Louis Spirito has written for magazines and newspapers including The New York Times, WOOF! Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Men’s Fitness, Bird Talk, Woof!, Black Belt and Bride’s Magazine (the last two in the same month). As a screenwriter, he’s sold material to Universal Studios, Alliance-Atlantis, Triumph Pictures and Daniel Blatt Productions. His work has been honored by WorldFest Houston, the Nuyorican Poets Café, Writer’s Digest, and the Nicholl Fellowship Competition. GIMME SHELTER is his first book. It was recently awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion for Nonfiction.
A lifelong dog lover and recovering ‘angry guy’, Lou originally hails from Elizabeth, NJ. He attended Iona College (B.A.) and Fordham University (M.A.) in New York City. Lou lives in Malibu, California with his wife, Eugenie, the love of his life, and their rescue Pit Bull, Tanner.
When he’s not scribbling, Lou teaches Okinawan GoJu Ryu karate and works with juvenile offenders the Los Angeles County Probation Camps where officials plan to use Gimme Shelter as an anger management/literary resource. In their down time, Lou and his wife travel to Italy where they were married and where they have dual U.S.- Italian citizenship.
Stephanie: Louis, it is a pleasure to be chatting with you today and congrats on winning the B.R.A.G. Medallion! Please tell me about your book, Gimme Shelter.
Louis: Stephanie, thanks so much for doing the interview. I really appreciate it, and I’m very grateful to B.R.AG, for recognizing the book.
On my Amazon page, I describe Gimme Shelter as: It’s The Sopranos meets Marley & Me with a twist when a volatile, chronically ticked-off writer from a ‘goodfellas’ family struggles to help an abused, timid, big-hearted shelter dog.
Unlike Marley, ours was a case of ‘good’ dog, (a homeless pit bull), vs. ‘bad’ owner (me). For our odd couple to flourish, one of us would have to change. Thankfully the dog won out. But it wasn’t easy. And it wasn’t always pretty.
Stephanie: What inspired you to write this story?
Louis: I think of Gimme Shelter as an ‘accidental’ book. It started as a diary I kept of Tanner’s first year with us. Growing up in New Jersey, in a Goodfellas-type family, you didn’t keep diaries. In fact you never, ever put anything down on paper, just in case. But for some reason I can’t explain, I diligently charted all the mundane things that happened during Tanner’s first year.
For more than twenty years, my wife, Eugenie, had bugged me to tell our story from the POV of the dogs we’d owned. Like a typical husband, I’d resisted fiercely. When she started bugging me about my Tanner diary, I said I’d think about it. Because I hadn’t planned on doing anything with it, the journal was a hodgepodge of 500+ pages with no structure or apparent theme, hardly the kind of thing to turn into a book. It took me 18 grueling months and countless drafts to figure out that the real story wasn’t me saving Tanner; it was Tanner saving me from my decade’s long battle with anger. Once I came to that realization I was able to chisel a book from the diary.
I guess it’s fitting that I would up with an accidental book, since Tanner was an ‘accidental’ dog. When we started looking for a rescue dog, I wanted and Irish Setter like the one I had when I was a struggling actor living in New York City. A few months before we found Tanner, we got a rescue Setter but he had a serious, chronic eye aliment and had to be returned to the rescue group. Tanner was our second choice and he turned out to be exactly the dog I needed to learn my anger lessons, a kind of 4-legged therapist.
Stephanie: Is there a message in your story you are bringing to your readers?
Louis: One of Gimme Shelter’s central messages applies people as well as pit bulls: Don’t judge them by their appearance or reputation. Show them understanding, respect and love, and you’ll get that back.
I’m also hoping the book will serve as a springboard to help people like me recognize and deal with their own anger issues. If you are the wife, mother, sister, or girlfriend of someone with an anger problem how do you broach the subject? You don’t, and if you do, you’d better be very careful how you do it because bringing up the topic is likely to trigger the very explosion that you’re afraid of.
In those cases, maybe someone will pass Gimme Shelter to the angry person in their life and say “Hey here’s a really cool dog book I think you’ll like”. Hopefully, the angry guy (or woman) will read about my struggles, see the parallel and take steps to change. Tanner was a great teacher but I was a very slow, stubborn student. Our story shows that it’s possible to transform negative attitudes and behavior at any age.
Stephanie: Was there research involved?
Louis: I did some formal research for the sidebar topics like ‘Dogs & Heatstroke’, ‘Preventing Dog Aggression” and ‘The Odds of Being Killed By A Pit Bull’. For the actual story, the research was my life: first in New York City as a young man with my Irish Setter, Rebel, then later in California with Tanner.
Stephanie: Is there anything challenging about writing non-fiction?
Louis: Gimme Shelter was the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. First, it took quite a while and reams of paper to figure out how to craft a book out of a very unstructured, rambling diary. It was like building a house from the top down, without blue prints, and I wouldn’t recommend this approach to anyone. The greatest challenge, however, finding a way to convey my personal back story in a manner that would highlight the family dynamic that helped spawn my anger without blaming other people for my problem, specifically, my parents. Then I had to balance the dramatic content with the dog material, so as not to alienate pet lovers.
Stephanie: How long did it take to write your story?
Louis: Due to my ‘accidental’ approach, it took the better part of two years – and nearly 2 dozen drafts – to fashion the Tanner diary into a memoir.
Stephanie: Where in your home do you like to write?
Louis: We have a loft-style townhouse and I like to work in the living room-dining area where there’s plenty of light and where, if I stand on my tiptoes, I can see the ocean. I come from a family of night owls and my wife’s an early riser so, if I’m working late, I’ll shut the door and work in my office.
Stephanie: Do you write with an outline?
Louis: Gimme Shelter was my first stab at narrative non-fiction, and working without an outline (or any plan at all) caused me much consternation. I’m currently working on a short story collection and working mostly without an outline, although many of the stories have been percolating for years. I always outline extensively when I’m writing a screenplay, or short non-fiction.
Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?
Louis: I first read about indieBRAG in an article by Chris Robley, “5 Place Indie Authors Can Get Their Books Reviewed” The Bookbaby Blog. Thank you, Chris. I submitted to BRAG in July and forgot all about it until Geri Clouston contacted me to let me know I’d received the B.R.A.G. Medallion for Nonfiction. I was thrilled.
Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?
Louis: Gimme Shelter is available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, or readers can order it from their local bookseller. Better yet, they can buy it through indieBRAG and help support the people who support indie writers like myself.
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Louis Spirito, who is the author of, Gimme Shelter, one of our medallion honorees at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Gimme Shelter merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.