Ashland-based international author James Anderson will be speaking and signing books at Bloomsbury Books at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 16, for his new novel, "Lullaby Road" (Crown, a division of Random House; January 2018). The book features Anderson's signature protagonist, Ben Jones, who first appeared in Anderson's debut novel, "The Never-Open Desert Diner." Anderson received wide review coverage for his debut novel.
I touched base with Anderson to ask about the new work and his creative process.
JG: James, tell us about "Lullaby Road," your new novel.
JS: This novel is a continuation rather than a sequel to "The Never-Open Desert Diner," meaning you can read it as a stand-alone without having read the previous novel — though they are certainly connected. Ben Jones is an independent truck driver who delivers to the exiles and eccentric desert rats that live along a hundred-mile stretch of high desert in Utah. Ben is an orphan, the abandoned son of a Jewish social worker and a Native American man, raised by Mormons.
In "Lullaby Road," Ben finds an abandoned mute Hispanic child at a seedy and isolated truck stop on a wintry morning. To protect the child, and begrudgingly, Ben takes the child with him into the desert for protection and try to find the father. That decision leads to extreme jeopardy, for Ben, and many of his customers and friends.
JG: What led up to this book?
JS: That’s a difficult question. There is never one thought, experience or concern that ignites a novelist’s imagination. Ben Jones is an interesting protagonist, at least to me. Perhaps my core interest has to do with children at risk, and they are legion worldwide, and they are powerless, oppressed, marginalized and even commoditized and are often discussed as a political issue that promotes fear rather than what it really is — an issue of fundamental human compassion and personal responsibility.
In Ben’s world, with his personal history, and in the desert winter setting, one child at risk and one person capable of making a difference, brings what’s truly at stake to the forefront. Having been a child at risk, most certainly makes this story very personal to me.
JG: How do you figure out what type of tone and structure to use in a book that you’re writing?
JS: My friend, celebrated nonfiction writer Bruce Berger ("The Telling Distance: Conversations with the American Desert"), says he writes of the intersection of landscape and humanity. In a fictional way, I believe I do the same thing. Reviewers often remark that the desert is as much a character in my novels as the people. I might go one step further and say that the desert — nature, both beautiful and harsh — is both the context and catalyst for human connections, and atmosphere and tone arise in situ from those interactions, sometimes surreal and horrifying, but always mysterious, all playing out in the special light of the Utah desert.
JG: What upcoming projects are you excited about?
JS: The short film I wrote, which will be previewed at my appearance at the Bloomsbury Bookstore on the 16th, is exciting. It was shot on location in Cisco, Utah and the director, Kent Youngblood, will be entering it in film festivals around the country. The talented young Native American actor (Cosme Skywalker Duarte), who portrays Ben Jones, will be joining me that evening at Bloomsbury and at one other venue as I begin national appearances in support of "Lullaby Road."
This will be the first time the public has viewed the film. The movie, though short, is gorgeous, haunting and mysterious, with original music by composer Michael DeLalla and a Leonard Cohen song performed by Grammy Award-winner Terrance Simien. Overall, I am excited, and not a little surprised, to find I have written and published another novel—which right now seems as wonderful, surreal and potentially horrifying as the Utah desert.
— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.