Guest Blog: Author Aaron Galvin on Bereavement & Inspiration

The cover of The Grave of Lainey Grace,  written by Aaron Galvin.

The cover of The Grave of Lainey Grace,  written by Aaron Galvin.

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.”

 

Aaron Galvin

Aaron Galvin

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.

Working Together to Transform Trauma

A Window Between Worlds provides art as a healing tool to help participants recover from trauma.

A Window Between Worlds provides art as a healing tool to help participants recover from trauma.

For 25 years, A Window Between Worlds (AWBW) has been using art as a healing tool to help women and children recover emotionally from domestic violence.  Recently, they expanded their wonderful mission to reach others impacted by trauma, including veterans’ groups, hospices, public schools and more. 

Their name reflects their objective:  to provide a view forward for people who have experienced trauma, a window of safe space to express their emotions, their hopes and fears, and transform their pain in the process.

We are honored to have both our books featured in the AWBW curriculum to help children and families.  We donated 250 copies of our first book Sun Kisses, Moon Hugs to AWBW - one for every domestic violence shelter they served.  We also co-created a healing art project with them, and helped teach it to social workers at an AWBW leadership workshop.

When it came time to collaborate with LeVar Burton on The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, Olivia Piacenza and other staff members at AWBW offered wonderful guidance and feedback based on decades of experience working with traumatized families – which helped us create a practical and engaging resource for parents and professionals. We’ve co-developed a great “Rainstick” art project and “Whale Breathing” exercise with AWBW that you can find on our Rhino activities page.

On June 30th, 2016, we will be participating in AWBW’s Art Transforming Trauma: Building Resilience through Art conference, to celebrate and explore the transformative power of art. This will be a day of learning and creativity, on a personal and community level, featuring collaborative panels and workshop breakouts offering tools and resources for using art to build resilience and transform trauma.

We feel so blessed to be part of A Window Between Worlds’ inspiring mission of love, healing and creativity!  You can read more about the magical work they do at www.awbw.org.

Please, Reach for a Paintbrush…Instead of a Gun

When the emotions are swirling inside of you or your child, pull out the paints and let them out onto the page.

When the emotions are swirling inside of you or your child, pull out the paints and let them out onto the page.

On my way to my weekly dance class yesterday, I passed a convoy of police cars, sirens blaring, lights flashing, hurtling down the highway. It is a sad statement on today’s world that my immediate thought was “There must be a mass shooting happening somewhere near here.” I turned on the radio to discover that UCLA was in lockdown mode, with an active shooter. This morning, the news reports had more details – the victim was William Krug, a professor of engineering and a father with two young children – the shooter was an aggrieved former student, with a gun and a hit list.

It has been an intensely emotional week - from the poignancy of celebrating my son’s high school graduation to the excitement of planning a much-needed summer trip. The senseless tragedy at my alma mater- the reminder that nowhere is really safe, not even a college campus, hit me hard. I took a cue from Rhino, and stomped and shook out a little of my grief in dance class. Today, I needed to buckle down and be a grown-up - tackle all those responsibilities – the revision of my latest draft, the piles of laundry and dishes, the need to pay bills and buy groceries - but I was in massive resistance. I needed a little tent time with my inner child first.

No goal, just me and my paintbrushes and scraps of paper I keep in an art basket in my “office” (a big canvas tent in my backyard).  When I paint, it’s not about the end result. I am not striving to be the next Georgia O’Keefe, I just need to let those turbulent feelings OUT. In this case, a ragged piece of recycled cardboard fit my mood, along with one of my favorite mediums, watercolor resist.  Scribble with crayons or oil pastels, and wash over them with watercolors. Cheap, easy, meditative. I put on calming music and let myself drift in reflection, dipping the brush in the water, letting the paint and my tears blend on the paper in a swirl of colors that reflected my emotional state. After that, I started painting strips of watercolor paper – letting each strip represent a different feeling.

There has been – and always will be – death and destruction in our world. As Papa Mouse tells his daughter in The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, “Bad things happen, and we can’t always control that.”

We can only control how we respond to the storms in our lives. Some people have so few resources in their emotional toolbox that they get stuck in their anger and fear and turn to violence to solve their problems. In the process, they create an even bigger storm for everyone around them.

Let’s teach our children to reach for paintbrushes instead of guns...to beat on drums instead of each other...to sing instead of screaming insults. Let us all find safe creative spaces to express our feelings, where we can unload our sorrow and rage onto canvases, not campuses.

Today, I am wearing orange. Today and every day, my thoughts and prayers are with those touched by the tornado of gun violence.