Paul began writing his first novel as he finished college, in 1988. That novel and twenty-two others went unpublished. Meanwhile, he worked on the truck docks and in construction, as a dog trainer and a driver, teacher, tutor, EMT, butler, bartender, waiter, cook and dishwasher (alongside Vin Diesel).
The hardest and best work was the teaching. Paul started working with at-risk, incarcerated and special needs teens in 1989, with a concentration in conflict resolution and substance abuse/safe sex workshops aimed at stemming the spread of HIV/AIDS among young adults.
Twenty years to the day after Paul graduated Dartmouth, Penguin/Dial released his "first" (twenty-fourth) novel Ten Mile River and then The Orange Houses a year later. Paul's newest novel is Stay With Me. His next and fourth novel, Girl On Fire and a fifth, tentatively a sci-fi romance, will publish in 2012 and 2013 respectively. Paul lives in Washington Heights, NYC with three dogs and one wife, documentary moviemaker Risa Morimoto.
If you are interested in hosting an appearance by Paul Griffin at your school, library, or conference, please use the online request form or send an email to authorvisits[at]us.penguingroup.com with possible dates, your school name, location, details about the day, and your contact information
Author Appearance Q&A with Paul Griffin:
What can a school, library, or conference expect when you are making an appearance? What do you do differently with audiences of varying sizes, ages, and interests?
You can expect that I will arrive in reasonably clean clothing, having showered (usually) with nice smelling soap (my wife's). My presentations require very little in the way of setup. If you have a music player on hand and a white board, great; if not, no sweat. Stick me in any old room, or outside is fine too, preferably not in traffic, though sometimes that can be fun too, especially if the street is a two-way. I like to walk with the kids while we work, so if we can squeeze in a neighborhood field trip type deal, this would be very cool. We can try to integrate what's going on in the area into our workshop.
My deal, which I'll get into in a bit, works best with smaller groups (10-15 kids) as it's interactive and at one point or another focused on each kid. Trying to give each kid her own moment to shine tends to be a little tougher in assembly-size groups. That said, about half the classes I visit are 20 kids in size, sometimes 30, and we figure out a way to make it work just fine. But if you can keep the groups small, I don't mind staying twice as long to double the number of workshops, to cover your class or grade.
I'm happy to make the workshop about whatever you want. But if you don't have something specific in mind, I will offer that we could have a lot of fun doing a story slam with the kids. Here's how it works:
I ask each kid to shout out one thing she did after six that morning. My faithful assistant (a kid I tapped earlier, perhaps one I suspect might be inclined toward being a troublemaker) writes down what the other kids say. Another kid reads. We decide this is a story, sort of, but the problem is: It's out of sequence. So then we do the same thing all over again, except this time we talk about what we're going to do after six that evening. One kids picks up on the last kid's shout out, creating a story that unfolds in sequential order. To build on that sequencing exercise, I then offer a scenario, something like, "It's 3pm. The 8th period bell just rang. Your friend is standing outside the front doors. She has a brown bag in her hand. It's leaking green smoky fluid. She's crying. She tells you she's fine, but you can see in her eyes that she's begging you for help. You step toward her, and she runs. What happens next?" The kids finish the story, shout out by shout out. Finally, I ask the kids to do the same thing with their own life stories, constructing a beginning, a middle and a high point end, trying to get them to envision how they are going to achieve their goals.
For writer's groups and book clubs, I'm happy to turn the focus on the kids' writing. Having them bring in their stuff is extremely helpful. I don't care if it's a few paragraphs from a 9000-page novel or four lines from a song, I promise I will always make that kid feel great about her work. I want to see my kids get published, the younger the better, and we'll talk about how to do that, whether by traditional publishing avenues or independently, via facebook, amazon's self-publishing ebook site, etc.
What makes your author appearances unique?
I bring candy. Three Musketeers bars, the mini-kind. I throw them to and sometimes at kids who participate. I know, I'm not supposed to do this, but here's the thing I've learned about bribery: it works great. Go to Sea World if you don't believe me. In fact, that's what my workshop is: The Sea World of YA lit. Yeah. Plus, throwing stuff in a classroom is really fun.
Do you enjoy making appearances for adult audiences? What do you do when presenting to adults?
Adults are awesome, as long as they act like kids, the younger the better. Most of the adults I work with are educators and librarians, and I try to make the event about an exchange of ideas re how to get kids to read orin the cases of kids who can't readto tell their life stories in ways that are compelling. I do the abovementioned story slam scenario, and we generally have a really fun timeand if the adults are very well behaved, I may have some candy for them too. That or granola bars. I can bring tofutti sandwiches for those with vegan dietary restrictions.
What can schools and libraries do to ensure a successful appearance?
Just be willing to have fun. I like to keep it light. For writing/how-to-get-published workshops, helping the kids to prepare some work and have it on hand would be great, pre-selecting pieces to be read. For the story slam workshops, just let the kids know we'll be doing something interactive about storytelling. Keeping sessions short is helpful too. Double class periods are a long haulespecially for the kids. Generally, 30- to 40-minute sessions are optimum. For extended workshopsones that happen over several days or weeksintegrating some sort of physical activity, whether it's a short walk or some Wiffle ball, is very helpful. That's about it. Oh, and also, I've noticed that the more you pay me, the more successful the appearance will be.
Do you ever make appearances at more than one school in an area? Could schools and libraries from one area join together to bring you to their institution?
If you can swing this, beautiful! The more kids we can work with, the better.
What do you hope your audience will come away with from your presentation?
Well, I always hope people leave a workshop with the idea that storytelling is integral to nearly everything we do. Being able to string together a sequence of events in a compelling way is not optional anymore, when we live a large portion of our lives online. Whatever your passion, telling a good storyabout yourself, especiallyis critical to your success. I also try to impress upon folks that storytelling is, in my opinion, not a gift. It's a skill, which means that anybody who wants to do it can be terrific at it. The harder one works at building that skill, the better storyteller he becomes.
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