What’s your book about?

“What’s your book about?” is a question I get asked a lot. (Every writer gets asked this question a lot.) The answer is simple.

In 1980 John Lennon was killed by Mark David Chapman, who believed he was Holden Caulfield, narrator of the classic The Catcher in the Rye. After the shooting, Chapman remained on the scene calmly reading the book, which he later offered to police as “his statement.” Catcher’s Keeper asks the question, “What if Holden had met Chapman, learned of his plan, and tried to prevent the assassination?”

That’s the soundbite. But the question  “How did you think of this story?” perhaps offers a more interesting answer.

Years ago as a student teacher at Andover High School, my mentor handed me a VHS tape of an old Dateline video that featured Mark David Chapman’s fixation on The Catcher in the Rye and its influence in his murder of John Lennon. Every subsequent year I taught Catcher, I would play that video for my class—and found myself equal parts enthralled and horrified with the tragedy again and again.

This book was born from that fascination of mine—how a novel could move someone to act in such an extreme way. I also couldn’t help but wonder what Holden would have thought if he knew what his words triggered. One of my writing teachers once said it is sometimes easier to outline your novel from the “crisis” backward. In order to place Alden (Holden) where Lennon was shot, I had to publish the report he wrote in the mental clinic (his journal aka The Catcher in the Rye) and somehow have him meet Mark David Chapman. As the book evolved, it no longer became about this incident, but how three siblings had to overcome serious familial issues. Each character is my invention alone, an artistic expression inspired by Catcher characters Holden, DB, and Phoebe. This book is in no way based on the life of JD Salinger, nor is it a statement about JD Salinger as a person or an author. And so, first and foremost, with utmost respect: Thank you, Mr. Salinger, for writing The Catcher in the Rye.

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