Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with Steffan Piper
Question: What is Greyhound about?
Steffan Piper: Greyhound is the story of an 11-year-old boy named Sebastien Ranes who is abandoned by his mother. As the book opens, we find her dropping him off in the Stockton, California Greyhound bus station to travel across the country, unaccompanied, to live with his grandmother in Altoona, Pennsylvania--over 2,500 miles away.
Most of the experiences that are in the book are events that actually have taken place in my life. I’ve been working on Greyhound, both in my head and on paper, for about 25 years. I have boxes of journals in my garage detailing many of the stories that are in the book, thoughts I had back then when I was travelling back and forth by bus, and other small details.
Writing about my experiences within the confines of 300 pages wasn’t so easy, but I felt compelled to write about those days. Those years were a very difficult time for me, and pulling a lot of those feelings forward again brought out a lot of emotions that I had buried.
Question: Is the Marcus Franklin character based on a real person?
Steffan Piper: Marcus was a real person that I met on the bus. I’ve thought quite a bit about my encounter with him and the conversations that we had into the middle of the night. When you’re young, it’s the simplest and kindest of gestures that have the most effect and create the most lasting memories. A bag of pretzels can be the equivalent of much more over the passage of time. Not having good role models growing up, I often found myself reaching outward for a guide. Those are often the most dangerous because they have a limit as to what they can give back to you. Those limits are not always visible, especially when you’re young.
Question: Why did you set the book in 1981?
Steffan Piper: I set the book in 1981 because it was a period where life was very different than it is today, and is different in more ways than can be imagined in books or through culture. Some people may not remember it that well, or may not have lived through it, but many have. The most important facet of that time was that it was the beginning of the modern world as we now know it.
The eighties was an era of "analog communication" versus what we have today, which is digital. From telephones to records, everything was analog. People were forced to make more direct links with each other; to reach out, touch and feel the world around them. There was a need to verify the space in front of them. Today’s world seems to ask us repeatedly to do the opposite and not verify our world at all.
Steffan Piper: I grew up in England and I’m the product of the British educational system, so that will always have an influence on everything that I write.
When I was ten, Sherlock Holmes was my all-time hero. Maybe it was the ease in how he held himself that I found appealing. I think it was the same for Dickens's Twist as well. These were themes I very quickly recognized and latched onto at that age. Shortly after that, when I was 12, reading Carlos Castaneda's books definitely changed my life. The idea of releasing and letting go of your self-image, during a period of my life where I was supposed to be finding that out, was alluring. I gripped onto Castaneda for dear life for about four or five years. I read those books so many times, I probably scared a few counselors at school.
I think when we start thinking as adults that we need to limit material to what we believe young people are capable of, or is normal to them, we immediately have done them a disservice, because most of them would probably shame us in regards to what we know, or think we know.