From the start of this project, I've been a little nervous about basing my novel on such a well known--nearly mythological--figure as Vincent Van Gogh. On one hand, the allure of the Van Gogh story means thousands of potential readers for the novel, people who have always been fascinated by Van Gogh's supposed dementia or simply by his bright paintings. On the other hand, there's the daunting task of believably bringing alive someone who so many people think they know. And, too, there's the worry that I could be taking on an overexposed subject. The painter's incredible reknown was brought home again just last week when my 4th grader son, telling me about presentations made in his GT class, reported that his friend Kameika presented on Vincent Van Gogh.
"Oh," I said, less than enthusiastically. Everyone's getting in on the act.
"Did you know that he was crazy? Did you know that he cut off his ear and gave it to his girlfriend?"
Well, that's not quite right, not exactly.
"Of course, Daddy knows," my wife said. "He's written a book about Van Gogh."
"You did?" my son said, impressed. "You wrote about him cutting off his ear?"
Yes, I had to admit, I did, as I imagined the horrors conjured up by his friend's presentation: flailing knives, streaming blood, a screaming "girlfriend," a wide-eyed madman, yellow paint splattered as widely as his proclamations, crazy Van Gogh painting and yelling and bleeding and flailing and gesticulating all at once. Those wild pictures. (She had of course shown some as part of her presentation.) Yes, I did, I told him, but I'm sure I couldn't make it nearly as interesting to a 4th grader as Kameika did.