Saturday, December 1, 2012

Author Interview: John Riffice

Today we have an interview with John Riffice, author of Waiting for Pops. Read to the end to find out how to win a copy!

Jennifer: Where can we find out more about you and buy your book?
My book, Waiting For Pops, is available through Amazon or through a link to Amazon at my website for a mere $9.99 (paperback) or $3.99 (ebook).  There at my website the reader can find out a little more about me both professionally and personally.

Jennifer: Tell us about your book.
Waiting For Pops, a mainstream biographical novel based on real-life events, is a tale of a young boy’s appalling mistreatment at the hands of his alcoholic mother.  It is a tale of spousal secrets and parental lies.  It is a tale of love, friendship, and, above all else, betrayal.  Pops is seen through the eyes of an innocent boy growing steadily into manhood in 1950s Chicago.  Johnny Ryba tells his story and transports the reader into his small, blue-collar existence—his mother’s alcoholism, his much-loved father’s sudden death in an auto accident, his beloved little sister’s autism.  Later, as the reader accompanies Johnny into his teen years, they experience as well the painful heartbreak of his first love and loss.  The storyline rapidly evolves and ultimately centers on a mystery that Johnny attempts to solve as a mature adult, resulting in a shocking revelation that reverses almost everything he once believed about his mother and father, as well as his own harrowing past.  He inadvertently discovers his parents’ role as accomplices in a lifelong conspiracy of silence, and also becomes aware of a misplaced affection for his father.  Johnny must finally come to terms with the most important aspect of his life: the truth about his parents, and about himself, too.

This mystery centers around young Johnny Ryba, who is used to his mother physically and verbally abusing him.  He can’t turn to his father for help; Pops died long ago.  But strangely enough, finding help is not Johnny’s main concern: keeping his mother’s alcoholism a secret is.  To him, it is the only thing that matters.  The mere thought that neighbors and friends might learn of his family secret is more than the little boy can bear.  And in attempting to keep it all secret, Johnny discovers the truth about his mother and father and their lifelong conspiracy of silence.  Waiting For Pops concerns itself with two subjects which have plagued societies worldwide for decades: child abuse and alcoholism, both uniquely portrayed in this mystery set in 1950s Chicago.  Back then, we spoke of it in whispers.  Today these matters are open for discussion, but their solutions still elude us-and their effects still linger on.  And they linger for Johnny, too, until he finally discovers what may have been better kept a secret. 

Jennifer: Where did you get the idea for the story?
The entire storyline is fundamentally autobiographical in nature, though snippets here and there have been incorporated into the book's text as a result of personal observations of the lives of two childhood friends.  Curiously, the three of us as adolescents never discussed what we each were privately facing, under the misguided belief that what we were experiencing was both 'a well-kept secret' as well as a life unique to each of us individually.  Neither assumption, of course, was true.  Over three decades passed before we individually came to terms with the reality of our youth and were able to discuss our experiences honestly and openly.  It seemed that only with age and maturity we were capable of letting go of the shame of 'covering' for an abusive, alcoholic parent and the embarrassment they brought into our lives.
What do you find most rewarding in writing a book?
JPR: I think the most rewarding aspect of having written this book is the many emails and comments I have received.  Curiously, the theme of all these communications tend to be similar in nature.  "God, I swear you must have lived my life!" or "I had a friend and the poor girl was going through the same thing. But we never talked about it...".  Additionally, my description of life in a solidly blue collar, middle class neighborhood was apparently right on the money, from day-to-day life to the clickety-clack of passing trains to the more sordid, tawdry details of infidelities and deceitful behavior on the part of neighbors.  All from a child's perspective, too!  So, in short, readers confirm that what I intended to do when I set out and first set pen to paper was realized!  Writing a book that all  readers could relate to-because most of us grew up middle class with either an abusive or substance abusing adult somewhere in our lives-was very rewarding.  Knowing I touched so many people (which of course is the objective of most writers) was rewarding and, after all , the whole point of starting such an endeavor. 

Jennifer: What other projects do you have coming up?
I just this week finished a novel entitled "Dog and Butterfly," a lovely story about a little boy and his relationship with his uncle, the boy's deceased father's older brother.  It is a beautiful tome revolving around the power of Fate and how it shapes our lives and essentially, how one life event (whether good or bad) just has to happen so the next thing can.  Life, after all, is just a series of events that when connected tell a story.

Jennifer: Do you write full time? If so, tell us how you manage it. If not, what is your day job?
I do not write full-time (darn it!), though it usually feels like I do!  By day, I am a pipefitter in Chicago (yes, it's true... a construction worker who writes books!) since 1982.  Sometime in those years I left the trade to pursue my dream of becoming an educator.  For nine years, before the economy took its most recent severe downturn, I taught Spanish, Italian, Special Education, Vocational Education, Driver Education, and Social Studies.  Whew!!!  It was a profession I loved (and still do) and one I hope to some day return to.

Jennifer: What is your writing process like--do you outline first or just start writing, etc.?
I see creative writing as very similar to spring cleaning: hard to get started, but once you do, you don't stop till the job is done!  Typically, and I suspect this is true for most writers, I start with a thought.  That thought makes its way to a sentence and then to a paragraph.  And of course that paragraph gives birth to another paragraph and then another and another and... well, you get it.  Over time, deletions are made and additions are inserted.  Unfortunately (and I suspect this is true for most writers, too), after weeks of penning a chapter and reviewing and editing it a million times, I read it over and say to myself, "This is garbage!"  So I put it down for a few days and come back to it then.  And guess what?  Sometimes it is garbage!  But more often than not, it's pretty darn good stuff.  I equate it to spending a few hours in the kitchen making a nice pot of soup: after tasting it over and over it turns into a big disappointment.  But the next day?  "Hey, this is good!"  And that's how writing is for me: writing, rewriting, reading, rereading until Shazaam! I've actually got something exceptional on my hands.

Jennifer: What have you done to develop your writing craft?
In all honesty, with respect to writing, I'd have to say that I'm a natural.  This I attribute to the fact that I have always been a gifted storyteller, something that served me well particularly when I was in the classroom.  No way to better get your point across to a captive audience (that is, kids who would much rather be elsewhere) than deliver your message in storyform.  And so, this gift enabled an easy transition from oral storytelling to written storytelling.  Add to that the fact that I am a voracious reader and have enjoyed the various writing styles of countless authors, it is little wonder that my writing is so good and so entertaining.  My wife tells me that few people have this talent.  Maybe she's right; I don't know.  All I can say is that for me it comes relatively easy.  Now that's not to say that I don't get stuck or suffer from writer's block from time to time.  I do!  But that passes too, and before I know it I'm back in the saddle and writing like Hemingway!  Well, okay, perhaps I exaggerate a little...

Jennifer: Tell us a little about your non-writing life. Family? Pets? Hobbies?
Pets?  Skippy, Atticus, and Ted, two miniature dachshunds and a shepherd-mutt, respectively.  And may God rest their souls...  I never had dogs as a boy (my mom knew she'd get the brunt of the work laid at her doorstep-she was right about that, too, I think), but as a little girl my daughter wanted a dog.  I fought that notion for as long as I could, but being weak of heart and not wanting to disappoint my daughter, I gave in.  It didn't take long before I was in love with ol' Ted, and before I knew it I had a managerie of pets: three dogs, a cat, and a canary.  Despite the sadness (and I do mean sadness) of eventually losing them all, my daughter is now a veterinarian (University of Iowa, Class of 2012), having them around enhanced my life tenfold.  Now, however, the sadness of losing them precludes me from getting another pet, but in time I hope that will pass.  But when?  It's been four years and my heart is still broken!
My hobbies are (of course) writing and golf.  And that's another reason I'm delighted to be done with my latest venture, 'Dog And Butterfly'.  Now I can take a break and get back on the golf course!  And family?  Well, I told you about Dr. Riffice (my daughter), of whom I am oh-so-proud!  But then there's my better half, Karen (and I do mean better), my wife and life companion for the last 28 years.  How she puts up with me I'll never know.  All I can say is that she's a better man than I! 

Jennifer: When and why did you decide to become a writer?
It's all my wife's fault!  Several years back I became friends with an immigrant from Sicily, a restaurateur, with whom I opened a little trattoria (forgot to mention that cooking Italian is my passion, an art I acquired after living in Italy several years after college).  The whole sordid affair is far too long to go into here (but it is the subject of a yet-to-be-released book called 'Divided By One'), but suffice it to say that my partner's association with certain underworld characters (unbeknownst to me when we became partners) caused the whole situation to go south in a hurry.  The bullet to his head didn't help any, either.  At any rate, over dinner with friends, I would tell the whole story, detail by delicious detail.  Our companions' response was always the same: "You should write a book!", a refrain my wife uttered a million times previously.  So I did.  It was then that I decided to pursue writing a bit more seriously.

To be honest, it may have started a little earlier, my desire to write.  When I was a sophmore in high school, I met a girl and just flipped out over her.  Needless to say, she dumped me not long after, leaving my heart shattered in a zillion pieces.  The following year, I wrote a ten page love story, based on our so-called relationship, and lo-and-behold I won her back!  A few years later, Fate interceded and snatched her away from me again.  But I thank the Lord it did.  I wouldn't have ever had Skippy and Atticus and Ted et al., not to mention my good wife and my daughter the doctor!

Want to win a copy of Waiting for Pops? Leave a comment on this blog and you could win! Winner will be announced on Monday, December 10, 2012.