Ask the Author: Frank Morelli
What would you like readers to know about you?
I am the author of three books. My debut, a young adult novel titled No Sad Songs (FOW Books – 2018), was a YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers nominee and winner of an American Fiction Award for best coming-of-age story. It follows a year in the life of a high school senior, Gabe LoScuda, who loses his parents and takes on the role of youth caregiver for his ailing grandfather who is in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s. The story is currently in script development and on its way to becoming a feature film. My other two books are part of the middle grade ‘Please Return To’ series. The first book in the series, Please Return To: Norbert M. Finkelstein (INtense Publications – 2019) was a Book Excellence Award finalist and the sequel, Please Return To: Toby Solano (INtense – 2020) was just released on March 27. Both stories follow the underground wrestling life of a local teacher in a small town.
When I’m not writing or doing the author thing, I’m an eighth grade English teacher who happens to believe the writing life and the teaching life perfectly intertwine and actually provide necessary sustenance to each other. I’m a Philadelphia native, but I currently reside in High Point, NC with multiple fur babies and my illustrator muse.
What is your book about for those who haven’t read it?
Please Return To: Toby Solano is the second book in the middle grade ‘Please Return To’ series, which began in September 2019 with Please Return To: Norbert M. Finkelstein. The whole series is written in diary format and revolves around the central artifact in the story: a missing journal. In fact, it is precisely this missing journal that sits in the reader’s hands and is narrated by a new protagonist in each installment of the series. It is a journal filled with surprises, none more revealing than the secret life of one Norbert M. Finkelstein, a middle school English teacher, bumbling adult, and semi-professional wrestler who desperately wants to treat his dear mom to a dream vacation. Once Toby Solano comes to town in the series sequel, his teacher’s secret life rises to the forefront, and the challenge of training an out-of-shape, middle-aged English instructor to fight against the zaniest wrestling stars in the Mapleton Wrestling Federation becomes the collective effort of students, teachers, and community members. The ‘Please Return To’ series is packed with high-flying wrestling action, connections to Lucha Libre culture, hilarious slapstick, and an important message about how to find one’s place while helping the people around you do the same.
What has been your inspiration for writing it?
This might seem weird, but the main inspiration for writing this series had nothing to do with publishing books. In fact, I wrote Please Return To: Norbert M. Finkelstein about ten years ago as a way of distracting myself from the pain of losing my best friend, my dog Mike. On a whim, I decided to submit it to a few publishers and agents, and I was frankly surprised when a few of them expressed interest. My editor, Jana Grissom at INtense Publications, thought there was more to the concept than a single book, and that’s how the idea for Toby Solano was born. It was a challenge trying to extend a story arc into a series ten years after writing the first installment and after having zero intention of publishing it, let alone serializing. Throughout the entire process, however, I was inspired to write a storyline that dealt with school bullying because, like Norbert M. Finkelstein, I am a teacher in my non-superhero life. I come in contact with bullying in all of its forms, from the overtly physical to the subtly cruel. My goal in writing the ‘Please Return To’ series quickly turned into providing young readers with a road map to both spot and end bullying so students can feel safe, included, and effective in their classrooms (and beyond) every day of their lives.
What was your favorite scene or part of your book to write?
My protagonist, Toby Solano, happens to be a reformed bully in addition to being the new kid in town. He desperately wants to find his place in Mapleton, but he can’t seem to do it quickly enough by playing the Mr. Nice Guy routine alone. So, he falls back on his old ways and spirals into an all-out prank war with one of his classmates, Jimmy Baker, who happens to be a primary source of conflict in the first book in the series. Writing the section of journal entries that comprises this prank war was a lot of fun because I was able to draw on some of my own prankster memories and then push the pedal to the metal on them. It also gave my brilliant illustrator, Alexandra Frey, plenty of ammunition with which to create. The result is pure hilarity…though I wouldn’t recommend pulling any of the featured pranks at home.
What books or authors inspired you to become a writer?
My face was always pressed in a book when I was a kid…and almost forty years later, little has changed. It’s hard for me to pin my inspirations to a couple of books or writers, but if I had to name a few that played a massive role in making me want to do this for a living I’d have to go with Mark Twain (especially The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) and S.E. Hinton (especially The Outsiders). I don’t think I’m much like either of these writers in terms of style or content, but these books made me see possibilities in terms of how to create memorable, dynamic characters that haunt your mind long after finishing the book. Reading Twain and Hinton made me want to develop the ability to do that in my own writing because, at the time, I saw it as a unique and subtle superpower that is basically central to the human experience. Many years down the road, I think I was right.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors who want to write a book?
I would encourage aspiring authors to stop wasting time. So many aspiring authors come up to me at book events to share their story ideas. Almost to a person, they always say something like, “I have this idea and I’ll get around to it when I have time…or inspiration…or whatever.” That time is now. The inspiration is fueled by seeing your idea come to life on the page. And there will always be an excuse you can place between you and your butt hitting the seat for a day of writing. Don’t fall into the trap of pushing off now what you wish you’d completed for some optimal, perfect time that will not exist in the future. Dive in, folks. Get that book out in the world because someone out there desperately needs to read your words.
@frankmoewriter on Twitter
@frankmorelliauthor on IG
Frank Morelli on FB
frankmorelliwrites.com – author site
Frank Morelli on YouTube (with book talks for each of my books)
Amazon Purchase Links (provided above); books can also be purchased through IndieBound, B&N, or wherever books are sold