A couple of weeks ago, I saw Garth Stein, the author of The Art of Racing in the Rain. Eden Prairie Reads* sponsored the author event which was held at St. Andrew’s Church. Mr. Stein was introduced to the crowd by the chair of the committee. A grand entrance was made from the back of the church as the crowd of about 100 people applauded. When Garth dropped something on the floor, the clapping stopped, but Garth asked us to please continue with our applause until he got to the podium. The audience complied. 🙂
Mr. Stein started his talk by saying, “Wait a minute.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket, took a picture of the audience, and told us he would post our picture on his Facebook account. He also said he had to take care of a little business before he started his reading. He asked us to sign up for his newsletter and giveaways after the event. He also explained how he likes to write books, but he also needs people to read them. He thanked the booksellers, librarians, and teachers and asked us to please buy books from bookstores.
I’m way in the back!
Mr. Stein then recited:
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
Someone in the audience knew that this stanza was from a poem written by T.S. Eliot. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, I discovered after I googled a few key words. Mr. Stein read a few lines from the beginning of The Art of Racing in the Rain and told us that the question people ask him most is: Where did the idea come from? “So many different places. It’s like a stew. All the different ingredients come together.” He talked about how he moved to New York from Seattle in 1983 and worked on documentary films. In 2001, he moved back to Seattle. While working in New York, one of the films they were working on was about Mongolia and how they believe dogs reincarnate as men. The idea really stuck with him. When he was back in Seattle with Billy Collins, a poet, Billy read his poem The Revenant, a poem from dog heaven. More ideas came to Mr. Stein and he was able to write the book very quickly even though the main idea of it came to him about six years before.
At the beginning of his writing career, Mr. Stein drove around to different book stores and asked if he could speak there. When he was in Plano, Texas, he did a reading for the one person who showed up. He asked his fan if he would like to just go to the coffee shop instead, but the guy said “no” – he wanted Garth to do a reading for him. It was from his book Raven Stole the Moon. His wife is his first reader and wondered what he was doing during the day while he was touring with Raven Stole the Moon because the book signings were in the evenings. She figured out he was going to the movies – the movie ticket that she found in his pocket was a big clue. She thought it would be a good idea if Garth wrote during the day, and that’s when he wrote The Art of Racing in the Rain. He sent the manuscript to his agent, and he waited. He waited, like his dog Comet likes to wait for pancakes to get made on Saturday mornings: very attentively. He watched his phone for several days. When his agent finally called, Garth asked, “What did you think?” The agent said, “It’s narrated by a dog.” The agent didn’t know how he could market a book written from a dog’s point of view, and Garth replied by saying, “Victor Hugo wasn’t a hunchback.” So Garth fired that agent. Garth sent his manuscript to many agents and they all thought the same thing – they didn’t know how to get it published. When he was at a Literary Lions gathering and was getting introduced to people at his table, he told them how frustrated he was since he couldn’t find an agent. One guy at the table said, “My book is written from the point of view of a crow!” That book is called Song of the Crow, by Layne Maheu. It’s a story about Noah’s Ark, and that’s the tale of how Garth found his new agent.
Garth talked about how aspiring authors ask him what information he has to help them get started writing a book. Garth said that it’s like Pin the Tail on the Donkey. You start at one point and work your way around. You can move the pin as many times as you like.
Garth’s new book is called A Sudden Light which is based on his play Brother Jones. It’s a spiritual ghost story. He shared the story about his father’s death and how a “mystical thing” happens to him when he’s writing.
Garth was currently reading The Brothers K, a sports book by James Duncan. He also recommended reading The Trouble with Poetry. Some of his favorite authors are Ken Kesey, the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; John Steinbeck; and Flannery O’Connor. Universal Studios is working on making The Art of Racing in the Rain into a movie, and Garth has written some children’s books with Enzo, Zoe, and Denny, characters from The Art of Racing in the Rain.
This was my first time going to an author event, and I thought it was very entertaining and inspirational. How about you? Have you ever attended an author event? What did you think?
* “Eden Prairie Reads is a community grassroots group whose purpose is to promote reading, encourage discussion and strive for a new level of connection in the Eden Prairie community. We try to select books that will have broad appeal in the community while at the same time challenging us to think, and talk about issues we all face.” For more information, check out their website at http://www.epreads.org.