Off Across the Pond
Friday, January 30, 2009
I'm writing this next to the woodstove in my writing studio on a snowy night here in eastern Pennsylvania. But tomorrow I will get a change of scenery. I leave to fly to London for a two-week tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland to promote my latest book, The Longest Trip Home. I'm really looking forward to returning to one of my favorite parts of the world and reconnecting with readers there in person. The last time I was in London was almost a year ago when I was a finalist for the British Book Award in the biography category. I did not win, but I sure had a great time and enjoyed speaking to so many British readers who helped make Marley & Me a #1 bestseller in the UK.
My Longest Trip Home tour will take me from London to Dublin to Belfast, then back to England to visit the cities of Liverpool, Lancaster, and Manchester. If you live in any of these areas, please drop in to see me at one of my events. For more information on the British release of The Longest Trip, please visit: http://www.hodder.co.uk
Meanwhile back here in the United States, I continue to get really wonderful emails at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks to everyone who has taken the time to write. I cannot begin to answer them all (though I try), but I do read them all and take strength and encouragement from your words.
As you might expect, many of my daily emails are about the Marley & Me movie, which is just now winding down after its holiday run, which landed it as the #1 movie in America for two weeks. But the emails that most touch my heart are about The Longest Trip Home, a book that is so personal for me.
Many of your letters are so beautiful and heartfelt, I wanted to share a few.
From Janet Smith:
"I just finished your new book "The Longest Trip Home" and felt a need to let you know how deeply your book touched me. What wonderful parents you had. Your father reminded me of mine who also passed away about 7 years ago. They leave behind a beautiful legacy in each of us. I have cried through your 2 books so far and right now am still crying over this one. I find it amazing that your books really dig deep in all of us and touch a part of us we sometimes forget about. But, I can also tell you that after reading these books I feel really good and optimistic about life again. From the bottom of my heart, thank you."
From Janice White in Ontario, Canada:
"I applaud you, John Grogan, for touching my heart like no other author has. Both Marley & Me and The Longest Trip Home brought on every emotion possible. I laughed and cried as I reflected on our similar stories."
From Mary Spalding:
" I have just finished The Longest Trip Home... Your metamorphosis from Baltimore Catechism to spiritual seeker is so beautifully told. Your respect and openness is heartfelt. Marley touched me so and now this story-- Wow! Thank you so much. Your very personal experiences and feelings shared allowed me to see with your eyes. Thank you.
From Leslie Jones:
"I may be the only person on earth who read The Longest Trip Home before Marley and Me. Your book is amazing to me in a personal way. My husband and I are just your age, and I've never read a book that so closely mirrors my childhood--not the religious part, but all the every day stuff of suburban USA in the 60's and 70's. You also nailed the family dynamic--the parents and the adult children, and the process of breaking away into your own new family. I know you were just writing about your family but the way you did it was so masterful, and allows all of us readers to remember our own experiences and relate."
From Kelly Francani near Philadelphia:
"First let me begin by saying that I've never attempted to provide feedback (good or bad) to an author, but I felt compelled to let you know just how much I enjoyed your memoir, The Longest Trip Home. I finished it this afternoon. I'm not one for words, so I won't go on and on, but simply put I was deeply moved by your book. Not only was it well written, but I loved that you included the good, the bad, and the uncomfortable! I laughed and cried (read: sobbed uncontrollably) at the end, but still walked away feeling inspired and grateful for all the blessings I have in my life. I wanted to say thank you for sharing your story and demonstrating how it is hard to break away from your family, start your own, and then live somewhere in between the two realms!"
From Mary Claire Schmidt:
"What an incredible gift you have! Today I read The Longest Trip Home. Once again, just as I did reading Marley and Me, I laughed out loud and cried. Your stories are so personal that readers can not help but relate your experiences to their own lives. In my case, for the most part, it was start to finish in both books."
From Betty Kruszka:
" I'm a tad intimidated writing a writer and yet having just finished reading The Longest Trip Home I feel brave enough to try. Your book resonated so deeply in me, I felt as though it was simply the male version of my own childhood. John, you truly do have a gift. I have read and truly enjoyed both of your books. You have the uncanny ability to make me burst out laughing and then burst out crying all before finishing a single chapter. Thanks for filling a few hours of my life with both joy-filled laughter and sweet sad tears as you took me on a trip home that reminded me so much of my own."
And from Father Louis Lohan, an Irish Catholic priest in Mississippi:
" For the past two weeks, I have been listening to your book “The Longest Trip Home.” From very early on in the book, I have wanted to write to you or be in contact with you somehow. My first reason for wanting to contact you was to tell you how clearly I heard the echo of my own childhood and youth—totally different from yours but somehow there were so many similarities... Your book is beautiful. Thanks for sharing so openly and honestly."
Now it's time for me to get some sleep. I have a plane to catch tomorrow! Again, thanks everyone, for all the great feedback.
posted by John Grogan at 8:06 PM
Back and Forth with the Boston Globe
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
The thing about the journalism world, it's a pretty tiny planet. When I started at my first newspaper job in 1979 I was surrounded by a lot of other young kids just out of college. We all followed similar trajectories, starting at small dailies and moving up to bigger papers as we progressed. What that means is that, 30 years later, I know reporters and editors at just about every large paper in the country. People I worked with in Michigan and in Florida -- at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel (featured prominently in the Marley & Me movie) and the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post -- are now at The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Journal, and on and on.
Now that I'm writing books full time and spending a good part of my life on the road, my old colleagues and I keep bumping into each other. One of them is David Beard, who worked beside me in Florida and is now at the Boston Globe, where he is editor of the paper's online edition, Boston.com. David is a smart and curious guy who loves to ask questions. Recently, he peppered me with a handful of them by email and this is what ran in the Globe on Sunday:
Marley author dogged with Aniston questions
January 17, 2009
By David Beard, Globe Staff
John Grogan is no Hollywood actor, but the Marley & Me author is having a Hollywood moment -- and getting teased by guy friends about his cinematic ''wife,'' Jennifer Aniston. We e-mailed back and forth with Grogan, who replied from his eastern Pennsylvania home.
Q. Can your year get any better? No. 1 movie in America for two weeks, and great reviews for your new book. How has your life changed since the Christmas premiere of Marley? Any doubletakes/weirdness at the supermarket checkout counter?
A. No, not really. The beautiful part of being a writer and not a screen actor is no one really knows or cares what you look like. Even though there is a major motion picture out there about my life and my family, we remain mostly anonymous once we get outside our immediate community.
Most of our friends and neighbors are naturally curious, so we get a lot of questions from them -- and are happy to answer them. And of course every guy I know has made the same lame joke about volunteering to help Jennifer Aniston learn about the real John Grogan. Get in line guys!
Q.When an actor has a series role, they're often identified with that role if they do a movie part or another series? Do you feel people will think you and your wife Jenny are ''just like'' Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston in the movie's broad-brush adaptation of your book?
A. That doesn't really concern me, and the reason is because I have two memoirs out there now -- Marley & Me and my new book, The Longest Trip Home -- that paint a detailed portrait of our lives in my own voice. The movie is not quite my book and not quite our real lives, and I think moviegoers, at least those who have also read or will read my books, understand that. It's a fictionalized movie inspired by my book, not a documentary. The director and screenwriters took liberties, invented characters and scenes and fudged some facts to make the story work for screen. I'm fine with that, especially because I have my books as a public record of the real story.
I should add that I think the director David Frankel made a really beautiful film that captures the emotional truths of my family's experience.
Q. I recently saw you and your wife on "The Dog Whisperer'' on TV. Looks like you two still have some obedience issues with the new dogs?
A. Yes, to the charge of being the world's most hapless dog owner, I hereby plead guilty. Cesar Milan from National Geographic Channel's The Dog Whisperer, came to our home to work with us and our female Labrador retriever Gracie, whom we got after Marley died. Gracie's basically a good, calm dog, but as Cesar pointed out, "She loves you but does not respect you." My life story.
Now we have a second Lab. As shooting of the movie was wrapping up last May, the producers presented us with one of the puppies used in shooting. His name is Woodson and he is a handful of puppy antics and mischief. In one week alone, he ate a television remote (not chewed, ATE), raided a large bag of cat food, staged hourly raids on the toilet paper rolls, and snatched my father-in-law's hearing aid and ran off with it. We're working on his canine manners, and he's making progress. But as my wife, Jenny, says on a daily basis to him: "It's a good thing you're so stinkin' cute!"
Q. Was there a point where you thought, writing Marley, that maybe your family and neighbors would be the only people buying this book? That it would be an interesting experiment, but then you'd get along with your newspaper job?
A. I like to say I don't so much pick my writing topics as they pick me. And so it was with Marley. It was just a story bubbling up from inside me, trying to get out, and I finally surrendered and began writing it down. I believed in the story and my ability to tell it, but always thought of it as a "little book," a simple story about my own ordinary life. ...
I pictured it finding an audience, but a modest one. Then it came out on The New York Times bestseller list ... I never dreamed Marley's final gift to me would be a book successful enough to allow me to quit my journalism job to focus full time on book writing, a vocation I truly love. Good dog, Marley!
Q. What's next? Studios, publishers pressuring you for Marley II?
A. Well, my new memoir, The Longest Trip Home, came out this past October, and it was a more ambitious book for me to write than Marley & Me. I poured a lot of myself into it, and I'm very proud of it. But now I'm ready for a long exhale. .... I'm looking forward to spending the next couple months with my family, recharging my batteries, clearing brush, chopping firewood, and planning my spring garden.. ...
I'm also finishing up a third illustrated children's book, and will be starting a fourth after that. And yes, there's another book for adult readers percolating, too, and I've been doing a lot of journaling and outlining about that. I'm not ready to talk about it in detail yet, but it's welling up from inside me ... Fortunately, writing does not feel like work to me. It's all good.
posted by John Grogan at 7:11 PM
Autographed Copies of My Books
Friday, January 16, 2009
Over the past many months, I have signed literally thousands of my books. Each one of my public events ends with a book signing, and I'm always amazed and honored by how many people will stand in lines up to three hours long just to get my John Hancock. Err, make that my John Grogan. Whenever I visit a bookstore I sign whatever they have in stock for those who were unable to attend one of my signings. Yet still I receive a steady stream of requests through my email here at johngroganbooks.com for signed copies of my books. Many ask if they can mail me books with return postage for me to sign and send back. For some time, I tried to accommodate as many of these requests as possible, but I just couldn't keep up. There were times when my dining room table was covered in chest-high piles of books waiting to be signed, packaged and mailed. I'm always happy to sign my books, but it became obvious we needed a better system.
That's when I turned to a local independent bookseller near my home and asked for help. The Moravian Book Shop in the heart of historic Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, bills itself as the oldest continuously operated bookstore in the world. Opened in 1745 a few doors from the campus of even-older Moravian College, it is still going strong and one of my favorite places to kill an hour browsing. The friendly staff there agreed to handle orders for signed books, and as of today are officially ready to start mailing them out to anywhere in the world. I plan to stop in every few weeks to sign more books as needed and to add any personalizations that are requested.
Thank you, Moravian Book Shop!, for simplifying my life. It will be good to get my dining room table back. And thank you readers for continuing to not only buy my books but want them signed, as well. I'm forever humbled and flattered. (A special thank you to my agent, Laurie Abkemeier, for putting this arrangement together.)
To order a signed book, go to http://www.moravianbookshop.com/ and follow the directions on the home page.
You can also get there through my "About John" page here at johngroganbooks.com. (See tab above.)
Finally, a slightly belated Happy New Year to everyone. And a slightly early Happy Inauguration Day!
posted by John Grogan at 1:09 PM
My short list
Friday, January 09, 2009
Time magazine recently asked me to come up with my "short list" of five things I'm currently enjoying. It's a feature they run every week, picking various people to weigh in.
Here's what I came up with. It appears in the current edition of Time, just out:
John Grogan's Short List
Thursday, Jan. 08, 2009
He's the author of the best seller Marley & Me and a new memoir, The Longest Trip Home. Here's what John Grogan has been watching, reading, listening to and harboring fond feelings for. (Oh, and he also went to see that flick about the couple and their crazy dog.)
I don't subscribe to HBO, but after the umpteenth friend insisted that I just had to watch this police drama set in Baltimore, I bought the first season on DVD. I was hooked within the first 10 minutes, and now I'm on Season 2. In a world of predictable and hackneyed story lines, The Wire is fresh, nuanced and raw. You will find no black and white here, only a million shades of gray.
The true story of a plot inside the Third Reich to assassinate Hitler. The critics have been mixed on this one, but I found Tom Cruise's performance credible and the story compelling, even if we all know the outcome before the opening credits roll.
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
A boy, a dog, struggles of life and death, even a ghost. What's not to like?
Emotionalism, by the Avett Brothers
I discovered the Avett Brothers while browsing in one of those iconic hippie shops in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district. The album was playing on the store's sound system, and I was instantly smitten. It is impossible not to grin while listening to this infectiously upbeat blend of folk, rock and bluegrass, all played on acoustic instruments and with whimsical, witty lyrics to boot.
Jenna Fischer as Pam on The Office
My (wife-approved) celebrity crush. Redefining adorableness.
posted by John Grogan at 9:30 AM
Entertainment Weekly reviews the Marley Movie
Friday, January 02, 2009
In a recent review, Entertainment Weekly gave Marley & Me the movie a grade of A-. More importantly, the writer did a nice job interpreting the overarching themes of both my book and the movie adaptation. My favorite line in the review was this one: "Marley stands in for all the unruliness that can never be domesticated out of life."
A crazy, neurotic dog as a metaphor for all that is unpredictable and challenging about life? Who knew!
Marley & Me (2008)
By Owen Gleiberman
In Marley & Me, it doesn't take long to learn why Marley, an incorrigibly frisky golden Labrador retriever adopted by Florida newspaper writers John and Jenny Grogan (Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston), is the ''world's worst dog.'' He's friendly and lovable, but he devours everything in sight — drywall, socks, big chunks of furniture (no, he doesn't just chew on them, he eats them). As a dog owner, I can testify that Marley & Me, based on the real John Grogan's smash 2005 memoir, is the single most endearing and authentic movie about the human–canine connection in decades. As directed by David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada), though, it's also something more: a disarmingly enjoyable, wholehearted comic vision of the happy messiness of family life.
John and Jenny share an existence that, from the standpoint of our current economic times, already looks like paradise. He's a reporter who gets refashioned, by his testy editor (Alan Arkin), into a lifestyle columnist (only to keep complaining about it — poor guy!). She's a feature writer who becomes a stay-at-home mom. As the kids come along (three of them), the Grogans move into bigger and bigger houses, yet they have thwarted ambitions, fights that go on for days, and a general attitude of wistful loss toward all the freedoms they have given up to become parents. Marley & Me celebrates two ordinary people as they try to fit love, work, children, and one volcanically misbehaved pooch into a single space. Marley may be the dog from hell, but we're meant to see that the Grogans, in their hearts, wouldn't have it any other way. Marley stands in for all the unruliness that can never be domesticated out of life.
You can domesticate Owen Wilson, but the shock is how good the role of beleaguered breadwinner looks on him. He and Aniston forge a nimble connection (they even get mad in style), and Wilson has a scene near the end with Marley that's the most wrenchingly tender acting of his career. Using his scratchy, lackadaisical warmth to voice a testament to family, and to where dogs fit into it, he makes you feel like it's a wonderful life indeed. A-
posted by John Grogan at 11:32 AM