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Kenny Porpora writes emotionally wrenching memoir
by Ross Forman, Windy City Times
2015-05-20

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Kenny Porpora was often told that he should write his memoirs, that his life would be a hard-to-believe, gripping book—and probably a movie, too.

He's only 28, yet lived a life few can comprehend.

He grew up in a down-on-their luck, fractured family, riddled with addiction and chronic heartache and heartbreak—from many family members. Many have died.

His mom was an alcoholic during his childhood, and her passion was television, particularly Regis Philbin.

There's the beloved dog, his passion for professional wrestling, his dream of making a life for himself, amid a survival-mode life with such jobs as stints at Sizzler and Home Depot. There's a trip to Chicago to meet his idol, Roger Ebert, built on the guise that Porpora was producing a documentary, yet he had no money, no equipment or really anything that would make a documentary come to fruition, other than a dream.

Porpora also is openly gay.

He "never considered" writing a memoir, Porpora said in March during a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles, where he has been living since October 2013.

But, in February, Grand Central Publishing released Porpora's memoir, his first book: The Autumn Balloon. It is a witty, emotional, raw book about Porpora, for Porpora, who takes readers in meticulous detail back to his childhood, to his struggle, to his survival.

Every autumn Porpora watched his mom scribble messages on balloons and release them into the sky above his native Long Island—one for each family member who died from addiction.

Despite the dysfunction, Porpora and his family is filled with love—and it certainly rings through in his 295-page hardcover book, which already has received many favorable reviews from mainstream media. Take, for instance, USA TODAY, which, in late February, tagged the book among its "Weekend Picks for Book Lovers!"

Porpora—who has been an associate editor at Man About World, a gay travel magazine for the iPad, for about four years, and has had a partner, Jesse Cheever, for about two years—is celebrating the positive responses and already working on a somewhat hush-hush second book, which will shift to the fiction genre, he admitted.

Plenty of Porpora's past comes to light in The Autumn Balloon, which he started writing while in San Francisco in September 2011. He had nine chapters completed by February 2012, and by that June was shopping it around to agents.

Porpora had a book deal by that August.

"The original book that I wrote [comprised of] those nine chapters started around where part two of the book starts, when [he's] about 14 and a lot of [his] family is already gone," Porpora said. "My editor wanted to know a little bit more about the people who had passed—the balloons, so to speak—so I went back and rewrote for about a year, rewriting the book from scratch. That took me about a year, and that's the book I have now. I didn't end up using all of the original [material], but most of the original is in part two."

When he first started writing, Porpora said things started to appear more episodically than they had before, for whatever reason. "I just started thinking … I wanted to write and spend time [that way] with family members who weren't with me anymore," he said.

After writing his first two chapters, Porpora emailed essayist Poe Ballantine, who he didn't even know. Porpora simply wanted feedback.

Ballantine replied that what he had read was really special, and that Porpora should continue writing. "That was the inspiration to keep going, and the thought that, yes, maybe I had something," Porpora said.

Porpora admitted that, at times, the book was hard to write and, surprisingly, fun at times, too—due to the intensely personal memories, moments and family members.

"There's a lot of love in the book because I have a lot of love for the people who died, but they died so young that I didn't get to spend a lot of time with them," he said. "There have been millions of times when, ugh, something funny would happen and I wished I could have told my uncle—but he's not here anymore. So [writing this book] was sort of a way to reminisce with them, remember them. It was a way for me to think about things—as an adult."

Truly, the book was therapeutic for the author.

And also trying. There were times, for instance, he'd have to stop writing after 20 minutes, succumb by emotions.

"My brother and I had a conversation after the book was published, and he said that there was not enough in there about Mommy—as we still call her—[who would] wear terrible shoes, so I could wear nicer jeans. Or, the fact that she sacrificed so much to give us the best possible life," he said. "I tried my very best to make sure that her efforts to give us the best possible life were seen, despite some of the things that we had gone through."

Porpora said he is receiving regular responses from readers that are very personal, be it by email or social media. "I'm very grateful that people who read the book, and see that I have openly shared my story, and they now feel that they can openly share their story."

Porpora was living with his brother in Flagstaff, Arizona, when he was about 17—and it led to his first-ever trip to Chicago, and certainly one of the funnier moments for Porpora.

Porpora, you see, was hooked on the writing of Roger Ebert, who offered his movie reviews for the Sun-Times.

Ebert was Porpora's writing hero.

So Porpora reached out to him—by email, as he did with many other celebrities, just looking for a chance, maybe some guidance.

Porpora told Ebert that he was making a documentary about the Motion Picture Association of America.

"I thought he was just going to ignore me," Porpora said.

In reality, Ebert replied the next day—and told Porpora he'd give him 15 minutes.

Problem was, Porpora was no more producing a documentary than he was a world champion pro wrestler—the sport that was Porpora's escape, salvation.

Despite the financial hardship, Porpora flew to Chicago and was set to film the interview on the set where Ebert and Richard Roeper filmed their show.

"He was this gentle, sweet, grandfatherly type of man—everything [favorable] that you would image," Porpora said. "It's often said, 'Don't meet your heroes,' but he more than lived up to his reputation."

At the end of their meeting, Ebert told Porpora that another filmmaker was making a movie about the MPAA.

Nonetheless, he encouraged Porpora to keep going, "which echoed through the words of my father and the words of this [inspirational] Columbia University professor.

"[He said that] not everything is going to go the way it should, but you still have to keep going—and you'll find out later why it had to go this way. And I certainly have."


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