gort Time Sailors of Pizzolungo - Interview with Children's Author Scott Abrams

Scott Abrams Photo OneIn a world where children have video games, high definition televisions to watch their favorite programs and parents take them to the cinema to watch the latest and greatest movies; it takes a special parent to give a child the gift of a book. Scott Abrams and Adam Blockton are the co-authors of a remarkable children’s book, Time Sailors of Pizzolungo. It is a timeless and classic adventure book that will entertain children and adults alike. More importantly this beautiful book stimulates the imagination in a warm, positive fashion in a world in which our children need to hear a message of hope and dream dreams of what someday might be and that they might become.  Join Guillermo, Piccolo, Enzo, Mario, Luca and Tony as they sail the high seas and create magic five centuries before any of these children were born.

Scott Abrams sat down with Riveting Riffs Magazine recently to discuss this children’s adventure novel.

“I never set out to write a book, much less a children’s book and the idea came to me in an unexpected way. Years ago I was in Sicily near Pizzolungo. We were sitting at a villa poolside and it happened to be my birthday when a friend of mine gave me a small little boat as a birthday gift. I am not sure why. The boat package said that it grows in the water. Naturally we plunked it into the pool and we sat around waiting for it to grow, but strangely it didn’t grow. We said maybe it needs some time to grow and we checked it the next day and we couldn’t find the boat. We searched the same pool and it was completely gone. A few years after that I was emailing with one of my friends who was with me that day and exchanging joking messages about the boat and where it might have gone. He said it probably went into the filtration system and headed out to sea and that it was probably the biggest ship in the ocean right now. We started trading emails about that and expanding on it. At one point I said that I am going to turn this into a children’s story and I really didn’t believe it myself, but I did eventually.

I had written a screenplay with Adam Blockton fifteen years ago and I wrote to him and I said I have a new writing project that I am going to work on. I sent him my story and at the time I was thinking of writing this as a little picture book for very young children from age two to three. Adam said, why don’t you write it for young adults? I said I don’t know, I’ve never written a book before and we started going back and forth about how to build the story, so that it was really fleshed out into a suspenseful, comedic tale. A day or two later we had the outline for this. I said why don’t we write it together and so we did,” says Scott Abrams.  

As to the age group that would get the most enjoyment from this book, Abrams says, “Look, anybody can enjoy a book. It depends on what appeals to them, but the target age is really eight to eleven and the reason for that is our characters are eleven and twelve years old in the story. Children tend to enjoy reading about older kids rather than younger kids. They would look up to the eleven and twelve year olds if they are eight or nine or ten, but a thirteen year old probably wouldn’t want to read about younger kids.

People have compared it to things like The Goonies or some of the Jules Verne books, so there is something in there for adults as well.”

We agree with Abrams. We were hooked after the first chapter and could hardly wait for each new chapter to unfold. If you were a reader of adventure books when you were a young boy or girlTime Sailors of Pizzolungo will take you right back to your childhood.  

We wrongly assumed that Pizzolungo was a factious village, but Scott Abrams says that is not so, “Pizzolungo is a small, tiny village in Sicily. It is rather an unspectacular, tiny, little village in Northwest Sicily. I liked the name and although it is interesting. It is a tale with two components that border on the science fiction realm, the growing ship and the time travel, but almost everything else in the story is either true or based on a lot of truth. All of the characters that the crew meets as they sail the seas, back in 1497 are real people and a lot of the description is fairly accurate.

My major back in university was history, so I have always been interested in history and I read a lot of history books all of the time. The interesting component of going back in time for me wasn’t the novelty of the science fiction element, but rather the story that I could weave together with Adam, as the result of being back in time already. Throughout the journey that the kids take they get to meet a lot of luminaries from history, Christopher Columbus, Vasco de Gama and many others who I won’t reveal now and those elements were really exciting for me to write,” and you can hear the enthusiasm in his voice as he says, “We did a lot of research to be able to describe in the narrative the ships that they were on, the costumes that they wore and the types of things that they might have said or done back then.”

As for the setting he says, “Pizzolungo just happened to be right next to where the story came to me or rather the experience that inspired the story. Also, I checked on Google Earth for the type of topography that I needed to fashion this type of story. There are a couple of scenes that require that type of topography on the coastline.”

Everybody knows at least some of the characters in this book and that is why this book instantly connects with both children and adults alike.

“Guillermo Infante is the main character and he is a twelve year old student in the Pizzolungo elementary school. His father is a sea captain and he thinks that he is the most glorious sea captain in the world, but actually he is a very nondescript regular little ports man in a sense. Guillermo’s sister is Piccolo, which in Italian means little and she is little, she is the brains of the family. She is a very smart and precocious little girl. She is always trying to be involved with her older brother’s games at school and whatever he is doing. It is Guillermo’s dream to go out to sea with his father and his father keeps telling him that it is going to happen soon and you have the heart of a captain, but you are just a little too small. In turn Guillermo tells Piccolo whenever she wants to play with him, it’s okay, but you are still too small.

Guillermo unexpectedly receives a package in his house with his name on it, but actually his father’s name is Guillermo too and he is Guillermo junior and he mistakenly thinks that the package is for him when it arrives at his house. What is in there is a ship that has a warning sign that says it grows in water. His determination is to find out if and how it grows and he sets out with his closest friends to explore why this ship came and why it would grow, (as well as) what it is all about. He is joined by four other friends including his sister, Mario who is the somewhat stereotypical fat little kid who is not as intelligent as the rest and who always has his mind on food, but he is also in love with Piccolo, which Guillermo regrets. Guillermo tries to come in between them any time that he can. His name is Mario Batali, somewhat inspired by the famous chef Mario Batali. There is Tony Benetto who somewhat takes his name from Tony Bennett. He is the guy in the group who is into tech and to some degree understands navigation, so he becomes the ship’s navigator, as they go out to sea. Then there is Enzo Bonaventura, which in Italian means good adventure. He is a kid with a funny looking chin, but he is the sarcastic, wry or comic relief guy in the crowd and the guy who always lightens up the mood even in a very stressful moment. There is Luca Brizzi for Godfather fans, obviously taken from Luca Brasi and he is the biggest guy in the group and the toughest, but he is also a big wimp when it comes down to it, because he is afraid of the water. That is the crew or the core team that goes out to sea together. Scott Abrams Photo Two

Piccolo is this cute, eleven year old girl, so small in the room that sometimes she is overlooked. Nobody pays her any credence in this little group of accidental sailors. I won’t tell you how, but they end up out to sea in a very unpredictable and unsuspected way. From the first moment that you meet her you know she is a little different, because while everybody is playing she is sitting working out the jumbo in the comic section of the local newspaper. She speaks Latin and she has all of these little skills. Nobody pays her any attention, but as she goes through the book her character arc really comes into fruition. Ultimately everybody has to depend on her for survival and to solve the greatest challenge that they could ever have, which is getting home, once they have ventured too far in many ways, both in terms of the past and distance,” says Abrams.

For parents looking for a point of inspiration for their daughters Time Sailors of Pizzolungo does the trick, because the message is that little girls can do everything the guys can do and do it just as well and at times even better.

Abrams agrees, “That is exactly right. I will tell you an interesting story. I got a letter from one reader and it was a mother who told me that she started reading the book to her kids and she stopped at chapter two, because the boys were so mean to Piccolo. (She said) that was unfair and it was not nice. I wrote back and I apologized that she didn’t like it etc., but I said that is the point, because in the end Piccolo proves everybody wrong. She is the smart one, she is the shining star and ultimately she is an inspiration for everybody else. It takes some time for everybody to warm to that idea and to appreciate that. Piccolo becomes the star of the book and every girl who reads the book comes back with the comment that you did, it proves that girls can do anything.”

The parents of Piccolo and Guillermo play a minor role in the story and they are presented as good, warm and loving parents.

Scott Abrams’ own backstory serves as a perfect canvass for writing this adventure book that is set in another country other than America where he was born and grew up or Hungary where he now lives with his wife Annamaria and their two daughters. He has traveled to almost seventy countries during his lifetime.

“I did take little tidbits from all of my travels. They were little fun facts and figures etc. and I interweaved them into this story. My favorite countries in the world to travel to are Spain and Italy. The story is largely based in Spain.

Twenty years ago I was sort of backpacking around Europe and I chanced upon Spain. I really, really took to it quickly, the whole culture, the landscapes and the vibrancy and since then I have visited Spain at least once or twice a year for twenty years. A lot of the descriptions and the settings in the story and some of the people are all real. It is in that sense predicated on stuff that has happened to me in real life,” he says.

Scott Abrams also wants you to know, “My wife Annamaria played an enormous role in the storyline and with some of the character development. Three or four of the absolutely the main features of the book originated in her mind.  She was a great muse as we went about writing this book. I am not going to divulge the ending, because there is a big surprise obviously at the end, but the big ending idea came from (my wife). The codes that the kids play with and have to work on to achieve their aims, a lot of that stem from her ideas.”

As for their two daughters he says, “(My daughters) are too young for the story unfortunately at this point. What was on my mind is when they are a little older they can read the story that their father wrote. I thought that would be cool.”

The way that Time Sailors of Pizzolungo ends there is a definite hint of a sequel.

“Hopefully, there will be a sequel. With Adam I have already started outlining what a sequel might look like. The problem is always finding time to actually do it. We are slowly building up the storyline in the event we come into some time and then we will write it,” he says.

There have been some other promising overtures as well, as Scott Abrams explains, “We have received various expressions of interest from those associated with the film world to possibly turn it into a movie or a television series where each of the chapters would unfold in a separate episode. We are hoping one of those works out. As we know, these are a one in a million shots. It is a very visual story and everybody’s reaction seems to be that this should be a movie.”

The authors have received letters from teachers who are using Time Sailors of Pizzolungo in their literature and history classes for grades five, six and seven. Abrams says, he also has noticed bulk sales of the book with purchases of thirty to fifty books for a single purchase, which is usually an indication that schools and / or libraries are ordering the book.

If you can only give one gift to your son, daughter, niece, nephew or grandchild then give them Time Sailors of Pizzolungo, so they can begin creating their own dreams.

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This interview by Joe Montague  published August 21st, 2016 is protected by copyright © and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine All Rights Reserved.  Cover art is the property of Scott Abrams and Adam Blockton, photo is the property of Stacy Abrams and all  are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved. This interview may not be reproduced in print or on the internet or through any other means without the written permission of Riveting Riffs Magazine, All Rights Reserved