by Betty Dravis

Frank Nappi at Borders Book-signing

Betty Dravis: I’m delighted that you’re taking the time for this interview, Frank, especially now that you’re in such hot demand as an author. We formed an internet friendship after I read and reviewed your first novel, Echoes from the Infantry (St. Martin’s Press). That heart-warming book was released in October of 2005 and I discovered it in January of 2006. I was so impressed by your plot and writing skills that I named it my favorite debut novel of that year. You might recall that my Amazon review title read: Nappi Is a Rising Star in the Literary World. Sometimes I scare myself…  (laughs)

Well, it’s always exhilarating to catch a rising star and I’m proud to say that you proved me right. Your star burns brightly! Echoes received national attention, not becoming the movie I had hoped for, but it won the Silver Medal for Outstanding Fiction for the year 2006 from the Military Writers Society of America. And it paved the way for what happened next!  Since then you have written two more books and both are being produced on film.

Wow–and even though I felt this would happen when I read your debut novel, I’m still stunned!

But even as I extend my hearty congratulations, Frank, I must confess to a modicum of envy… Every author I know would love to be in your shoes! As we have discussed many times during our four-year friendship, it’s my dream for one of my books to become a movie… preferably all of them. (laughs)

Frank Nappi with Friend, WWII Vet Eddie Hynes

Please share with us what inspired you to write Echoes and your best-selling second book that followed a few years later, The Legend of Mickey Tussler, (also with St. Martin’s). I’m sure our readers would like to know when and where they can see the movie of Legend.

Since I want to go into detail about the awesome deal with your third novel, let’s keep that information for later…as a surprise for our readers. Okay?

Frank Nappi: First of all, thank you, Betty, for the opportunity to share my story with you. As you know, there is no greater honor for an author than to be acknowledged by another successful author.

As far as the inspiration for Echoes is concerned, I had the good fortune of meeting two very special WWII veterans–to whom the book is dedicated–during a Veteran’s Day speaker assembly I arranged for my interdisciplinary classes more than ten years ago. My students were captivated. I was too. The stories they told me haunted me in a way I could never really describe. I became very close with both of them. I got a glimpse into what it was like to walk around, post war, with a whole other life in your head; how difficult it is to manage both. God, if that is not fascinating, I don’t know what is… I began writing short stories, ultimately weaving them together with some creativity. Prior to that, I had always entertained the thought of writing a novel, but I lacked that “Muse,” as the expression goes — the right inspiration. Eddie Hynes and Bill McGinn took care of that.

Betty Dravis: Frank, your respect for veterans and their families is evident and that’s what enraptured me as I read Echoes. It’s the first book I read wherein an author depicted how war affects not only the serviceman but his entire family. In that heart-warming, yet bittersweet novel, you showed that trying to recapture what they left behind is almost impossible.

Since you are a high school instructor on Long Island and met and interviewed many veterans in the course of writing Echoes, it was natural that the setting for the book be your home turf.  Please share with us the setting for The Legend of Mickey Tussler and why you chose that location.

Frank Nappi: Well, I needed an era and a geographic location where Mickey’s story could be plausible. Milwaukee, post World War II, was the perfect time and place for such an improbable tale. The city is small and intimate, dotted here and there with local shops and breweries. The people are also simpler– and I do not mean that in any pejorative way at all. What I believe is that these “Milwaukeans” love and appreciate what they have, and that includes their beloved Brewers. They are God folks. I don’t know that Mickey Tussler would have had a shot in the concrete jungles of New York City.

Betty Dravis: Milwaukee—perfect! As I read Legend, I recall thinking you had made a wise choice: that’s baseball country… And with what you say about the people there, your choice was perfect. I know Legend is a best-seller all over, but I bet it has a huge fan base in the baseball and the autism communities since the main character, Mickey Tussler, is autistic.

In order for our readers to relate to Legend and our interview, this seems like a good place to share the synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Mickey Tussler is recruited to play for a minor league affiliate of the Boston Braves. Arthur Murphy swears Mickey has the greatest arm he has ever seen, that anybody has ever seen.  And it might be true.  But Mickey’s autism is prohibitive.  It keeps him sealed off from a world he scarcely understands.  Lost both in the memory of his former life with an abusive father and the challenges of a new world filled with heckling teammates, opponents and fans, there’s no way Mickey can succeed.  But his inimitable talent–one of the most gifted arms in the history of baseball–gives him a chance. Can he survive a real-life dream?  Or are the harsh realities of life too much for him?  This is the powerful underdog story of how a young man with an extraordinary gift comes of age in a harsh and competitive world.

I lifted the book description from your Amazon page and am curious: Did you write the synopsis, Frank, or did Amazon? I know with my own books, I have to supply the synopsis to Amazon, so I think I already know the answer to that one. (laughs)  I’m also curious about where the bulk of your reviews and fan letters (email) comes from. Do you receive more input from baseball fans or people who champion the cause of autism? Since both are popular with mainstream America, this book has widespread appeal. Do you think that’s the secret behind its great success and why filmmakers chose to preserve it on film?

Frank Nappi: The description was written by one of the editors at St. Martin’s Press. I believe it captures the essence of the story. Actually, so many of the emails I receive also focus on the unusual dichotomy presented in the book. I was most pleased that the baseball community, including Alex Rodriguez of the NY Yankees, Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins and New York Daily News award-winning sports journalist Bill Madden embraced the book the way they did. The baseball scenes have been celebrated by many as some of the best ever written. I don’t know about that, but it sure is nice to hear.

The other segment of the population that has really become enamored with the tale of Mickey Tussler includes the many groups that advocate for special needs children. I believe they were touched by the concept of a “special” young person who possesses an extraordinary talent, rather than the “woe is me tale” that has regrettably come to define these extraordinary individuals. Many parents have written about how inspirational Mickey is to them and how they hope he becomes the face for special needs kids everywhere. I imagine the hope is that exposure leads to understanding and ultimately tolerance.  I am pleased to be able to contribute to this movement in some small way.

Young Baseball Players are Fans of Frank Nappi & "Mickey Tussler"

Betty Dravis: It’s encouraging to hear you say that, Frank, because I know the desire to help others is a big part of who you are. I also hope that exposure leads to understanding and more tolerance of those less fortunate, also.

Now before going on to the phenomenal news about your third book, Frank, I’d like to share the review that Publishers Weekly wrote about The Legend of Mickey Tussler. I forgot to mention that there is a bit of romance in the book, too, making it well-rounded and even more realistic, but this review touches on that:

“Nappi (Echoes from the Infantry) has produced a knowledgeable yet unsentimental book starring an autistic teenager with a fearsome fastball. Milwaukee Brewers’ manager Arthur Murphy recruits 17-year-old farm boy Mickey Tussler as a pitcher for his team. And though Mickey’s slowness enrages his impossibly cruel father (who abuses his wife and derides Mickey as a “retard”), the boy’s dad is happy to collect his son’s pro baseball salary. In short order, Mickey achieves local stardom despite his mental disability and his teammates’ clubhouse pranks. Lefty Rogers, the Brewers’ southpaw ace, resents Mickey’s triumphs on the mound and plots to sabotage his rival’s budding career. At the same time, Murphy romances Mickey’s much-abused mother and leads his resurging team in a hot pennant race. The writing is clear and direct, and there’s no confusing who’s a good guy and who’s a bad guy. The baseball elements really sing; baseball fans will find much to appreciate, while the sports treatment of triumphing over adversity adds crossover appeal to the YA market.” – Publishers Weekly

Is that a fair summation of your Legend, Frank, and how did you feel when you read it…since Publishers Weekly is among the most sought-after reviewers? In your answer, also touch on why you chose to write this as a YA (young adult) book and how it, indeed, crossed over to appeal to readers of all ages.

Frank Nappi: I guess I see the story as multi-faceted, with the characters of Mickey Tussler and Arthur Murphy driving most of the action. Clearly, this story is as much about the frustrated baseball-lifer Murph as it is about his amazing discovery, the fire-balling phenom Mickey Tussler. The chance meeting between the two proves most fortuitous for both, as each of their lives changes dramatically because of the other. Each also undergoes some sort of self actualization, although Mickey’s is limited due to his condition. I am also pleased with the way the character of Molly, Mickey’s mother, rounded out the story. Her story is one that I believe many readers, especially women, will find poignant and thought provoking. I love her as a character. She is warm, genuine, and remarkably resilient in the face of much adversity. It is easy to see why Mickey loves her so much and how Murph cannot help but begin to fall for her.

The YA angle was really a natural outgrowth of having a story with a teenage protagonist. I feel as though young readers can relate to what Mickey is feeling at various points in the story, even though many of his emotions and reactions are colored by his Aspergers. The fact that the action includes concepts like hatred, bigotry, intolerance, sacrifice, love, and of course baseball makes the book a good read for everyone.

Betty Dravis: Absolutely, Frank, and the way you wrote about the characters brought them to life…another plus of a good book. Since you are a high school instructor, it doesn’t surprise me that your books are first rate. When did you realize you wanted to be an author? Please share a little about that and about the college you attended. Were you born on Long Island and have you always lived there?

Frank Nappi: Well Betty, I have always written. Even as a teenager myself, I would spend time  playing around with short stories and essays. Some were good, some awful. And like many other writers, I had no luck publishing any of them, except for a couple of pieces that appeared in New York Newsday’s “500 Words Or Less” column. That was sort of pivotal for me, I suppose, because I loved the way my name looked in print.  But then I sort of floundered a bit, you know, looking for the perfect outlet that would satisfy this certain something inside of me – this creative drive, something untapped that was gnawing at me. In retrospect, what was missing was the trigger or impetus. And, as I said earlier, that was provided by my two special friends, Eddie and Bill.

Frank Nappi Enjoying Fans at Outdoor Book Fair

I attended Hofstra University, right here on Long Island. I have lived here my entire life and did plan on expanding my horizons, albeit an hour away, in New Rochelle at Iona College, but a baseball injury derailed what I had hoped would be a stellar career there. I transferred to Hofstra as a business major.  What a horror! Do people really talk and behave that way? I quickly changed my concentration of study to English, particularly American Literature, and fell madly in love with the likes of Faulkner, Fitzgerald and Hemingway.

Betty Dravis: All male authors, Frank… (laughs) But I agree, they are fine examples of stellar writing. For your next question, who has been your biggest inspiration in life and who are your favorite authors? Your favorite book? I notice that in your own reviews you often quote from wise sources. What is your favorite all-time quote that applies to your own life?

Frank Nappi: Biggest inspiration? That’s a rough one. This is going to sound like a cop out, but I don’t feel that one person, at least in my case, is responsible for who I am. I believe that all of us are a composite of several influential people we meet along our journey. Naturally, my parents played a major role, providing me with love and nurturing, and of course now my wife Julia and two sons, Nicholas and Anthony, are very instrumental in the things I do. I had fabulous teachers as well, both in high school and in college, and my friendships with people like Eddie, Bill and even you, Betty, also contributed to who I am. The exciting thing is that there are people I have yet to meet, individuals who will also continue to shape who I am.

I have certainly read many insightful quotes from brilliant minds. If I had to choose, however, I would have to say Shakespeare’s line “There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so” is the one that resonates most. At some point, we  all face heartache and disappointment, and it’s essential for our well-being to be able to place these moments in perspective–to find the good in what appears to be misfortune. I’m not a huge fan of Shakespeare, like some are, but I do like Hamlet and some of the philosophical exchanges in the play. I guess I am more of a F.Scott Fitzgerald disciple. He was a true master of the language, and wrote the way the birds sing. His work is effortless and beautiful. The Great Gatsby has to be the finest work of American Literature. There is so much there. I read it every year with my classes, and always find something else to admire.

Tussler Groupies at Barnes & Noble Booksigning

Betty Dravis: I agree with your philosophy that we draw bits and pieces from everyone we meet along life’s path and I’m looking forward to absorbing new people, places and ideas into the fabric of my life, as you are. Awesome answer, Frank…

I am in awe of the powerful message in that short line of Shakespeare’s quote. I’m flattered that you used that line in a review of my book 1106 Grand Boulevard. I always favored your review because you seemed to understand my main character so well, but now I treasure it. And thanks for sharing your depth of feeling about The Great Gatsby. I saw the movie, but have never read the book; now I must go back and read it.

Gee, Frank, just as you admire Fitzgerald and other excellent wordsmiths, you are rapidly gaining your own admirers. I hope you don’t mind my sharing that Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees wrote a rave review of The Legend of Mickey Tussler. He said, “In my work with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America I see all kinds of challenges facing kids today, and this book does a very good job of treating gifted kids and teenagers with sensitivity and understanding in coping with and meeting these challenges.”

That’s very impressive and it must warm your heart to know your book will inspire children. You touched on that briefly above, but how does that make you feel? Have you met any other famous people since becoming such a hot property yourself? And has casting been done on Legend yet? If so, who are playing the parts of Mickey Tussler and Arthur Murphy?

Frank Nappi Talks Baseball & Books at Barnes & Noble

Frank Nappi: I think that any time you are told that what you have done has helped kids, it’s the ultimate reward. If the book touches even just one life and makes the difference for just one kid, then the endeavor can be deemed a success. I guess I’m not as hot as you think, Betty, for I have yet to meet anyone famous. Well, aside from you, that is! However, casting for the film version of Mickey Tussler has begun, with a verbal commitment from actor John Schneider to play the role of Arthur Murphy. We are still searching for Mickey. 

Betty Dravis: John Schneider from the Dukes of Hazard… Cool… He seems like a great fit for your Murph and would be about the right age now. The last I saw him was in a Nip/Tuck episode. He just gets better with age.

And I’m not as hot as you think, Frank—I’m not famous. I just happened to rub elbows with a lot of famous people during my newspaper days. (laughs) One of the things I enjoyed most “back in the day” was meeting celebrities like Jane Russell, Clint Eastwood, Senator Ted Kennedy and Tanya Tucker. And now that I’ve commenced interviewing again, I’m meeting more high-achievers: you, actors Kitty Kavey, Jenny McShane, Shawn Richardz, Darcy Donavan, Jason Seitz, and award-winning singers and musicians like Alina, Nhojj, Kashy Keegan, MT Robison…

I recently interviewed Katherin Kovin Pacino, an actress/producer and soon-to-be author, who just happens to be Al Pacino’s step-mother. My co-author Chase Von and I call all those who are featured in our Dream Reachers books “Dream Reachers” because you stretch to reach your dreams. You all inspire people in your own ways, so I can relate to what you’re saying.

Now, this might sound frivolous and off the subject, but it helps us to know you better, so I’m going to put you on the spot: What is the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you and how did you handle it?

Frank's Nephew Chas Shows-off His Copy of "Echoes from the Infantry"

Frank Nappi: So now I’m a Dream Reacher, am I? Well, I sure am in good company, so that’s way cool… I’ll be pleased to be featured in Dream Reachers: Volume 2 when it comes out.

As for embarrassing moments, I am no stranger to those; I have had my fair share. However, the one that always comes to mind is the morning I was sitting in my 20th Century American Fiction class at Hofstra. I had been out late the night before, at a concert, and had gotten little or no sleep. In addition, I hadn’t eaten anything and it was real warm in the room. I started feeling a little woozy, so I put my head down on the desk. The next thing I saw was a patchwork of faces, including my professor’s, looking down at me. I remember thinking, “Wow, Professor Zimmerman and a bunch of people from my class are in my dream. How strange…”

Then, as the gap between dream state and consciousness began to wane, I realized, much to my utter humiliation, that I had fainted in class and everyone was looking at me. I could not get out of there fast enough! The only thing worse than leaving was coming back two days later for the next class.  I think I said something funny when I came in, like: “I’ll try to make it through the whole class today, but if I can’t, who’s going to catch me?” The professor was cool about it. It helped a little.

Betty Dravis: Wow, that’s a whopper, Frank. As they say on the internet, I’m LOLing…with you, not at you, of course. And I must add that your response to the class upon returning was cool.

Now I’m curious about something else. If you could spend the day with one person besides your wife–someone in history, a favorite author, a public figure, a character in a book, etc.–who would you choose and why?

Frank Nappi: Great questionThere are so many names that come to mind. I already spoke about my admiration for Fitzgerald, so you know I wouldn’t mind hanging out with him, drinking and talking about writing, etc. But, if I had to choose another, I suppose it would be Babe Ruth.  I love baseball, and nothing fascinates me more than the history of our nation’s pastime.  Naturally, Babe Ruth was and still is the most iconic figure in the game.  I think I would really enjoy gaining some first-hand insight into the man’s psyche…and watching him in action.

If the Babe was unavailable, I would consider giving Marilyn Monroe a call. (laughs)

Betty Dravis: Ah-hhh, the divine MM… You and a million other guys, Frank! Can’t say that I blame you there, and what I wouldn’t give to have met and interviewed her. I came close by interviewing Jane Russell, her co-star in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. She was quite the “bombshell” herself …and is still around, helping children with her WAIF program.

Your answer is the perfect lead-in to my next question: Since most people are romantics at heart, I’d also like to know a little about your wife and children and what role they play in your writing. Their reaction when they learned that two of your books are soon hitting the big screen? How you met your wife? … I hope you don’t mind sharing on a more personal level.

Frank Nappi: My wife Julia and sons Nicholas and Anthony mean everything to me. I spend as much time with them as possible. They are truly the wind in my sails. Julia and I met at Oceanside High School where both of us still teach. She is my best friend and will proofread for me or read scenes that I have yet to finalize. She is an avid reader, so she has a good eye. My boys are not really involved in my writing, except for the time they surrender so that I can get some of it done. They are thrilled and so proud that I have had the success I have had. They are campaigning as we speak to be cast as “extras” in the film version of Mickey Tussler.  It means the world to me.

Frank, His Beautiful Wife Julia & sons Nicholas & Anthony Vacation at Key West

Frank at Hershey Field with His Own Baseball Players

Betty Dravis: Now, Frank, getting back to your books, I know the thrill of seeing a first book in print, but outside of that what has been the highlight of your literary career…the thing that made you jump up and down with joy?

Frank Nappi: As you know Betty, this is a tough business, replete with exhilarating highs and devastating lows. With the exception of the chosen few, we all experience this wicked cycle. I have been fortunate enough to have several of these highs, but the most memorable to date is the sale of my first thriller/mystery Nobody Has to Know to Eric Parkinson of Hannover House/Target Development Group. The deal is somewhat unique, for Mr. Parkinson also purchased the film rights simultaneously. His publishing company is actively seeking literary properties with big screen potential. So, when the book is released in January, 2011, plans for a film version will already be underway. Pretty cool, huh?

Betty Dravis: OMG, Frank—cool? That’s the hottest news I’ve yet to hear from any publisher! I must say the press release they sent out about you and your book, Nobody Has to Know, is one of the most impressive I’ve ever read. Parkinson has to be the most innovative, cutting-edge publisher in the world. To actively seek books not only to publish but to film is mind-boggling to me, but since they have their own film subsidiary that makes perfect sense. What a coup for an author to get “in” with them. That is one company that thinks “out of the box.” WOW!

The usual way a book sells is after publication, so to sign a deal for a book and film in one fell swoop… OMG, that blows my mind! Now I understand why you’re constantly wearing that big-toothed grin. (laughs) But, as you said, you had your “waiting” period, just like the rest of us, and have earned your day in the sun, to use on old cliché.

Congratulations, Frank. After what you went through, I’m absolutely thrilled for you. It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person… I’m glad you found Hannover House and wish you the best of luck with the book and the movie. Since I had the honor of writing a blurb for the cover of Nobody, I have read the manuscript and can’t wait until its release in January of 2011, and later to see your characters come alive on the big screen. Needless to say, I’ll be first in line at the movie.

But now our readers and your fans are eager to know a little about this phenomenal book, so let’s share a brief synopsis: Nobody Has to Know tells the story of Daniel Baldridge, a college instructor who finds himself as the central figure in the mysterious murder of one of his students. Stalked through text messages he receives from the dead girl’s phone, Baldridge fights for his life against an extortion plot and a deadly revelation.

In my personal opinion, this book screams for a sequel. Do you plan to write one? I would love to know what happens next in the lives of your characters, especially Baldridge. It will be fun to see what actors are chosen for those parts, too, but it’s much too early for that. Please share the scoop about a sequel to Nobody, Frank, and any other works in progress (WIPs).

Frank Nappi: They do say great minds think alike, Betty… Yes, I am currently playing with a sequel to Nobody Has to Know. The story will resume a couple of days after the final scene (can’t say anything else) and follow the same sort of twisted mystery as the first.  I have not worked out all the details yet, but it’s underway. I am also working on a third Mickey Tussler story–Season Three: Welcome To The Show. As you know, my plan is to re-release MICKEY TUSSLER in paperback, along with the sequel, Sophomore Campaign, just in time for the film. Then my boy Mickey is off to the major leagues, where he and Murph encounter a whole new set of challenges. Fingers crossed!

Betty Dravis: Fingers definitely crossed, Frank. I am so impressed with the string of books you’re tackling. I have another one in the works, two to get back in print and two finished manuscripts I haven’t even submitted yet, so I know all about multi-tasking. But that’s a dedicated writer for you; always juggling WIPs.

I hate to let you go, Frank; there are a million questions I could ask, but the news about Hannover House sort of leaves me speechless…

It’s been a delight getting to know more about you, especially the exciting news about your books going into film. I’m sure our readers will want to know even more about you, so in closing, is there anything you’d like to add? How can those interested in you get in touch with you? I know you’re easy to find on Facebook, but do you have any websites or links you would like to share with us?

Frank Nappi: Yes, Betty, just go to Facebook and type my name and it will take you to my page. I have some photos posted there of my book-signings, some military and baseball friends and a few of my wife Julia and our two sons.

I need to update my website with the news about Nobody Has to Know. I’ve been so busy writing that I just haven’t gotten around to that. (laughs) I have only a few pictures posted there, but it does contain contact information in case anyone would like to write me. The link is: I try to answer all my correspondence. Thanks for taking the time for this great press about me and my books and best of luck with your endeavors!

Betty Dravis: You are very welcome. It’s our pleasure… We appreciate your talking so frankly with us, Frank, (pun intended…) and for writing intriguing books that hold our interest and entertain us for hours. We all look forward to seeing them on the big screen. Again, I am so pleased for you… Keep in touch and let us know when Nobody Has to Know is released…in print and on film.

See you at the movies…