Earlier this year, I was sent a copy of No Sad Songs by Frank Morelli to review. Now I don’t usually accept review requests anymore; in fact, I never do. As much as I’d love to read all the books in the world, it’s simply no feasible for me to accept every book review request I get but sometime piqued my interest about this one so I decided to give it a go. I love YA and would love to explore it more and No Sad Songs was a good place to start, as it covers some sensitive topics as well and touching on all the typical “YA” type elements, such as teenage angst, school, friendship and crushes. Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for No Sad Songs and have a Q&A with the author, which I hope you enjoy!
Hi Frank – thank you for answering some questions on my blog today. First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself!
Hi, Jenny. It’s a pleasure to answer questions about my book and myself for you and your amazing readers. First, I want to let them know I’m just an average Joe. In fact, I pride myself on being a t-shirt, jeans and baseball cap kind of guy. I’ve lived my entire life in the States and grew up in the Philadelphia area, though many of my relatives still live in Sicily and on the Italian mainland. Growing up in a blue-collar town meant I started working pretty early on in my life. Since I was 14-years-old, I’ve worn so many hats (besides the baseball cap) that I’ve nearly lost track. I’ve been a pretzel salesman, a stock boy, a convenience store clerk, a lawn care specialist (I’m using that term liberally), a sports reporter, a publishing assistant, and for the last fifteen years, a middle school teacher. That last one finally stuck, and it has made all the difference in my writing career. Aside from writing on a daily basis and teaching children, I’m a sports nut. I love playing baseball and ice hockey. If I’m not on the ice or on the ball field, you’ll most likely find me in the garden or in my home office reading all the books.
And tell us a bit about No Sad Songs. How would you describe it in 2 sentences?
No Sad Songs is the story of a high school senior who loses his parents and is thrust into the role of caregiver for his ailing grandfather, a WWII Vet with Alzheimer’s. It’s equal parts sadness, laughter, poetry, punk rock, and teen angst.
Where did the inspiration come from for No Sad Songs? Any situations / characters based off of or taken from real-life people / events?
Most definitely. No Sad Songs grew out of my own experiences as a teen, watching my parents act as caregivers for my grandfather. When my grandfather was in his sixties, he was diagnosed with Pick’s Disease, which is a form of dementia that also afflicts one of my characters in the book. I remember him being my grandfather one day and some guy I’d never met the next, and it was a heart breaking experience to stand aside and watch my father care for the man who had at one time raised him. Many of the character Grandpa’s reactions are modeled after events I witnessed in my personal life with my own eyes. My protagonist, Gabe LoScuda, is a bit of a speculative version of myself. Kind of a way for me to answer a question that has plagued my adulthood ever since my grandfather succumbed to the disease when I was around 20 years old: what would my life have been like if my own parents hadn’t been around to take on the caregiving responsibility? How would I have dealt with the crushing weight? I can honestly say it wouldn’t have been as heroic as what readers will see from my boy Gabe if they read No Sad Songs.
The topic of Dementia can be extremely sensitive. How did you ensure that you wrote it that way in the book?
I relied on research and personal memory. Reading stories about caregiver experiences in our modern world and comparing them to my own experiences that took place during the 90s allowed me to understand how people in this situation deal with the daily responsibilities of serving in this role. I thought long and hard about how people naturally respond to losing a loved one while he or she is still sitting directly in front of them. I found that there is a protective shell we often surround ourselves with when we recognize it’s time to fight through a difficult situation. For my family, we hid behind humor even in the darkest hours. That’s what I tried to infuse into No Sad Songs so that the heaviness of the subject matter could still be dealt with in the context of a real caregiver’s day-to-day life and in the collective experience of what is an arduous and heart breaking journey for anyone involved.
Which 5 famous people / figures – dead or alive – would you invite to a dinner party and why?
I love this question! I’ve had it asked of me many times and I’ve yet to give an identical answer. I think my guest list changes with my mood on any given day. Today the guest list would look something like this: Mark Twain (because he is, in my humble opinion, the O-G of American humor), Harper Lee and S.E. Hinton (because their work basically created the YA genre before anyone had any thoughts about its existence and because of the incredible voices these authors created in their narrators), Joe DiMaggio (because I’m fascinated by his 56-game hitting streak and by how calm and measured he was able to remain in the face of great pressure), and J.D. Salinger (because it would just be cool to say I was the one who got him to leave the house for once).
If you could give any advice to aspiring authors, what would it be?
I know many authors have said this before because I’ve taken the advice many times myself, but don’t give up. Keep writing and never let anyone tell you you’re wasting your time. People who don’t write have no concept of how hard it is to get even a short piece of writing published. They also view the writing life as something that doesn’t lead to massive profits and overflowing bank accounts. I say, so what? That’s not why we write. We write to share our experiences with others who may benefit from interacting with our common past. We write because it’s the original human tradition. We write because we love words and there’s a joy in watching them all fall into place in the right way. We write because, if we didn’t, we would cease to be ourselves. Bottom line, keep at it. If you care about your craft and constantly strive to improve on what you’ve done in the past, someone out there will notice. I promise.
If No Sad Songs was made into a movie, who would be your leading cast?
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 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.
Can you tell us anything you’re working on right now?
Sure! Pretty soon I expect I’ll be diving into a rewrite phase of another YA novel that I’ll be putting out through Fish Out of Water Books called Reel Beauty. That’s not a typo, by the way. The book is about a high school ice hockey star from Minnesota whose home life is in shambles because of domestic abuse. He and his mother flee the situation and head for his grandparents’ house in rural North Carolina, where hockey dreams dry up like tobacco leaves. Only the domestic abuse problem follows them there and my protagonist needs to figure out how to start his life all over again, but this time the right way. The title grew out of the fact that my narrator is a classic film buff and an aspiring screenwriter. Much in the same way that I infused personal essays directly into the narrative of No Sad Songs, I used my protagonist’s skills in Reel Beauty to create a unique presentation. Therefore, he tells portions of the story in the form of a screenplay that runs behind the main plot and spans out over the course of the entire novel.
Who are some of your personal favourite authors and favourite books?
I invited four of my favorites over for dinner in a previous question! Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders served as major influences on me as I gravitated toward my niche of writing for children and young adults. Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer would also have to fit into that category because it was the very first classic novel I’d ever read and took seriously. J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is also one of those books that stays with you. His famous character, Holden Caulfield, is the epitome of the kind of complex and nuanced character every author tries to create. I’m no exception.
Lastly, where do you see yourself in 5 years? Do you have any long-term goals or plans?
I hope to be doing exactly what I’m doing five years from now. That is writing novels and watching the joy on people’s faces as they open the covers or listen to me read from the pages. Would I love to be rich and famous and influential in the young adult literary world and all that good stuff that writers dream about before they’re actually writers? Uhhh, yes. But, I don’t need any of those things to feel like I’ve reached the place I’ve been trying to reach for the past two decades. Continuing to crank out novels and get them into print is the ultimate goal for me, so I hope things just keep heading in the same direction as they are currently.
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.