Friday, April 6, 2012

something always happens while someone else dances


That photograph is a clipping from yesterday's Publishers Weekly Rights Report about a book of mine I have been making myself sick over from wanting to talk about.

Before anything else, let me say this: Despite a description which includes an apocalyptic, monster-filled premise, this book is NOT horror/scary/terrifying. It is not intended to be. No. No. No. It is insanely funny, so don't expect a doubt-filled self-hating romp through Marbury. After all, it takes place in Iowa. How can you not smile about Iowa having anything at all to do with the end of the world?

Now here are a few things first:

1. The title: Grasshopper Jungle

Here's where that came from. I run every day in the open and unpopulated hills around my home. Every day, no matter what, which includes rain, snow, wind, and sometimes blistering heat. The trails I run on are nameless, but in my mind I have names for certain stretches based on animals I see there, dead things, rocks, trees -- shit like that. There is one curving stretch of trail where, during the summer, I get pelted by grasshoppers when I run. At first, I thought it was really disgusting. I hate bugs. But then I started calling the place "Grasshopper Jungle" in my mind, and a story started to come to my head.

That's how I write.

2. Dates: The story goes back centuries and continues through the end of the world. There is, in that case, no need to ever read another book.

July 7, 2011 was the day I began writing Grasshopper Jungle.

I don't know why I know that, I just do. I don't know the precise "birthday" of any other book I've ever written.

It took me longer to write than any book to this point. I finished on exactly October 14, 2011. It is 104,000 words in length.

Around the time I was finishing the book, I decided I wanted to make a change in my "job," and I asked Michael Bourret from Dystel and Goderich Literary Management if he would be willing to take on a particularly challenging client with an absolutely insane novel.

Truly, I doubted my sanity with this book. So I kept asking Michael if he thought I was maybe insane.

Michael doesn't joke around. He thought I was insane. But he also thought the book was good.

We submitted the book after the holidays -- in the first week of February.

Julie Strauss-Gabel was on our agreed-upon list of coveted editors/publishers.

She was also on jury duty that week.

Let me apologize now to the family of the defendant she no doubt hastily convicted in order to read the book.

She said this about the book: "Holy shit."

I did not know if that was a good holy shit or a bad holy shit.

Bad holy shits can be really bad.

On February 13, 2012, I spoke with Julie about the book.

Holy shit!

On February 14 (Aww... Valentine's Day), we accepted her offer to publish Grasshopper Jungle.

3. I have a tattoo of something iconic that appears frequently in this book.

4. Speaking of questioning my sanity: I wanted to know if my son thought I was insane. I never ask family members to read my books. They usually have no idea what I've written until ARCs are published, but I asked my son if he would read Grasshopper Jungle if I sent it to him. He is, after all, an intellectual English major at a prestigious university (and a damned good writer, by the way). I was kind of nervous because I thought he would tell mom to call the psycho squad on me. He read the book in a day, then told me he thought it was one of the best books he'd ever read. But he also thought I was insane.

5. The "playlist" for this book -- in order -- consists of 7 Rolling Stones songs from the albums Exile On Main Street and Let It Bleed. These albums and the songs are very important to one of the characters in the book, a troubled, sad kid named Robby.

This is the list:

  • Sweet Virginia
  • Gimme Shelter
  • Ventilator Blues
  • Love In Vain
  • Rocks Off
  • Let It Bleed
  • Let It Loose
I listened to that playlist, over and over, for hundreds of hours writing the book. I cannot get tired of those seven songs, and when they play I can visualize specific parts of the book where they are mentioned.

6. If I made a cover for the book, it would look like this (modeled after the brilliant cover to Exile On Main Street, which, by the way, I have framed in my room, a gift from my son.

This is NOT the cover of the book, but every single thing on this image appears in the story:

Yes, there is an inflatable whale.

Let me just finish with this: I admitted to Julie Strauss-Gabel that I was a bit starstruck chatting with her. I can not wait to see what we do with this insane book.

Coming in fall, 2013.