A Fan of John August
I’ve been a long-time supporter of John August’s work. You might recognize him as the writer of Charlie’s Angels, Big Fish, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or any of his other movies. I joined John’s Kickstarter campaign for his Writer Emergency Pack, attended his directorial premiere of The Nines at the Sundance Film Festival, saw his Broadway show Big Fish, and met John on a few occasions. I’m also a big fan of Scriptnotes, the screenwriting podcast John hosts with Craig Maizen, which I’ve been listening to since it launched in 2011. As a writer of screenplays and novels myself, Scriptnotes has been an essential part of my artistic growth.
So in February 2018, when John launched his first novel, Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire, I was excited to explore his latest work. The book is aimed at middle-graders and has magical elements ala Harry Potter, so I was immediately interested, especially since I’ve also been writing for middle grade. To mark the occasion, John started a new podcast called Launch to chronicle the making of his book.
The “Golden Ticket”
During his podcast, John ventured down to the publishing plant that was printing his book to get a firsthand look at the process. While he was there, he placed special stickers in five of his books, his own version of Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. He let listeners know these five unique books would be fanning out across the United States, and if a reader discovers one, they’ll get a special surprise.
I started reading Arlo Finch on Kindle soon after it was released. After hearing the podcast, however, I was also interested in seeing how the physical copy looked, so I reserved a print copy at three local libraries. I got a notice that one of the books had arrived. When I pulled it off the shelf, I opened it up to discover… the special sticker! Inside the front cover was a message signed by John August that read, “Hey there! You have found a very special copy of this book. I am tracking where these books end up. Please email me at email@example.com. I would like to send you something special. Thanks!”
It fascinated me to think about all the circumstances that had to line up for me to be the person to find one of the books. I almost didn’t pick up the book version since I was reading it electronically, and at the library where I found it, they had 10 copies in circulation. Yet, this was the one destined for me.
I immediately snapped a picture of the sticker and emailed it to the email address. The next day, I got an email from his assistant, Megan:
Hi Allen, what a coincidence! I’ve been emailing those online retailers looking for answers. Would you be interested in hopping on the phone with John today or tomorrow? Thanks! Megan
We set up a time for me to talk with John on Friday and I asked if I was the first person to find the book. She told me I was the second, by a hair. Both of us who found a book reported it on the same day.
Interview with John
The next day at 4:00 p.m. John called.
“This is John August. Do you mind if I record this call?”
I said I didn’t mind and realized I might be part of a future podcast. John asked me about the book and said the episode he was working on would be about statistical possibilities and the likelihood of moments happening. We talked for a few minutes about the book and a few other things.
“You don’t sound like you’re between eight and twelve years old,” John said, since that was the target audience for his book.
I laughed and confirmed his suspicion. He asked me what I thought of Arlo Finch. I had only been able to read the first four chapters at that point but I told him I loved the way he set up the story and built in tension right away. It made me realize something exciting was going to be happening every time I turned the page.
I wondered what would happen when I returned the book to the library. Would each person who checked it out email John to tell him they had found it? John told me he’d send me a sticker that said “Allen Wolf found this book first,” to solve that problem.
The Launch Podcast
Days later, John’s final Launch podcast aired, and you can hear part of our conversation and the likelihood of any of this happening. John tweeted about two of the books being found and posted the picture I had emailed him. Several people commented about being frustrated by not finding one of those books.
It’s not too late. There are three more special stickers out there. Perhaps your circumstances will line up too. And, in case you’re wondering, that something special is a specially designed water bottle that John gave to people who were key in making Arlo Finch and his podcast possible. I look forward to finishing his book, listening to the next Scriptnotes podcast, and discovering whatever else John August has up his sleeve.