Have I got a treat for you this happy Friday! Author Garth Stein, of the acclaimed summer hit (and one of my new all-time favorite books; check out my review HERE) The Art Of Racing In The Rain is here with a guest post just for us. Garth has taken time out of his extremely busy summer to talk about his book and where exactly the idea behind it came from. You can learn more about Garth at his website, http://www.garthstein.com/. You can also check out a website solely dedicated to his book The Art Of Racing In The Rain at http://goenzo.com/. At the end of this post you will find three You-Tube videos. The first one is the book trailer for The Art Of Racing In The Rain. The second and third videos are interviews with Garth Stein himself.
It’s the simplest question, to be sure: “Where did the idea for your book come from?” It is a question that is asked of every author, and it is one that deserves a thoughtful and thorough answer.
But while the question is simple, the answer is usually not. Because, yes, ideas have an ultimate source, like a long, meandering river; but, like a river, the outlet on the coast rarely reflects the spring in the mountain, thousands of miles away.
When I am asked the question, I think of a cooking analogy. Mirepoix. Those of you who watch Food Network know about mirepoix. It’s the simplest thing: butter, onion, celery, carrots. But when simmering these things together something magical happens. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. And by the time the stew is finished, there is no way to identify the individual ingredients–the ingredients have sacrificed themselves for the flavor!
And so, the beginnings of a novel….
The first idea for The Art of Racing in the Rain came more than ten years ago when I screened a film from Mongolia, “State of Dogs,” that was about the Mongolian belief that the next incarnation for a dog is as a person. I remember being struck by the beauty and simplicity of the idea, and feeling the strong sense that, some day, I would do something with it.
It was years later that I heard the poet, Billy Collins, read his poem, The Revenant, which is told by a dog who has recently been euthanized. When I heard his extremely funny and biting poem–and the very vocal and enthusiastic response from the audience–a light bulb went off in my head: I would tell the story of a dog reincarnating as a person, and I would tell it from the dog’s p.o.v.!
But wait. The very first idea for my book goes even further back, I think…..
In the summer of 1986, I had the great fortune to attend the Detroit Grand Prix. Joining a friend who had all-access passes, I remember standing behind a concrete barrier of the street course and marveling at how small, yet incredibly powerful the Formula One cars were. So quick and so close–no more than an arm’s length away.
One driver was obviously quicker than the rest of them. He started in the pole position and, after losing many positions due to a tire puncture, scrambled back into the lead and finished first. I remember watching his green helmet flash by. I remember the devoted fans in the stands waving their giant green, yellow and blue flags. I never had the pleasure of meeting Ayrton Senna, but I did have the pleasure of watching him race…and win in glorious fashion.
And further: I remember, as a child, sitting on the sofa in the rec room of our house with my father on a Saturday afternoon, watching racing on a black and white Zenith television, eating from a bag of sunflower seeds. And at my feet, our faithful dog, Muggs, the Airedale to whom The Art of Racing in the Rain is dedicated. She was hoping for the occasional dropped seed, I’m sure; but I like to think she also enjoyed watching the races with us.
And so there! Tracing the river from the mouth to the source, we find the truth: when I was five years old, I believed my dog understood what she saw on the television set. That’s where it started.
The reason I wanted to tell you this story is that there is magic in Enzo. When I teach writing, I talk about the craft–the mechanics of writing: plot, voice, dialog–and I talk about the art–the intangible, the magic, the inspiration, the moment where we lose ourselves in our work it is no longer ours.
Writing The Art of Racing in the Rain was magic for me, full of joy and inspiration. I can trace the elements of the story, but I can’t necessarily explain how all these things made Enzo complete. That’s something that resists explaining, and demands indulgence. Like a delicious stew, there will always be a certain mystery about it, but that mystery doesn’t detract from the flavor. In fact, I think it makes the stew all the more memorable….