Thursday, January 18, 2007

Dear Dad

from James

My latest novel, When Darkness Falls, is dedicated to my dad, James Vincent Grippando. Here's why . . .

When Darkness Falls—A Personal Note
© Copyright James Grippando 2006. All rights reserved.

"Ball one," I say. "Inside."
My eight-year-old son Ryan is digging in at home plate, doing his perfect Derek Jeter batting stance. My father is on the pitcher’s mound. He winds up and tries his knuckle ball.
"Ball two. High."
My son picks up the errant throw and rolls it back to him. My father winds up and hurls a fastball. Ryan swings and taps a grounder back toward the mound. My father knows the ball is near him. He bends over and gropes for it in the grass.
"To your right, Dad. Half a step."
He finds it and smiles. Baseball still makes him smile—even though he’s going blind.
My father has macular degeneration, a catch-all name for diseases that attack the critical collection of cells in the retina known as the macula. His is the more devastating "wet" form, which involves leakage from blood vessels in the eye. Every year, MD robs 200,000 Americans of all central vision and causes another 1.2 million to suffer severe central vision loss. Another case of adult macular degeneration is diagnosed every three minutes in this country, and it is the leading cause of blindness among people over the age of sixty-five. The cause is unknown.
Watching someone lose his sight—whatever the cause—is a painful process. It is especially difficult when it happens to someone you love, someone who has looked out for you all your life. I’ve seen my dad walk straight into a fire hydrant and nearly break his shins. I’ve picked him up off the street after he missed a curb. I’ve watched him stab at his food on the plate when there was nothing there, and I’ve seen him reach for a glass of wine on the table, having forgotten that he’d left it on the counter. Every time he comes to visit us, he shows up with a new bump, bruise, or cut—badges of honor in his fight against his disease.
Through it all, he manages to smile as he finds his way through our front door, and he smiles as he leaves. He lives by his motto: "It’s all about attitude, dummy."
It was this kind of courage that inspired me to create Vincent Paulo, the blind hostage negotiator in When Darkness Falls. (My father’s middle name is Vincent, and "Grippando" was either "Grippaudo" or "Grippaulo" before it was recorded incorrectly at Ellis Island). Vince is not exactly my father, but I put just enough of my father into that character to keep Vince from becoming a kind of "blind mystic"—the mythical superhero who loses his sight and magically develops a bloodhound’s sense of smell and bat’s inner radar. Sure, I wanted Vince to become a better listener, to be more intuitive, to reach inside and use all he has to better himself as a negotiator. But I also wanted him to be that guy who occasionally still walks into a lamp post and keeps smiling—like my dad.
One scene, in particular, is very personal to me. South Florida gets more than its fair share of rainfall. Usually, it’s just one more thing to complain about. But when you are blind—or know someone who is—your perspective changes. I try to convey this in one of my favorite passages in the book, as the ongoing hostage crisis begins to take a toll on Vince, and the rain starts to fall:

Rain was Vince’s new best friend. The bond had formed on his first rainy day without sight, just moments after he’d stepped out the front door and onto his porch. His mind was gearing up for the usual mental exercise, the memorized flowerbeds, shrubbery, and footpaths that defined his morning walk. But the rain changed all that. More precisely, it was the sound of falling rain that brought the outdoors and all of its shapes, textures, and contours back into his world. Where there was once only blackness, suddenly there was water sloshing down a drainpipe. The patter of raindrops on the broad, thick leaves of the almond tree. The hiss of automobiles on wet streets. Even the grass emitted its own peculiar expression of gratitude as it drank up the morning shower. A sighted person would have heard nothing more than rainfall in its most generic sense, a white noise of sorts. To Vince, it was a symphony, and he reveled in his newly discovered power to appreciate the beautiful nuances of each and every instrument. Nature and his old neighborhood were working together, calling out to him, telling him that everything was still there for his enjoyment. He heard the drum-like beating on his mailbox, the gentle splashing on concrete sidewalks, and even the ping of dripping water on an iron fence that separated his yard from his neighbor’s. Rain, wonderful rain.

So Vince has an unlikely new friend, and that’s a good thing. A guy can never have too many friends. Especially when darkness falls.
James Gripppando


  1. Hi James.

    A writer friend once told me 'don't tell me anything you don't want to appear in a story, 'cause it's all fodder for the (creative) mill." When we create, we use whatever is around us and within us, the lives around us and things we've experienced as inspiration. It also helps us understand a the world around us better. It's the same even if you create with the visual arts or the written - even music.

    Thanks for sharing such a wonderful backstory and inspiration from your book. I really like your dad's positive attitude. My eyesight has been degenerating with age over the years - nothing major wrong - but I will never give up painting while I can still see colour blurs and listen to talking books and music. Besides, I like listening to the silence sometimes, particularly when it's dark - the consciousness expands when things are quiet, and all manner of inspiration is possible. :-D


  2. Beautifully written, James, and knowing this about your dad will make reading this book even more of a pleasure.

  3. James, my mother has macular degeneration, too. She can no longer read, which is her greatest disappointment. At least there's the audio version of your books so your dad can "read" your beautiful prose.

  4. I'm betting your Dad is damned proud of you, young fellow.