A Lesson in Perseverance: Briganti Pens Thriller, ‘Moral Demise’
A thriller filled with adventure, mystery, and the sinister truth behind a beneficial scientific breakthrough converge in Joe Briganti’s first young adult book, Moral Demise. But for this newly-published author, Guilford resident and Branford High School (BHS) assistant principal, it’s also a story of perseverance, and belief in one’s own abilities.
Joe started writing Moral Demise in 2004. At the time, he was working as a biology teacher with Stratford Public Schools. Joe recalls trying to find educational texts about DNA that would grab students’ interest. He couldn’t.
“I started infusing short readings, rather than use the textbook. I was bringing all these books in, but I couldn’t find a good enough book about DNA. So I said, ‘I’ll just write a short story, myself’ — never, ever imagining going any further than that.”
Joe began his teaching career in 1995 in Stratford, going on become an assistant principal for that district beginning in 2005. In 2008, he joined Branford Public Schools as BHS assistant principal.
In 2008, Joe also came across Shoreline Arts Alliance’s annual Tassy Walden Awards for New Voices in Children's Literature, a statewide competition for unpublished children's writers and illustrators. He decided to put his short story into the contest that year.
“I still don’t know why I even submitted it. I didn’t want to get published – that wasn’t a goal of mine at that point,” says Joe. “To this day, I don’t know what it was. But I did it, and I’m glad I did because it became a finalist.”
During the finalists’ celebration at Branford’s Blackstone Library, one of the judges pulled Joe aside and said his story was good – and that he should try to get it published.
“I thought, ‘Sure, how hard can that be?’” says Joe.
That was the start of a multi-year effort – from 2008 through 2020 – during which Joe crafted dozens of rewrites and received many publishers’ rejection letters.
“That classic story of hundreds of rejection letters is legit,” says Joe.
In August 2020, during the summer of the pandemic, Joe revised the manuscript yet again. He also made one more, very significant, change.
“I changed the title,” says Joe. “I’d read it hundreds of times, but for whatever reason, when I read it that August, I said, ‘Wow, this guy – his morals are not straight. I’ve got to change the title.’ I changed it from Chromosome 17, which really wasn’t saying much, to Moral Demise.”
Joe sent his newly-revised, newly-titled work back out into the publishing world. A few months later, on January 4, 2021, a publisher contacted Joe by email, saying his manuscript had been accepted. Eighteen months later, the slim volume, with its cover design overseen by Joe, entered the world as a published novel.
For those who know Joe, it’s only been very recently they’ve learned about his second career as a novelist. At school, he nudged the information into the BHS community with a tongue-in-cheek announcement.
“I was making an announcement to the student body on closed-circuit TV, and I ‘happened’ to have the book with me. And one of the students said, ‘What’s that in your hand?’ and I said, ‘Oh, this?’” says Joe, laughing. “But the kids have been great.”
In his work as a BHS administrator, Joe feels his role is, “...making everyone feel safe in the building and safe to learn, every day; and being someone that anybody can come up to and feel comfortable to say anything they need to say.”
It’s also clear Joe’s a great role model for students – and not only due to becoming a successfully published author.
“I try to model examples for them of never giving up; of being resilient. This book is one example. But then I show them my actual report cards from high school — and they weren’t good,” says Joe.
“I just showed them to a student about a week ago, and he asked me, ‘How did you get into college?’ I said, ‘Grit, determination, and resilience.’ I had to work harder. I had to visit the school and actually speak to the dean, face to face; because I come across very differently than what you might see on paper.”
Joe adds he also took several practice SAT tests to improve his reading and writing scores and worked hard to write a memorable college essay to win entry to his alma mater, Quinnipiac University (QU).
As a kid, Joe recalls reading and writing were “horrible, hard” learning experiences.
“I don’t know if part of it was learned helplessness, or because you weren’t in the highest reading group or a combination of everything,” Joe says.
The life experience has created an empathy that’s woven into Joe’s administrative approach.
“I think, as an administrator now, if I saw me then, I wouldn’t pigeonhole that student to a certain level.”
Joe thinks that’s also part of the reason he became interested in writing a book worthy of publishing.
“When I started this, I was determined to be vindicated by people in the profession that my writing is good. I never anticipated everything that came after it. I just wanted that validation that the people in that field said, ‘This is a great piece of literary work.’”
Knowing there are also many distractions pulling at his book’s reading audience target (about grades 8 through 10), Joe intentionally wrote Moral Demise as a short, 70-page work designed to be a page-turner.
“Everything’s about quickness now; but even before the age of technology, I was teaching kids and I had to keep their attention,” says Joe. “ So I knew had to make it short – so they’re also not intimidated by it — and make it have one thing after another happen to keep their interest.”
For example, throughout the twists and turns of Moral Demise, in many cases, the characters are “...trapped, there’s no way out,” says Joe. “But there’s always a way out. Just keep turning the page.”
Joe turned a few of those pages during a recent reading and book signing event at Guilford Free Public Library in November. He donated the $80 raised from sales of the book that day to a non-profit group with which he volunteers, New Haven Reads. In Guilford, Joe’s also a member of the board of the Guilford Yacht Club.
It’s a busy life, but Joe says he always finds time to write. That discipline has now developed Joe’s second, longer work of fiction for readers of all ages he’s submitting for publishing consideration. It features Jack, a character from Moral Demise, as a now-older teen involved in another deeply disturbing, world-changing scientific discovery. It also includes some very interesting reader interactive elements Joe built in, which involve visiting New York City.
Joe also recently completed writing and submitting for publication a children’s Christmas book about a certain Christmas staple blinking out around the world. Additionally, he’s working on another idea for a third fiction novel. Joe’s also the author of a blog, All Dads on Deck (alldadsondeck.com)
Joe hopes each blog story he shares also helps guide his readers toward teaching family values that will serve kids well as adults.
“It’s for everybody, but it really talks about my experience as a father and the struggles and frustrations — sort of like group therapy; with a lot of humor, and teaching family values to kids,” says Joe. “If you can give them that, you’ve done it.”
A New Jersey native, Joe says he “never left Connecticut,” after coming here to attend QU. He and his wife, Cheryl, have two children, Adam, 15 and Gaby, 13, who attend Guilford Public Schools.
“I keep telling them to tell their teachers their dad is a published author who can come in and read to their class, but for some reason, they won’t do it,” Joe says, laughing.
Moral Demise, a novel by Joseph Briganti, is available in paperback from Austin Macauley Publishers, $7.95 at https://www.austinmacauley.com/us/book/moral-demise or at Amazon.com