By Leslie Lindsay
Heartwarming and refreshingly honest and delightful story about a young autistic girl, her struggles in life, and an American family struggling to be one.
GINNY MOON (Park Row Books, May 2 2017)…oh how you’ve won me over!! Forever Blue, Forever Family, Forever Ginny…you are absolutely delightful, but I have to give you credit to your author,Benjamin Ludwig who writes with searing honesty, authenticity, and such delight that I found parts funny, poignant, sad–and at times–wanted to knock some sense into the characters.
Fourteen year old Ginny has recently been adopted by Maura and Brian Moon, her Forever Parents. From all outside perspectives, Ginny appears to be a typical teenager. She loves Michael Jackson, she attends public school and reads classics in her language arts class…but she also gets ‘pulled aside’ where she interacts with a few ‘special kids.’
Ginny has ‘issues,’ but she’s working through them. On ‘the other side of Forever,’ she had a Birth Mother who abused and neglected her. She was bruised and emaciated when social services intervened.
Even though her new, Forever Home is warm and loving, it’s about to turn upside-down with the arrival of the couple’s first biological child. Ginny is very singularly minded, very literal. She is concerned with a baby doll she left behind in a suitcase with her Birth Mother. Everyone is perplexed, until they learn just what Ginny is referring to.
Told entirely in Ginny’s peculiar POV, she’s easy to love, plucky and adorable, even when she makes bad choices. GINNY MOON is quirky and charming and I absolutely loved it all.
Join me in welcoming Benjamin Ludwig to the blog couch.
Leslie Lindsay: Wow. I just devoured GINNY MOON. I know many of your inspirations to write this story came from your personal involvement at a foster parent. I think many of our first stories are just that: brought forth from a place or an experience in our ‘real lives.’ Can you talk about that, please?
Benjamin Ludwig: Glad to! As you mentioned, my wife and I are foster parents — and in 2009 we adopted a young lady with autism. So right there, there’s the experience from my real life. My wife and I are very socially conscious people. She’s a computer scientist, so right out of graduate school, she was offered quite a lot of money by quite a few companies to come work for them. Instead, [my wife] decided to volunteer for a year to live and work in a shelter for battered homeless women. As for me, I’d been teaching for years, and had had a good number of foster and homeless children in my classroom. Both of us have a lot of compassion for people who need homes, especially children. Because man, if we can’t take care of children – who rank among the voiceless in our society – what business do we have doing anything else? It’s incomprehensible for me to know that there are kids out there without homes or families.
It didn’t make sense or occur to me when I was writing GINNY MOON, but really the book gives a voice to a character (Ginny) who wouldn’t otherwise have one. That’s what I want to do with my life, on every level: to give voice to people who don’t have a voice.
L.L.: So you’re an English teacher. But you’ve always been a writer. I read somewhere (your acknowledgements section?) that you had a professor who said, “Don’t teach. Wait tables if you have to, but don’t teach.” It seems like you showed him! But you’re doing both. How do the two balance one another?
Benjamin Ludwig: I may have showed him, but he was still right in that teaching took up all my time. I mean all of it. So if I wanted to write, I had to give something up – and that meant sleep. I get up at 3:30 every day to write, mainly because my kids get up around 6:00. Then I’m a full-time dad, because we have a three-year-old. He’ll be in pre-K all day next in the fall, so I’ll be able to get a lot more work done.
When I signed my book contract, I learned that I would have to tour for basically two full months (January and May) – and during those two months, school is very much in-session. I asked my superintendent if I could take a leave of absence, and she said no. So I quit my job. Believe me, I didn’t want to! I could go back to teaching public school, but not to the same place. My position has been filled (I was a new-teacher mentor and department head – awesome gig!) and isn’t likely to open up again anytime soon. My hope now is to teach writing at the university level. So if there are any MFA directors out there looking to hire…
“Benjamin Ludwig gives us a remarkable heroine in Ginny Moon. Writing poignantly and yet starkly believably from an autistic girl’s point of view, he allows us to see the world in all its glorious mess, full of people trying to do their best and often failing, but heroically so.”
—Melanie Benjamin, New York Times Best Selling author of The Swans of Fifth Avenue
L.L.: At times, the writing and storytelling of GINNY MOON reminded me of Emma Donogue’s acclaimed ROOM. GINNY MOON is primarily literary fiction, at times it reads a bit like a domestic suspense as the pacing is there and there are some deeper psychological issues at heart. Can you talk a bit about your planning process for this novel, the structure? And are you a plotter or a pantser:
Benjamin Ludwig: (Find something from one of the other pieces here, about the voice.) I didn’t plan to write GINNY MOON at all – the voice came to me in a very mysterious, exciting way – so in that sense, I don’t think I can claim to be a plotter. Not for this one, anyway. Before GINNY, I’d written at least ten other books, all of them unpublished, and I planned out every single one of them. But with GINNY, I came home one night in 2013 from my daughter’s Special Olympics basketball practice with a voice ringing in my ears. It wasn’t my daughter’s voice, and it wasn’t the voice of any of the other kids I’d just been talking with at practice. It was a desperate, quirky, driving voice – one that demanded to be written. So I sat and I wrote, and immediately saw that I had something beyond exciting. After that I wrote out an outline – but Ginny refused to do what the outline said. And thank goodness! Her direction proved to be much better.
So I think I’m a plotter-turned-pantser. The book I’m working on now is following the same format: I started with a voice, and am simply letting the voice go where it needs to go. GINNY may have made a convert out of me.
L.L.: GINNY MOON touches on some of the children who have fallen through the cracks in our educational system, as well as adoption, foster families, and so much more. Can you share a bit about your thoughts on these subjects, what would you like others to know about the ‘system?’
Benjamin Ludwig: Yes! I’d like to say that social workers are doing the best they can. These aren’t folks who go into their professions expecting to make lots of money, like doctors and lawyers. Most parents don’t dream about their children going off to college to become adoption case-workers. It’s not exactly the American Dream. The social workers my wife and I met have been genuine, hardworking, insightful people who enriched our lives tremendously by helping us to find and adopt our daughter.
Are there problems in social services? I suppose there must be. After all, when you’re dealing with people who have had their parental rights severed, and children who have been taken forcibly away from their homes, and caregivers who feel they must protect children at all costs, someone isn’t going to be happy. That’s a very different situation than the one we see in public schools. In a public school, if there’s a student who needs help, everyone has the potential to benefit. The parent, the child, the teacher, the school – everyone can enjoy the child’s success. But in an adoption, someone has been taken away from someone, and that’s at least two very distressed people.
I have the utmost respect and admiration for social workers. And for public school teachers as well. But if one of the two groups has a harder row to hoe, I’d say it’s the social worker by far. And like I said, they did a great job for us!
L..L.: If you were to explore another character or storyline in GINNY MOON, which one are you most drawn to?
Benjamin Ludwig: Funny you should ask that. I don’t foresee there being a sequel to the book, but when I finished it, I couldn’t quite let Ginny go. Just as you guessed, there are other characters and storylines I wanted to explore, PLUS I missed Ginny herself. So I gave her a section of my newsletter. Each month she updates readers as to her continued adventures. Right now she’s trying to capture her neighbor’s cat (remember Mrs. Taylor, who lives across the street from the Blue House?), and she’s going to meet a new friend with a very different set of special needs. The newsletter is available here (for free of course). Each month I share book news, my thoughts about my journey from teacher to writer, and of course Ginny’s section.
L.L.: What was the last thing you Googled? It doesn’t have to be literary.
Benjamin Ludwig: I looked up the origin of the phrase “on par” because I wanted to use it in an article I’m writing for a magazine in Italy. It’s a golf phrase, of course – and since golf originated in Scotland, I think I’m going to play it safe and not use it.
L.L.: It’s been such a pleasure! I’m so glad to have been ‘introduced’ to GINNY MOON. Is there anything I forgot to ask, but should have—like what you’re working on next, your summer plans, what’s on your nightstand, what you had for breakfast?
Benjamin Ludwig: Likewise! It’s been a lot of fun, Leslie, and I can’t thank you enough! I’ll tell you that yes, I’m definitely working on another book – and if folks sign up for the newsletter they can follow its journey. This one is about a little boy who grows up to be a poet. It’s a very different book, told in third-person, and one that’s very personal. I hope people love it!
For breakfast? Hardboiled eggs with salt, and a handful of radishes. Best way to start the day!
For more information, to connect with Benjamin Ludwig on social media, or to purchase a copy of GINNY MOON, please see:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A life-long teacher of English and writing, Ginny Moon is Benjamin Ludwig’s first novel. Shortly after he and his wife married they became foster parents and adopted a teenager with autism. The novel was inspired, in part, by his conversations with other parents at Special Olympics basketball practices.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media sites:
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[Cover and author image retrieved from author’s website. “Getting Ready to Read” photo credit: Perry Smith. ‘on-par’ image retrieved from this NYT article]