Books And More

A Chat with Paul Griffin

TFK talks to the author of When Friendship Followed Me Home

September 14, 2016
PENGUIN RANDOMHOUSE

Paul Griffin has written several books for teens. When Friendship Followed Me Home is his first book for middle-grade readers.

At the start of Paul Griffin’s latest book, the main character, Ben Coffin, is doing just fine. He has a place to call home for the first time in his life. He has a cool new friend named Halley, who loves to read just as much as he does. And his mom is letting him keep the adorable dog that followed him home from the library one day.

But in the blink of an eye, Ben’s world turns upside-down. When Friendship Followed Me Home takes readers on an emotional ride as Ben and Halley navigate life’s challenges. Griffin talked to TFK, over email, about the people and experiences that inspired the book.

TFK:

You’ve written several books for teens. What made you decide to write this one for readers who are a bit younger?

PAUL GRIFFIN:

I just felt like going back to that time, when I was 11 and 12. It was a time of amazingly big changes. Great times, tough times, first times. I wanted to feel that way again—that every day was epic and full of surprise.

TFK:

The characters in the book seem very real. Are any of these characters based on people you’ve known?

GRIFFIN:

My wife pointed out to me after I finished the book that the names Ben Coffin and Paul Griffin have a similar ring! I’d say that while a little bit of me works its way into every character I’ve written, maybe Ben is the closest to the kid I was when I was 12. Also, one of my students, a cat-loving, homeless poet, was an inspiration for Ben (and for Halley too). The woman who was Flip the dog’s previous [owner]. . . [is] based almost exactly on a woman I met on a rainy day, while at an animal shelter in New York City.

TFK:

Ben and Halley love books. They also love to write. Did you write this book with readers like Ben and Halley in mind?

GRIFFIN:

Yes, for sure. [When I was a kid,] I was a secret reader. I’d hide out in the library and disappear into my dreams, and all my troubles would fade away. . . for a while. So, yup, I hope a few “secret readers” find themselves in When Friendship Followed Me Home.

TFK:

In the book, Flip becomes a therapy dog. Is there a dog like Flip in your life?

GRIFFIN:

I’ve had—and have—a whole bunch of crazy mutts over the years. I take them with me wherever I can. And they do cheer people up—or exasperate them—with their stinky kisses.

TFK:

Did you know from the beginning of writing this book what would happen to Ben and Halley, or did their story develop as you wrote?

GRIFFIN:

I never know how the story will turn out. Even if I think I do, it never turns out that way! It’s fun to get a little bit lost, right? It’s exciting. You’re in the forest, and you see a trail that seems to lead to a beautiful lake, but at the last minute the trail hooks to the left, and you find you’re in a pit—or on top of a mountain, and all of a sudden you can see the whole forest.

TFK:

Throughout the book, we see how well meaning people sometimes say or do the wrong thing when it comes to supporting Ben and Halley. What do you think is the best way to support friends or family when they are faced with serious challenges?

GRIFFIN:

Listen. Just listen. Just be there and hear. You don’t have to have the answer all the time. I’m an emergency medical technician here in New York City. Sometimes people suffer the most awful surprises. I’m continually surprised by the power we all have to make things the tiniest bit better, just by listening.

TFK:

You have another middle-grade book in the works. What is it about?

GRIFFIN:

It’s about the most awesome friend you could ever have. His name’s Marty, and he’s a 300-pound pig who thinks he’s a dog!

TFK:

When you were a kid, what types of books did you like to read?

GRIFFIN:

I loved adventure stories. I loved to scare myself too. I loved books with animals: Old Yeller, Where The Red Fern Grows, The Yearling, Watership Down. The first Star Wars paperback, the movie tie-in edition—I read it so many times it kept falling apart, and I had to keep taping and re-taping the spine with this masking tape that never really did the job for too long. Biographies were awesome: Jackie Robinson, Lou Gehrig. [I also loved] novels about people who seemed familiar to me, like Lenny and George from Of Mice and Men.

TFK:

Do you have any advice for aspiring young writers?

GRIFFIN:

Everybody will tell you to read, and you know what? They’re right! Read what you love, and read the same books over and over to figure out why you love them. And write. Do it every day. If you get stuck, start another story. If you see a scene in your head, and you don’t have any idea what happened before or what will happen after, write it anyway. Teach yourself to play guitar, sing beautifully, sing terribly, write the sappiest love songs, the cheesiest rap ballads, go running, eat too much ice cream, say the wrong thing, say the right thing, say nothing, let a friend cry on your shoulder, make at least three mistakes every day, tickle your pain-in-the-butt little brother under the arms until he screams with laughter. Do things that remind you that you’re alive, you’re here, and how crazy is that? How crazy awesome! And even more awesome: You can make these beautiful things last forever just by writing them down.


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