MA: My guest today is Steven Jay Griffel. Steven was born in the Bronx, 1952. He tells me he, “met a beautiful blue-eyed art student in my junior year at Queens College (BA, Creative Writing, 1973) and married her in 1976. We’re still holding hands.” Steven studied American Literature at Fordham University, and he and his wife have two beautiful daughters, Sarah and Julia, grown and on their own. He spent his professional life in publishing, and he still works as a publishing consultant, though most of his time is now spent writing novels and talking about them. Steven is a frequent speaker and guest lecturer and especially enjoys leading book club discussions about his novel, Forty Years Later.
You told me you thought writing was a part of your DNA. How did you describe that, again?
SJG: I’m a born storyteller: sired by a father who never met a fact he couldn’t spin into fancy, and by a mother whose bitchin’ neuroses could make a grudge match of any relationship. From my father I learned there is no division between truth and fancy, just a wonderful gray area where imagination and ego could thrive. From my mother I inherited a genius for nursing regrets and grudges, so I’m never at a loss for reasons to rant.
I was raised on the colorful streets of the Bronx, where home plate was a manhole cover; where there was a pizzeria and deli on every other block; where there were always enough kids for a ball game; where it was okay to be Jewish, so long as you didn’t piss off those who weren’t.
MA: Well, that’s a colorful life! How did you decide to write novels? Was it always something you longed to do?
SJG: I wasn’t cut out to be a scientist or movie star or athlete. But I always had lots to say—and a talent for saying it well. In college I considered a career in journalism—until I learned I’d have to stick to the facts. I like facts, but I much prefer the novelist’s god-like sense of entitlement. As a novelist I decide the facts. I decide who rises, who falls. If I need a perfect line I create it, rather than relying on interviews and research for my gold. Thus I prefer fiction, where the music and meaning of words have primacy over facts. . . . I just remembered a pair of wonderfully relevant quotes:
“Journalism is literature in a hurry.” –Matthew Arnold
“Literature is news that stays news.” –Ezra Pound
I like to think that my writing is meant for the long haul.
MA: Well said! So tell us about Forty Years Later.
SJG: A middle-aged man (smart, handsome, happy, successful) has a single, gnawing regret: a lost opportunity to make history. He has kept the regret alive for forty years, continually picking at the scab of its memory. A coincidence (Fate, if you believe in such things) reunites this man with a former teen sweetheart who is very much a part of his regret. The man is married with children, the woman is famously and formerly gay, and their reunion results in the kind of sparks that presage trouble. It is a tale of music, movies, murder—and madness too. It is also a story of love and redemption—except for those who are probably going to Hell.
MA: Oh my! So had did you develop your protagonist’s character? Sounds like there may be a little of you in him…
SJG: Until recently, I too had a gnawing, life-long regret. Like a cancer that does not metastasize, it was annoying but not life-threatening. A complicated coincidence reconnected me with someone I hadn’t seen in forty years: a successful screenwriter who is best known for writing about the subject that framed my regret: Woodstock. We met and hit it off—big time. Of course, I was happily married with children and wouldn’t think of getting involved with another woman—but I have a protagonist; an alter-ego; a doppelganger, I suppose, and this fellow (named David Grossman) has been known to explore roads I dare not travel myself.
MA: So, what are David’s strengths and weaknesses?
SJG: Like many people, the novel’s protagonist is a miracle of contradictions. He is clear-seeing despite his blind spots; confident when not suffering from crises of self-esteem. He is a man who misplaces loyalties and manufactures jealousies. He loves and is loved but sometimes loses his way. All of which is to say, he’s flawed enough to get himself into a royal pickle—and brave enough to see his way out.
MA: What about an antagonist … is there a unique “bad guy” or a recurring nemesis of any kind?
SJG: There is a brilliant, formerly famous lesbian screenwriter with a blind lover and hip-hop son, who becomes a vengeful alcoholic with a particular fondness for dangerously sharp objects. Unique enough?
MA: (Smiling) Okay, so did any of your real-life experiences factor into the plot at all?
SJG: I also nurtured a life-long regret tied to someone I had not seen in forty years. We were reunited. Sparks flew. . . . Note: The real-life tale is private and tame and not worth the telling in this space. However, the novel it inspired is rip-roarin’. But it is not a story for the faint of heart or for those of unbending scruples. It is tale signifying: One is never too old to change; Beware what you wish for; There is no greater grace than tried and true love.
MA: Excellent! So what’s next for you?
SJG: I am working on a new novel called The Ex-Convert. It is, loosely speaking, a sequel to Forty Years Later. Though I am now in the enviable position of having a publisher waiting for my next book, I have no guarantee of publication. My publisher believes I hit a home run with Forty Years Later and demands I hit another one with The Ex-Convert. Batter up!
MA: An enviable position to be in…so will any characters from Forty Years Later migrate over?
SJG: David Grossman is the protagonist in each of my novels, and I haven’t sworn off him yet. Having said that, he is not quite the same character in each book. His voice and sensibility are pretty consistent, but his circumstances vary: he has a wife or not; he has a family or not; he lives in New York, or not, etc. Expect to see him again in the Ex-Convert.
MA: How do readers get a copy of your book?
SJG: Forty Years Later is available as an e-book on Amazon.com. The download is incredibly fast and easy. And no special reading device is required. Most people enjoy Forty Years Later on their computer, PC or Mac. But with each passing day more and more people are using e-readers (like the Kindle) or tablets (like the iPad) or screen phones like the Android, Blackberry, or iPhone. In fact, one of my first readers sent me the following text message from his iPhone: “Reading Forty Years later at 40,000 feet—and loving it!” I also encourage readers to friend me on Facebook and share their thoughts. It’s a digital dawn!
MA: Well, thanks, Steven. Folks, please visit these websites for more information about Forty Years Later and Steven Jay Griffel!