I ran into David the Good in the CH break room and took the opportunity to ask him a few questions about Turned Earth.
David The Good: I didn’t want Jack to be a Mary Sue character. Sure, he’s an obsessive gardener who is attractive to women, fit, good-looking, and above average in his intelligence, just like me – but he differs in one very important regard. Turnips. If he were a Mary Sue, he would prefer growing pumpkins rather than turnips.
Also, without those turnips in his garden, Jack would not have the help of the mysterious Brown Wizard who seems to live in his head. Growing an ancient Finnish heirloom variety has made Jack “The Caretaker,” and attracted the help of this strange and ancient creature – but I can’t give away too much for now.
S: So pumpkins are your favorite vegetables to grow?
DtG: Yeah. I love pumpkins because they seem almost dangerous in their growth. There’s this terrifying anarchy to them. The vines can easily fill a yard and threaten to overgrow your home – and then they produce pumpkins, and boom – they die back. Just at the point where you think they’re going to eat your entire neighborhood, they give up. I like the feeling of losing control. It’s not like carrots, which are boring and just stay put. Or onions. Or, dare I say, turnips. No, you plant pumpkins and they might end up with a hundred feet of vines. That’s exciting.
S: What’s with Ocean Octaves!?
DtG: Even good people like Jack have character flaws.
S: I liked the art in the book.
DtG: Thank you. The art work in the interior is by my longtime friend Eric Towers. My thought was to have some Hardy Boys style illustrations but instead of highlighting adventure we would highlight the most ridiculous scenes. Eric’s pen and ink is really tight and has a classic clean look to it. I’m thrilled with how they turned out. The cover of the book, on the other hand, is by Jeremiah Humphries. He actually gave me the idea for the book. I was asking some friends “what gardening book should I write next?” and Jeremiah said “Turned Earth: A Jack Broccoli Novel.” He said, “you write that book, I’ll make the cover!” So he actually came up with the title. I laughed at the idea of writing a crazy gardening spy fiction story after writing multiple gardening nonfiction titles, but the idea was so crazy it had to be done. Jeremiah was amazed I actually did it – and he followed through with a cover. I laughed out loud when he sent it to me. It was perfect.
S: There is a scene where Jack wants to dispose of a body but he is berated for not composting it. Some dark humor ensues where they joke about creating “Compost your Enemies” t-shirts…
DtG: That started with Compost Everything. Vox thought it would be funny to add to the release notes that the book was a good guide for people wishing to dispose of a body. I started referencing that on my Youtube channel and it became a running joke. Someone said “if you put that on a t-shirt, I’ll buy it. Then Weatherly from Aardvark Screenprinting said, “hey, I’ll make that shirt!” and printed them for me. People started buying the shirt and sending me photos of them wearing it. One guy wore his to the Mother Earth News Fair. Another couple sent me a picture from the zoo, where they had matching shirts. One reader even attended a talk by well-known permaculture teacher Justin Rhodes and got his picture with Justin while wearing the shirt. It’s kind of become a thing now – so Jack’s joke ties into that.
S: I don’t want to get gruesome but have to ask. Let’s say if one needs to bury a dead animal, are dead animals good compost?
DtG: Sure. People like to say “you can’t compost meat!!!” but I have grown trees, fruits and vegetables over buried rats, roosters and other unfortunate animals. I even planted a chestnut tree over a placenta. The key is to bury the meat deep enough to prevent scavengers from digging it up. Basically, protein breaks down into nitrogen which is good for the soil. The Indians taught the Pilgrims to bury fish under their corn, right? Same idea.
S: What are you working on now?
DtG: The next Jack Broccoli novel is in production. I’m about one eighth through the draft but I don’t have an estimated completion date. I do have three other gardening books planned, including a guide to plant propagation and a re-write of my popular Florida gardening book. Also, Tactical Gardening is not a joke and I hope to finish that up soon….
DtG: Word up.
S: Will you have death hedges in there?
DtG: Yep, and lots of poisonous plants that one could theoretically use to compost their enemies, though the Castalia House Legal Department may give me some push back. Anyway, readers can expect Tactical Gardening eventually. The beekeeping book I mentioned in our last interview is on hold for now. My buddy who is providing a lot of the content lost most his hives to neighborhood mosquito fumigation. Lots of bees are killed by pesticides and he was pretty knocked about by the loss. He has a lot of work to do now but progress will be slow – I’m not sure when or if the book will come out.
S: Besides city and town fumigation programs I see a lot of advertising for lawn companies to spray for mosquitoes. I remember our last discussion covered the benefits and drawbacks of many insects and bugs in the environment. Besides removing objects that allow for standing water are there gardening techniques or certain plans that helps mitigate against mosquitoes without spraying chemicals?
DtG: Sure. Read Jack Broccoli out loud to them. Gardening thrillers are absolutely terrifying to mosquitoes. Smoking cigars also seems to keep the little suckers at bay.
S: Thank you David. Another great conversation.
If you enjoyed the interview make sure you check out David’s series of Opening Up New Land. David and his wife have committed themselves to working an overgrown plot of scrub, at least an hour a day for the next two months. In the first installment’s description there is a link to sign up for a newsletter and free booklet on extending your compost.