I recently met Aaron Galvin at an authors' event and was captivated by his young adult novel The Grave of Lainey Grace. The book contains so much poignant, rich detail about the life of a graveyard caretaker and his granddaughter that I became curious about the "story-behind-the-story." Aaron graciously agreed to share how writing the story not only drew from his personal childhood experiences but also helped him heal from grief and feel connected to someone he lost.
Here is his guest blog on the topic:
Write what you know. It’s a bit of advice I’ve often heard given to aspiring writers and, frankly, never much stock in. For instance, I have no personal experience as a sixteen-year-old girl during the Salem witch trials, nor do I know what it is to be a Selkie slave in an underwater city. I’ve written stories from both perspectives though, so the whole ‘write what you know’ seemed a bit meh to me.
My thinking changed last spring. I woke from a nap to the sound of my wife and our daughter laughing outside our home, the sun shining through our bedroom window, the breeze blowing the pink blooms of our crepe myrtle against the glass, and me mad at myself for having fallen asleep rather than spending time with my family. And then a thought popped into my head. Every year, when the last leaf of summer falls, the roses are laid at the grave of Lainey Grace. I have no idea where that idea came from. Only that inspiration grabbed hold and refused to release me. Continuing my horrible charade at a work/life balance, I snatched up my computer and off I went into the garden to chase this roses concept.
But what I first believed a love story I would dedicate to my wife quickly morphed into a different tale about a graveyard and its caretaker. There’s a reason for that too – write what you know. When I was a kid, I thought my family worked in the death business. Grandpa worked as the head groundskeeper at the local cemetery and he had four sons - one a county coroner and funeral home director, another owned the vault company, and all four Galvin boys had worked in the cemetery at one point or another over the years. Whenever we grandkids visited, Grandpa would tell us to load up in the back of his truck and then we’d go to “help” him lock up the gates in the evening. In truth, I hadn’t really thought much on those times until this story came to me. Yet the moment I started writing, words flowed out of me and I pictured myself sitting on the tailgate of Grandpa’s truck, hoping to be the first grandkid off the back to reach the heavy, wrought iron gates that I might be the one lucky enough to close them.
Reflecting on those good times as I wrote helped me realize how privileged I am to not only have been raised among a family of humble caretakers, but to have witnessed their incredible examples of the utmost respect and reverence for both the bereaved and their deceased loved ones. Writing also helped me understand that I never truly grieved the loss of my grandfather. Like many things in life, we don’t often realize such moments are fleeting and that we might spend our later years desiring nothing more than to return to those favored days gone by, if only to glimpse a lost loved one as they live on in our memory.
I was a freshman in college when Grandpa passed away and no doubt more concerned with the world viewing me as a man than allowing anyone catch me mourning. Yet here I was, a decade later, weeping over my keyboard while imagining his gruff voice, dirt-stained overalls, and the creaking doors of his work truck. Some nights, I swore that I could hear him. “People mourn in all sorts of different ways,” I imagined him saying as memories poured out of me, blending with a fantastical story that, in retrospect, I created if only to gift me a chance to converse with him again. This story is my way, Grandpa. I realized while typing. And I know it well. So now when aspiring authors ask me for advice about inspiration, how to craft a story, or all that comes with glorious writing, I give them a bit of tried-and-true advice – “Write what you know. The story might surprise you.”
Author Bio: Aaron Galvin cut his chops writing stand-up comedy routines at age thirteen. His early works paid off years later when he co-wrote and executive produced the award-winning indie feature film, Wedding Bells & Shotgun Shells. He is also an accomplished actor. Aaron has worked in everything from Hollywood blockbusters, (Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, and Clint Eastwood's Flags of Our Fathers), to starring in dozens of indie films and commercials. Aaron is a native Hoosier, graduate of Ball State University, and a proud member of SCBWI. He currently lives in Southern California with his wife and daughter.