area.  They had very little in the way of money, and the family worked hard to get the kids educated.  In turn, my mom’s generation worked hard to teach my generation of the family to work hard and see education as a way to improve not just one’s own prospects, but also the lives of those in your circle—your family’s, your friends’, neighbors’ lives.  I think Lorenzo has a strong work ethic and the sense that life is more beautiful when it’s other-centered.  I loved visiting the “Pittsburgh LaMonicas.”  My cousin Randy once took me out into what seemed to be an endless field of fireflies at dusk, and he taught me how to catch them.  More importantly, he taught me to set them free.

2.  What do you think is Lorenzo’s most admirable quality?

Renzo is fundamentally a kind person.  I remember in college, in a class about world religions, a debate arose about kindness and heroism.  One very smart young man contended that being kind is an inherently selfish act, because being perceived as kind often leads to being perceived as “a really good person,” the sort other people want to be.  I was quiet and didn’t say anything—I lacked the ability to offer a simple, clear rebuttal, but I distinctly remember being very upset by that idea, that kindness could be equated with selfishness.  I also remember my professor’s saying what I was thinking, as if he had scanned the jumble of thoughts banging around my mind and made them concise: “The person who's kind when no one is looking—isn’t that person the real hero?”  It was one of those moments when you take a big step forward in envisioning the sort of person you want to be: kind always, but especially when no one is looking.

3.  Is there anything you wish Lorenzo would have changed or done differently in his story?

I have found regret to be useful for about five minutes—the act of wishing you’d done something different is important, because it forces you to think of new ways you might approach similar situations in the future.  But dwelling on mistakes—mine or others’—is disempowering for me.  I focus on what I can change, and really I can’t change what others might do or not do.  I let my characters lead me.  They get into trouble sometimes.  I follow them into it and hope they’ll find a way out for themselves.  I often don’t know how or if they will, until they act.  It’s as if I’m watching a movie in my mind, hoping for things to go one way, and then I’m saddened or ticked off when they don’t, and then I’m relieved when the characters figure out a way fix the problem or resolve to live with it.  Not everything resolves cleanly, and understanding that—there’s power and growth in that understanding.  

4.  How did you research Lorenzo and the circumstances he found himself in?

Working as a volunteer EMT for many years here in NYC, I’ve seen what we often read in the news or see on TV: that correlation and causation are linked in terms of military service, depression and homelessness.  Devastating, not just for the person suffering from PTSD secondary to battle trauma, but for the people who love that person.  I remember a call where a young woman, homeless, was very sick, probably with pneumonia.  She had served in Afghanistan.  We brought her into the hospital.  Now her boyfriend, also homeless, was looking not so great.  “She’s gonna do it.  She’s gonna kill herself, I know it.  Then what happens to me?”   So, that got me thinking back to the times when people in my family, including me, were suffering from PTSD—maybe secondary to the death of a loved one or an illness, the loss of a job, an attack seemingly from nowhere, a conflict—and where that left the people in that person’s life: grasping to understand what to do next.

Then there’s the resilience that PTSD provokes.  I think of a young woman I’m working with, helping her with her memoir.  She for the last nine years has lived in a series of orphanages—instituciones—in Bogotá.  Her six years before that were what I think of as hell, a storm of poverty, disease, violence, abuse physical and emotional.  Yet she smiles.  She laughs.  She writes not just to understand her life and the people in it, but also to celebrate the potential for beauty in people, in simple acts of kindness.  She’s a true hero.

5.  What do you think Lorenzo can offer to other young people that are experiencing similar situations to what he went through?

I hope that young folks in Lorenzo’s shoes might always remember two things.  First, you are not responsible for somebody else’s self-destructive act.  If you can prevent that act, do.  But if you can’t—and oftentimes you can’t—don’t blame yourself for the destruction.  Secondly, when someone close to you does something self-destructive, that person is still your friend, neighbor, family member.  That person is still the person you love.  So keep loving that person.

6.  Do you and Lorenzo share any similarities?

I’m definitely comfortable being quiet, happy to strum a guitar by myself, not well, but with joy.  I love animals for their consistency, how they are always there for us, especially when we’re dealing with turmoil.  Like Lorenzo, I love that animals are terrible liars, that they are so open with their love for us, their want to be with us, even when things aren’t going well.

7.  What was the hardest scene to write about Lorenzo?

I never think of writing as being hard.  It’s a ride, and sometimes that ride is scary.  I don’t wallow in my characters’ pain.  When things get rough for my characters, I don’t resist.  I let them fall down, and then when they get up I follow them into their triumph.  If they don’t get up or can’t get up, I do what I do in my life outside of writing: I focus on doing what I can to make things better, and I don’t beat myself up when I can’t fix something.  I move forward.

8.  Who do you think was Lorenzo biggest supporter and why?

Renzo is the kind of person who will always find supporters.  While he does wonder a lot about his predicaments, he is an other-centered person, and focusing on others creates strong friendships.  Mom drives hard at Lorenzo sometimes, urging him to be practical, to be safe.  Double Pop urges Renzo to dream.  Paloma urges Renzo to celebrate his awesomeness, his heart.  Renzo is unlucky in some ways, but he’s so lucky in his friendships.  Maybe lucky is the wrong word.  He’s where he should be, where his kindness has put him.

9.  Why do you think children, like Lorenzo, have such a special and personal bond with animals?  

People often talk about the middle grade years as “the sweet spot.”  They’re when we’re still very open-minded, eager to learn, but on the cusp of deciding what kind of people we want to be.  To have an animal for a friend in those years—what a gift.  Animals remind kids that being consistent is a behavior that people in your life will greatly appreciate.  A surprise party can be fun, but blindsiding somebody—that just always feels bad.  I remember all of my dogs.  They took care of me (and still do), especially when I was young.  When the world seemed upside down, they were always there, always eager to hang out, cuddled up to me as I tried to disappear into a comic or a dream.

10.  What do you think Lorenzo is doing at the present time? 

He’s doing great.  He’s playing guitar with that new band—maybe they’re not the most awesome musicians, but they’re having a good time.  He’s working at the shelter, feeling great each time he helps a rescued animal be a little more peaceful, a little less traumatized.  He has his eye on being an Army veterinarian.  I flash forward and see him at my age, and he has his own veterinary practice, maybe one that specializes in caring for farm animals.  He’ll find his way.  

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