Garth Stein's novel The Art of Racing in the Rain has legs.
Four of them.
Published in 2008, Stein's engaging novel has been an enduring bestseller notable for its first-canine narrator: Enzo, an insightful mixed-breed dog obsessed with race cars and reincarnation.
Almost five years later, Stein is still in demand as a speaker, and Enzo, he says, is always the audience's favorite subject. Stein, 48, is currently in the middle of a national tour that will keep him on the road through April, when he returns to his home in Seattle.
Stein will make several appearances in the Tampa Bay area this week to discuss writing, racing, dogs and more. He spoke to the Tampa Bay Times by phone from a stop in Minneapolis last month.
When The Art of Racing in the Rain was published, did you have any idea it would have such a long run?
I always had a feeling I had hit a sweet spot with this one. I thought people would like it. But I couldn't have imagined it would be five years later (and he would still be touring).
In one way it's every writer's dream to have a book get this reception, but with that comes responsibility.
You've also published a version of the novel for younger readers, Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog. How has that been received?
It's really worked out well. The bad language was taken out, and the allegations of sexual molestation were put a different way.
Just today I was talking to writing students at a middle school here about it. If anything, middle school, high school students tend to identify with Enzo even more strongly. They are Enzo — they need to be driven places, they need to be taken care of, they have things they want to say but they're kind of marginalized.
You've said in interviews that one of the inspirations for making Enzo the book's narrator was The Revenant, a poem by former U.S. poet Laureate Billy Collins, who will be appearing in St. Petersburg on the same day you're here. Have you met him?
I got to meet him once, at the book festival in Tucson. It was like meeting one of the Beatles of poetry.
That dog (in The Revenant, a poem narrated by a recently euthanized pet, which begins "I am the dog you put to sleep,/ as you like to call the needle of oblivion,/ come back to tell you this simple thing:/ I never liked you — not one bit.") is obviously more bitter than Enzo. But when I started the book, it was a little more bitter, a little edgier. Then I realized Enzo was his own dog. He's judgmental, but he's not as resentful.
How is the movie version of the novel, to which actor Patrick Dempsey is attached, progressing?
We hope that it's going to go. It's been in the Hollywood soup for a while. Patrick is a great guy. I hung out with him a couple of times at the 24 Hours of Daytona. I think he's the guy (to play Enzo's owner, Denny).
Do you have another novel in the works?
In fact, I've worked with the next book for a while, quite a while, and I'm nearing the end run. That's one reason I want to pull back (from touring), so I can polish this one up. It has no dogs, no race cars. It's a Northwestern story, a ghost story, or my interpretation of a ghost story, less spooky, more spiritual. It should be published next year.
Does your family have a dog?
Comet. She's a girl. She's a lady. She's a Labradoodle. She's sweet, but not the sharpest tool in the shed.
Colette Bancroft can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8435.