Lunch reveals a much different ‘Tale’ novel

Wednesday, March 17, 2010
By Ben Beagle

The six winners of the “Tale for Three Counties” writing contest got an insider’s view of how author Garth Stein created his best-selling novel “The Art of Racing in the Rain.”

His stories, told during a lunch-time discussion, revealed a pair of changes that helped to establish a tone to his novel that drew readers into the story of a dog, his owner and their struggles.

“The Art of Racing in the Rain” was the 2010 selection for the just-completed community reading project organized by libraries in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties. Since 2004, the program has also included a “Lunch with the Author” program for the winners selected in a writing contest.

The lunch provides a more personal setting for authors to discuss their books, writing and often share personal stories.
“I think they relax a little more because we are not a large audience watching their every move,” said Ann Burlingham of Perry, who was among the winners this year and has also won in past years. “I always enjoy the lunch.”

Burlingham was joined by Sally Capurso of Bergen, Elizabeth Saleh of Corfu, Meghan Hauser of Perry, Linda Daviau of Batavia and Joyce Thompson-Hovey of Pavilion for the lunch program March 12 at the D&R Depot in Le Roy. They were chosen by Tale organizers from a record 18 entries.

In addition to talking about the book, the winners shared stories of their own pets and how reading about Enzo has changed how they look at their own animals.

They also learned from Stein how the book could have been very different.

His first draft focused more on Enzo, the dog who narrates the novel, and Denny, the dog’s owner, and less about the rest of the family. Stein’s agent recommended that he revise the story to help it appeal to more readers, which led to more interaction between Enzo and Eve, Denny’s wife.

“And that made a really important connection for readers,” Stein said.

The other notable change came at the end of the novel.

(SPOILER ALERT: If you have not finished reading “The Art of Racing in the Rain” proceed cautiously; key plot points may be revealed ahead.)

The story originally ended with Enzo running off into a field as he passed over to the other side, Stein said. But the author was concerned that people wouldn’t buy into the idea that a dog could think for itself.

So, Stein thought he should tell the story from the point of view of a dog heaven like the Billy Collins poem that inspired him. Unsure how to end that idea, he added the epilogue in which Denny, now a successful race care driver in Italy, is introduced by his daughter to a young boy named Enzo.

Stein then began rewriting the story as if Enzo was already in doggie heaven.

He completed a couple of chapters.

“It really sucked,” he said. “I realized I should just stick with what I’ve got. I decided I was going to live or die with what I had, and wasn’t going to do something horrible for some marketing advantage.”

Stein did, however, keep the epilogue — after debating its merits.

“The Art of Racing in the Rain” would have a more literary tone without the epilogue. But it would be a more commercial novel if the epilogue stayed, he said.

“By keeping it in, the epilogue gives people one last glimpse of Enzo,” Stein said, “and they seem to like that.”

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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