Emily Ziff Griffin explains friend Philip Seymour Hoffman’s influence on her work

But at a certain point, I really started to view this book as a kind of metaphorical journey for a girl who’s coming into her own power, specifically her own creative power. I smiled and took a step toward them. There are a lot of ideas in this story, but the central ideas have to do with the ways in which the darkest moments of our lives actually become the most transformative, empowering, revealing, and impactful in a positive way. Emily Ziff Griffin will publish her debut YA novel,   Light Years,   this September — but this is hardly the beginning of her career. I swallow, then will the sensation away with the sound of my own voice. Okay?” I nodded and watched him go. The things that have come with the distance from it. Certain people and places can spark complex reactions. A place to work, a bed. Five minutes ago. Griffin’s grief over two events in her life — her father’s death from AIDS when she was 14, and Hoffman’s death in 2014 — helped inspire   Light Years,   the story of Luisa, a young girl with synesthesia, who ends up on a personal spiritual quest while also trying to stop a global pandemic. That is my first memory. It’s one big room. The door clicks behind me and a wave of bright yellow gives way to pitch black. “She’s late,” I report. The doors open with a wave of cold air. As my eyes adjust to the darkness, I see a large desk at the center of the room. What does Bell keep in his fridge? My ears pop and my stomach rolls over on itself. How do you flex different muscles as a novelist than as a producer? This isn’t real, I tell myself. “I told her, not today. And another. Two slick black chairs stand next to it facing a monitor that seems to float on the surface. “And good afternoon, Mr. Joe leads me to sit and a moment later I am alone. EMILY ZIFF GRIFFIN:   The real seed of the book was my father’s illness and death when I was a child. My mother: In a cab. He sets a crystal-clear glass of water on a heavy coaster. The waves seemed like mountains, but as my mother charged into them, they shrank. Which somehow makes me calmer. My grandmother says it looks like Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Mexican Virgin Mary. I think, as creative people, these huge turning points — and sometimes very small turning points — become these anchors in our work. My first lesson in scale and perspective. I sit down and look over at the wall of closed doors. And as we built a production company and both made choices about what to take on, I learned from him to always be looking for that: Why am I attracted to this story? Check out the interview and excerpt, below. “Mr. I don’t know if I cried from upset or relief. Below us, Central Park’s lush meadows and plump trees spill out, surrounded on three sides by the gray and beige concrete of an older New York, the one that existed before the skyline was swallowed by glass and steel. Bright light and a couch for reading. I wrap my hands around the armrests and wait, steeping in the amber glow of the monitor. It’s the other way around. I sense a figure standing in the corner. The continuation of our relationship, to me, is actually being able to put this book in the world. “Before a concert,” my dad says as we wait, “I like to think about how the music isn’t for me; it’s for someone out there listening, someone who needs it. Who’s in them? I keep it hidden. Like I said, people think she’s nuts. I look down again at my scar. I stand and look down from this 200-million-dollar apartment nearly 1,000 feet in the sky. That always makes me less nervous.”
Okay, that’s nice and all, but Thomas Bell doesn’t need anything from me. “What do you think?” replies Joe. I was almost 14 when my father died. The main attraction, aside from feeling that I have this thing I want to share and express, is the fact that producing requires a lot of other people to say yes to you, to give you money, and to agree to participate. “Is he falling or flying?” I wonder aloud. Blue always tastes like chocolate when I’m nervous, and I’m nervous. “Hello, Luisa,” he says. I took another step. Telling that story would have been the story of a young child who’s sort of disconnected from this impending loss. Leather sofas. I hesitate. I watch the liquid settle in the glass. The room brightens. I’m Joe Anderson, Special Assistant to Mr. I start to relax. You just be yourself and let go of the results.”
But I have everything to lose. I step toward a bright-eyed man behind a reception desk. They are too influential, in terms of how we experience life and how we view the world, not to become huge factors in the work that we do. Plus, my mom would be paying for college and I don’t want to owe her anything. My mother: In the lobby. Bell,” Joe says. But as an adult, with all of the distance and time and work that I’ve done, and all the other life experiences that I’ve had since then, I have the ability to think about my own death and the loss that we all experience when people around us pass away in a totally different way. Suddenly a wave rushed in and knocked me down. I felt the most “in my element” writing this than I ever did producing someone else’s movie. My chest constricts. I picture the apartment I will have. She’d only make me more stressed.”
He sits down and hooks his steady green eyes to mine. Show Full Article Be there ASAP. Another flash of pink reminds me that I am not at ease. Light Years   was also influenced by your creative partnership and friendship with Philip Seymour Hoffman, right? A rush of magenta sweeps across my eyes. They looked back at me and began to swim to shore. It’s like the wires get crossed and my brain sends the wrong messages to my body, or vice versa.   I worked with him for 12 years, and   that relationship influenced the way I view art and storytelling and character. I watch Joe move briskly to one of the doors, then vanish behind it with barely a sound. My watch buzzes again. My dad shakes his head. I want my life to start now. I didn’t want to tell the story of a young child in the 1980s whose father gets AIDS and dies. I rub the scar with my thumb. I turn back. Griffin explains that in EW’s exclusive excerpt from the book, below, Luisa “starts out as someone who is driven by logic, rationality, and her intellect… and what she eventually gets to uncover is that there are other parts of herself, her emotional self and her creative self, that are equally important.”
The author spoke with EW   about the book’s genesis and what Hoffman taught her about art. I feel like I can hold the entire world in my palm. How many rooms are back there? My father and I arrive at the elevator. My father looks at me. “Seventy-fifth floor.”
“Thank you.” I turn toward the long, mirrored corridor that leads to the elevator bank. A fat little arrow. My eyes search for the door. Smells come with flashes of color, sounds have tastes, sights bring the sensation of temperature or touch. Most of the time, I can think my way back to normal. “Jesus,” he mutters. My grandmother is the same way and all her life everyone has treated her like she’s crazy. “Something to drink?”
My father clears his throat. My father set me down, grabbed my hand, and we ran after her. I have to get out. The elevator car shakes gently against its surrounding walls as we rocket up the seventy-five stories to the penthouse. My skin erupts in goosebumps and the trickle of sweat that has been nagging its way down my spine dries up in the cold air. I had always been interested in the idea of telling that story, but I never wanted to tell the   literal   story of what happened. I grab my bag and follow Joe to the wall of closed doors. College is just a bubble, a delay. The Avarshina Industries logo fills the void: an abstracted image of a flaming match. I glance down at my black lace dress and chunky, high-heeled ankle boots. And that was my own journey with Phil — it’s like a torch I feel like I picked up and am trying to carry on. My father and I stand. It’s short and squat. I take two clumsy steps and the screen lights up behind me. The building’s edges blur against the cloudless sky—nature and the man-made becoming one. I take one look back at my dad and cross into the next room. ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What inspired this book? Orange: bright, harmless. I stare up at the gleaming glass tower and a torrent of blue pours down. What are some of the specific things you learned from him about character and art? But I don’t. I always felt like that wouldn’t allow me to get to the elements of the story that, to me, are most resonant for other people, not just for myself. His expression is unnervingly flat. She says it signifies my closeness to God. I’m making coffee in the morning quiet. My father takes in the space. I felt the water all around me, filling my ears and pulling me as the wave ebbed. Griffin has spent years working as a movie producer, from running Cooper’s Town Productions with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman and to producing   such films as   Capote, God’s Pocket,   and   Jack Goes Boating. “How can I help?” he asks. We enter the marble lobby and the temperature drops about twenty-five degrees. Like what? I press “up” and focus on the shape of the arrow on the button. The walls are papered in pale grey velvet and lit by small chandeliers that look like they were salvaged from the Titanic. Bell.” He shakes our hands and leads us to a door at the end of the luxe hallway. I track the edges of the match from one end to the other and back again. Maybe there’s a bird on the window ledge. “I’m Luisa Ochoa-Jones,” I reply quietly. A hissing sound envelops me, like I’m surrounded by snakes. I have to go. My father pulled his T-shirt off over his head and stooped down to my level: “Stay here, lamb. My shrink, Dr. She grabbed me and held me as I cried. She doesn’t seem to mind the condition, but I do. I remind myself that 2,300 people applied and only five of us made it this far. His eyes are searching, uncertain, then they shift. Merit Press
Excerpt from Light Years   by Emily Ziff Griffin
Chapter 1
It was that time of day, when the light hits everything sideways. I want to know what it’s like to turn the lock on my own apartment door, to work all night and sleep all day if I feel like it, to not have to explain myself to anyone. I struggle to draw breath. Maybe she is. “This is it,” I say to my father as the white-gloved doorman beckons us inside. Maybe it chirps like it understands the value of solitude. Thick, plush rugs. We braced against a sheet of wind that hit with the force of a clanging church bell when we cleared the top of the boardwalk and saw the ocean spill out before us. So at that age, I had no bigger perspective other than just fear, and kind of an inability to even process what was happening. I zero in on the match’s orange tip. “I’d like some water, please.” Now he’s nervous. And then, my father’s hands, lifting me to him and my mother swooping in. Not to this.”
“I don’t care,” I respond quickly. “You have nothing to lose here, whatever happens. Yes, the fact that I’ve made it to the final round will most definitely help get me into college, if I wanted to go to college. Two walls of floor-to-ceiling windows, a third with a series of closed doors, and a fourth covered by a massive painting of a shirtless figure superimposed over a satellite image of a city. My mother ran ahead, flinging her sandals onto the sand and stripping off her emerald green dress. I leap to my feet. We went down to the beach, my young mother smiling and laughing, her dark chestnut hair falling down her back in wavy curls, and my father carrying me in his arms.  
The two of them sank under the warm summer sea, then reappeared, kissing, as I stood on the wet beach, the frothy water rushing up and over my feet. Anything I know about those things is because of working with him. We come out into the hall. “You’re very tall in those shoes,” he says after a moment. My pulse quickens with it and my mouth becomes so dry I imagine any words I form will come out as imperceptible gasps. A ding as we level off. I soften into a smile. That’s really what I think he did so beautifully, always connecting   his own experience and his own perception of people and humanity to the character he was playing. Moments later, I am overwhelmed by the smell of roses. “Yes, of course,” the man says, nodding. I guess I’m still getting used to it. All the days between splitting my knee and dyeing my hair are imbedded in my cells like bits of rock in a mountainside: my body as time capsule. But I cried and my mother kissed my face, wrapped me in her green dress, and carried me all the way home. “Sorry, the meeting is between Luisa and Mr. A light-haired, boyish-looking man stands waiting in crisp khakis and a white dress shirt. I started to observe that he chose even the projects that bore no external resemblance to his own life because they were   about   him on some level. What is it about me that I can bring to the telling of this story that’s going to make it resonate for other people? One of the biggest things is the idea that all creative work must be personal, but it should rarely be literal. It’s easily twenty times the size of the biggest room in our house. I clutch the handrail, wanting both to get there and never arrive. I cross my legs and direct my anxious mind to the scar on my knee from when I fell horseback riding in Mexico. The sun was casting its final gleam of golden warmth and the sky was going from blue to purple. Joe is back. I’ve been blonde for exactly nine hours and even though I’d never felt more like myself as when I stepped out of the shower with my new hair, my reflection is kind of a shock. The amazing thing to me about writing is that it requires none of that: I can literally sit down and do this thing, and no matter what anybody else says, whether it gets published, it exists in the world. My watch buzzes with an incoming text. These sensory misfires have been with me all my life. When my emotions run high, my senses get muddled. But my body doesn’t believe me. *
The sound of the city dissolves into a hum. “Please sit,” he offers after a moment. I had actually started this book shortly before he died. I think that’s why his characters produce so much empathy, even when he was playing someone who was not nice, or not a “good guy.” You always felt for those characters, and I think it’s because he could see himself in them. All grays and white. Jones. I go back to my seat. I quicken my pace. I was all of two or three years old, but I remember. Thomas Bell is the most brilliant and successful tech entrepreneur in the world and the Avarshina Fellowship means funding, mentorship, and most importantly, freedom. Steph, says that the more I can engage my senses deliberately, the less they will take on a life of their own. Yeah. Most of the time, I can keep my feelings in check. My father mops his sweaty brow with a handkerchief. I wrote the book and it’s a complete thing. Bell is ready to see you.” I look up. Breathe, I tell myself. We step through. “It’s better she’s not here. The figure is Bell. I shift my posture, tilt my chin slightly upward, roll my shoulders back. She’s late, like always.