In writing about the enchanting adventures of a 12-year-old boy in 19th century London, an East Carolina University theater professor has discovered a magical world of his own.
Gregory Funaro is earning glowing reviews for his whimsical story “Alistair Grim’s Odditorium,” published last month by Disney.
“It’s a book about family. It’s a book about friendship, and ultimately – it sounds corny, but – it’s about how love conquers all,” Funaro said.
Although trained in theater and not writing, Funaro began channeling excess creativity into composing screenplays and books as a hobby while part of an acting troupe nearly 15 years ago.
“I didn’t exactly plan on being a writer; it just happened,” he said. “I wish I had a revelatory moment where I was inspired to do it, but it was a fun time-killer for me initially.”
It was this casual pastime that led him to explore the inventive and otherworldly plot of “Alistair Grim’s Odditorium,” the first in a planned series.
After an orphan named Grubb, the central character and narrator, is whisked away to a strange world called the Odditorium, he is allowed to stay as an apprentice as long as he doesn’t share any secrets about his new home with the public.
“The Odditorium is powered by a mysterious glowing blue energy called ‘animus,’ but the animus has to stay within the walls of the Odditorium,” Funaro explained. Through a series of events, Grubb accidentally lets some of the animus escape, which sets off a heroic adventure of discovery.
Amazon.com editors quickly selected Funaro’s “Odditorium” for their Best Book of the Month list during January, while Bookish.com chose it for their Winter's Best Children's and Middle Grade Books list. It’s currently rated with 4.5 stars on Amazon and 3.93 on GoodReads, and has received positive features on websites like Hypable and the Publishers Weekly Review.
The book is targeted to ages 8-12, but readers of all ages are enjoying Grubb’s adventure.
“I’m thrilled that it’s getting such positive reviews, but what means the most to me is that kids love it,” Funaro said. “I get notes about it from kids, and then parents tell me ‘my child doesn’t like to read but couldn’t put your book down.’ All the reviews in the world don’t compare to that.”
Funaro said he has found his niche, although his earlier writings were part of a darker genre. His first two published books were thrillers featuring characters that were quite different than young Grubb and Mr. Grim. The birth of his daughter led him to shift focus.
“You spend so much time doing research, getting into the minds of horrible characters (as a thriller writer) – and then you have to turn that off and play with your new child,” he said. “It just felt uncomfortable.”
But he feels extremely comfortable in the children’s literature arena and, especially, at ECU.
“This is the best department and best colleagues, and I’m sorry, but we have the very best students,” he said. “They’re just so supportive and so positive; the rapport here is just great. Everything I write is about family or loss of family, and this is sort of my family.”
Funaro dedicated “Odditorium” to his daughter and to Jack, the child of a family friend whose enthusiasm urged him to see it through.
His second book in the series, “Alistair Grim’s Odd Aquaticum,” is scheduled for release in spring 2016.