John Grogan - The Longest Trip Home


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A Texas Two Step

Monday, October 30, 2006

The ringing of the telephone pulled me from deepest sleep. I fumbled in the dark for the receiver. "Mr. Grogan," the voice on the other end said, "this is your 4:15 a.m. wake-up call." Oh, cruel fate. No human should ever be forced to rise at an hour that starts with any number lower than 7.
That was two hours ago and now I'm sitting in the Austin, Texas, airport -- still inky black outside -- waiting for my flight back home to Pennyslvania.
I was in town over the weekend for the Texas Book Festival, held in the ornate House and Senate chambers of the Texas state Capitol. This is the festival Laura Bush started more than a decade ago when her husband was elected governor. It's been going strong ever since.
My appearance was on Sunday, and it was a little strange talking about my book from the podium of the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives with audience members sitting at lawmakers' desks. I felt a little like LBJ or something.
Austin is one of my all-time favorite cities, and I had Saturday free to just enjoy myself. Frank McCourt is one of my favorite authors, and I took a lot of inspiration from his "Angela's Ashes" while I was writing Marley & Me. I was thrilled to be able to catch his presentation on Saturday. He's as charming in person as he is in print. I also was impressed with Tavis Smiley, the former NPR commentator who is an inspiring and moving public speaker.
The weather was grand, warm, breezy and sunny, and some of the best action of the book festival took place out on the Capitol steps where musicians played throughout the day -- everything from Texas two-step to cowboy to zydeco.
Saturday night, Sixth Street, Austin's legendary bar and nightclub strip, was absolutely hopping. Thousands of University of Texas students, most of them in costume for Halloween, jammed the street, which the police barricaded off to traffic. I caught a couple of great, great local bands. But, really, the best show was out on the street, where many of the costumes were wildly provocative (think French maids, dominatrixes and Playboy bunnies). What made the moment so great was that it also happened to be parents' night on campus, and many moms and dads were strolling the main drag. To watch the expressions on the parents' faces was too good for words.

Now I'm ready to get home. The busy fall schedule continues. On Thursday, I'll be in New York City to attend a banquet at The Rainbow Room, where the ASPCA, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, will honor Marley & Me for its depiction of a family that did not give up on a high-need, hard-to-control dog. Those are the very same types of dogs that so often end up abandoned or abused and neglected. For all our flaws as dog owners, Jenny and I did not give up on Marley, and I'm honored that the ASPCA is recognizing the book's central message of commitment to the animals we bring into our lives.

Then on Sunday, Nov. 5, I speak on the campus of Bryn Mawr College outside Philadelphia. A few days after that, I fly to Evansville, Indiana, where Marley & Me is the pick for the city's One Book/One Community program, and then on to Hartford City, Indiana for another One Book/One Community presentation.
If you are interested in attending any of my appearances, you can click on "upcoming events" on the home page of www.marleyandme.com for a detailed schedule. I always enjoy chatting in person with readers.

Time to catch my flight. Over and out for now.

posted by John Grogan at 3:57 PM 3 comments


A Marley One-Year Anniversary

Friday, October 20, 2006

This week marks a milestone for Marley & Me -- one full year in print. The book debuted on Oct. 18, 2005, and this week it hit its 52nd straight week on The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. As my agent, Laurie Abkemeier, reminded me in an email last night, Marley & Me has spent 45 of those weeks hovering in the top five of the 15-spot New York Times list, and 22 weeks as the top dog at #1. It is currently #5 on the list. It has also hit #1 on the bestseller lists at USA-Today, the Wall Street Journal, Publisher's Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, the Denver Post, Boston Globe, The Times of London, the Irish Independent, Book Sense (reflecting sales at independent bookstores) and others.

This first anniversary is a good time to take stock of some other Marley milestones:
* Marley & Me now is in its 36th printing with approximately 2.5 million books in print in North America.
* It has been, or soon will be, published in 25 foreign languages, from Israel to Korea to Australia to Russia.
* Fox 2000 Pictures currently is adapting it into a feature-length screenplay.
* It has been featured on or in Good Morning America, CBS's The Early Show, Fox and Friends, People, The New York Times, USA-Today, the Wall Street Journal, the Howard Stern Show, BBC, and many more.
* Earlier this month, it won two Quill Book Awards, for best audio book and best biography/memoir. (And Jenny got the thrill of her life when she met Anderson Cooper.)
* Book tour and speaking invitations have taken me to dozens of American cities this past year, and to London and Dublin, too. (I keep hinting for the Italian publisher to bring me to Rome, but so far no bites.)
* I had the thrill of being invited to join President and Mrs. Bush at a gala dinner, and, the next morning, to a breakfast at The White House. Then I got to speak and sign books at the National Book Festival on the Mall.
* Along the way, I've met thousands of the nicest, kindest, most enthusiastic and generous-spirited people imaginable. They have renewed my faith in the fundamental goodness of the human race.

Whew! Everytime I look at Marley's photo -- and it's now plastered all over our home in various publicity materials -- I just have to laugh at the incongruity of it all. The dog who could do no right in life, who screwed up virtually everything he tried, now can do nary a wrong thing. Talk about life after death!

I'm writing this from the tiny Saginaw, Michigan, airport, waiting to catch a flight home after spending today in the thriving metropolis of Mount Pleasant, Michigan, where I spoke at the Michigan Storytelling Festival and met with writing students at my alma mater, Central Michigan University. Go Chippewas!

What a year it has been. Thank you all for helping make it a year I will never, ever forget. And never take for granted.

Cheers, John

posted by John Grogan at 2:45 PM 20 comments


Thank you, readers! Marley wins two Quill Awards

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Well, everyone, you did it. The votes have been counted for the 2006 Quill Book Awards -- and Marley & Me won in both categories in which it was nominated. The winners were announced at a black-tie banquet held in New York at the Museum of Natural History. It was quite the affair with a live performance from Fantasia Barrino of American Idol fame. Presenters included
Harry Connick Jr., Lemony Snicket, Donald Trump, and CNN's Anderson Cooper, whose hand Jenny was thrilled to shake. Caroline Kennedy was on hand to receive the Platinum Quill for her work with the Kennedy Library Foundation. Winning Book of the Year was Tyler Perry’s Don't Make a Black Woman Take off Her Earrings.

The first category in which I was nominated was Audio Book, and I was so sure I had absolutely no chance of winning that I not only didn't bother to prepare an acceptance speech, I didn't even think about the possibility of one. After all, the competition included the ever-charming and loquacious Frank McCourt reading his memoir Teacher Man. How could a guy like me with a Midwestern nasal twang compete with that? When actor Judd Hirsch announced the nominees I was happily shoving food into my mouth, confident there was no danger of having to interrupt my noshing. "And the winner is...Marley & Me by John Grogan." Um, me? I was dumbfounded. I made it to the podium and did my best to ad lib an acceptance speech. Suffice it to say, I kept it very short and sweet.

Later in the evening, Marley & Me won in the Biography/Memoir category, which was a great honor considering the wonderful talent in that category: Joan Didion, Anderson Cooper, J. R. Moehringer, and Charles J. Shields. This time I had some comments prepared. I thanked the many people at my publisher Wm. Morrow, whose hard work and enthusiasm helped turn my dream into a reality. I especially wanted to thank my editor, Mauro DiPreta, who skillfully shepherded my book from the earliest manuscript stage through the latest print run. I thanked my awesome agent, Laurie Abkemeier, who spotted the potential of my story from my half-baked proposal she plucked out of a sea of unsolicited queries. Laurie believed in this book long before anyone else did, and she gets the credit for pulling the story out of me one chapter at a time. Of course, I thanked Jenny and our kids for so generously allowing me to trot them out in public to tell this story.

I saved the best for last. And that's you, the readers. If it wasn't for you, and your amazing enthusiasm, and your word-of-mouth promotion, and wonderful encouragement -- and of course your many votes for Marley during the Quills online voting period -- none of this would be a reality. So let me thank you here, as well. Thank you for validating my belief in the value of my story. Thank you for making my book a bestseller. And thank you for giving me these two Quill awards. I'll treasure them always. You guys are the greatest!

There's no rest for the wicked, nor for authors. After The Quills (and a celebratory drink with my publishing team), I flew out of New York bright and early the next morning for Bowling Green, Ohio, where I spoke to a large (650 people I was told)and spirited crowd. As with just about everywhere I go, they made me feel right at home, proving once again that readers are some of the nicest, kindest people in the land.

I arrived back home this afternoon and immediately jumped in to finish my column for The Philadelphia Inquirer. The column is about the Amish community's amazing capacity to forgive in the wake of the horrific killing spree at the Amish school not far from where I live, and I had been working on it in fits and starts around all the Quills excitement and my travel to Ohio. I got the column wrapped up and in to my editor at 5 p.m. (If you're curious, my columns are at http:go.philly.com/grogan.)And then came here to share my good news with you.

Again, thanks for all your support, your wonderful emails and letters. And, of course, your votes.

Gratefully,
John

posted by John Grogan at 3:43 PM 16 comments


The First Lady & Me (and Cesar, too)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

I was eating Chinese carry-outs the other day and opened my fortune cookie to find this salient little gem: "You maintain a sense of balance in the midst of great success." Well, I don't know about that, but I do know I'm sure trying. Sometimes it feels like balancing on one foot while riding the lead car on the big rollercoaster ride at Dorney Park, the sprawling amusement park near my home outside Allentown, Pa.

Marley & Me is fast approaching its one-year anniversary, and I think I can now safely agree with my fortune that it's a "great success." It was released mid-October 2005, and just hit its 50th straight week on The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list, 23 of those weeks at #1. It's now in its 32nd or so printing, with about 2.3 million copies in print in North America, and is also out or about to come out in 25 countries around the world. A screenwriter is hard at work adapting the book for Fox 2000 Pictures.

Sometimes it's all a little hard to grasp, and one of those times was a couple weekends ago when I was in Washington D.C. to speak and sign books at the National Book Festival on the Mall. About 100,000 readers showed up to meet some 70 authors, poets and illustrators. But the coolest part was what came before the festival started.

The night before, all 70 of us were invited to a black-tie gala with President and Mrs. Bush and several Cabinet members. A Marine orchestra played and we got to listen to readings from, among others, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner. And the medallions of lamb and mango shrimp were damn tasty. A guy with a vaguely familiar face sat down next to me, extended his hand and said, "I'm Scott Turow." I mean, how cool is that?

The next morning, Jenny and I were at the White House bright and early for an author breakfast with Mrs. Bush. I have to say she was very charming and gracious. She even shared a classified state secret with me: Barney the presidential dog was turning six that day -- and was celebrating at Camp David with the president. Just remember, you read it here first.

I wrote a column about the visit, which appears in today's Philadelphia Inquirer. You can read it at http://go.philly.com/grogan. You will also find a column there about Cesar Millan from National Geographic Channel's "The Dog Whisperer" returning to my home for a follow-up visit. The bottom line: I've decided Gracie our Lab is just fine...but I'm going to try out Cesar's calm-dominance techniques on the children!

I'm mostly a jeans-and-sweatshirt kind of guy. But on Tuesday I get to imitate a penguin and dress up in a tuxedo for The Quill Book Awards in New York City. As regular readers of this blog know all too well, Marley & Me has been nominated in two categories -- audio book and biography/memoir -- and I'll let you know how it turns out. Either way, it should be a fun night. I just hope the chef is as good as the president's. :)

Until next time.... john

posted by John Grogan at 9:31 PM 6 comments

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