Josh Ritter is a songwriter and novelist from Moscow, Idaho. His albums include The Animal Years and So Runs the World Away. Bright’s Passage was his first novel. He lives in New York.
In this post, Josh discusses the power of childhood memories and the feeling of homesickness as inspiration for his new literary fiction novel, The Great Glorious Goddamn of it All, how the long creative process allowed things to change naturally, and more!
Name: Josh Ritter
Literary agent: Lucy Carson
Book title: The Great Glorious Goddamn of it All
Publisher: Hanover Square Press
Release date: September 7, 2021
Genre/category: Literary fiction
Previous titles by the author: Bright’s Passage
Elevator pitch for the book: From singer-songwriter Josh Ritter, a lyrical, sweeping novel about a young boy's coming-of-age during the last days of the lumberjacks.
What prompted you to write this book?
Thinking about it now, I’d say that it was a homesickness for Idaho, mixed with a growing notion that my own childhood in northern Idaho was touched with a kind of mythic-ness that can only be imparted by memory. I wrote the novel as a kind of love song to the feeling of being swallowed up by the pine trees and lost in the mountains.
How long did it take to go from idea to publication?
While the core idea of Great Glorious always remained Weldon and his salty narration, a great number of things shifted in and out of the novel as I worked through the drafts. Weldon became a more empathetic character, he grew up in my drafts, as I grew in my ability to express him.
The whole process was perhaps eight years from conception to holding the finished novel in my hands. This length of time was a function of having two young kids and a career in music. I had to put the book away several times for long periods while I worked and parented. For this reason, though, the idea had time to ferment. The result was not the kind of story I could have told in a single year.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
I can’t say that this is a surprise, but I realize how fortunate I am to have good readers and editors. My partner, Haley Tanner, is also a novelist, and her close reads and suggestions were crucial to the novel. My agent, Lucy Carson, also had fantastic notes and observations that helped me in the final stages. And of course, I was very lucky that Peter Joseph at Hanover Square had great insights.
A good editor, a good early reader, is like a good music producer; they can hear what you’re going for, suggest ways to achieve this ultimate vision, and help you to strengthen the work by sharpening its focus and themes. Another set of eyes or ears on a project is never a bad thing, in my opinion.
Choose people that you trust to be honest with you. Accept what they have to say with kindness and openness. You don’t have to ultimately do what they suggest but at least in trying to incorporate even the zaniest of ideas you will travel down paths that you may not have explored otherwise and thus make the work stronger.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
I am perpetually amazed at what can be done during stolen moments. I wrote a lot of this book on tour, backstage, on the tour bus, or just in the very early morning before the kids woke up. It was a little bit at a time, spread over many drafts, but it eventually all came together.
This is not a surprise, but more of an observation: No novel can be written alone. Someone is always helping in some fashion, whether it’s putting up with the writer on a bad writing day, doing the dishes on the night before revisions are due, reading draft after draft after draft…
Writing doesn’t have to be a lonely process. If you’re lucky, you make the journey with people that you love around you, helping you. And hopefully you take the time to appreciate all of their help.
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
I sincerely hope to entertain. Weldon is a living person in my mind. His constant narration of events is a voice that has been with me since I conceived of it. I find him to be fun and full of humanity, and I hope he brings that sense to others reading his story.
If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?
Don’t be afraid to be really terrible. I’ve never been more embarrassed than I get sometimes, sitting alone, reading through a draft of something I’ve sweated over. Not all of writing is sculpting the marble into something beautiful. A good deal of the work is done in quarrying the stone, in hauling it, in getting it ready for the chisel to finally release the statue. This part of the work is never pretty. It can’t be. It has to be rough and difficult.