Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Blame it on the frog
Three years ago, when I was pitching the novel that would become Roosevelt’s Beast, my then-editor balked at the idea for one very simple reason. My hero’s name was Kermit.

Of course, he wasn’t just any Kermit. He was Kermit Roosevelt. Second son to the legendary Theodore Roosevelt. Published author, gifted linguist, hunter and explorer and soldier, friend to such literary luminaries as Kipling and Edwin Arlington Robinson.

But that wasn’t going to fly with my editor (who, I feel obliged to report, is exceptional in her own right). She couldn’t get past the first name. She thought that, once people’s eyes landed on “Kermit,” their brains would be flooded by images of the green felt frog. And from there, it would be a short trot to Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear and Gonzo and Beaker and the Swedish Chef and – who knows? – those two old hecklers in the balcony.

How I pooh-poohed the idea! “They may start with Jim Henson’s Kermit, but they’ll end with mine!”

So I soldiered on, secure in the knowledge that the firewall would remain inviolable. And then, a couple months ago, I learned that my book was coming out the exact same week as Muppets Most Wanted.

(Is that the diabolical echo of my editor’s laughter I hear?)

This was either karmic convergence or the most flagrant example of divine retribution EVER. After the initial shock, I concluded that I could either roll up into a hedgehog-ball and let the Muppet Machine roll over me, or I could embrace the chance that had brought us together.

I chose the latter.

Over the course of an hour, I wrote the script for a mock-book trailer, in which a mock-publishing executive – from a deeply fictionalized version of Henry Holt – informs me that I have to change the name of my protagonist.

I asked my brother (Chris Bayard of June Twenty Films) to film the thing. I asked an actor friend (Todd Scofield) to play the publisher. I borrowed another friend’s office. And together, we made a five-minute video that – I hope – makes comic hay out of authorial helplessness.

And in the end, maybe—just maybe—we authors aren’t as helpless as we let on. At the very least, we can have fun with our impotence. And even aspire to transform it.

In just two weeks, Roosevelt’s Beast will descend on bookstores. I sincerely hope you enjoy the fictional journey. And I hope you’ll spare some thought for that OTHER Kermit, whose world was every bit as strange and fascinating as Jim Henson’s.

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