Paul began writing his first novel as he finished college, in 1988. That novel and many others went unpublished. Meanwhile, he worked on the truck docks and in construction, as a dog trainer and 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 workshops aimed at stemming the spread of violence, substance abuse and HIV/AIDS among young adults. These days his workshops focus on helping young men and women tell their life stories as they reach out to counselors, judges, admissions officers and potential employers. Twenty years to the day after Paul graduated Dartmouth, Penguin/Dial released his “first” novel Ten Mile River, then The Orange Houses a year later and then Stay With Me in 2011. Dial is publishing Burning Blue, a mystery, in 2012 and a fifth book, tentatively a sci-fi romance, in 2013. Paul lives in Washington Heights, NYC with three dogs and one wife, documentary moviemaker Risa Morimoto.

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A word from Paul Griffin:

Where I came from, reading was for girls and geeks. The only literature you could get caught with, without getting your ass kicked, was a comic book. So I read comics and started drawing my own—in secret, of course, because drawing was even less cool than reading.

I started reading on the sly, the odd adventure novel or baseball player biography, maybe a ghost story, but mostly textbooks. They were boring, but I stuffed my head with them because I knew they were my ticket to college and maybe a life as a moviemaker. My grandfather lived around the corner, and he made super-8 movies. We edited with scissors and scotch tape. He was the director and made me his writer. “We have Grandma, a box of frozen shrimp and the dog.Make up a story using that stuff, and quick. The light’s fading.” My first shot at storytelling. Meanwhile, my studying paid off. I got into a prep school, and a scholarship and odd jobs made it affordable.

Somewhere in there my father gave me a book, Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison. It started off with a boxing match, a truly horrific one, and never let up on the pace. I loved it. He started giving me other stories. I started writing them, very, very bad poems at first, then movie scenes with way too much dialogue, stuff I was hearing where I worked or in the street or in church or anywhere.

Scenes grew into one-act plays and then full-length movie scripts; short stories became novels. Whatever they were, they never went anywhere. I was forty years old and out of work one gray November afternoon, my wife was away on an extended trip and I was wondering if she was coming back, when a man named Kirby Kim called me out of the blue and said he’d gotten a hold of one of my stories from our mutual friend Elisa, and he thought he might be able to sell it. “Sure you will,” I said, doubtful. “I promise I’ll try,” he said. He became my agent and more than that my friend and worked ridiculously hard to keep his word, and then, on my forty-first birthday, he sold my “first” book to Dial, and the beautiful peeps at Penguin have been letting me hang around ever since.

I think back on all those stories that never sold. The rejection was painful, and then after a few years, a little less painful. Then, somewhere maybe a dozen or so years into trying to get a story out there, I didn’t feel the pain at all, because I had stopped trying to get published. I was numb. I was working all sorts of jobs, construction, bartending, logging the midnight shift as a “maintenance man” (basically a dishwasher) for catering companies, whatever paid the rent. I kept writing though, just for myself, because the stories took me to a place where I could be with the people who inspired me—family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, my wife—but in a way I couldn’t be with them in real life. In my head I could bring them together in any number of ways, but in one way they were always the same: resilient, and they gave me hope.

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Check Out These Books by Paul Griffin

Stay with Me

by Paul Griffin
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