By Emily Ziff Griffin
Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division
Emily Ziff Griffin is a writer and film producer who tells a deeply personal story relating to the loss in her life in her debut novel, Light Years.
Griffin has survived two very hard experiences with grief, the passing of her father from AIDS when she was a teenager and her dear friend, mentor, and producing partner Philip Seymour Hoffman, who died suddenly in 2014.
When she was 25, Griffin co-founded Cooper’s Town Productions with Hoffman. She produced the Academy Award-winning film Capote and Hoffman’s directorial debut Jack Goes Boating, as well as John Slattery’s God’s Pocket.
Griffin has spent two decades coming to terms with what death means and trying to accept the unexpected gifts that come from profound loss.
In Light Years, Griffin tells a deeply personal story through an imaginative lens.
“It’s about the ability of love, grief, art, technology, and human emotion to transform us and change the world,” she says of her work.
The story is centered around Luisa Ochoa-Jones, who is a teenager ready to start her life as fast as she can. She has exceptional coding skills and is a finalist for a fellowship sponsored by a brilliant tech entrepreneur Thomas Bell. Just imagine a teenager going into a meeting with Bill Gates.
If she earns the fellowship, it means she would receive mentoring, funding, and freedom from her overbearing mother.
Luisa also suffers from a rare condition, in which her physical senses go into overdrive if her emotions run high, with waves of color, sound, taste, and touch flooding her body.
In addition to that, her life is turned upside down when a deadly virus is spreading around the world, which kills thousands and sends her father into quarantine. Luisa receives a cryptic message from someone who might hold the key to stopping the epidemic, and she knows she must act to save her family and, ultimately, the world.
“I wrote Light Years for teenagers who are on the precipice of adulthood, with all its freedoms and perils,” says Griffin. “Life can feel limitless and bountiful and then suddenly become staggeringly lonely and confusing when we experience loss for the first time. We feel powerless. Through Luisa, I hope readers will connect to a character who is faced with epic circumstances and tremendous grief, but discovers that her deepest emotions and most authentic self are the key to reclaiming her power with purpose, grace, and hope.”
Griffin says of telling this story in the form of a novel instead of film, “I have always wanted to tell the story of losing my father as a teenager, but it took me a long time to find the right medium and the right lens – I didn’t want to be wed to what literally happened. After many years of developing and producing other people’s projects, I finally found the courage to focus on my own. Film requires a lot of people to say yes to you. It is pretty close to impossible to make a finished film without anyone else’s permission at multiple points along the way. That took a toll on me over time and the frustration pushed me to write.
“I knew when I started that no matter what, at the end, my book, my work of art, would exist in the world whether anyone said ‘yes’ to me or not. That was so satisfying and kept me going through a lot of hard work and challenge. That said, I don’t think a good book happens in isolation. I had so much generous input and support from so many people, starting with Carey Albertine and Saira Rao of In This Together Media who helped develop the book from the start. It was a really collaborative process and I think my life in film taught me how to ask for help, how to make the most of relationships I’ve built over many years, and how to hear the feedback I was getting and use it to keep improving.”
Griffin says of losing her father and Hoffman, “When I was nearly fourteen, my father died of AIDS after a five-year battle. It was 1992 and AIDS was still something many people feared. Being gay, which my father was, was still stigmatized. I hid his illness from my peers at school and I really never talked about what was happening, or my feelings about it. I can recognize this now as a survival mechanism, but the result was that I become very disconnected from my own emotions. I was high functioning and superficially normal, but the trauma left me with a lot of work to do in adulthood.
“Then, just a few years ago, my business partner and mentor Philip Seymour Hoffman also died. By this point, I had developed a much deeper relationship to death, to the possibilities of what might exist beyond this lifetime for each of us, and a better ability to be present with my feelings and experiences. Oddly, I think Phil’s death represented in some ways the completion of mourning my father because I could see a bigger picture. While the loss was heartbreaking, I had developed a connection to and an understanding of forces bigger than myself, and that gave me a strength that wasn’t built on avoidance, but acceptance.”
EMILY ZIFF GRIFFIN IN BROOKLYN:
Wednesday September 27th at 7:30 pm
96 Wythe Avenue, Brooklyn, NY