Daniel Landes on his long-awaited novel, Joonie and the Great Harbinger Stampede
Local author (and Watercourse Foods owner) Daniel Landes will be signing copies of his new book, Joonie and the Great Harbinger Stampede, tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Tattered Cover LoDo. Portions of the novel, which features art by local painter Ravi Zupa, will be familiar to diners who've frequented WaterCourse over the last five years: Landes' story -- a creation myth set right here on the Front Range and featuring a cast of prairie critters -- was born out of his collaboration with Zupa to create the artwork for his vegetarian restaurant at 837 East 17th Avenue. We caught up with Landes for more on that collaboration and his myth about the origins of consciousness.
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Westword: Regulars at WaterCourse over the last 5+ years have been teased not only by Ravi Zupa's paintings but also by the promise printed on the menus that there was more to the story of this rabbit, Joonie, and his prairie friends. This is obviously an idea and a project that's been in your head for a long time.
Daniel Landes: It's been quite a process to build this novel, and I'm just so excited to finally share this work with people. I've been a writer for my entire life, but to really build a novel took a lot of developing in terms of structure. This was a story that became close to me and important to me, and so I wanted to take the time to get it right. I worked with Jason Heller, a tremendously talented local author and good friend of mine, as my editor, and with Mike King, a graphic design guy who laid out the entire book incorporating Ravi's art, and, obviously, with Ravi himself. Those collaborations helped me find my way to completing it.
What was the initial spark for the ideas behind this story?
When we moved the restaurant, I had this idea for a creation myth that takes place at the confluence of the Platte and Cherry Creek rivers, right in the heart of Denver, about the birth of consciousness, the moment when we first became self-aware. I would tell these stories to Ravi and set the scene that I wanted him to paint, and then a new piece of art would appear on the walls at WaterCourse and I'd have renewed compassion for these characters and a new urge to tell more of the story. Through this process we built the entire story up over a period of about five years, and then I sat down for a year and a half and actually wrote the novel.
Artwork by Ravi Zupa for 'Joonie and the Great Harbinger Stampede'
How did that collaboration with Ravi come about?
Ravi and I have known each other for a long time. He would do art shows at WaterCourse back when it was over on 13th Avenue, where City O' City is now, and it was the most mindblowing art I had seen in Denver, so when we moved to the new location I knew I wanted his work to help set the tone for the entire space. I really wanted to make an impact with the art that we chose, and I had this idea to tell the story of what happened on this land before we showed up. I wanted it to have a very earthy, mythical feel. And Ravi was just super willing to collaborate. It all built from there.
The very first piece that we created through that collaboration is the piece you see right when you walk in, of all the animals eating, and the little squirrels with spoons. That's one of the last scenes in the book, so we sort of worked backwards. It became this wonderful give-and-take relationship: the way that Ravi illustrated Joonie and the other characters gave me so much more compassion for these characters and helped elevate my desire to continue to tell the story, to write the novel beautifully and do justice to the art that he'd done.
What are you most looking forward to about getting this book in people's hands, and specifically to the Tattered Cover event?
It's been a very private experience to write the story, but there's also been anticipation because of the inherent narrative in the artwork. The customers who come in and see that artwork have been eager to hear more of the story, and now people will get to see what was happening in my brain and what the stampede in the title was a harbinger of. Most of all I'm excited for people to experience this little journey with Joonie, a character who has come to mean the world to me.
In addition to the Tattered Cover book signing event, we'll also be hosting a meet-and-greet with Ravi and myself at Watercourse on October 26, with a suggested donation to benefit the Southern Plains Land Trust, and an after-party at Deer Pile with performances by Kitty Crimes, Sole, Pirate Signal, and DJ Cavem Moetavation.
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