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Dean explains how he got the idea for THE CITY!

I can often tell you where the idea for a book came from, but one thing that I like most about this work is when the source of a story is entirely mysterious, when it blossoms in my head with no evident inspiration. For instance, last year I sat down to write a little piece to be released as an e-story to promote Innocence. It would have a tie of some kind to that novel, most likely just that it took place in the same city as the longer story.

For some reason, as I sat at the keyboard to noodle around, I decided that the lead character would be a piano man and that the story would open with him telling you his name, which would be Jonah, and that something astonishing had happened to him as a child. I typed instead, “My name is Jonah Ellington Basie Hines Eldridge Wilson Hampton Armstrong Kirk,” which became the first sentence of Chapter One. Why he should have so many names, I didn’t know, though being a fan of jazz and especially of big-band swing, I recognized the names that I was typing. Without hesitation, I continued: “From as young as I can remember, I loved the city. Mine is a story of love reciprocated.” And I was on my way.

Days later, the story had grown to such an extent that I knew it was in fact going to be a novel and that it would be titled The City. I found myself putting in long hours at the keyboard, but the work sessions seemed brief, ten hours passing as if they collapsed into one. The developments in the story continually delighted and astonished me. Where was this coming from?

My friend Joe Stefko, who is a rock ‘n’ roll drummer, has played with Frank Zappa and with Meatloaf and, for some years now, with the Turtles. He says that when he’s at his performance best, when other musicians say afterward, “That was amazing,” he doesn’t remember what he did. He says that on those occasions, he goes (mentally) somewhere apart from the venue where he plays and, “I just get out of my own way.” I liked that description of the experience. In writing The City and certain other books, I have sometimes gotten out of my own way, and what ends up on the page seems miraculous to me. I can’t command it to happen; the control isn’t mine. And the story idea seems to explode from nothing, like a universe being born. Weird. And wonderful.

– Dean

P.S. Thanks for making Deeply Odd New York Times bestseller in paperback! And don’t forget that Odd is coming back (for the last time!) in Saint Odd this December.

Dean on the first reader of his manuscripts: his wife, Gerda!

Gerda, my wife and first reader of my manuscripts, is an honest critic of my work, and a good one. For years, the male ego being what it is, I listened to her thoughts on a script, generally expressed my disagreements with her suggestions—but then went into my office and quietly fixed things according to her observations before sending the book off to my editor. Eventually, I grew up and learned to acknowledge the wisdom of her suggestions at the time she made them.

When she finished reading the manuscript of THE CITY, she came into my office and said, “I think this is the first time I’ve ever said a book is perfect in every scene.” I expressed my concern that she was trying to spare my feelings. “No,” she said, “when it comes to your writing, sweetie, I don’t care about your feelings, only about the book.” Later, at dinner, when I pressed her to tell me what shereally thought, she said, “This pasta is delicious, isn’t it?” When I asked again as we were about to brush our teeth to go to bed, she said, “Have you flossed?” I almost woke her in the middle of the night to pose the question once more, but our dog, Anna, sleeping at the foot of the bed, growled softly as though with psychic awareness of what I was about to do. In the morning, when I asked again, Gerda said, “Have I ever not said what I mean?”

She is the most straight-forward and honest person I’ve ever known, so I said, “I’m an idiot.” She said, “Have you always known, or is this a new realization on your part?” I’ve always known.

– Dean

Dean on the ODD THOMAS movie

Thanks to everyone who has written to me about the ODD THOMAS movie after seeing it via view-on-demand or on DVD. Two have been negative, but many hundreds have given it five stars. As you know if you read my opinion here more than a year ago, I think Stephen Sommers did a terrific job, as did the lead actors. With only a 25-million-dollar budget, in spite of an epic crisis midway through, he delivered a movie that looks like it cost three times as much, and the film is as faithful to the book as any film can be.

The biggest question I get is “Why didn’t this receive major theatrical distribution?” If I set out to fully answer that, I would probably deliver a book-length manuscript and would, toward the end, be raving incoherently in language so offensive as to burn the ears off a demon. Let me just say that Steve Sommers is a good man, honorable and smart and kind, with integrity to burn–which makes him a rare fish in the dark sea in which his art requires him to swim.

– Dean

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