Fourth Grade Journey

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

Monday, June 18, 2018

An Inside Look #52 (Author INTERVIEW)

An Inside Look with Tony Abbott
(Author of Denis Ever After)

*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 first season 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 ran a series of interviews for Season #TWO over the summer of 2017.  It was great to get back to these conversations, that I decided to run Season #THREE during the 2017/2018 school year.

*This is the FIRST interview of what I'm calling Season #FOUR.  

*Thank you to Tony Abbott for being the Fifty-Second author that I've had the pleasure of interviewing.  I truly appreciate it.  

*Here are links to the first FIFTY-One interviews…


*I've had the honor of interviewing Tony before about his novel The Summer of Owen Todd.  I was thrilled to learn that he had a new novel coming out and was lucky enough to receive an ARC from the author himself.  After finishing Denis Ever After, I reached out to Tony asking him back for another round of "Inside Look" questions.  

*He was kind, gracious, and giving with his answers to the questions.  It is an honor to post the responses here on the blog.  

*Here is a link to my review of Denis Ever After

*Thank you Tony Abbott for writing this story for readers and taking the time to share your thoughts with us here...

Denis Ever After
by Tony Abbott (Released July 24, 2018)

How did you come to know Denis?  
The initial spark for Denis Ever After came some years ago with the thought that one brother of a set of twins had passed away and was watching over his brother from the afterlife. He would narrate the story from the afterlife. Despite his death five years ago, it would be a loving, brother comedy. I thought. But I suppose there is something in my psyche that feels that life—and death, for that matter—is a mystery to be solved. It wasn’t long before my sketching out of Denis’s story began to turn on the point that his death was a puzzle of some kind. It turns out that Denis died in mysterious circumstances, surrounded by a series of baffling clues that suggest he was killed. The moment that notion took control, I began to see Denis quite clearly, as a boy living peacefully in the afterlife, with the great-grandmother he never knew in life, and an odd assortment of souls, and being called back by his living twin to solve his apparent murder. The first scene, where Denis and GeeGee walk down to the shore in the afterlife, begins a description—my personal description—of what the life beyond this one might look like. 

What do you think is Denis' most admirable quality?
He loves. Despite the danger to himself of coming back here, Denis loves his brother, and his parents, and the wonder of being alive. Before his brother Matt essentially calls him back here, Denis is living a peaceful forgetful existence in Port Haven, the first stop in the afterlife. When he comes down here, however, he realizes for the first time in five years that his family is on the brink of dissolving under the weight of his death. Adding to this, there appears to be a dark past his parents refuse to acknowledge, a warren of secrets about his father’s father, alcoholism, a crime, prison, and a host of other unexplained hints his family suffers from. Ignoring the threat to his own future, Denis pledges to help Matt end the mystery of his death and try to put his family on a hopeful path.

Is there anything you wish Denis would have changed or done differently in his story?
I’m not sure. I love Denis. I think he acts as, perhaps, I would want to act, were I given the same information. Certainly, he tries to deny the mantel of suffering that is being put on him here—to solve his murder—and he tries to minimize the pain his family is suffering, but these moments are brief. He is honorable about what he has to do. In the five years since he died (at age seven) he has grown so very much, taking on the heart of a much older soul, it seems to me (and I hope to the reader), so it’s difficult to say I would change the way he acts. And we have to remember that before Matt explains his death to him, Denis has forgotten how he died. He is perfectly happy in the afterlife. It’s a great shock to him that his death was caused by someone else, and has itself caused so much pain in so many people. When he learns this, he acts as I hope I would act. 

What do you think Denis can offer to other children that are experiencing similar situations to what he went through?  
I suppose being able to understand and to love people, even faulty people and knowing their sins and crimes to love them all the more because they are frail and weak. That is a huge thing to ask, and Matt, for example, has problems with that, but Denis can find a way to love through the mess and the resentment and failure and darkness. If we could only all do that. 

How did you research Denis and the circumstances he found himself in?
Denis is a twin. I am not, but my brother, who passed away, was a short year older than me. We were close, not so close, apart when he died, and that is always there. I had two twin sisters who didn’t make it out of the hospital at birth. Twins run through my family. What happens between brothers (or very close friends) is not something I will ever get, or want to get, out of my system. It’s there in everything I write. Brothers were in Lunch-Box Dream, in the relationship of Tom and Jeff in Firegirl, in Owen and Sean in The Summer of Owen Todd. This isn’t research, I suppose, just part of the fabric of what I write.

A great part of Denis Ever After involves a road trip across Pennsylvania. I did a long bit of map research. I also spent summers in Western Pennsylvania when I was growing up, and I modeled the town of Backwood a little after Ellwood City, where my grandparents lived. A major scene and thread of the story involves the military park at Gettysburg, and my wife and I spent a good long time there, studying the battlefield and the monument where Denis’s body was discovered. 

Do you and Denis share any similarities?  
He is certainly nobler than I am. He jokes a lot, and I have been told I joke too much sometimes, so I share that trait with him. Also, he has a lot of doubts about what he does and should do. Ditto.

What was the hardest scene to write about Denis?
Actually, the last one. At first, I had Denis doing one thing, and it seemed right, but I realized it finally was not the best thing, for him, for Matt, for his parents, for anyone. It’s hard to think about, but it was the right thing for both of us to do—me to write it, and Denis to do it. I won’t give any more of it away. One of my great hopes is that readers will get to the last chapter. You never know until it happens.

Who do you think was Denis' biggest supporter and why?
His great-grandmother, GeeGee, by far. She loves him as a part of herself. She suffers, too, of course. The afterlife isn’t a place of no pain. Just listen to the crazy bunch of souls there. But she will do anything for him—and she does.

Why do you think people that have passed still have such a connection with those left on Earth?
We, the living, remember them, and that gives them life. Those who have passed, well, I’m not one yet, but I can imagine they are as concerned with us as we are with them. It’s funny. Maybe. But the day I am answering this question, June 14, is a case in point. Last night I dreamt of my brother. He passed away twelve years ago. And yet there he was, neck deep in a swimming pool, talking to me, asking me to do something. It wasn’t a happy conversation, because I refused to do whatever it was. But there you have it, the connection between souls. Faulkner famously wrote “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.” I have found that to be one of the undeniable truths of human existence. It’s all here, no matter how long ago it seemed to go away. It’s all here. The people are here. And we’re moving around together. Why do they have a connection? The same reason we do. To try to discover the meaning of it all.

What do you think Denis is doing as this present time?  
Playing cards with GeeGee and Russell on the shady porch of the beach house in Port Haven, watching the ships that dock and leave off the latest souls. I love Denis as my son and brother. Maybe he’ll be there when I reach the port. I like to think so. 

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