Gus Kearney is the author of The Education of Joey G.; here is a link to the books Amazon page:
Q: What is The Education of Joey G. about?
A: The novel shows the growth of the protagonist, Joey Garden, as he grows from a young boy of six until he reaches young adulthood at seventeen. Joey deals with risk taking and independence as a six year old. How to differentiate himself from group mores and peer pressure at age eleven. At fourteen, Joey begins to learn how to handle his burgeoning sexuality through his infatuation with a girl three years older than himself. The final and by far the most complex section has Joey as a senior in high school, an “A” student and member of the basketball team, who confronts racism, political corruption, his dysfunctional parents, a large family secret and his own failings as a person to try to become the person he wants to be.
Q: What inspired you to write the book?
A: I started writing about my old hometown of Lansdowne, PA in an exercise at a writer’s workshop in Marin County, CA. Once I began, the material started to flow. The first piece was about a wooded area with a creek running through it that I spent hours and hours playing in as a child. I then expanded it into a story about a group of eleven year old boys told from Joey’s point of view. After this tale, which I called “The Jungle.” i thought it would be an interesting idea to show Joey at various ages as he grew up and I added three more sections.
Q: What sets it apart from other 50s and 60s memoirs?
A: Firstly, the story is fictional with some autobiographical elements, but does not qualify as a memoir. I think what sets the novel apart from similar tales is the re-creation of a southeastern Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia. I also believe that Joey G. evokes the 50s in very clear and distinct ways. Joey changes in each section in age appropriate ways. He really IS the age in which he is portrayed in each different section. Joey’s family is dysfunctional, which is not unusual, but in a very idiosyncratic ways. There is also a lot of material about the perplexities of playing on sports team and being an academically advanced student.
Q: What makes Joey a memorable character?
A: Joey is an extremely intelligent boy, often much more so than the people around him. He is a deep thinker who frequently muses about serious life issues throughout the novel. Beset with numerous challenges and problematic situations, Joey responds with resilience, perseverance, insight and courage. Joey is basically a good kid with many strengths as well as flaws, who becomes more and more heroic as the story evolves. Unlike Holden Caulfield, Joey finds ways to face the challenges of a corrupt and imperfect world without recoiling into isolation.
Q: What have you found is the most important way to market the book?
A: The best way so far is by doing readings. In the beginning of October, I flew from California to Lansdowne where I did a reading in the Lansdowne Theater which is presently being refurbished, and sold fifty books. other readings were very successful as well.
Q: What are some books you enjoyed reading and what made them enjoyable?
A: I grew up in the 50s. My family didn’t get a television until I was eight years old. By that time, I was hooked on reading. I also have a B.A. and M.A. in English. So I’ve read literally thousands of books over the years. I like books that are both intellectually stimulating and that also evoke strong emotion. Books I put in that category are: Moby Dick, Crime and Punishment, A Hundred Years of Solitude, Ulysses, The Great Gatsby and many many more.
Q: What are some of your writing influences and how are they evidenced in your book?
A: The two major influences were Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce and The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Portrait is a work of sheer genius showing the growth of Stephen Daedalus from an infant to a young man in his early twenties. Certainly this book is the template for all coming of age stories. The beauty of the language, the complex structure of the book, the knowledge of humanity, the underlying ideas make this an enduring masterpiece, I’ve drown from in many ways but mainly in showing Joey Garden go through the various stages of childhood and how a sensitive young man deals with the perplexities and corrupting influences of human society. What I most admire about Catcher is Salinger’s ability to create a totally believable and indelible boy caught in the throes of adolescence. I hope I matched Salinger’s achievement in a small way in the last section of Joey G., “Just a Game.”
Q: You were an English Teacher for many years. What was the biggest challenge about working within the California public school system?
A: The biggest challenge by far was in deal with the deterioration of the public schools after passage of Proposition 13 in 1978 to the present day. This voter’s initiative froze property taxes on structures built before 1978. As a result, California went from being third in the country for per pupil spending to forty-third. Colleges became far more expensive and out of reach for poorer students. Facilities fell into disrepair; salaries stagnated. The people of California basically abandoned their young people by passing this devastating and short-sighted bill. It was heart breaking.
Q: What was your most memorable work story?
A: By far, it was the establishment of Rooftop School, a San Francisco public elementary school, with six other teachers in 1972. Rooftop celebrated its fortieth anniversary in 2012. A very popular, highly sought after program, the school has maintained high academic standards, creative teaching methods, and a family atmosphere to provide thousands of students with great memories and a top rate education.
Q: What literary character do you think Joey would admire and why?
A: Hamlet, as shown in the book. Joey identifies with the Hamlet’s procrastination in achieving his goals which is similar to his own emotional paralysis. He also admires Hamlet’s complex mind and philosophical ruminations.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects.