Following a family tragedy, 18-year-old Gabe LoScuda suddenly finds himself thrust into the role of caregiver for his ailing grandfather. Between the shopping trips and the doctor visits with Grandpa, Gabe and his friend John try to salvage their senior year, meet girls, and make the varsity baseball team. It doesn’t take long for Gabe to realize that going to school and looking after a grandfather with Alzheimer’s is more work than he ever imagined. And when long-lost Uncle Nick appears on the scene, Gabe soon finds that living with Nick and Grandpa is like babysitting two grown men. Aside from John, the only person who truly understands Gabe is Sofia, a punk-rocking rebel he meets at the veteran’s hospital. When these three unlikely friends are faced with a serious dilemma, will they do what it takes to save Grandpa? If there’s a chance of preserving the final shreds of Grandpa’s dignity, Gabe may have to make the most gut-wrenching decision of his life—and there’s no way out.
FRANK MORELLI has been a teacher, a coach, a bagel builder, a stock boy, a pretzel salesman, a bus driver, a postal employee, a JC Penney model (see: clerk), an actual clerk (like in the movie of the same name), a camp counselor, a roving sports reporter, and a nuclear physicist (okay, maybe that’s not true). At heart, he’s a writer, and that’s all he’s ever been. His fiction and essays have appeared in more than thirty publications, including The Saturday Evening Post, Cobalt Review, Philadelphia Stories, Jersey Devil Press, and Indiana Voice Journal. His sports-themed column—“Peanuts & Crackerjacks”—appears monthly at Change Seven Magazine.
A Philadelphia native, Frank now lives near Greensboro, NC in a tiny house under the trees with his best friend and muse, their obnoxious alley cats, and two hundred pounds worth of dog.
When did Gabe’s “unofficial” story begin? How has it changed since its inception?
Gabe’s story began about three years ago while I was an MFA candidate at National University. One of my first classes was writing for young adults. I’d never written a story specifically targeted at young adults before, which is weird to think about now since I’ve been teaching students of this age group for the past fifteen years, but I wrote the opening chapter for an assignment in that class and I knew right away that I should have been writing in this genre all along. One of my classmates in that very course was YA author Ann Y.K. Choi (Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety), and she became my go-to reader for No Sad Songs almost instantly. I really can’t thank her enough for helping me to see the pathways Gabe LoScuda needed to take in this story. As a result of being part of such a generous writing community, I don’t think the original vision of the story changed all that much since its inception. I workshopped each chapter individually as I wrote them, so Gabe’s story kind of changed in real-time as I reached the end of the first draft. At that point, there were at least two million smaller changes that were made. Removing passages or adding detail in places, for example. But overall, the guidance I received as I wrote the first draft helped me to maintain my original vision in the form you currently hold in your hands.
Gabe’s experience with the sudden pressure and responsibility, is this something you’ve personally experienced in your life as an adolescent?
Very much so. I think adolescence is a time in everyone’s life where we’re faced for the very first time with real-world pressures and responsibilities, which is why it’s such a valuable time to reflect on. For me, the connection to Gabe’s life is even closer because my own grandfather was also diagnosed with a form of Alzheimer’s when I was a teen. Unlike Gabe, I was lucky enough to have two heroic parents that were able to become his caregivers during his seven-year battle with the disease, but I had the unfortunate opportunity to witness all of the sacrifices they had to make in order to give my grandfather the gift of living out his life in dignity, surrounded by people he loved. When I began to develop Gabe’s character, I drew on my own experiences and tried to imagine what my life would have been like if the responsibility of being a caregiver had fallen to me. Spoiler alert: it wouldn’t have been pretty.
There’s a heavy pattern of music, baseball and poetry in Gabe’s story, were they your own way of coping during the time your Grandfather battled with Alzheimer’s?
Not only were music, baseball, and poetry my coping mechanisms during the time my Grandfather battled Alzheimer’s, but they’ve been my go-to stress relievers for as long as I can remember. Baseball is probably at the top of the list. In fact, any athletic venture can really do the trick for me. I love writing and thinking and disappearing into my mind for long periods of time. But I also require time where I can disconnect from playing the game of mental chess against myself and exist solely in the realm of reaction. That’s what sports are for me—an outlet where I can perpetually be the kid version of myself. It’s a form of therapy, I guess, while music and poetry give me a chance to reflect on and makes sense of my problems and realize I’m not alone. I’m just part of this human experience like everyone else.
What would you say was the most difficult part in writing No Sad Songs?
The hardest thing for me was reliving the experiences I had with my grandfather as I watched him drift off into nothingness. He was the kind of person who sent your birthday card a week early, and showed up to little league games even when you didn’t tell him about them, and was the first person to arrive at every family gathering. Then he suddenly wasn’t any of these things and it made me feel completely helpless. Like I couldn’t do a thing to stop him from turning into a man I barely knew anymore. At the same time, it was the exact reason I decided to write the book. I needed to explore that time in my life one more time with the benefit of hindsight and figure out how I was going to pour all of the resulting realizations into a character with even more responsibilities than I had at that age.
I’ve noticed your talent for balancing humour within an emotional story, and I especially appreciated the simple yet vivid prose in your book. Which authors would you say inspired you? Are there any books that have affected you as an author?
Holden Caulfield changed my life. There is no doubt about it. Not only did J.D. Salinger’s A Catcher in the Rye make me fall in love with reading all over again, but it set an example for the style of writing I favor when I put pen to paper. Holden’s speech patterns are simple and authentic to the world of adolescence, but they are also littered with cutting remarks and sage-like observations. He is an unreliable narrator, one we don’t agree with or even like one hundred percent of the time, but I think those flaws make all the difference in how the reader receives his story. I would also say the same thing about Scout Finch in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and about Ponyboy in S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders.
Your book takes on a unique formatting with having Gabe’s personal essays in between chapters, what made you decide this?
I wanted readers to feel Gabe’s tension in real-time, which is why I decided to write his narrative in the present tense. But I think in reality, all of us make decisions based on experiences we’ve had in the past. Sometimes, maybe most times, we don’t realize what it is we learned from an experience until many years later. Gabe’s essays are intended to mirror this phenomenon, but they also provide the reader with two very different sides of the character. It was a fun challenge to toy with the two voices I used for Gabe, one being his choppy, slang-infested narrative voice, and the other his more-polished and sophisticated writing voice. Of course, the essays also allowed me to provide crucial backstory, including a look at the man Grandpa used to be versus the portrait of the man he has become as a result of the disease.
What do you think could be done better to help young caretakers, especially for those who may not have any financial support?
Currently, there are over fifteen million people serving as caregivers for loved ones with dementia. No one seems to mention this fact, let alone attempt to do something about it. You’re one hundred percent correct when you mention people who may not have the financial support to adequately provide care. What many don’t realize is how the disease not only derails the life of the person afflicted, but it can also be a crushing financial responsibility for those who sacrifice their lives to care for them. The first thing we need to do is raise awareness about these caregivers. I think if the world knew the stories of the scores of people affected by the Alzheimer’s epidemic, resources could definitely be raised to assist those in need. But I think, as a society, we need to fund more research to cure the disease altogether. If we eliminate the disease, we eliminate the caregiver problem as well. It has been encouraging to see people like Bill Gates (The Gates Foundation) and Seth Rogen (Hilarity for Charity) speaking out and donating vast amounts of resources to the cause in recent months.
You’re/were having book signings, readings, and discussions for No Sad Songs, how is the experience of being a published author so far?
The experience so far has been everything I’ve dreamed of and more. Truly surreal. Receiving congratulatory emails from bestselling authors whose books you’ve been reading for years has probably been the most mind-blowing of the experiences so far, but hearing from readers, friends, and family quoting their favorite passages back to me has been the most satisfying. There’s really no better feeling than knowing your words have had some effect on another individual’s life. Any time I can be reminded that the pen is mightier than the sword, I’m happy.
I’m especially interested in knowing what it’s like interacting with students who read your books? What is something you’ve learned from them?
Interacting with students who have read my books is my favorite part of the whole game. I’m a teacher, so I often share pieces of my writing with my students long before they are ready to be published. What I’ve learned is that young adults are the most honest and genuine people on the planet. They often see things in my writing that my adult eyes can’t see. I’m thankful I have an opportunity to listen to these voices because they are accurate and thoughtful and sophisticated, and adults have written them off as “just kids” for far too long.
You’ve written a lot of short stories prior to No Sad Songs, how difficult was it to move from writing short stories to full length novels?
I think many authors will tell you a novel is probably easier to write than a short story, and I would have to agree. Short stories can be scary to write because there’s not much room for error. The tiniest flaws stand out so much more when you can’t lose them within the 80,000 words you have to play with in a novel. You have to be able to build an entire world, develop characters, and flesh out an entire narrative arc in the course of a few pages. So, for me, writing short stories was like swinging two bats in the on-deck circle. It made the bat feel lighter when I stepped up to the plate to write my first novel, to use a sports analogy.
Are you working on any future projects currently? Or any you’re working towards?
Yes!! I’m really excited about the many projects I have in queue. The one I’m most excited about right now is my next novel which will be out from Fish Out of Water Books in 2019. It’s about a high school ice hockey star from Minnesota whose family has been decimated by domestic abuse, and his escape to rural North Carolina where hockey dreams dry up like tobacco leaves. The protagonist is also a classic film buff and an aspiring filmmaker. Parts of the story are told in the form of a running screenplay, so the book reads in many ways like a film. I can’t wait for people to read it!
No Sad Songs tackles the issue of Alzheimer’s, young caretakers, family relationships, and friendships in a thoughtful yet humorous way. I enjoyed reading No Sad Songs, finding the story engrossing moving from emotional to fun-loving. The author handles the issue of Alzheimer’s with honesty, we do not get the picture of Gabe as the selfless caretaker but as a normal eighteen year old boy who struggles between taking care of his family and himself. Often choosing the former. His friendship with John is his tether to normalcy; John is Gabe’s conscience and is always looking out for Gabe. No Sad Songs portrays the loyalty of friends and the sacrifices that can come from it. No Sad Songs is a story that touched my heart, it was a lesson on family values that makes it readers aware of the difficulty of caretakers and Alzheimer patients endure.
Want to know more about Frank Morelli’s No Sad Song? You can listen to a reading at Charlie Lovett’s Inside the Writer’s Studio
And now, I’d like to offer my readers a chance to win a copy of No Sad Songs by Frank Morelli. Two international readers will win an ebook copy and one US resident will win a physical copy of the book! Enter below!
I’d like to thank the author, Frank Morelli, and Fish Out Of Water Books for