When does it stop being a party and start becoming a problem? Is there a way to steer clear of addiction? Every Wednesday, Mike McGowan, host of the podcast "Avoiding the Addiction Affliction," explores substance use disorders with expert guests. The podcast series is sponsored by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition.
Original cover art created by
Kelly P. of Kenosha, Wisconsin
Jarrett J. Krosoczka
Best selling author Jarrett J. Krosoczka talks about growing up in a family coping with opioid addiction. Over nine million children in the United States under the age of 17 live in households with at least one parent who has a substance use disorder. Substance abuse wreaks havoc on the entire family, and, most tragically, the children. Jarrett J. Krosoczka is a New York Times bestselling author/illustrator behind more than forty books for young readers, including his wildly popular Lunch Lady graphic novels, select volumes of the Star Wars™: Jedi Academy series, and the graphic novel we discuss today, Hey, Kiddo, which was a National Book Award Finalist. Jarrett can reached at StudioJJK.com. Jarrett also signs books ordered from his local indie book seller: https://www.highfivebooks.org/product/hey-kiddo-signed-jarrett-krosoczka/548
[00:00:00] [Jaunty Music]
[00:00:11] Mike: Welcome everyone to Avoiding the Addiction Affliction, a series brought to you by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition. I'm your host, Mike McGowan. You know, a whole lot of people grew up in homes where substance abuse was prevalent. Not everybody has the gift to articulate those experiences in a creative, thoughtful, and powerful way.
[00:00:32] But my guest today is one of those rare individuals. Jarrett J. Krosoczka is a New York times bestselling author illustrator behind more than 40 books for young readers, including his wildly popular lunch lady, graphic novels, select volumes of Star Wars, which we will not be talking about today. And the book we are going to discuss today. Hey, Kiddo, which was a National Book Award finalist. Welcome, Jarrett.
[00:00:58] Jarrett: Thank you, Mike. Thank you for having me here.
[00:01:00] Mike: Yeah. I love the, uh, the explanation of your audio book for how to pronounce your last name.
[00:01:06] Jarrett: Crow-zaska.
[00:01:07] Mike: Yeah, [laugh], you said your grandpa. Uh, how did that come about the pronunciation of the "aska"?
[00:01:16] Jarrett: You know, I, I, yeah, I'm speaking to folks in Kenosha, Wisconsin. So, you know, our, our dialect is a little bit different here in the Northeast. And, uh, the specifically, once you, the further east you go in Massachusetts, the more [Boston accent] you drop you "as" like, uh, you know, you've all probably have seen Goodwill hunting. And so, uh, you know, it was just something my grandfather would do to tease me.
[00:01:37] It was not something he was doing to teach me how to pronounce my last name. He would say that, you know, when you were born, you were going to be named Oscar now, which was not true. That was, I don't think that name was ever in the running, but with the dialect of Eastern Massachusetts, my name would have been Oscar Krosoczka which, which for a long time, I used as, as a way to pronounce my name.
[00:02:03] But then, you know, when I started traveling further across the country and I was, you know, down in the South. You kids didn't really understand how Oscar and Krosoczka rhymed.
[00:02:15] Mike: [Laugh] That's great. I love that fact that grandparents tease. That's the point of that? Well, you know what, I'm going to let listeners read or listen to the book. I've done both to get the entire story, but the short version is that your mom was addicted to heroin and you were raised by your grandparents.
[00:02:34] Jarrett: Yes, I was raised by my maternal grandparents, Joe and Shirley.
[00:02:37] Mike: Yeah. Um, and, and you didn't know that your mom had a substance abuse issue when you were little?
[00:02:46] Jarrett: No, I mean, I was very young. I, I, my grandparents gained legal custody of me somewhere around the age when I was three, but, you know, I had moved in with them shortly before. My third birthday or, you know, so I have some blurry memories of, of the chaos that was, that was there at my mother's house. When I, when I was living with her.
[00:03:14] And it was never fully explained to me. And I think part of that too, was my grandparents were of the generation that you could just, you know, sweep oceans under the rug and not talk about them and, and just not be upfront with, with certain heavier pieces of information. So it just, it really wasn't spelled out for me, uh, exactly until, until I was in about, I believe somewhere on the fourth grade where they thought, okay, he's now old enough and ready to, to comprehend. What's going on.
[00:03:43] Mike: Well, and that puts you about nine years old, I would think nine or 10 years old.
[00:03:47] Jarrett: Yes.
[00:03:48] Mike: And so, uh, there's there is a scene in the book where they finally tell you, um, did that come as a Ohhh! Or was it a shock?
[00:03:59] Jarrett: It was a shock and, and, and further shock that. You know, they called a family meeting and the only time they had ever called a family meeting prior to that was to tell me we're going to Disney World.
[00:04:11] Mike: [Laugh] Oh great!
[00:04:12] Jarrett: So, so I was set up to think. Something great was going to happen because I remember when they called the meeting to say, we're, we're calling a meet family meeting and I thought they were going to tell me something terrible, but it was to tell me we're going to Disney World. And so then when they called another family meetings down the line, I thought this is going to be great. " What great things are going to happen?" And, um, I, you know, I just went boneless and collapsed into my grandfather's arms and tears. And, you know, also for context. You know, it was the 1980s. So it was the Nancy Reagan "Just Say No" campaign. It was all of those PSA's for drugs that were, uh, "This is your brain on drugs".
[00:04:53] It was also the PSA for, you know, oh, you know, one of you for lack of a better expression, more iconic PSA's was the, you know, when the father approaches the, it comes into the son's room and he has like a cigar box full of drug paraphernalia. And he's like, "W did you, where did you get this stuff?"
[00:05:09] "Where did, where did you get the stuff who taught you to use the stuff?" And the kid just sharply looks at his dad and he says, "You all right? I learned it from watching you." And then the narrator comes up and says, "Parents who have drugs have, have kids who use drugs." And it terrified me. And in retrospect now as an adult, I'm thinking, well, why the heck were they showing that during Saturday morning cartoons, like, you know, like that should have been something that was playing for the adults. Like, like, look, if you're using drugs, your kids are gonna use drugs. And for whatever reason, that was one of the PSA's that was prevalent, you know, in between commercial breaks for Masters of the Universe and GI Joe.
[00:05:49] Mike: Yeah. It should have been on a 2:00 AM when they're still up. Right.
[00:05:52] Jarrett: Exactly. Exactly.
[00:05:54] Mike: And, but she, wasn't the only person in your family with substance abuse issues.
[00:06:00] Jarrett: She was the only person who admitted she had substance abuse issues and the only person who was identified as having substance abuse issues. So both my grandparents drank very heavily and I, and I still, I got the best of them, even though they were still drinking fairly heavily, uh, you know, so come weekends, you know, we would, we would go out to eat at a restaurant, they would both order Southern Comfort Manhattan dry with the twist rocks on the side. And that was something, an order I had memorized it at a very young age, you know, and now understanding that the ice was asked to be on the side so that they would get more liquor out of every drink. Um, and they would just be so drunk, uh, you know, in the evenings, on the weekends, you know, my memories of my grandmother falling down the stairs, lots of cursing, uh, and still that was the. I still got the best of them because they chilled out when I came in. I mean, my aunts would, you know, in, in, in elementary school, middle school, if they had a friend that was coming home with them to like, hang out after school, you know, they would open the front door and if they could smell alcohol, they would turn to their friends to say, no, you can't come over today.
[00:07:15] Mike: I think that speaks to just so many kids.
[00:07:20] Jarrett: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:07:22] Mike: You know, I think it's, it's a little over 9 million kids live in a house where at least one of their parents have a substance use disorder like right now.
[00:07:32] Jarrett: Yeah. And is that post pandemic figures?
[00:07:37] Mike: Yeah. No, no, it's not actually. So that's a great point because we know that it's went way up since then, right.
[00:07:43] Jarrett: Sure.
[00:07:44] Mike: You know, a particularly poignant point in the book is when your teacher and I don't remember what grade it was asked you to draw a picture of your family.
[00:07:51] Jarrett: Yeah, it was preschool.
[00:07:55] Mike: But you handled that really well. I thought
[00:07:57] Jarrett: I, well, I, I remember being terrified and, and I mean, I think that's one of the beautiful thing about educators today is, is that there is more focus on inclusive language.
[00:08:08] So. I remember the teachers always saying, you know, mom or dad at home, or your parents at home. And, you know, my, I, I did not have my mom and dad at home. I mean, I had, my grandparents were, became my mother and father, but still that wasn't the language I use. I still called them grandma and grandpa. And, um, when that preschool teacher said, draw a portrait of your family and your, your, you and your, your parents, you know, I. You know, it was like, it was, I guess it was like a constant reminder that my family was different and didn't look like, you know, so what I thought all the other families looked like, and it certainly did not look like what the families on, on sitcoms that, you know, and all the media we absorbed and yeah, so that, that is my earliest recollection of making art, of drawing that portrait of me along, you know, you know, four year old me with my grandparents.
[00:09:06] Mike: Yeah, but you know, art became not, uh, not only an outlet, but a career for you and your mom was also talented.
[00:09:17] Jarrett: She was an incredibly talented artist. And so, uh, throughout my childhood, when, when she was incarcerated or in a halfway homes, You know, there would be phone calls, very intermittently. Um, there was no rhyme or reason to when she would call, uh, but I would get these, these letters. And then of course my grandfather would hand me the letters, uh, you know, removing, like I think my letters came in a bigger envelope, so I never saw the return address of Framingham State Prison. Uh, but she, she would send me drawings of my favorite cartoons and then. She would, she would request a drawing from me and I would draw her, you know, Batman or Snoopy, and then I would request a cartoon from her.
[00:10:00] So, so growing up, I could, I, it was clear that she was incredibly gifted as an artist and that same gift, uh, you know, through the DNA was infused in myself. And so when I was coming up, I always, always just so determined. To be able to do something with that same gift and not succumb to the same pitfalls that she had.
[00:10:27] Mike: Yeah. You know, uh, I think it's, that's terrific. And you, you have, you speak in a book about a group that surrounded you have incredibly supportive people. You know, your friend, Pat, which I think is really an important character in the book. Um, your aunt Holly, and of course your grandparents, and then later your art teacher, what did they do for you?
[00:10:51] Jarrett: I, yeah, I, I was surrounded by, uh, you know, a lot of just great people, uh, despite all, all the trauma and, you know, uh, so my aunt Holly, who is like, she's like a sister to me, there's this 12 year age difference. She was. The youngest of my grandparent's five biological kids. So when I moved in, she was, she was still in her teens.
[00:11:12] And, you know, she also took me under her wing because she saw the damage that alcoholism had brought to the house because of my grandparents drinking and, uh, my buddy Pat, next door, you know, he, he was, he was an athlete, but then never made fun of me for the fact that I was a boy who did not like to throw a ball and would rather draw a picture.
[00:11:38] And it's, you know, it's important to have those, those friendships and those relationships. And, and, you know, as I got older and in high school, I had, you know, some great teachers that I could really count on, uh, that. I, you know, I would say they went above and beyond, but that's, I think that's just what educators do.
[00:12:00] I mean, they're not, they're not in it for the glory. They're not, you know, they're in it because they're passionate about education and reaching the next generation of people.
[00:12:11] Mike: I, you know, uh there's um, there's a part in your book where you finally tell Pat about your Mom.
[00:12:19] Jarrett: Yes.
[00:12:20] Mike: And, uh, I think that speaks to a lot of kids because so many of them are terrified that that kid will no longer be their friend or the judgment that will come with that. Um, but he was really a good guy. How old was that?
[00:12:38] Jarrett: That would have been, I want to say if my grandparents told me in fourth grade, Uh, Pat and I were probably around sixth grade or so, and I remember we were playing Nintendo and, you know, it was, you know, my grandparents again, because they were of a different generation were like, you know, we don't talk about the family's problems outside of the family.
[00:12:59] Mike: Right.
[00:13:00] Jarrett: And, and so, but after two years of sitting on this, like I was about to explode, I needed to talk to somebody, um, you know, my grandparents. You know, the therapy wasn't even something that was on their radar. And I would have benefited greatly from that as a kid. But, um, I'm lucky that I had a good friend who didn't judge and didn't go to school the next day telling all of the other classmates that that's what I was dealing with at home.
[00:13:28] Mike: That had to be just a huge relief. I can only imagine what that next day would have been like in anticipation that it could have come out.
[00:13:36] Jarrett: Yeah. Yeah. You know, and, and it's, and it's odd now, you know, when, when I look back, especially at the group of kids that I was going to school with, I mean, so many of them had issues at home and we just weren't aware of it at the time.
[00:13:50] Mike: Right. You know, that's the crazy part, isn't it Jarrett?
[00:13:53] Jarrett: Ya.
[00:13:54] Mike: You know, I just said 9 million. There's so many and Wisconsin Jarrett it's like one in every four kids will live in a house where at, before 18, where somebody has a substance use issue, I'm talking about what you would think would be normal.
[00:14:09] Jarrett: You would think. Yeah. And, you know, and hopefully it continues to creep into the, you know, normalhood of being able to talk about these things. Um, and you know, that was a big part of my motivation for making this book, Hey, Kiddo, was to one to make those kids feel less alone. Like as a kid, a book like that would have made me feel less alone.
[00:14:32] Mike: Absolutely.
[00:14:32] Jarrett: And then for the, for the paths of the world, you know, who, you know, didn't have any kind of opiod addiction in the house or alcoholism in the house to. Understand a little bit more about what their peers are going through.
[00:14:46] Mike: That's a super point. Your grandparents. And how old are you when they made the, uh, they gave you the gift of the class at the museum? Was it museum art museum?
[00:14:57] Jarrett: The Worcester Art Museum. I was in sixth grade and public funding for the schools got slashed and I, you know, I went from having art once a week, to once a month, to not at all, you know, my grandfather, he saw that as a real problem because it was the only real lifeline I had, you know, I wasn't joining the little league and it was just what I was obsessed with. What I love doing.
[00:15:19] Mike: What did you want to draw?
[00:15:21] Jarrett: Oh, cartoons. I always loved drawing cartoons. I, you know, I was weaned on Saturday morning cartoons and comic strips in the newspaper and monthly trips to the comicbook shop.
[00:15:32] Mike: And then, uh, but you had teachers who encouraged you to find your own style.
[00:15:38] Jarrett: Yeah, Mark Lynch, especially, uh, he was, he was the teacher at the Worcester Art Museum and, and, you know, there's, there's so many books for aspiring artists that are teaching you how to draw. And there's a lot of good that can come from most of them. Uh, but you know, there was one book that was about, you know, "How To Draw Comics the Marvel Way", which, you know, a lot of artists of my generation do stand by and love. And I'm sure if I revisited it, there's still plenty of good in it about perspective and point of view of the, of where we're setting up your shot.
[00:16:07] But a lot of that book too, was like, look, if you wanna, if you want to work for Marvel comics, you have to draw this way. And, he saw this great art style that I had going on that was very individualistic to me. And he didn't want that squashed and suffocated by this book and, and any desire I might have to want to go and work for, you know, one of the major comic book companies.
[00:16:32] Mike: So, so you never went through the, uh, drawing the turtle and the pirate and submitted it?
[00:16:37] Jarrett: [Laugh] I never did. I never did submit to that. No, I never did.
[00:16:41] Mike: [Laugh] I think I did once [Laugh] when you get rejected on the turtle and the pirate, you know, your career's kind of all over,
[00:16:49] Jarrett: Well, no, every hour just starts with a rejection. So good to get that out of the way.
[00:16:53] Mike: Other than your Aunt Holly saying things nobody ever addressed grandma's drinking. Uh, did, did you just accept that as a norm or, or did you know? Uh oh!
[00:17:05] Jarrett: Yeah. I mean, in the family somewhat. Right. So much of my, the blame from my mother's addiction was laid at her feet, but you know, you just see how. Shirley, my grandmother, she was not a great mother to my mom from the very beginning, you know, aside from the alcoholism. Uh, but then, you know, then when I look back to like, okay, well what made Shirley the way she was, and you know, it's gets to the point, like, when am I going to go? Am I going to trace my roots back to Sweden to find the first crappy parent, like, no, I'm not. And people are just complicated and, and hopefully, you know, someone along the line can, can break the cycle. But I, you know, as I mentioned, my grandparents were of the generation where you didn't talk about your problems and. It's very clear to me now that my grandmother was suffering from depression and her depression came through in bouts of anger and the self-medication when she was hitting the bottle.
[00:18:09] Mike: Yeah. You know, I, I, I gotta tell ya that comes through loud and clear. I mean, I don't think you ever say in the book, "depression", but it really comes through.
[00:18:18] Jarrett: Well, that's, that's the beauty of, of, uh, of, graphic Literature, you know, illustrated literature where I don't say it in the words, but I show it through her body language.
[00:18:29] Mike: And, and I think that the other important part of that is, you know, I talked to a lot of people, you don't have to be a perfect parent or grandparent to be significant because the other thing that comes through in your book is the love.
[00:18:43] Jarrett: Yeah.
[00:18:43] Mike: Uh, and, and that was so helpful. Um, now later on you meet your birthfather.
[00:18:50] Jarrett: Yes. I met him shortly before I graduated from high school.
[00:18:55] Mike: And he was also a recovering alcoholic.
[00:19:00] Jarrett: Yes. And so, you know, and, and he said to me, one of the first things you said to me is, you know, I never would have been a good father to you because. He was grappling with that addiction. And, you know, he, he's actually taught me a lot about, you know, the science of addiction in a way that, you know, my grandparents were never able to because they didn't understand it. And that's, you know, that, that even though you might not be using or drinking in the moment, you know, you wake up every day and it's still a struggle and a battle. And even if you're however many years sober, you know, the second you take that drink or take that hit it's as if you had been using all along, you know, so, so he, he was able to give me so much more empathy for Leslie, my mother, you know, than anyone else in my family could because none of, no one in my family, none of us were educated about addiction, you know, and of course the science and what we understand of addiction has evolved and grown in that time. Uh, but you know, back then it was, you know, blame the person, not the affliction. Like it was really, it was really, it was really positioned as a moral failing, which not to say that people don't frame it that way still, you know, um, what I always felt and what I always heard so many people say is like, wow, how could she choose drugs over her own son?
[00:20:24] And I know a lot of kids feel that. And so that's another thing I'm glad to have been able to communicate through Hey, Kiddo, whether it be through the actual book or through the, the author's note in the back is that she chose drugs, but it was once and it was well before I was ever born.
[00:20:40] Mike: Yeah. And then the drugs chose her.
[00:20:42] Jarrett: And then they took, they, they held on that those drugs held on. Yeah.
[00:20:46] Mike: I thought it was ironic. Maybe that's the wrong word. That the first time you tried to meet your dad and drove out there. He was at a meeting and the illusion is he was at an AA meeting when you first tried to meet him.
[00:20:59] Jarrett: That's. Yeah, that's exactly it wasn't, it wasn't spelled out in the book because the book is told from the perspective of my 17 year old self. But, you know, I tried to put enough that, you know, you can make that connection. Yeah. That he, he was in a, in a, in a AA meeting at the time.
[00:21:12] Mike: Yeah. Well, you know, with all of that, I have to ask you and I haven't asked you yet.
[00:21:19] Jarrett: Okay.
[00:21:19] Mike: You avoided, substance use disorders.
[00:21:24] Jarrett: I, well, you know, I the one thing that my grandparents did understand, uh, and, and told me over and over again, was that it is hereditary. So, so I, you know, of course they didn't put it on their own addictions, but. If I were to dabble into drugs, I would quickly become addicted because that was also a part of my DNA. Just as much as the artistic skill was. So, you know, like most teenagers, they were times where, you know, I would, I would try alcohol. I, I, you know, drugs, I was just terrified of, because of my past. Um, but there was a time, you know, my first year of college, like so many young people, you finally have that freedom and you can do more or less, whatever you want whenever you want. And I get to the point where I was drinking so much as a freshman in college that I really felt and saw this fork in the road where I'm like, I'm drinking like every single night with my friends and this is not sustainable. And so. Part of that was changing schools to change the schools and change, changing my environment.
[00:22:41] Um, and, and that's, that's something that I hope to delve into, uh, another memoir someday, because the thing about writing a memoir is, is oftentimes people think, oh, your memoir is about your whole life. And a memoir is more like, okay, this is, this is a part of my life. Like this is, you know, a 320 page book.
[00:23:00] I've lived for 44 years. There's a lot. There's a lot more story there to be, to be told.
[00:23:04] Mike: Yeah. And so that change in schools, Rhode Island, right. Is where you ended up?
[00:23:09] Jarrett: Yeah. I went to Rhode Island School of Design, which, which I, I it's, it's a very studious school. And I remember that first Thursday night. So I was like, okay, like where are we going to party?
[00:23:20] And everyone looked at me with a cocked eyebrows to say, like, we have so much work to do. Why would you want to go out drinking on a Thursday night? But, you know, for, for colleges that are billed as party schools Thursday night is, is the first night where you go out and party.
[00:23:37] Mike: Yup. Well, you know, I, I, I think I told you, I both read and, and listened to the book and totally different experiences by the way, both incredibly delightful and listening to it. I really enjoyed it. And then at the end, uh, and it came as a huge surprise to me because I didn't read it, uh, read that into it before. You don't have just one reader, a bunch of people read including, and a lot of them Pat reads, right?
[00:24:07] Jarrett: Yes.
[00:24:07] Mike: Holly reads. So you have a lot of your kids do, what was that like to have your support system participate in the audio book of this?
[00:24:18] Jarrett: Yeah, it was a, it was a beautiful full circle moment. So, so, you know, as, Hey, Kiddo being a piece of graphic literature, where half the story is told with the art. Uh, you know, I had to go in and write additional narration or, or, you know, describe what we're going to hear in the sound effects. And it's a full cast audio book. You know, the, the closest I can compare it to is like an old radio play.
[00:24:41] Mike: Yeah, yeah.
[00:24:42] Jarrett: Where it, where we're using theater of the mind. Uh, you know, imagine if you went to, to the theater to go see a play and just closed your eyes. And that's what it feels like. And, you know, we want it to get seasoned audio book performers for the primary cast, like the grandparents, my mother, um, I was always, I was always going to narrate. And voice do the dialogue for the teenage Jarrett, but say, okay, so, Hey, Kiddo also, it's me over a period of crucial growth spurts, right? So there's kid Jarrett there's middle-school Jarrett there's teen Jarrett. So the little kid was voiced by my eldest, Zoe, who was then nine or 10. Uh, the middle school part was, uh, by a family friend who is an actor. And fortunately it was actually a race against time because. We knew his voice would be deepening very soon so we could have him for a week. And it was it actually, it worked out so well because his voice was in transition, which was perfect for the part. And what was interesting too is since I voiced the narration and the dialogue for teen Jarrett what they did was they put a filter over my voice as teen Jarrett to de-age my voice.
[00:25:54] Mike: Huh.
[00:25:55] Jarrett: And I also threw on the Worchester accent really thick. For the dialogue, but then the narrator was annunciating. And so that's how you can tell the difference. But so then it came to, well, who are we going to cast as Mark, the teacher, and, you know, Mark is, uh, such a connoisseur of the arts. I was really nervous about who we might cast as him.
[00:26:19] And I said, you know what, why don't we just, why don't I just ask Mark and it, and it just sort of snowballed from there. Well, well, why not get these actual people, you know, that are still with us to voice themselves and you know, none of them are actors. Uh, but I was in the recording booth next to them.
[00:26:41] And instead of having them read, because there's one thing, there's a difference between reading and performing. So we tried where they would just read the lines and it wasn't working out. It sounded so stale. So, uh, you know, Charles Schulz is one of my heroes, you know, he's the creator of Charlie Brown and Snoopy.
[00:26:59] And he was adamant that when they turned those cartoons into animated specials, that they hire actual children. And the way they got those performances out of those kids was to feed them, not just line by line, but, um, beat by beat. So, so say if you have a really long sentence that goes on and on like this, you would say.
[00:27:21] Say if you have a sentence of that, okay, then you have them repeat that, that goes on and on and on. Okay. Repeat that and on and on like this, and then you edit that together. So it flows. And so, um, yeah, they were all very patient. And as you can imagine, really nervous, uh, Pat's mom, who just has, you know, one or two lines, she was hysterical.
[00:27:44] So what, one of the things that you can't like in an audiobook. While I could add things I could not, I couldn't, you can't change things that are in the text. So now I'm in a unique position where I'm also the creator of the underlying material. So there's a line where. You know, Pat's mom calls out "Pat dinner!" And she was having such trouble with the line.
[00:28:06] I was like, what? What's the matter Sandy? She was like, well, I would never say dinner. Like dinner was like a Sunday night sit down meal, but suppa [Boston accent], supper would be like your every day. And I was like, you're right. That's one piece that like, you know, It's sort of like a blue collar, middle class thing that I grew up with, but then I also don't know how many people still call it supper.
[00:28:29] Right. It's also sort of a generational thing. And so the director was like, look, we can't change the text. And I was like, yes, but I have the right to ask my editor to change the text for the next printing of the book. So it's going to be suppa [Boston accent].
[00:28:43] Mike: Oh, that's great!
[00:28:43] Jarrett: Because that's so much more authentic to that era, that moment, that place,
[00:28:48] Mike: You know, as you were talking, I just thought what and maybe you've been approached by this? Maybe not. It would make a great TV show as well because everything takes place in the same neighborhood. Didn't Holly live across the street?
[00:29:00] Jarrett: She did, I walked away from an offer for a TV show. Uh, there was an offer for a TV show. I was talking to producers in LA. There was, I was talking to. The agents of this actress who would have been amazing as my grandmother.
[00:29:13] Um, but ultimately I didn't like a few of the things that the producer said in regards to my mother and her addiction.
[00:29:21] Mike: Yeah.
[00:29:21] Jarrett: I found it very belittling.
[00:29:23] Mike: Yeah.
[00:29:24] Jarrett: And she used the expression, oh, the mom will come in all F'ed up, but she said, you know, the curse word. And I was like, I just, I felt very disrespected in that moment.
[00:29:37] And I said, okay, you know, we hadn't broken a deal and having tangled with Hollywood in the past, I know that there is only one time as the author of the underlying material that I have power. And that is up until the moment I signed the contract. And after that, I'm like the least important part of the process to them.
[00:29:57] So I said, okay, You know, I also feel like I'm shepherding the legacy of, of these family members. And I said, okay, I want these four absolutes. Right. Because other writers will come into the writer's room with their lived experiences and that's great. But then it could imply something about my family members that they didn't do.
[00:30:17] So for instance, What if someone else came in and they were physically abused and they had the grandfather hit the Jarrett character, and that would imply something very serious about my grandfather. And so I asked the producer to say, okay, could you get this in writing? There was like four things, but to give you an example, the character of Jarrett was well verbally abused was never once physically or sexually abused.
[00:30:44] And they could, they would not put that in writing. And so I said, well, then I don't need this. I'm done. I'm walking away. Uh, before the pandemic hit, we, I had been talking to some really great. You know, iconic theaters about turning into a stage play, but that just kind of fell by the wayside when everything shut down
[00:31:01] Mike: Well, and because that's not how your mom comes across at all, there's long bouts or there's bouts where she's working on it, halfway houses, sober, and most of the book is, is her when she pops in it's her sober.
[00:31:19] Jarrett: That's it, that's it. She. I, you know, I know stories of her at her lowest, but you know, this producer was trying to paint this picture of it's my birthday party. And then the mom comes in and like falls face person of the cake. And I'm like, no. That is, that is if you're not going to treat. This disease with, with grace. I want nothing to do with it.
[00:31:43] Mike: Oh, I, I wish that would have been your last line actually, but, um, but I can't get out of this podcast because I first contacted you because I loved the book. And then I, I listened to it prior to us doing this. And then while Googling you, I come across the controversy.
[00:32:00] Jarrett: Oh, my goodness, the book bans, you know what, there's an epidemic of book banning across the country. I, I, you know, my wife won't let me do this, but I want to run a campaign where people can donate pearl necklaces, so that people could clutch them instead of banning books.
[00:32:18] Mike: [Laugh]
[00:32:19] Jarrett: Hey, Kiddo has been challenged in so many places that it's because. You know, one or two parents take offense to the language. Uh, cause I, I don't pull any punches in the book. I use all the expletives that I heard as a kid. I was surrounded by and, um, you know, uh, I, I'm gonna be blunt. A lot of the book banning that is happening across the country is based in racism and homophobia because there are books where, uh, you know, people are, are saying, well, this is gonna, this is gonna make my white kid feel bad or don't put your gay agenda on me. And that's not what any of these books are doing. You know, what books do is they allow kids to feel seen and heard. What books do is they allow other kids to understand what their peers are going through. And, you know, a book like, Hey, kiddo is it's young adults.
[00:33:14] So, so if it's in high school libraries, it is not in elementary school libraries. That being said, I do know of younger kids who've read the book maybe because they need it because they've, they've lived. But still that being said, I don't think Hey, Kiddo should, should be at an elementary school library. Uh, and, and cause it's, that's not the intent. That's not what the book, you know, that the age the book was written for. And I think the biggest irony is, is that the one parent who has been making the most stink about it, and he's gone to all of his local news media, he's gone to his Senator. He's gone to his Governor at this point. He found the book in his son's car.
[00:33:57] And I'm like, dude, your son is old enough to drive. In a year and a half he's going to be leaving your house like in a year and a half. He'll be old enough to serve our country in the military. If you so wishes, [pause] there are curse words in his life now.
[00:34:14] Mike: Right.
[00:34:14] Jarrett: I'm so happy for you that you don't have to live with this kind of trauma and I'm glad your kid doesn't. But that doesn't give you the right to take away this lifeline from other kids.
[00:34:25] Mike: Who live it. As a little kid to hear your grandma use pretty derogatory language towards your mom is something I think that happens for a lot of kids who live with this kind of situation, which is the relatives. You know, going back and forth.
[00:34:45] Jarrett: Yeah.
[00:34:46] Mike: Yeah. And so it's nothing that they wouldn't have heard. I was stunned by it, but not surprised.
[00:34:51] Jarrett: Yeah. Maybe, you know, it's an election year. So next year we might not be talking about book banning as much. We'll see.
[00:35:00] Mike: Yeah.
[00:35:01] Jarrett: [Laugh]
[00:35:01] Mike: Well, I'm in tons of schools all the time and, uh, your books are in, um, many of them and I've talked about them and, and just yesterday I was in a school Jarrett. I asked the kids, you know, how old were you when you first heard, uh, the F word? Like before school started.
[00:35:19] Jarrett: Ya, of course they did.
[00:35:21] Mike: And that's not, you know, worst stuff in the world.
[00:35:24] Um, well, and, and lastly, um, your mom did pass away.
[00:35:31] Jarrett: Yes, she did. She did die of an overdose. Um, she had been, uh, managing her addiction for so many years. Uh, and she was always a bit of a sponge based on who she was around. So for the longest time she had this wonderful boyfriend and when you meet him in the book and I loved him so much and he died and then my grandmother died within a week.
[00:35:56] And then my mother was taking care of my grandfather. And, you know, I saw the sort of like vultures circling as people that she had in her peripheral saw. "Oh, she's, she's about to inherit some money. He'll be, he'll be gone soon too." And then it was it just, and it was just an accelerant and there is nothing I could do. I tried, I said, you know, "Do you want to move out here closer to where I live?", which is about an hour away. Um, and it was really hard to watch. It was hard to watch that final downward spiral.
[00:36:31] Mike: Yeah. What a gift that you give though in remembering her in the way you do is somebody who. Really struggled, but managed to stay clean and sober for a long period of time and her love for you comes through and as does yours, hers.
[00:36:46] Jarrett: Oh, thank you very much. I appreciate that.
[00:36:49] Mike: You know, this has been great. I really loved this conversation. I really appreciate you taking the time out on the east coast to join us.
[00:36:56] Jarrett: Yeah [Laugh].
[00:36:57] Mike: And for those of you who are listening, we invite you to absolutely tune in next week. When we'll talk about more issues around substance use until then we invite you to please everybody stay safe. And I think Jared would say this, talk to your kids.
[00:37:12] Jarrett: Yes. Yes. Yes.
[00:37:13] [END OF AUDIO]
The Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition’s mission is to support networking, encourage education, explore gaps, and realize solutions to improve treatment and reduce alcohol and other drug abuse in our community with a primary focus on families.