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Sail Away to an Unforgettable Journey on a “Raft of Stars”

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A Captivating Riverfront Adventure for the Ages

Huck Finn meets This Tender Land in a breathtaking coming-of-age tale that will transport you to the heart of nature. Andrew J. Graff’s Raft of Stars (Ecco) enchants readers with its vivid depictions of the natural world, flawed yet relatable characters, and profound introspection. From the twinkling stars above to the majestic black bears and the rushing river, every element in this novel holds deep meaning, creating a multi-layered story that resonates with readers of all ages.

Two Boys’ Fight for Survival Against All Odds

Amidst imminent danger at home, two young boys named Bread and Fish decide to take matters into their own hands and seek refuge in the wilderness. On the cusp of adulthood, they navigate the fine line between vulnerability and self-reliance, facing hunger and peril. With unwavering determination and resourcefulness, they construct a raft, engaging in spirited discussions to christen their vessel. At the same time, the adults in their lives, including Fish’s mother, his grandfather, the sheriff, and a gas station attendant, join forces to frantically search for the missing boys. In the midst of the woods, each character experiences a moment of reckoning, unveiling their personal struggles and aspirations for the future.

A Tapestry of Beauty and Emotion

Raft of Stars captivates the senses with its raw beauty. Andrew J. Graff masterfully delves into the intricate emotions of male characters, highlighting the delicate balance between sensitivity and ruggedness embodied by the boys. Through their vulnerabilities, meaningful connections are forged among the characters, leaving a lasting impact on readers. Graff’s personal experiences infuse the narrative with a powerful and authentic portrayal of the river and the woods, treating readers to an unforgettable journey. It’s no wonder that my book group and I were captivated by this remarkable novel, relishing the opportunity to discuss it with the talented author himself!

Q & A With Andrew J. Graff

Q: I adored this tender-hearted, action-packed story of friendship, loyalty, and hope. What inspired you to write it?

A: Thank you for your kind words! Writing Raft of Stars was a deeply personal journey for me. It all began during a winter when I finally felt at home after years of being away. Nestled by the Peshtigo River in the Wisconsin Northwoods, where I started my first teaching job, I rediscovered a sense of belonging. As I lit a fire and stumbled upon an old essay by Flannery O’Connor, the spark ignited within me. Inspired by her approach to storytelling, I began crafting the initial pages of what would eventually become Raft of Stars. My desire was to spend more time with the enchanting world of forests and waterways that I hold dear.

Q: The story takes place in a small Midwestern town and primarily in the woods and on the river. The natural surroundings are beautifully portrayed, evoking a sense of adrenaline during stormy weather and tranquility in the calm of nature. Have you spent time in a similar setting?

A: Absolutely! During my college years, I began guiding rafts during summer breaks, a passion that I continue to pursue to this day. Whitewater holds a special place in my heart, and I relished the opportunity to bring the exhilaration of navigating treacherous waters to life in Raft of Stars. I’ve had my fair share of challenging moments, from enduring rough swims along the river bottom to witnessing the raw power of nature during a particularly fierce storm in West Virginia. It’s these personal experiences that enriched the story’s authenticity and allowed me to capture the essence of the natural world.

Q: Each character experiences a profound transformation when faced with the wilderness. Their self-evaluation and decisions shape the trajectory of their lives. Can you provide some insight into this aspect?

A: Indeed, Raft of Stars is a coming-of-age tale not only for the young protagonists but also for all the characters involved. Each one must confront personal obstacles and redefine their identities to protect the boys and support one another. The wilderness serves as a catalyst for growth, swiftly exposing vulnerabilities and demanding change from within. Whether in nature or in life, we often find ourselves thrust into discomfort and disorder, compelling us to shed our old selves in pursuit of growth and renewal—much like a snake shedding its skin. This universal pattern of shedding and transcendence is at the core of both life and the stories we weave.

Q: Your novel delves into topics such as child abuse, loss, financial struggles, and unfulfilled lives, all while emphasizing the importance of relationships. Though imperfect, the bonds between characters hold great significance. What message do you hope readers take away from Raft of Stars regarding life’s challenges and relationships?

A: Through Raft of Stars, I aim to offer readers a glimpse of personal transformation and the discovery of one’s best self. In the face of adversity, each character grapples with vital questions: “Will I overcome? Am I worthy? Do I possess the strength to endure? Am I alone?” My hope is that readers find encouragement and solace in the characters’ journeys, recognizing that within each of us lies nobility, strength, and goodness—despite our baggage and scars. Choosing to believe in our own intrinsic worth and practicing empathy towards others allows us to rise above life’s trials.

Q: The friendship between Fish and Bread is a joy to behold. Despite their young age, they exhibit remarkable intelligence, resourcefulness, and imagination, turning their perilous situation into an adventurous and playful experience. Did you have a similar friendship during your childhood?

A: I had the privilege of experiencing a deeply cherished friendship during my childhood. Three of us called ourselves the “Fishing Buddy Three,” country kids who reveled in bike jumps behind barns, firecrackers in silos, and endless hours spent by the river. Writing from a young boy’s perspective brought back fond memories. Children possess a unique ability to feel deeply and reconcile with their emotions. As Bread and Fish journey downstream, their dreams, playful banter, arguments, and resilience outshine even the adults in the story, showcasing their remarkable capacity for perseverance and healing.

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Q: The names Fish and Bread carry symbolic weight. What inspired these names and what do they signify?

A: The names Fish and Bread hold profound echoes for me. They serve as subtle references to the biblical story of Christ feeding the multitudes with bread and fish, infusing a touch of the miraculous into this larger-than-life adventure. Moreover, I wanted the novel’s essence to remain simple and elemental, much like the rivers, woods, bears, coyotes, stars, and cattails that populate the narrative. By evoking the most basic and essential elements of sustenance, the names Fish and Bread align harmoniously with the essence of the story.

Q: I was enthralled by the scene involving the protective mama bear and her cub. When Fish “saw” the bear during a solitary moment, I interpreted it as the spirit of his father watching over and safeguarding him. Was this your intention, and have you encountered bears in the wilderness?

A: I’m thrilled that the bear scene resonated with you! The bears in the story, whether on the ground or in the constellations, symbolize multiple layers of meaning. They embody the mother’s relentless pursuit of her son, the spirit of Fish’s father, and the wilderness itself—an entity that answers back to us mortals or offers divine protection and provision. I deliberately left the interpretation open-ended, allowing each character’s perspective to shape the bear’s symbolic significance. And yes, I’ve encountered bears during my time in the woods, and their presence has always left me in awe.

Q: The boys engage in a lively debate while naming their raft. What led you to choose Raft of Stars as the title, and what is its significance?

A: Initially, the manuscript bore the simple title of “Bread and Fish.” However, with the guidance of wise editors, I realized that the title could encompass so much more. Stars hold great prominence within the story, as each character seeks solace and guidance from the night sky. The raft, which the boys painstakingly craft, serves as the focal point of their flight and becomes the object of pursuit for the adults. The phrase “Raft of Stars” also serves as a source of comfort for Fish in times of uncertainty, allowing him to let go. After considering several options, the title resonated most strongly, encapsulating the essence of their journey.

Q: You purposefully left the readers to imagine the characters’ futures instead of providing a concrete resolution. Why did you make this decision?

A: A wise writing teacher once emphasized the importance of restraint, both in individual sentences and in the overall narrative. Initially, I wrote an epilogue that offered a glimpse into the characters’ lives one year later, complete with detailed accounts of where they ended up and who they ended up with. However, as I revised the final draft, I recognized the value of allowing readers to engage their imagination and explore the possibilities for themselves. Writing that epilogue was crucial for me to fully understand the closing scenes, but ultimately, I decided that its omission would create a more impactful and stirring ending.

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Q: Your characters possess incredible depth, and it feels like there are more adventures within them. Would you ever consider writing a sequel?

A: I’m glad you found the characters rich and captivating! I have indeed contemplated the idea of a sequel, imagining how these beloved characters might find their paths crossing once more. However, for now, I am engrossed in another novel set within the same world as Raft of Stars, albeit with a fresh plot and new protagonists. It became evident to me upon completing Raft of Stars that the Northwoods, with its picturesque forests, rivers, and inhabitants, held many more stories to be told. I am excitedly venturing back into that realm with my next book—a tale of a young married couple embarking on a risky endeavor to rescue their failing whitewater rafting business and salvage their family. I look forward to sharing this new adventure with readers when the time comes. Rest assured, it won’t take as long as Raft of Stars, which took me a wonderful five years to write during my summer breaks from teaching.

Q: Raft of Stars has a visually captivating quality and would make an extraordinary movie. If the book were to grace the silver screen, who would be your dream cast?

A: The thought of Raft of Stars being adapted into a film fills me with sheer excitement! While I would defer to the expertise of casting professionals, I can’t help but imagine Jeff Bridges embodying the character of Teddy Branson. His charisma and talent would undoubtedly bring a unique and captivating dimension to the role.

Q: What books have you recently enjoyed and would recommend?

A: I’ve had the pleasure of reading three exceptional books this year that I wholeheartedly recommend. Little Faith by Nick Butler, The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal, and the newly released Girls in the Stilt House by Kelly Mustian. If you connected with Raft of Stars on an emotional level and appreciated its intricate plot, I believe these books will resonate with you as well.

Q: Where can readers follow you to stay updated on your future endeavors?

A: Thank you for your interest and support! You can stay connected with me on Instagram @andrewjgraff_ or visit my website at Ratingperson. I look forward to sharing my journey with you!

About Andrew J. Graff:

Andrew J. Graff, the talented author behind Raft of Stars, is a captivating storyteller. His work extends beyond this novel, with his fiction and essays gracing the pages of publications such as Image and Dappled Things. Having grown up immersed in the beauty of Wisconsin’s Northwoods, Andrew draws inspiration from his love for fishing, hiking, and hunting. After serving in Afghanistan, he pursued an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Currently, Andrew resides in Ohio and serves as a visiting writing professor at Wittenberg University.

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