Marc Schuster on The Grievers — A Hilarious, Inspiring Must-Read

Sometime during high school, I watched The Dead Poet’s Society on VHS. I remember thinking, “This’ll be good,” before watching it, and “Holy crap, that was awesome!” at the end. Watching the two-ish hour film felt more like living years within the character’s lives. I laughed, cried, wondered and learned along with them. The story made me examine my own life and decisions, and has stuck with me since.

Marc Schuster’s The Grievers reminds me of The Dead Poet’s Society, only slightly because it involves a prep school. The relatively short book felt as rich as a series. I laughed, ached and learned, thanks to the main character, Charley. (Did I mention laughed?) He had me pondering my own life and changed the way I look at the dancing chickens on Hollywood street corners…forever. Though it’s not been long since I read it, I have no doubt I’ll think of The Grievers again in the coming years. In a word, I found it inspiring.

Synopsis:
When Charley Schwartz learns that an old high school pal has killed himself, he agrees to help his alma mater organize a memorial service to honor his fallen comrade. Soon, however, devestation turns to disgust as Charley discovers that his friend’s passing means less to the school than the bottom line. As the memorial service quickly degenerates into a fundraising fiasco, Charley must also deal with a host of other quandaries including a dead-end job as an anthropomorphic dollar sign, his best firned’s imminent move to Maryland, an intervention with a drug-addled megalomaniac, and his own ongoing crusade to enforce the proper use of apostrophes among the proprietors of local dining establishments.

Desperate to set the world right and keep his own life from spiraling out of control, Charley rages through his days and nights, plotting all the while the ultimate eulogy for his deceased friend and a scathing indictment of a world gone wrong. (The Permanent Press, 2012)

The Grievers officially releases today. (CONGRATS, MARC!) I’m so thrilled to bring you insight from the author himself…

 

AM: You’ve called The Grievers “a coming of age story for a generation that’s still struggling to come of age.” What did you mean by that?

MS: There’s such an emphasis upon entertainment in our culture that we’re losing the ability to take things seriously. We’re really into melodrama, into quick laughs, into anything that amuses us. Look at The Daily Show for example. I love watching it, but there’s something mildly disturbing about the fact that I get a lot—if not most—of my news from John Stewart. It’s like I can’t digest serious information without a heaping teaspoon of humor to help me get it down. What does this say about me? About people of my generation? When am I going to start taking things seriously? Questions like these were in the back of my mind as I was writing the novel, and they’re also the kinds of questions that plague its narrator.

AM: Tell us about the main character, Charley Schwartz. How similar is he to you?

MS: It’s probably fair to say that he’s an extremely exaggerated version of myself. What separates us, I hope, is that I think before I speak, whereas Charley is a lot more impulsive. As a result, he puts his foot in his mouth far more frequently than I do. In terms of biography, though, we do have a few things in common. We both went to prep schools in our teenage years, and we are both the products of our respective educations. Perhaps most importantly, Charley and I have extremely patient wives who let us know when we’re making fools of ourselves. The difference, again, is that I usually have the good sense to listen, whereas Charley doesn’t.

 AM: The Grievers presents numerous lessons. Was that intentional?

MS: I don’t think I set out to teach specific lessons as I was writing. Had I done that, I’m pretty sure those lessons would stifle the novel, or it might come across as preachy. Instead, it’s probably a matter of having certain values, beliefs, and assumptions in the back of my mind as I was writing, and they crept into the finished product on an unconscious level.

AM: You came close to self-publishing The Grievers some years back. What prompted you to consider that option and then change your mind? 

MS: I’d written a few novel-length manuscripts by then, but The Grievers was the first one that I thought really had potential for publication. Unfortunately—or so I thought at the time—agents and editors didn’t agree with me. So I imagined self-publishing might be the way to go. At about the same time, I wrote a fan letter to Chuck Palahniuk in which I told him about the book and my plans to publish it on my own. He wrote back saying that he liked the idea for The Grievers, but he urged me not to self-publish. His point was that instead of putting my efforts into publishing the novel, I should start working on a new one and then return to The Grievers with fresh eyes. In the end, I decided to take his advice, and I’m glad I did. Setting the manuscript aside for a couple of years gave me the perspective I needed to do a thorough revision, and having another novel published in the interim taught me a lot about publishing.

AM: You’ve shared some great deleted scenes from The Grievers on your blog. How did you decide what to cut and keep? 

MS: In many cases, the cutting had to do with the pacing of the novel. I might, for example, realize that I’d already established an idea or theme and cut a passage because it was redundant. In other cases, I was striving to make the novel as much a work of fiction as possible. The germ of the story started with my own life and observations, but for the novel to work as a piece of fiction, I felt I really needed to make Charley his own person. So I cut anything that struck me as too autobiographical. The final thing that helped me decide what to cut and what to keep was input from other readers. I’m fortunate to have a lot of avid readers in my life, so I had a lot of very strong, very informed opinions to draw upon. If someone I respected enough to show the manuscript told me that something wasn’t working, we’d talk a bit about why and whether or not it was something that could be fixed or simply didn’t fit. If, in the end, we decided it didn’t fit, I’d cut it.

AM: Any chance we’ll see it on the big screen someday? (Spielberg might read this. You never know…) Who would you cast as Charley?

MS: I could definitely see Jason Schwartzman as Charley. I loved him in Rushmore, and to an extent, I see an affinity betweenThe Grievers and that movie. Charley could conceivably be described as an adult version of Schwartzman’s character, Max Fischer.

AM: You’ve received some awesome praise from reviewers. (Congrats, by the way.) Do you have a favorite? Any nail your book on the head or surprise you?

MS: Thank you! I’ve been so flattered by all of the praise that the book has received. A blogger named FP Dorchak made me smile when he wrote, “To be utterly blunt if not politically correct, this book had me laughing my ass off.” But I’m also glad that reviewers are picking up on the balance between humor and tragedy that I tried to bring to the novel. Robin Black is an author I admire immensely, so her praise also meant a lot to me: “The Grievers is a an extraordinary weave of humor, insight and intelligence. Marc Schuster has written a perfect comic novel, one that never strays far from either poignance or hilarity.” He book If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This is one of my favorite short story collections.

*****

For more information, check out Marc Schuster’s blog and follow him on Twitter. To purchase The Grievers, zip over to Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.

Any thoughts or questions to share with Marc? I’m sure he’d love hearing from you!


Leave a comment

45 Comments

  1. Marc Schuster

     /  May 15, 2012

    Reblogged this on Abominations and commented:
    Big thanks to August McLaughlin (again!) for this engaging interview regarding The Grievers!

    Reply
  2. Thanks August for bringing this novel to light…I will have to check it out..!

    Reply
  3. It sounds wonderful! I love that Marc blogs his deleted scenes. I vaporize mine!

    Reply
    • I know, right?? I turned mine into wall paper and decoupage. 😉 Marc’s are fun to read, especially after (and probably while) reading The Grievers. Feels like a sneak peak into the character’s lives.

      Reply
    • Marc Schuster

       /  May 15, 2012

      My writer friends have always stood by the advice to “kill your darlings,” but I couldn’t bear to kill them off completely!

      Reply
  4. Sounds like a winner!

    Reply
  5. Shannon Esposito

     /  May 15, 2012

    This novel is definitely intriguinging…I”m one of those people who take things too seriously and don’t get John Stewart, I”m not sure that’s a good thing. I think we have to laugh at ourselves or we’ll go crazy. Sounds like your book has plenty of humor, so I’ll check it out. Best of luck on your sales, Marc! And thanks for bringing such a unique writer to our attention, August!

    Reply
  6. Sounds excellent. I’ll have to check it out. thanks August for the introduction

    Reply
  7. Thanks for the great interview, Marc and August. I’m going to buy it today. Sounds like a book right up my alley. Best to you both.

    Reply
  8. mgmillerbooks

     /  May 15, 2012

    Sounds great. Congrats! And cheers to your success!

    Reply
  9. Coleen Patrick

     /  May 15, 2012

    Just sent a sample to my Kindle–it sounds great. I guess watching the fourth hour of the Today show doesn’t count for serious either. oh well.
    Thanks August!

    Reply
  10. Running from Hell with El

     /  May 15, 2012

    I’m excited to read this one — sounds like it also has a touch of JD Salinger. And of course I went to prep school too (and so do all the kids in my novel). This was a very engaging interview. I’m glad to read that you don’t vaporize the scenes that are too autobiographical.

    Reply
    • Marc Schuster

       /  May 15, 2012

      I’d be extremely flattered if you found echoes of JD Salinger in my work! He’s one of my favorites!

      Reply
      • Running from Hell with El

         /  May 15, 2012

        One of mine as well!

  11. What a great premise! Seriously, that’s a great twist (the fundraising, etc.) Will put on the TBR list.

    Reply
    • Marc Schuster

       /  May 15, 2012

      I struggled a little bit with that aspect of the novel. On the one hand, I know that so many nonprofits are extremely strapped for cash, but, on the other, I sometimes feel hounded by them, especially when they call during dinner!

      Reply
  12. Hi there, Marc and August.

    The book sounds wonderful. I’ve been in that place enough (I suspect we all have… the “wondering if the whole world has missed the point” at eulogies, etc.). It probably doesn’t hurt that as a non-prep-school person we’d been sending our son to one for the past few years and … it is an alien world. A nice place at times, at others, it’s just very alien.

    As for the Jon Stewart thing though… I think part of the reason it appeals is because the effect of humor is to DE-sensationalize the news in our minds. We actually begin to look at the events with a bit less sense of spin (because the spin is s obvious perhaps?). Whatever the cause, I will say this… I see far more actually news-worthy events presented on Jon Stewart’s show (and the Colbert Report). And THAT should be far more concern worthy than the fact that it involves humor.

    Of course, I learned a lot more about 70s politics and social issues via MAD Magazine than from school as a girl too…

    Reply
    • Marc Schuster

       /  May 15, 2012

      Good point about Jon Stewart. I also think that Stewart provides a degree of critical thinking with regard to the news that’s lacking in other news sources.

      Reply
  13. “There’s something mildly disturbing about the fact that I get a lot—if not most—of my news from John Stewart.”

    That’s so true. Our generation isn’t apathetic, but many of us rely on humor to get us through the darker parts of life. Thanks so much for sharing your journey with us, and congrats on the release. The reviews for The Grievers are great, and I’m adding it to my TBR list. Great interview, guys!

    Reply
  14. I love the write up on this book. It intrigued me do much, it’s going on my TBR list. Thanks for the great recommendation, August, and thanks for the wonderful interview, Marc!

    Reply
  15. I just added The Grievers to my TBR list. It sounds really interesting…and I love to laugh! I’ll also have to make a note to check out The Dead Poets Society. I’ve always meant to watch it but I just don’t watch much of anything. 🙂

    Reply
    • Marc Schuster

       /  May 17, 2012

      Thanks, Kristy! And I know you’ll enjoy The Dead Poets Society! Robin Williams really shines in that one.

      Reply
  16. Great interview August–great words, Marc! I must say, I didn’t see that coming in lhe last paragraph, but thanks for always throwing my “ass” around, out in public! I hear it’s always good for a laugh. :-] But, hey, back to you–you’re one funny dude, and a well-elbow-patched writer. I was so taken by the cover, I felt the content HAD to be good. Was not disapponted. Now I’m actually afraid to reread it. It’s like…you don’t ever want to spoil the moment, you know? It was so perfect! So, I guess I’ll put that off up on the bookshelf for a spell, and have to grab your Singular Exploits in the near-ish future….

    As to the “too much humor” thing…I guess it depends on one’s point of view (doesn’t this always get in the way?). I love humor, always try to inject it. And as another, above, mentioned, it’s is a great way to dilute the dark in much of today’s life. I feel it’s okay to laugh and crack jokes and your or another’s expense (preference *here*…), as long is they’re light and easy on the ears…but, as Dirty Harry once intoned, a man’s* GOT to know his** limitations. *Yes, can also insert “woman’s” here, and **”her,” too. We must learn to use our superpowers wisely and only for good…and Mr. Marc Schuster, you have one helluva superpower! Use it wisely–and keep all those wonderfully “combinated” words acoming!

    Fist pump!

    Reply
  17. Congrats Marc! I cannot wait to read this book. I’m looking forward to it even more and have now moved it to the top of the TBR pile. In fact, I’m just going to stop reading my book club book because it’s so lame and read The Grievers. I think I’m already smitten with Charley.

    Reply
    • Marc Schuster

       /  May 17, 2012

      Wow! I’m flattered! Thanks so much, Tameri. I appreciate it.

      Reply
  18. This sounds really interesting! I’ll be looking for the hard copy on our next trip to B&N. Just in case, I added it to my Amazon wishlist. My husband and I LOVED “The Dead Poets Society.” Fabulous movie! Wonderful interview. Thank you for the introduction August.

    Reply
    • Marc Schuster

       /  May 17, 2012

      Thanks, Debra! I appreciate it. The book may be hard to find at B&N, but Amazon will definitely work.

      Reply
  19. Raani York

     /  May 17, 2012

    This is a great interview August. Thank you for the interesting blog post. I enjoy reading your posts every single time!!
    And than you Marc.

    Reply
  20. Another great share! Thanks, August!

    Reply
  21. By the way, my book is almost done! My first physical proof arrives next week and after some minor – hopefully – tweaking, I’ll be on Amazon within 5 to 7 days!

    Reply
  22. lynnkelleyauthor

     /  May 17, 2012

    What a great interview, August and Marc. Such a fascinating journey to publication. Sounds like an awesome read. I never saw Dead Poets Society, but The Grievers sounds like a book I’ll really enjoy. Wishing you the best success with all your novels, Marc.

    Reply
  23. Kourtney Heintz

     /  May 18, 2012

    Congrats Marc! Terrific interview August. 🙂 The book sounds very intriguing. Marc, I like that you put it aside, wrote the next manuscript and then came back to it with fresh eyes. It tells me that you wanted to write the best book you could and that means so much!

    Reply
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