Wednesday, July 4, 2018

{Q&A} No Sad Songs

Title: No Sad Songs
Author: Frank Morelli
Genre: Contemporary YA fiction
Pages: 228
Blurb: Following a family tragedy, 18-year-old Gabe LoScuda suddenly finds himself thrust into the role of caregiver for his ailing grandfather. Between the shopping trips and the doctor visits with Grandpa, Gabe and his friend John try to salvage their senior year, meet girls, and make the varsity baseball team. It doesn’t take long for Gabe to realize that going to school and looking after a grandfather with Alzheimer’s is more work than he ever imagined.
And when long-lost Uncle Nick appears on the scene, Gabe soon finds that living with Nick and Grandpa is like babysitting two grown men. Aside from John, the only person who truly understands Gabe is Sofia, a punk-rocking rebel he meets at the veteran’s hospital. When these three unlikely friends are faced with a serious dilemma, will they do what it takes to save Grandpa? If there’s a chance of preserving the final shreds of Grandpa’s dignity, Gabe may have to make the most gut-wrenching decision of his life—and there’s no way out.

About Frank Morelli: FRANK MORELLI has been a teacher, a coach, a bagel builder, a stock boy, a pretzel salesman, a bus driver, a postal employee, a JC Penney model (see: clerk), an actual clerk (like in the movie of the same name), a camp counselor, a roving sports reporter, and a nuclear physicist (okay, maybe that’s not true). At heart, he’s a writer, and that’s all he’s ever been. His fiction and essays have appeared in more than thirty publications, including The Saturday Evening Post, Cobalt Review, Philadelphia Stories, Jersey Devil Press, and Indiana Voice Journal. His sports-themed column—“Peanuts & Crackerjacks”—appears monthly at Change Seven Magazine.

A Philadelphia native, Frank now lives near Greensboro, NC in a tiny house under the trees with his best friend and muse, their obnoxious alley cats, and two hundred pounds worth of dog.

Q & A
Where did you get the inspiration for No Sad Songs?
No Sad Songs is a fictional story, but it grew directly out of my experiences as a teen watching my parents serve as caregivers for my grandfather when he was diagnosed with Pick’s Disease, a particularly virulent form of dementia. One of the questions that plagued my adulthood after that experience was: How different would my life have been if my parents had not been there to take the brunt of the caregiving responsibilities? I wanted to explore this question through a character (Gabe LoScuda) who is very much like me when I was his age, except a thousand times more admirable. Writing the novel helped me to gain clarity on this personal question I had, and the more I continued to delve into Gabe’s character the more I started to realize that there are scores of people out there who are affected by the disease that would benefit in some way from exploring the same routes.

What made you choose the title "No Sad Songs"?
The title comes from a poem by Christina Rosetti. In fact, poetry plays a major role in the novel. My narrator, Gabe LoScuda, tells a portion of his story (and much of his backstory) through personal essays he is writing for a class project. I decided to inject the essays directly into the narrative to give the reader a sense of Gabe’s external voice (his narration) and his internal voice (the essays). The point of his class project is to write about connections he’s found between the classic poetry he is studying and personal experiences he’s had in his life. The essays also serve to show a contrast between the man Gabe’s grandfather used to be and the man his is now as he fights a raging battle against Alzheimer’s. The title is also reflective of the realizations Gabe makes as he attempts to take on the role of teenage caregiver to his grandfather after the tragic loss of his parents in the early chapters. He learns pretty quickly that he doesn’t have time to feel sorry for himself if he’s to make it through these tough times.

If someone was looking at your book what would you tell them that would make them say "I *have* to read this now!"?
I would give them the book’s recipe: add equal parts of sadness, laughter, poetry, punk music, and teen angst. Apply liberally.

What do you hope readers will take from this story?
I hope young readers will be able to put themselves in Gabe LoScuda’s shoes long enough to gain a healthy respect for the over 15 million people out there right now providing unpaid care to Alzheimer’s patients. It’s a thankless, yet essential, job that literally pays no money and often tears families apart in the process. And there’s really not too many people shedding any light on them. I hope No Sad Songs begins to raise awareness for all of the people out there shouldering responsibilities that far exceed their medical abilities. I also hope it encourages young readers to look inward and to use the past as a tool for solving the problems of the future, much like my protagonist does in the book through his study of personal experience, poetry, and even punk rock.

How long did it take for you to complete No Sad Songs?
I began writing No Sad Songs as a short assignment in one of the first courses I took towards my MFA in Fiction. It was literally the first assignment in the first course: Writing for Young Adults. I’d never written a single word of YA in my life, but I wrote the first chapter of No Sad Songs and nothing ever felt more right in the world to me. The rest of the book flowed out of the pen over the course of that following year. Then I went back and did rewrites with the help of my publisher and master editor, Mr. Jon Wilson, at Fish Out of Water Books. That took another year and some change. Then came the act of getting it out there to reviewers and other authors. So, in sum, I’d say it was verging on a three year process before the book was finally released. Pretty standard in the publishing industry, I’d say.

What part was the hardest part to write; the start, middle, or end?
The hardest part was getting the personal essays and the narration to flow together cohesively from start to finish. The narrative in No Sad Songs is told entirely in present tense, while the essays take a past tense approach. This can be jarring if an author doesn’t pay special attention to how the lines are blurred between the two distinct pieces of writing. It took a long time to figure out the order of these essays and to assign them dates and chapters to which they logically needed to be paired. Using a mixture of mediums in a stand-alone novel is not for the meek, but I think the results more than make up for the extra effort it entails.

Is there anything you had to edit out but wish you could have kept?
At the time, yes. It’s always hard to eliminate passages you thought were the greatest things you ever wrote. But after time passed and I went back and read the work with fresh eyes, I realized that whatever was cut from the original draft needed to go for the good of the greater story. There’s nothing missing from No Sad Songs at this point, as far as I’m concerned.

What is your favorite writing snack?
I’m kind of addicted to donuts. Like, if you put a dozen donuts in front of me right now I can guarantee I’ll make them disappear. Like magic. My stomach probably doesn’t find the experience as magical.

What kind of music did you listen to while writing this book? Did any song trigger a scene?
With a title like No Sad Songs, you can probably imagine that music plays a major role in the story. In short, I listened to more punk music than any one person who’s not Joey Ramone should ever be subjected to. There were so many songs that didn’t get mentioned in the book simply because I’m writing for young adults and some of the songs were just straight up inappropriate. One that I wish I would have included, however, is Sid Vicious’s version of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”. To me, this song captures the punk movement in a way no other punk song ever has because it grounds the feelings of angst and rebellion in the catchy, recogizable sounds of a legendary musical standard. In a way, this song influenced everything there is to know about Gabe LoScuda and how he navigated the path of being an Alzheimer’s caregiver and an erratic teenager at the same time.

Do you have a dream cast for you book? Who would they be?
First of all, I’d love to see No Sad Songs on the screen. I think it would play out well in a theatre. I have absolutely no idea which actors I’d cast, however, mostly because I’m terrible at knowing actors’ names and matching them with faces. I’ll give it a stab anyway. For Gabe LoScuda I’d love to see Milo Ventomiglia, who currently plays Jack on This Is Us…although I’d have to take the younger version of him when he was in Gilmore Girls (and I just outed my secret love for Gilmore Girls, that’s confidential information). For Sofia Flores, I’d have to go with Melonie Diaz from Fruitvale Station because she is so great at being serious and unaffected even while being hilarious. For John Chen I’d go with Ki Hong Lee (again, maybe a younger version of him) from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt because he’s hilarious and I think he could pull off some mean Michael Jackson moves. Uncle Nick could easily be played by Jack Black for obvious reasons. Grandpa? I think Robert DeNiro would nail this part even without having any true lines in the film.

If you could offer any final words or thoughts about your book or to the readers, what would it be?
I guess I have this worry that readers will see my book as potentially depressing because of its subject matter and the fact that the word ‘sad’ is literally in the title. I’d tell them that I’m the kind of person who hides from the things that trouble me by ducking behind humor. I promise you that this book does deal with some rather heavy situations. I’ll also guarantee you’ll laugh throughout the novel because I simply wouldn’t have it any other way.

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