Two years ago, we fell head first into the land of John Brandon’s Citrus County, a funny, terrifying novel about teenage love and kidnapping set in the swampy gloom of central Florida, and since then we’ve been waiting anxiously for his next book. Luckily for us, A Million Heavens, hits shelves today, and if you haven’t already gathered, we recommend that you find yourself a copy as soon as humanly possible. Brandon’s newest novel is a strange, vaguely surreal but desperately true portrait of a dying town in New Mexico, footsteps from the desert, where a piano prodigy lies in a coma, a girl receives songs from an ex-bandmate and would-be-lover stuck in purgatory, and a wolf stalks the proceedings, waxing poetic. We talked to Brandon about his newest work, his attitude towards the industry, and how he finds inspiration in the bleakest of locales. Read on.
I loved the interlocking perspectives of A Million Heavens, and I found the wolf’s descent into madness absurdly wonderful. Which thread or character did you start with when you were writing or configuring the story, and how did the rest grow from there? Or did different sections emerge in your head hand in hand?
I had Cecelia, Nate, and Reggie first. The band Shirt of Apes. I’d tried to write about them before and could never figure out how. Then I realized I should kill one of them — the best one. The band’s resistance to being written properly, it turns out, was due to the members being too uniformly alive. Killing Reggie led me to dealing with a character stuck in a waiting room of the afterlife, which I found interesting enough to pursue. When exactly I decided Cecelia would be the main character, I can’t recall. She’s the type who takes action, so maybe she naturally demanded a lot of pages. A nineteen-year-old guitar-playing chick who does whatever pops in her mind is always a strong candidate for main character. Since I was writing about purgatory, I figured why not write in a wolf’s point of view? Once I decided I was okay with having lots of characters and I was okay with magic, I ended up with too many characters and too much magic. In revision, my editor convinced me to cut out an entire storyline (probably sixty pages) about a guy who wakes up one morning and finds living brains on the floor of his study. Other stuff was cut out. Now, I’m happy to report, the novel contains the optimum amount of impossible goings-down and the ideal cast of characters. And the precise number of words all novels should contain. I’m not going to tell you how many that is.