Seattle based author Garth Stein’s book, The Art of Racing in the Rain, spent three and a half years on the besteller list. Now, his beloved story has been adapted into a film. I sat down with Garth to talk about being in charge of your own destiny, how having his story adapted reminds him of jazz music, and the art of letting go.
My goal is to write a story someone is going to read and it will resonate with them in some way that makes them think about the world around them.
I’ve been watching interviews you did on YouTube. There’s a consistent them of being in charge of your own destiny. Enzo has a goal of being reincarnated. He’s trying to be in charge of his own destiny but he’s really not.
Garth Stein: To the extent that he can, he is. He’s working within the parameters that he’s afforded. We all have to work within the parameters we’re afforded. He is very frustrated by his limitations, but he’s always pointing them out. Specifically when Eve falls ill. He wishes he could say something but he can’t so what can he do? Be supportive. One day when he does have more freedom, he’ll be able to impact the world in a different way.
My dad has always told me, “Be prepared for whenever your moment comes.”
GS: You have to be aware [laughs]. You have to be prepared and aware. In racing, you have to be patient, be prepared, and when the opportunity presents itself you have to move. That’s it. It seems simple. The problem is acting on that is a little more difficult.
Were there any limitation you had to overcome when you were growing up?
GS: I have an older sister that has a severe form of epilepsy. It was at the point where she could die if she had a seizure. It’s called status epilepticus. My parents were always checking up on her. As a result, most of my childhood was making sure my sister got the stuff she needed and was OK. When you’re the younger brother, what do you do? There are two ways to handle it. You can rebel or be a golden child and be as invisible as possible by not making waves – that’s the road I took. I studied hard and worked hard. I didn’t do drugs or anything like that.
It sounds like you had to mature really fast.
GS: That’s my version of it. I’m sure my mother would have a different version. I’m sure my sister has a different version of it as well. In my version, I tried to raise myself as much as I could. I try to live my life by the Enzo mantra – what’s happened has happened and we can’t change it. We can make amends if we’ve done something wrong and we can change our future direction. You can dwell on the past or think about what you can do now to move forward.
The Art of Racing in the Rain has already been a huge success and now you’re reliving it again. Does it feel different?
GS: Sure because I’m ten years’ older [laughs]. I appreciate this opportunity. Not everybody gets to do this. Now I get to have conversations with more wisdom, my kids are more grown, and I’ve lived more life. I get to have conversations that will go out into the world and hopefully resonate with more people. I would like to use this opportunity to share a message of self empowerment. It’s been so much fun to experience this. I went to the premiere in LA and hung out with Kevin Costner. After tonight, everybody goes away and I write my next book and spend time with my family.
Was there anything in the film that looked the way you hoped it would?
GS: The on-track racing sequences are pretty spectacular. They did a really good job with it. They had to change a few things and that’s the nature of making films. I think they captured the spirit of it. The feeling of the book has been successfully transferred to the film. Do I wish they put in the line, “You should shine with all of your light, all the time?” – I wish that would’ve been in there, but it’s in the book. This is a fun movie and if you like it, you should try the book.
Sometimes it easy to hold onto things we create because they mean so much to us.
GS: It’s like a jazz song. It’s a sign of respect. You take someone’s music and riff on it a little bit to make it your own. The poet Billy Collins wrote the Revenant, a poem that was influential in my conceiving of [The Art of Racing in the Rain]. He teaches a poetry class where he says find a poem you like and try to copy that poem. You aren’t going to be able to, but the point isn’t plagiarism. The point is that imitation will help refine your own style. It’s a different version of a really good thing and it has a unique characteristic because you brought your own individuality to it. That’s the way I felt when I heard they were making the book into a movie. I don’t need you to make it right by me. Go riff on it, and I hope you’re in tune.
Letting go of things is important.
GS: We get so wrapped up in our egos and that’s when problems happen. That’s where we run into defensiveness and self interests instead of thinking of the bigger picture – What am I really trying to do? Am I trying to make ME famous? No. If I happen to get a little bit famous, that’s kind of cool and I definitely won’t say no. That’s not my goal. My goal is to write a story someone is going to read and it will resonate with them in some way that makes them think about the world around them.
The message you’re sharing is great. I think people need that message, especially today. I interviewed a guy who had a long battle with post concussion syndrome and the healing led him to a very peaceful mental space. I’ll never forget when he told me, “What if we believed we were already the things we wanted people to say about us.”
GS: There are two interesting things. Often times, out of crisis, we have these epiphanies. It’s good that worked for him. I suggest that you don’t have to wait until you get in a crisis to have that revelation. You can do it through contemplation and mediation. You can have that same epiphany and change your life in the same ways. The second thing is, not everybody can. Some people need to be hit by a car. They’ll have to struggle through that and they’ll get that awareness. We can do it without that struggle if we truly believe that we can.