We excited to welcome author Paul Griffin to the blog today for a Q&A! Read on to learn more about his writing process, his childhood spent reading, and the story behind his new book, Adrift, which hits shevles today.
And if you're in New York tomorrow (July 29th), don't miss Paul at Books of Wonder (W/ 18th Street, from 6-8PM) for a special event: YA Summer Reads: Only in New York! w/ Paul Griffin, Daniel José Older and Adam Silvera.
1. Describe Adrift in 140 characters.
Five of them went out on the water that night. None came back whole, and not all of them came back.
2. Were you an action thriller reader as a kid?
Definitely. I was a big Alistair MacLean fan. I liked Robert Ludlum and Stephen King. I’d read them after my dad finished them. I wouldn’t call it heavy action, but The Exorcist was probably my favorite thriller, because it felt so real. Tolkien was awesome. The Star Wars paperbacks, The Godfather, Swiss Family Robinson, The Count of Monte Cristo, Tarzan, anything by Jack London. I loved Watership Down too. Those rabbits were my friends. Old Yeller and The Yearling had great action. The Old Man and The Sea. The Red Pony when Jody runs away. Animals and adventure—it doesn’t get much better than that.
3. Why did you decide to set the book in Long Island?
I spent some nice time out at Montauk as a kid. There was a campground, Hither Hills. It was perfect, right on the beach. The stars were crazy. I close my eyes and still see them. Gurney’s resort was a mile east. We used to jog down there and see if we could pick up the rich girls…usually with little luck! After college I worked as a butler out in The Hamptons. That was beautiful too. Two different worlds of people—the campers and the mansion-dwellers. In both groups there were cool and not so cool folks. Money had nothing to do with it. Knuckleheads and saints everywhere, I guess.
4. What kind of research did you have to do?
I went with what I knew, which—when it came to boating—was very little. I love stories where the person trying to survive has special skills (Katniss and her archery, not to mention her compassion), but I also like those stories where the character has to learn on the fly (Lord of The Flies or Hatchet). My uncle had a leaky old boat. We took it out into the Long Island Sound one day, and the engine conked. We were stuck out there for a very long hour, no radio, choppy water, too far to swim to shore. My big thing was, if we did try to swim, what would happen if my uncle couldn’t make it? Would I go down with him, or would I keep going?
I work as an EMT. Nobody ever wakes up saying, “Hey, I think I’ll go get into a really bad car accident today.” You meet people at interesting times in their lives. You see them learning new things about themselves, on the fly. I wanted to try to bring that sense of shock into Adrift. Some people become incapacitated, mentally. They freeze. Others click into this zone of…not sure what you’d call it. Maybe capability. They’re good at focusing in on one thing and screening out the rest. I’m talking about my coworkers too. We get into hairy situations, lots of moving parts, cops, firefighters, the sick and injured, loved ones or maybe enemies if there was a fight. Some people are better than others at keeping it simple. They don’t try to do everything. They do one thing at a time, and they do it calmly.
The characters—well, they’re people from my life, and I guess bits of me are in each of them too. My wife is in Dri, for sure. My mother-in-law too. They’re always worried about everybody else—never themselves. John is my best friend from high school—he’s the guy you want to be standing next to when the situation goes south. Mike ended up becoming a successful banker, very successful, as in he makes about ten million a year or maybe a lot more than that with his stock options. Stef is a neighbor who became a friend. I’m an early riser, and I’d be heading out with the dogs when she was coming in from work. She was an exotic dancer—hard job, maybe one of the hardest, right? She was always smiling, though. We’d sit on the stoop and watch the sky lighten. She’d smoke and pet the dogs. She used to say in her lovely Portuguese accent, “It’s just life. Why worry? It’s just life.” “JoJo” and I waited tables together. He had a sunny attitude too—until he didn’t. When he got into a bad mood or, worse, a sad one, watch out.
5. The book has such great characters. Are any of them based on someone you know?
See above. :0)
6. What was your favorite thing to do during summer as kid? Has it changed much as an adult?
I worked a lot. I was big on making as much money as I could, putting it away for college. Aside from those camping trips and pickup stickball, I was usually at some restaurant or other, busing tables, washing dishes. I had this great summer job when I was 16. I was a short order cook and pizza maker at this Italian restaurant. The owner liked me, trusted me to handle the job despite my age, gave me the keys…and didn’t pay me very well! But that was okay. There were spiritual benefits. I’d get in at 5am to mix the dough. I’d turn on the radio and prep the kitchen for the night guys. Cracking the fresh garlic, laying out the manicotti, The Police on the radio, Secret Journey. Upon a secret journey, I met a holy man. I was on my own until the lunch waitress came in around 10am. It was so peaceful, being alone in that place—sort of alone. There was a cat—don’t tell the Board of Health. He was good company. I’d turn on the pizza oven, and he’d sit on top of it despite the heat, until the metal got too hot and I’d take him off. The train ran alongside the back of the restaurant. I loved the sound, clack-clack, clack-clack. On really hot days I’d take breaks in the walk-in refrigerator and eat cheesecake right out of the box. If I finished up the prep work early I’d sit out back on a flipped milk crate and read magazines, Sports Illustrated, TIME. I think I still do the same thing most summer days. I wake early and get to my desk and disappear for a while until the world starts cranking up for business. No cat now, but three freeloading dogs. I like to work. It’s fun.
7. What do you hope readers will experience after reading this book?
Whether they like the story or not, I guess I’d be happy if they wonder what they’d do if they were lost at sea. It’s so beautiful out there, and so dangerous. There’s really no place to go but inward.