Andrew Smith is the contributor for this week’s Take Five, a regular series where we ask authors and editors to share five facts about their latest books. Smith is the author of Grasshopper Jungle:
In the small town of Ealing, Iowa, Austin and his best friend, Robby, have accidentally unleashed an unstoppable army. An army of horny, hungry, six-foot-tall praying mantises that only want to do two things.This is the truth. This is history.
It’s the end of the world. And nobody knows anything about it.
You know what I mean.
Funny, intense, complex, and brave, Grasshopper Jungle brilliantly weaves together everything from testicle-dissolving genetically modified corn to the struggles of recession-era, small-town America in this groundbreaking coming-of-age stunner.
1. When I was a kid, I used to ride my bike with my brother along a dirt trail in a field. As the community we lived in expanded, the trail was plowed over, graded, and became a road named Kimber Drive. Then a small strip mall went up, complete with a liquor store and a podiatrist’s office, pretty much exactly like the Ealing Mall in Grasshopper Jungle. Well, except for the six-foot-tall spike-armed praying mantis-like monsters.
2. I wrote Grasshopper Jungle straight through, without an outline. Sometimes I would throw random things into the story (like plastic lawn flamingos, lemur masks, and two-headed babies) that I would find doing Google image searches, just to see if I could make them connect to the plot in the end. I think I pulled it off.
3. All the Polish history in Grasshopper Jungle came about accidentally as well. On page 12, Austin reveals his last name–Szerba–and says. “It is Polish.” I just made that name up because I liked the way the S and Z looked next to each other (like mirror images). I know, I’m weird like that, fixating on the way words actually look. So I investigated the name–if it even existed–and found that, although rare, it would most likely be an Americanized version of the Polish Szczerba. So I started reading about Polish history, and wove that into the book as well.
4. Baby, the talking European Starling in one of the old stories in Grasshopper Jungle, was a real bird that belonged to my niece, Michelle. Michelle rescued the bird and it would never leave her, even though it was not caged. It also talked. It was an amazing animal.
5. Hungry Jack–the first monster in Grasshopper Jungle–was also a real person, and he was a character (mentioned in one short passage about the Vietnam War) from my second novel, In the Path of Falling Objects.