"The Dog Stars," by Peter Heller

The Dog Stars, Peter Heller
Random House, Tory Reed

Jeff Glor talks to Peter Heller about "The Dog Stars."

Jeff Glor: What inspired you to write the book?

Peter Heller: I've been wanting to write a novel since I was six. What I always wanted to do. Life intervenes. When I got out of college I was kayaking crazy whitewater, guiding rivers, writing poetry and stories, and a friend said, "Why don't you combine your interests, write for Outside Magazine?" I called them up and started talking fast, and got an assignment to cover the first descent of a dangerous river off the edge of the Tibetan Plateau. A guy died on the first day. I took another expedition assignment and another. I wrote books from these assignments and I was very happily diverted. But a year and a half ago I had money saved up, time out ahead of me, and decided now was the time.

I wanted to write a novel but I didn't want to know what was going to happen. In all my other books I always knew--because they had actually happened. I wanted that feeling you get when you kayak a river that hasn't been well described, and you come to a tight corner in a canyon and you don't know what will be there--could be a pool, a waterfall, thirty Yanomami Indians with spears. So I began with a first line and wrote into the story. I was surprised, shocked, moved, the whole way through. It was the most thrilling thing I've ever done.

JG: What surprised you the most during the writing process?

PH: How completely immersed I became in the world I was creating. It's just so fun to make it all up, I realized that I'd always wanted to do that as a journalist, but just never wanted to be that guy on Oprah doing the mea culpa thing and apologizing! Whenever my hero Hig ventured out of the airport where he and his loyal dog Jasper are holed up, I never knew what was going to happen. I never knew what was going to happen when Hig and his armed-to-the-teeth survivalist neighbor, Bangley, began talking to each other. I'd laugh out loud. Once in a while I'd cry. I'm sure the other people in the coffee shop where I write thought I was going through a bad divorce...

JG: What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?

PH: I had so many jobs coming up as a writer. I was a logger, a lobster fisherman, a kayak instructor and river guide. I love being out on the water, out in nature. I'd probably be running a river guide service or skippering a lobster boat in Northern New England.

JG: What else are you reading right now?

PH: I'm reading the travel essays and poetry of the Japanese master Basho, a wonderful translation by Yuasa. Also, a strange book by the great Spanish fiction writer Vila Matas called "Bartleby & Co." Today I'm going to start Junot Diaz's "This is How You Lose Her." He's such a great writer, a national treasure.

JG: What's next for you?

PH: I finished my second novel last week. I'm very excited. My wife and I are taking a month break to New Zealand, to kayak and bike, and then I can't wait to start the next one. Once you start making it all up, there's no going back!

For more on "The Dog Stars" visit the Random House website.