Hello and welcome to my blog today where I have the privilege to interview Paul Griffin, author of the newly released middle grade novel, SAVING MARTY! I am pleased he was able to stop by today and talk about this book that tackles tough issues like suicide, loss, and what it means to have true friendship. Check out the info about the book below, where to buy and my interview! Thank you Paul for stopping by today!
Fans of Because of Winn Dixie will adore this warm and heart-wrenching story of the friendship between a boy and a pig who thinks it’s a dog.
Eleven-year-old Lorenzo Ventura knows heroes are rare–like his father, who died in the war, or his friend Paloma Lee, who fearlessly pursues her dream of being a famous musician. Renzo would never describe himself as a hero, but his chance comes when he adopts Marty, a runt piglet.
Marty is extraordinary–he thinks he’s a dog and acts like one too–and his bond with Renzo is truly one of a kind. At first, the family farm seems like the perfect home for Marty, but as he approaches 350 pounds, it becomes harder for Renzo to convince his mom that a giant pig makes a good pet. So when Marty causes a dangerous (and expensive) accident, Renzo knows Marty’s time is up. He’d do anything and everything for his best friend, but will everything be enough to save Marty?
Paul Griffin masterfully melds the heartrending and the hopeful in this unforgettable story about the power of friendship . . . and the unsung heroes all around us.
Where to buy:
Interview with Paul Griffin
Tell us a little bit about your inspiration behind Saving Marty.
I love dogs largely because they’re wise. They’re the absolute worst liars, or maybe they’re just too smart to lie. I’d heard pigs are smarter than dogs, even, and I’d always wanted to adopt one. There was no chance of this happening, since I’ve lived in NYC apartments most of my life. About ten years ago I was walking my dog Marty up here in my neighborhood, Washington Heights. Marty was 120-pound boxer-mastiff-whatever mix, sweet as can be too. A little girl ran up to me and said, “Your dog’s ugly. He looks like a pig.” So we went at it, and I knocked her out with a left hook in the twelfth round. (I’m just kidding. In truth, she beat me up pretty good, but I put up a decent fight.) I thought, “A dog who looks like a pig, huh? What about a pig who thinks he’s a dog?” Then I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals, and that devastated me. Pigs actually test higher than dogs for intelligence, and the way we raise them for their meat…well, it’s sad enough to make one feel hopeless. Not that a being’s intelligence should determine how it should be treated, but a pig’s need for mental stimulation and emotional bonds mirrors and maybe exceeds a human being’s. I guess that Renzo’s saving Marty was the only way I could realize my dream of rescuing a pig. During the writing, I visited journalist Bridget LeRoy’s farm out on the east end of Long Island. Bridget is a Buddhist, and she sees all beings as not only worthy of compassion but also filled with it. She rescued two beautiful pigs, Fluffy and Pepper. Looking into their eyes was like looking into a dog’s eyes. I got the sense Fluffy and Pepper just wanted to love and be loved.
This book deals with some heavy topics. Why do you think it was important to include in a Middle Grade novel?
Suicide and profound loss—I remember these started to reach into my life and rip me from my innocence around the age of ten. Before that I’d seen and experienced many things that were unfair, but I’d always been able to put them in a box labeled “Not The Way Things Are Supposed To Be.” When I was ten, it hit me that things might not supposed to be any way at all; that unfairness, despair and loss were a part of the way things shake out, depending on present circumstances, the way continental drift gave rise to a planet dominated by homo sapiens when a tectonic plate shift here or there could have produced a world where giant mosquitoes ruled. Not that these things—unfairness and loss—can’t be overcome, but they can’t be denied either. Anyway, it was around that age, ten or so, that I started to realize that nobody was going to be able to protect me or anybody else from life’s stunners and stings; that I was going to have to be responsible for my future, and that I had better be prepared for the worst while aiming and hoping for the best. Books about animals were very helpful to me at this time—Old Yeller, The Yearling. They portrayed animals as I knew them: always there for you, best friends no matter what life threw your way. That both those stories dealt with loss in a realistic way—this was treasure. I’ve been working with kids for almost 30 years, and if I’ve learned anything it’s that they are grateful to you when you are absolutely truthful with them, no matter the subject. Kids of every age suffer profound loss, and they work hard to understand it and move past it while treasuring beautiful memories. My editor Kate Harrison understands grief, loss and, frankly, kids as well as anyone I’ve ever met. Kate encouraged me to keep it real—she always encourages me to keep it real.
What’s an unusual animal you’d love to keep as a pet?
I think I’d only like to keep animals that want to be kept, and those are few and far between. Dogs and pigs are happy to hang out, and cats to some extent. Otherwise I’m that guy who sneaks into the zoo at night and sets all the animals free.
I noticed many songs throughout the book, are you a musician?
No, but I love poetry, particularly the kind that’s written plainly, and sometimes a poem comes into my head in the form of a song, and I do my best to get it down, usually by singing it into my phone. Then give me a few beers and a guitar, and I’m strumming and humming and happy as can be—though I’m not sure anybody listening would be happy. I was touring Saving Marty pretty hard a couple of weeks ago, and toward the end of the tour, at this beautiful little school in Minneapolis—the kids were so funny and sweet—one of the girls handed me a guitar and said sing for us. I was too tired to be scared, and I played and sang for them, and it was a lot of fun. I didn’t get the bug to go hit the coffee house circuit, but I may throw in a little git playin’ here and there at the schools, if somebody sticks an old Martin in my hands. So there you go, kids: I gave you fair warning—don’t give me a guitar unless you’re looking to win yourselves some serious earaches.
What do you hope kids will learn or take away from Saving Marty?
I never hope that they’ll learn anything from anything I’ve written. Hoping that somebody learns something specific—that feels like teaching to me, and as much as I love teaching and love being taught, I think the experience of reading a novel gives a kid the chance to roam free in her mind. Wherever she goes, whatever the story takes her to—that’s all beautiful to me. Sometimes people find things I never saw while I was writing the story, and whatever they find is their particular truth, and that makes it The Truth. I’ll let it lie there and be grateful the kid took the time to hang out with my characters for a while.
About the Author
After college, I worked as a butler and bartender, a cook and an EMT, a dog trainer, a driver. I washed dishes with Vin Diesel. I made movies and wrote short stories and plays, scripts and, yes, novels that more often than not featured the street mutts that had a habit of wiggling their way into whatever apartment I was living in at the time. I worked construction, loaded trucks, tutored and taught. The hardest and best work was the teaching. I started out with the Creative Arts Team, specializing in HIV/AIDS prevention and conflict resolution workshops. These days I work with organizations like Literacy for Incarcerated Teens and Behind the Book. Seeing young people learn how to tell their life stories in ways that might bring them a step closer to realizing their dreams—-that’s like finding treasure. I live with my family, human and canine, in New York City, which is chock-full of stories, not to mention characters.
Visit Paul Griffin at: www.paulgriffinstories.com