It had been a long day in Siena. My family and I were walking along the Via Terme back to the Blue SITA buses when I saw him in the store window: a griffin clutching a ball. I stopped and stared. A larger version of this creature could have sat on the roof of Siena’s cathedral and not looked out of place. My family came back to see what had caught my attention. I murmured that it must be too expensive to even consider buying.
My husband, who always ridiculed “dustcatchers” of any sort, said six words that will live in my memory forever: “You never know until you ask.” He and I went inside. The griffin was expensive, but not horribly so. The owner of the shop explained how her husband had carved the piece for his own amusement out of a small, spare block of travertine marble. I now wanted the griffin more than ever. Travertine stone decorates the top of the Torre del Mangia, Rome’s Colosseum and dozens of other monuments around Italy. Five minutes later, I was the proud owner of an original work of art by Ruffini Dario. Or is it Dario Ruffini? I’m not entirely sure. If anyone goes to Siena and wanders into his shop, let me know. Okay?
My carefully swaddled griffin rode on my lap all the way home to Merano. We gave him a home in our study, right by my desk. He provided a wonderful remembrance of our trip to Tuscany, but he also tickled my imagination. He was thinner than any young griffin ought to be, and he had such worried eyes. I wondered how I’d feel coming nose to beak with him under a laurel hedge like the one in our garden.
From there, I moved on to what might happen if a young, hungry griffin interrupted the batting practice of two young Americans. And it was only natural that Blue SITA buses, the Torre del Mangia, and Siena’s Gothic cathedral should appear at some point in the story.
I like writing first drafts by hand. For some reason, I was paging through one of my old notebooks and found the first draft of SAVING THE GRIFFIN. I skimmed through three pages of my atrocious handwriting. (My poor students at the Institute of Children’s Literature know what I mean.) On the fourth page, I found the opening scene of my novel. Hardly any of the dialogue had changed!