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The Guncle returns for a brand new adventure abroad!

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Steven Rowley — Photo by Afonso Salcedo  

When Steven Rowley published The Guncle in 2021, he had no idea how successful the book would become. The story — a former sitcom star turned recluse grappling with the grief of losing his best friend and sister-in-law while caring for her two young children — resonated with readers across the globe in a year when they too were dealing with overwhelming grief and confusion.

"To the extent that that was a character coming out of a very dark time, landing in a moment when, worldwide, we'd all been coming out of a dark year, I think there was something special that just resonated with readers," Rowley said to the SGN.

The Guncle received tremendous accolades for handling such an emotional topic with poise and humor. The year it hit shelves, the book won the Thurgood Prize for American Humor, adding Rowley's name to a prestigious list of past winners, including Jon Stewart.

"I never really imagined it as more than a single book, until my thoughts kept turning back to the kids in particular," Rowley said. "I think a lot of people assumed I missed Patrick, since Patrick is a lot of fun to write... but there's a lot of Patrick in me. When I want to access Patrick, I can, anytime, but it was more the two kids. At the end of the first book, they were going back home to Connecticut to a home where their mother was no longer there. In many ways, their grief journey was just beginning at the end of that book, and I felt compelled to check in on the kids — are the kids all right? I wanted to know as much as anyone."

The original Guncle book was inspired by one of Rowley's favorites, Auntie Mame, as well as his real experiences as a "guncle" to five niblings, and the tragic loss of his best friend to breast cancer. "She left behind a six-year-old son," Rowley recalled, "and so my eyes were open to the idea of what role friends and family and those left behind have in reminding a child of how deeply he is and was loved. There was a combining of those two things, coupled with a longtime passion for the Auntie Mame novels. I've always loved that character, and this was a way to do a modern interpretation."

When thinking about a sequel, Rowley returned to Auntie Mame. "The sequel to the first Auntie Mame novel is a book called Around the World with Auntie Mame, so I sort of thought that if we revisit the characters, I'm going to find a way to take them overseas," Rowley said. "So, that was a jumping-off point.

"I wanted to [say] in this book [that] even after loss, even with terrible grief, with time, there will be room for healing and celebration and joy in our lives again."

Penguin Random House  

The Guncle Abroad picks up five years after the events of the first novel, with Masie and Grant now 14 and 11. While Patrick, much like Rowley, expresses his disdain for sequels throughout the second book, Rowley clarifies that this one is not a cash grab. "I wouldn't have done it if I didn't think there was more story to tell," he said.

Writing a sequel to such a widely successful novel was tricky for Rowley. "The first time around I could just write the book that I loved because there was no expectation on it other than expectations I placed on it myself," he explained. "This time around, I felt the weight of not wanting to interfere with the passionate embrace that readers have for the first book. I didn't want to do anything that might lessen the first book in their esteem. I still had to approach it as 'these are my characters and I'm going to write the book I love,' but I felt the tremendous responsibility to live up to the love of the first book."

Rowley also felt the responsibility to make sure the sequel lived up to the humor readers came to love in the original. "Balancing the humor and the heartbreak is the hardest thing that I do," he admitted. "Sometimes it's fine-tuning the balance. If you make one joke too many in a scene, it can throw off the tone you're trying to accomplish, and conversely, if you go too long without allowing the reader to take a breath with a joke, with a laugh, it can otherwise go too dark, perhaps darker than intended."

When writing the first novel, Rowley had to cut several jokes he loved. "You can write a joke you're enamored with, but it slows down the action or it takes too long to set up, or it doesn't fit within the context of the scene, and those are sometimes the most painful to cut," he said. "I'll wait two or three drafts before I go in with my red pen and [say,] 'This has to come out.' It's not easy — sometimes it's torturous — but I think I'm finding an instinct for it."

Rowley never forgets the jokes he has to cut out — and he keeps a list in his phone of his favorite jabs, as well as potential blunders he'd like to see his characters experience. "I think one or two things were resurrected perhaps from the first book, but sometimes with time or distance, you realize something wasn't as funny as you thought the first time," he said. "Finding the humor in the new book came from the characters as they are now, the new situations, and the new dynamics that the three of them have together."

The Guncle Abroad takes the heart and humor of the first story and magnifies it to a global scale. Fans of Patrick, Masie, and Grant will delight at the trio's new dynamic and hilarious hijinks as they traverse the strange new world of adolescence (and Europe).

The book is now available everywhere. Rowley toured the country to celebrate the release and made special stops at Third Place Books in Ravenna and Charlie's Queer Books.