INTERVIEW and EXCERPT
Short Bus Hero
by Shannon Giglio
Short Bus Hero is currently on tour with Reading Addiction Book Tours. The tour stops here today for my interview with the author and an excerpt. Please be sure to visit the other tour stops as well.
Twenty-three year-old Ally Forman, a $350 million dollar lottery winner with Down syndrome, is either cursed or blessed, depending on how you look at things. When professional wrestler Stryker Nash loses his job, Ally, his biggest fan, wants nothing more than to put him back in the ring. And she will spare no expense. Her mother, however, has other plans for Ally’s winnings and her life. Short Bus Hero is a darkly humorous look at life with Down syndrome, the rise of a wrestling empire ... and angels. Yes, angels.
“I know, she could have gone to Carnegie Mellon or something, you know?” Mrs. Farley is a regular customer. Her daughter had recently finished her first semester at Skidmore and Mrs. Farley is still half-heartedly complaining about her choice of schools. “Well, it’s nice to have her home for the holidays, except, look at all this stuff - what’s this gonna cost me?” She makes a funny face. Ally laughs as she loads Kashi cereal bars and soy milk into a bag and piles it on top of the overflowing cart.
“Maybe you’ll win the lottery,” Julie says to her, scanning a box of brown rice. “Nobody’s claimed that three hundred and fourteen million yet.”
“God, I know. Too bad I never buy tickets.” Mrs. Farley pays her astronomical bill and rolls away, declining Ally’s offer of help out to her car. God forbid she catches something from Ally, as if Down syndrome was communicable. Wouldn’t that just destroy her perfect daughter’s perfect visit?
There are too many undereducated people in the world. It’s sad.
The evening drags on, different customers file by, all having the same conversation as they pay for their provisions. Julie pages Doug about seven times to check prices for her, letting Ally in on the joke. Then, mercifully, break time arrives.
Ally climbs the perforated metal stairs to the break room and finds her time card. She punches out and gets her dinner from the fridge. She sits down at the round table and pushes a newspaper aside to clear an eating space. She hates clutter. Her Jonas Brothers lunchbox contains a zip-lock baggie full of chicken nuggets, which she likes cold, a small bag of pretzels, and a banana. She opens the pretzels and begins munching. Her eyes glide over the OSHA posters that line the walls, the snack machine, the soda machine, and the refrigerator before coming to rest on the crumpled newspaper next to her. Crunching another pretzel, she pulls the paper over in front of her and flips over the front page. A smaller headline shouts: “$314 MIL - IS IT YOURS?” The story says the winning Megalo lottery ticket was purchased in Maryland just before Christmas, but no one has yet claimed the prize.
Ally thinks of the envelope that fell out of her purse earlier. She walks to the coat rack to get it. Once she has the card in her hand, she sits back down at the table and flips the newspaper to the winning numbers. She opens her envelope, skims the Christmas card, takes a second to think aw, how nice, and then looks at the lottery ticket. She sets it down on top of the paper, right next to the winning numbers and begins comparing the digits.
First number: 8.
Ally’s first number: 8.
Second number: 13.
Ally’s second number: 13.
Third number: 19.
Ally’s third number: 19.
The dry salty pretzels throw her into a coughing fit. She gets up to buy a cola from the soda machine, a bit giddy from reading the numbers, but trying not to get her hopes up. She pops the can, tips it to her lips, lets out a belch, and sits back down.
Fourth number: 32.
Ally’s fourth number: 32.
Fifth number: 2.
Ally’s fifth number: 2.
Ally giggles, positive that she is reading the numbers wrong. One more to go.
Sixth number: 38.
Ally’s sixth number: 38.
She doesn’t believe it.
One more - the super duper awesomely lucky mega power number: 23.
Of course she read it all wrong - come on, she is retarded, for Christ’s sake.
Only, she’s not wrong.
She slumps over the table, working the pretzel sludge off the roof of her mouth with her thick tongue. Her head seems completely empty of thought. Did she really read those numbers? She looks again. No, she never wins anything. Impossible.
I whisper to her to believe.
And it hits her.
Her scream echoes off the shining linoleum floor. She clutches her ticket and the crumpled page of the newspaper and jumps up and down. Spit and pretzel crumbs fly from her mouth as she stammers and grunts and hops. Julie arrives just in time to see Ally go down in a heap. She thinks Ally is having a seizure.
“Oh, my God, Fred!” Fred is the manager, and Julie screams for him, alarming the other cashiers and customers within earshot. “Fred! Somebody quick, get Fred!” Julie rushes into the break room and turns Ally over. She isn’t unconscious.
She’s laughing. And crying. Call it hysterical.
“What, baby? What is it? Are you all right?” Julie cradles Ally’s head. Fred wheels into the room, pale and sweaty, eyes wide.
“What? What is it? Oh, Ally.” Fred pokes his head out the door and shouts, “Someone please call 9-1-1.”
All Ally can do is laugh and cry and stutter. “Look!” She says it over and over until Fred finally understands what she is saying. He takes the newspaper and the lottery ticket from Ally’s sweaty hands. He squints at the numbers and his face falls in complete disbelief. He shakes his head and reads them again. And again. And then he whoops and laughs. He gets down on the floor and hugs Ally and Julie. “She won! She won! Hot damn, she did it!”
Doug and a couple of other cashiers filter into the room. Someone tells them what’s happening.
Though no one can see, I’m jumping up and down. High fives all around!
“That retard won the lottery?” Doug asks, looking like he just swallowed something particularly nasty.
I resist the urge to smack that little douche bag. (Excuse my language; I’m excited!)
Fred struggles to his feet and pulls out his cell phone. He dials Lois’s number and tells her to get to the store right away. After he hangs up, he realizes that Lois probably thinks something is wrong with Ally, there’s been some emergency. Ooops. He doesn’t call her back, though—he’s too excited. She’ll be there in a minute, anyway.
The paramedics beat Lois by seven minutes. When they show up, Fred launches into hysterics. “I’m sorry, I called you guys before I realized why my employee was freaking out. She just won the lottery! I’m sorry, guys.” They are good-natured enough and take off without charging anyone a dime. They were just down the block getting a coffee from Starbucks, anyway.
Lois is a complete wreck when she arrives. She looks quite green when she appears in the break room doorway. But, once she sees Ally sitting at the table with a broad smile on her face, she is visibly relieved. She walks over toward Ally. Fred throws his arm around her shoulders and tells her to have a seat, because she’ll need one.
Lois sits next to Ally and Fred gives her the ticket and the paper.
The paramedics should not have left.
Lois faints and falls on the floor.
Ally won three hundred and fourteen million dollars.
Woo-hoo! Let’s get this party started!
Praise for the Book
"Short Bus Hero has it all: Down syndrome, hoarding, suicide attempts, heart attacks, betrayal, redemption, angels, winning lottery numbers, and big time professional wrestling. A dark, sweet, and poignant tale about what happens when you follow your dreams." ~ S. G. Browne, author of Breathers, Big Egos, and Fated
"If you were the big Lottery winner, what would you do first? Why, resurrect the career of your favorite professional wrestler, of course. Touching, violent, hilarious, tragic and surreal - Short Bus Hero is an inspiring and emotional story." ~ Richard Thomas, author of Staring into the Abyss, co-editor of Burnt Tongues
"From a mind-bending cornucopia of eclectic ingredients-troubled lottery winners, pro wrestlers on the skids, and restless angels are just the tip of the iceberg - Shannon Giglio has expertly crafted one of the strangest, cleverest, and, yes, sweetest, tales I have ever read. This wonderful novel has it all: ingeniously imagined characters, rousing and poignant adventures, and, perhaps most importantly, the true heart of a champion. Anyone who enjoys great storytelling will love this book." ~ Bill Breedlove, author of How to Die Well
Interview With the Author
Hi Shannon, thanks for joining me today to discuss your new book, Short Bus Hero.
For what age group do you recommend your book?
It’s really for adults, but the YA crowd may also be interested.
What sparked the idea for this book?
The story behind Short Bus Hero is this:
For several years, throughout a former marriage, I had a sister-in-law with Down syndrome. I must admit, I was a little nervous about meeting her that first time. I had no idea what to expect - I had only seen those Special Ed kids at school from a distance. Would I understand her when she spoke? Would she wear a helmet? Could she do things like tie her shoes and dress herself? Well, I was in for one hell of a surprise. I was so impressed with her - of course I could understand her when she spoke ad nauseum about Twilight; no, of course, she did not wear a helmet, stupid; and, not only could she tie her damn shoes and dress herself, she had a job at a supermarket! Duh! I’m so embarrassed by the misconceptions I had about those with Down syndrome. I knew nothing. This young woman so impressed me with her outlook on life, her cheeky attitude, and her love of sports, particularly wrestling, that I had to write her into a book. Her siblings picked on her ruthlessly, but - POW! - she gave it right back, in spades. She is a firecracker of a person who taught me so much about life - she really is a kind of hero, someone I am blessed to have known in my lifetime. Short Bus Hero spun out of her own story. Embellished, of course, but there’s a lot of her in it. The good stuff. Yeah, it’s kind of a sappy, feel-good book, but, you know what? I have no problem with that. It needed to be that kind of story - hers is not a horror story (I typically write horror). But, it is a damned fine and compelling story, and people, so far, are loving it.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
The hardest part to write was Ally’s suicide attempt.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I hope people are entertained, of course, but I also hope people look at life a little bit differently after reading.
How long did it take you to write this book?
About three weeks - a record for me. I usually take about six months to a year or more.
What is your writing routine?
Since I work full-time now and have a family and pets, writing gets squeezed in wherever possible - evenings, weekends, lunch breaks.
How did you get your book published?
At the time I wrote this book, I had an agent who put in some time editing it, but we parted ways and the manuscript sat on my computer for ages. It was an odd story that didn’t really fit any genre, and everyone I knew was in horror (I had two books published before, so I wasn’t exactly unknown in writing circles), so I had no idea where to go with it. Then, I had a false start with a brand new very small bizarro press (which actually never came to be) before my now husband said something like: "Hey, that’s a terrific story, you should really shop that around again." I was tired of dealing with it by that point, thinking that finding a new agent would take forever and that whole process isn’t much fun. Just for another opinion on what I might do with the story, I sent it to my friend Robert Shane Wilson. He read it in one night. He agreed to publish it, and he and his wife, Jen, at Nightscape Press, did a fantastic job with it.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
Write a hell of a story, write it from the heart, and network like crazy.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
What does your family think of your writing?
My husband, Peter Giglio, is a writer, too. He’s had nine books published, with the tenth, Shadowshift, on the way in June, from the good folks at DarkFuse. He and my two daughters are my biggest supporters.
Did you like reading when you were a child?
Yes, I read a lot - mostly horror.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t know exactly, but I recently came across a paper that I had written in 5th grade, saying that I wanted to be a vet and a writer.
Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
My entire lifetime of experiences has influenced my writing. I don’t understand everyone’s fascination with childhood. Doesn’t anyone’s adulthood ever influence them? I had a miserable childhood, and, sure, that influenced me. But, I think even more influential was the time I spent in college, living abroad, working in Hollywood, falling in love, having children, and learning about life.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
I studied film in graduate school, and I picture scenes cinematically as I write, and I often use the Hero’s Journey model, so many of my influences are from the world of cinema: Quentin Tarantino, David Lynch, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, many others. Literary influences would include Chuck Palahniuk, Bret Easton Ellis, Nick Hornby, Irvine Welsh, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman.
Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
Occasionally. They’re mostly other writers so they ask about nuts and bolts type stuff (i.e., "How did you show redacted text in your book?"), marketing strategy, or if I know who’s open to subs.
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
I currently have a two-book deal with Eldritch Press. They will be re-releasing my debut novel and then its sequel late this year (thrillers). I’m also working on a dark fantasy/horror novel called Strange as Angels, and I am collaborating with my brilliant husband on the third book in his Sunfall trilogy, Sunfall Secrets.
Thank you for taking the time to stop by today, Shannon. Best of luck with your future projects.
About the Author
Shannon Giglio, originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, graduated from Drexel University and Emerson College before going to work for Dick Clark, CBS, and Ridley Scott. She lives in Savannah, Georgia, with her husband, author Peter Giglio, and her two daughters. She is currently finishing her fourth and fifth novels.