John August can remember the exact moment he wanted to become a writer.
“I was 4 years old and obsessed with my mum’s typewriter. It was manual, so whenever I started to write a story, if I made a mistake, I’d have to change the story depending on whatever I had typed.”
Even though he wrote it 43 years ago, August can still remember the plot of his first story, too. “It was about a boy who was stranded in a hole on Mars. I have sort of been writing stories ever since.”
These stories have included the huge Hollywood releases “Go,” “Big Fish,” “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory,” and the upcoming live-action version of “Aladdin.”
But, partly inspired by a letter he received from Roald Dahl in the third grade, while also galvanized by delving back into the unknown world of writing, August most recently embarked on his debut novel, entitled “Arlo Finch In The Valley Of Fire.”
In the build-up to the release of his first ever book August has also started "Launch," a six-episode podcast with Wondery that chronicles his experiences writing, selling, and ultimately releasing “Arlo,” all of which he narrates. None of this felt like second nature to August, though, something he admitted to me over the phone last week.
“It requires a kind of introspection that I am not used to. It kind of felt like being in a room with your therapist. That was kind of the cool part of it, though. You end up being vulnerable in ways that you never anticipated, and you also know that’s what people are coming for.”
“Also, I loved piecing together how I got here. I’m not sure I would have been able to understand how the book came to be if I hadn’t gone through this process of introspection. I was able to ask myself, ‘Why am I writing this book? What am I actually afraid of?’”
“With most of your writing you get to hide behind your characters. Or they say something that you would like to say. With the podcast, though, I am literally just saying what I think. I had to ask, ‘How do I communicate that in a way that’s honest and that helps me get to the next point?’
“It felt like I was a monologist doing a one man show and the whole audience is looking at me and I want them to come on a journey. Or like I was a stand-up comic that’s doing a set that’s not particularly funny.”
Along the way, though, the positives of writing a novel over a film soon started to become apparent for August.
“The challenge of screenwriting is it’s just you and the words. You have this vision, and you are trying to communicate this vision to the person reading this script. But in the end it just becomes this giant collaboration.”
“You’re not writing the final document. You are just writing this plan for making a movie. In both writing ‘Arlo Finch’ as a book and making 'Launch,' which is just me whispering into your ear what I am doing, there’s a different social contract with a book and a podcast. Which is if you give me this amount of time and attention I will hopefully make it worth your while. You just have to trust me.”
The first two episodes of "Launch" are now available to download, while August has four more episodes that will intimately examine and probe the release and response to “Arlo Finch In The Valley Of Fire.”
August doesn’t know if he’ll star in any more series of the podcast, though, despite the fact that two new “Arlo Finch” books are scheduled for release in February 2019 and 2020.
“I don’t know what the plan is. One of the most exciting things about launching 'Launch' was that I had a really good sense of what the first four episodes were: the idea, selling the book, editing the book, seeing it printed. But the last two episodes, episodes 5 and 6, it’s just about seeing what happens next.”
“I love that sense of catching up to the present and then just seeing what happens. I just pitched it as the process of making a new thing. Whether that’s a new thing that I make or someone else makes we’ll just have to wait and see where the story takes us.”
At the same time, August plans on writing more books and movies, while he even mentioned an interest in delving into the world of virtual reality, too.
Which suggests that, deep down inside, August is still just that same 4-year-old trying to figure out how to get the stranded boy off Mars.
It’s just that now he has the entire might of Hollywood to help him rather than simply a defunct typewriter.