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Book review

Stein pleased with success, plans no more dog tales

Sunday, April 14, 2013
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Book review


Author Garth Stein’s visit to Schenectady on Saturday will be his last One County One Book promotion of his bestselling book “The Art of Racing in the Rain.”

“I’ve been doing this for five years now,” he said in a recent phone interview from his home in Seattle. “I like doing this. I love talking to people and fans of the book, but this will be my swan song. It’s time for me to devote more time to my new book, and I also want to spend more time with my wife and my children.”

Stein’s book has been an extraordinary success, appearing on the New York Times Best-Seller List for more than two years.

“I got the idea of this book after watching a documentary film called ‘State of Dogs,’ ” he said. “The film is about the belief in Mongolia that the next incarnation for a dog is to become a man. I liked that idea and thought maybe I could write a book from a dog’s point of view.”

‘The Art of Racing in the Rain’

WHAT: Meet author Garth Stein

WHERE: Schenectady County Public Library, 99 Clinton St.

WHEN: 11 a.m. Saturday

HOW MUCH: Free

MORE INFO: A book sale and signing will be conducted by The Open Door Bookstore immediately after the program. Call 388-4511 to register.

The lab-poodle mix he created, named Enzo, has become a literary favorite around the world.

“I wasn’t too sure if I had anything at first,” said Stein.

“I had my wife read the first 40 pages of the book and she loved Enzo and thought I had really gotten ahold of something. She encouraged me to keep going, but I never thought the book would become this popular. It’s been a little ridiculous that a book I wrote has sold so well when you consider that my second book only sold 1,200 copies.”

A dog’s voice

Stein fell into the voice of Enzo early on. “But at first he was a bit snarky and more judgmental. He was more of a human trapped in a dog’s body. He tended to get very disillusioned about things, but after I got to know him better he changed into the Enzo in the book. He became more genuine and more caring and loving about his family.”

Having been around dogs much of his life, Stein enjoyed writing from a dog’s perspective. “I had to figure out how Enzo would be so knowledgeable about the world and about pop culture, and that’s when I came up with the idea of his owner, Denny, leaving the TV on for him during the day.”

Stein said he used to leave the radio on for his puppy Comet to keep him relaxed during the day in the empty house. “I’d play NPR hoping Comet would become smarter.”

Readers respond

In the past five years Stein has traveled the world hearing readers tell stories about how much they loved the book, how much they loved Enzo, and how much they loved their own dogs.

“Dogs and vampires are big right now in literature. I don’t know why vampires are so big, but I think people like to read about dogs because of our need for love. We put a lot of conditions on people for them to receive our love. We expect proper behavior, but we don’t do that with our dogs. We tend to love our dogs unconditionally and they love us back the same way. Dogs are also funny and goofy and childlike, and we just feel good being around them.”

The plot of the book came to him quickly. “At first I was only going to have Enzo be an observer, but my agent encouraged me to actually have Enzo do some things along the way and actually make him the hero of the book. I guess my agent was right.”

Stein said he’s “feeling the pressure” that comes with trying to follow up on a best-seller.

“I’ve been working on the new book for a while now. There are no race cars and no dogs, but there are some similar themes and some humor,” he said. “The new book is similar in tone. The narration has an Enzo feel to it, but I don’t think I’ll ever write another dog book, even though my publisher would love it if I did.”

Stein started out not as a writer but a documentary filmmaker. “I loved working in the film industry,” he said, “but I got a bit frustrated in trying to raise money all the time. This life as an author is much better for me.”

There are plans to make a movie of “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” but Stein’s not very happy with the script he’s seen. “I’ve tried to explain how I think the story needs to be told to make it a successful film, and I hope it all works out well.”

Advice to writers

His advice for beginning writers is to love the process of writing and to not get obsessed with the end product. “We all dream of a cool-looking book cover and a book signing with people lined up down the block, but to really love writing you have to love the process of sitting down and creating that story from nothing. You have to find joy in the process of looking into your heart for the real truth of what the story is about.”

Stein is also a believer that a beginning writer needs to read. “Obviously reading a variety of different books is important, but writers also need to live a life. Too many of them begin writing too soon. I encourage beginning writers take detours, take some bad jobs, get some experiences and learn about life. I became a filmmaker and worked on a cruise ship for a few years, and I didn’t start to seriously write till I was in my mid-30s.”

 
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