Steven Jay Griffel
(credit: Barbara Griffel)
The Deadline, the latest novel from Bestselling author, Steven Jay Griffel, is the story of David Grossman, a Baby Boomer approaching sixty who loses his high-paying corporate job and decides to embark on a quest to write the Great American Novel. To buy time to fulfill his lifelong dream, he makes a deal with his loving but bottom-line conscious wife: he has one year to write his book and get it published; otherwise, it’s back to the corporate grind, “a life lived under the steady lash.” At first, one year seems like ample time, but he had not counted on the elusiveness of finding the right storyline, the difficulties of writing page after page, and the numbing frustrations of finding a publisher. And he surely had not counted on having to deal with a mercurial culinary genius from the Amazon, a high priestess of the dark arts, a dying mother, and sinister thugs from the Mob. With each passing day, Grossman feels the pressure of time slipping away and the likely end to his dream.
The Deadline is a truly engaging story, as only Steven Jay Griffel could write, about people fighting to achieve their dreams, no matter what the odds. In the center of it all is David Grossman, a man who struggles to push ahead, an everyman who still believes that decency, humor, and compassion are enough to survive in a world gone awry.
THIRSTY caught up with Steven Jay at his home in New York for this conversation about his new book, The Deadline, his Bestselling debut novel, Forty Years Later, Baby Boomers and aspiring writers.
THIRSTY: You have adopted David Grossman as your hero in both Forty Years Later, your bestselling debut novel, and now again in your second novel, The Deadline. Who is David Grossman?
Steven Jay Griffel: Nearly sixty, David Grossman is on track for a hard-won retirement when he’s derailed: fired by a cost-cutting corporation looking for a leaner, younger staff. Though he’s unwilling to settle for a life of quiet desperation, he’s fearful of starting over again or having to reinvent himself. And so, he turns to his lifelong dream to write and publish a novel. David Grossman is a devoted family man; he’s also a good and giving friend, and it is this aspect of his personality that involves him with a culinary genius from the Amazon, seedy gamblers, a priestess of the dark arts, and sinister agents of the Mob. Though life often conspires to undo the best of us, David Grossman does all he can to keep his marriage and dreams alive.
THIRSTY: Your first book, Forty Years Later, received an overwhelming number of 5-star reviews from customers on Amazon. What themes do you think resonated the most with readers and earned you so many fans?
Steven Jay Griffel: I think the Baby Boomer theme resonated loudest. It’s common for all people, especially those in their late middle years, to look back on their life’s journey and wonder how it might have been different if they had made other choices, taken other roads. I think this is especially true for people who continue to nurse painful regrets. A few lucky ones (like David Grossman) get a second chance, but that doesn’t always mean they face easy choices—or that they will find happiness. Life can be overwhelming and unpredictable. But David Grossman (and several of the book’s other Boomer characters) throw caution out the window and take their chances.
David’s obsession with “Woodstock” also struck a chord with many readers. I think they saw in “Woodstock” a symbol of a place or event they might have “conquered”—if only they had dared, or if life had been different.
The theme of sin and salvation also inspired readers. It’s exciting and cathartic to share the lives of recklessly passionate characters. Think summer romance, Boomer-style.
I think Forty Years Later also appeals to all those who have found or still hope to find the creative flame that inspired their youth. So many adults have left the passions of their youth on life’s back burners. It only takes a spark to reignite those quiet embers.
THIRSTY: In The Deadline, the story begins with your hero, David Grossman, losing his 35-year job at a Fortune 500 publishing company. He is a Baby Boomer approaching sixty-years-old who is facing a very tough economy and clearly some hiring discrimination based on his age. How representative is Grossman's plight to today's Baby Boomers who are either seeking a new job or are unemployed?
Steven Jay Griffel: David Grossman could serve as a poster boy for Baby Boomers who find themselves out of a job. He goes through a period where he feels unwanted and useless: “I am a son whose father is dead and whose mother is dying; I am a husband who has been married most of his life; I am a father whose children no longer need his guidance; I am a publisher without a job; a novelist with nothing to say. I am a man with more past than future.” I think David Grossman’s combination of vulnerability and positive outlook will appeal to all readers, especially the Baby Boomers. Losing a job and being unemployed are facts of life, often beyond the control of the individual. David Grossman’s situation and his willingness to lay his heart on the line will have unemployed Baby Boomers rooting for him.
THIRSTY: Your hero in The Deadline takes a year off and decides to write his long-dreamed of novel. Will first-time writers identify with Grossman and his struggles?
Steven Jay Griffel: I think first-time writers might regard Grossman’s struggles as a combination model and cautionary tale. Many writers, experienced and neophyte, struggle to find their proper subject and voice. No doubt they’ve already heard of Writer’s Rule #1: Write what you know. But many writers assume that their own lives are too limited and banal to serve as a model for their fiction—and they look far and wide for more impressive, sexy, or exotic subjects. This can work, of course—but when it does, it’s usually because what they’ve found to write about is closely allied to their core emotions, whether they realize it or not. In most cases, I would encourage writers to write what they know best. This does not mean that writers should write only what they have experienced—that would be stultifying. But developing a narrative out of familiar resources will give their work an honest authenticity.
I think first-time writers might also identify with Grossman’s initial inability to get started. All writers have faced the terrors of the blank page. With the freedom to say anything and all the time in the world to say it, many writers are paralyzed with indecision. Grossman’s deadline may help inspire other writers to set the timer: a ticking clock might be just the thing to get the words flowing.
THIRSTY: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers that might give them hope they too can become a successful bestselling novelist?
Steven Jay Griffel: There are two basic motivations for writing: creative passion and commercial success. Most writers are compelled by a combination of the two—but I am really interested only in the creative passion. My best advice for aspiring writers: write with honesty and courage. Feel your emotions. Listen to them. Taste them. Seek out the ones that are hiding, especially the ones shuddering in the dark, the ones no one else knows about. That’s where you’ll find the core of your story. There’s a reason why some thrills are called cheap; why some fruits are called low-lying. If you stay on the surface, if you don’t reach high and deep, your writing will be shallow and mediocre.
I would also encourage writers to revise, again and again. Writers should revise first for sense: Does the plot work? Are the characters real? Are their motivations and actions reasonable? Writers should then revise to perfect the music of their prose. Every writing style has its own sounds and rhythms. Story and style are not separate issues. The best writers understand that form and style equals content. It’s hard work, but all successful endeavors require sweat and tears. Good luck to all!
Fans of Forty Years Later will not want to miss reconnecting with and rooting for Steven Jay Griffel’s engaging hero, David Grossman, in The Deadline.