SCOTT SIMON, host:

Daniel Pinkwater, our very own ambassador to the world of children's literature, has written a new book. It's called The Neddiad, and it won't be available in a bookstore near you until April. But if you're near a computer, you can go to theneddiad.com and start reading The Neddiad right now, online, chapter by chapter, for free. Each week since August, one chapter of Daniel's new book has been posted on the Website. This week, Chapter 11 was added. There are 68 more to come.

Daniel Pinkwater joins us from Upstate New York.

Daniel, thanks for being with us.

DANIEL PINKWATER: Scott.

SIMON: I didn't get the title, The Neddiad, at first; except, of course, we're talking about a young man named Ned.

PINKWATER: Yes. And it's an epic. And as I vaguely remember the class that I stopped going to...

(Soundbite of laughter)

PINKWATER: ...in Greek literature, the suffix - ad, A-D - suggested, you know, The Iliad, The Aeneid - it's a tale, it's a story, it's a big - it's a big story. I wonder if that's true?

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, I...

PINKWATER: I never looked it up. I could have. I like being a writer; it's the paperwork I hate.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: We want to get you to relay the story a bit. They're living in Chicago and they set out for the West Coast, because they want to eat in a hat.

PINKWATER: Well, yeah. The story begins where the kid, Neddie, reads in a magazine about The Brown Derby, motto of which was, Eat in a Hat. And I don't know if you remember the original, if you ever saw it, but I myself have eaten in the hat many times. It was shaped like a hat. And this charms the kid and he tells his father about it. And his father says, you know, it's been my life's ambition to eat in the hat too. Tell you what, let's move to Los Angeles. The whole family, just move permanently. And then we can eat in the hat all the time, pick lemons off the trees, and live in the sunshine. And so within a week they're packed and they're on the Super Chief.

SIMON: I have to ask how many autobiographical elements are in this - in a sense for both of us. I think when we were both kids, our families went from Chicago to the West Coast on the Super Chief.

PINKWATER: Did you really?

SIMON: Yes, absolutely. I will never forget the silver dollar pancakes, the bacon, the dinnerware that we have in our family to this day. The Santa Fe Super Chief dinnerware, I have such vivid memories of it.

PINKWATER: The Santa Fe Railroad had fine chefs of repute working on the trains. They got good artists to design the tableware and the art on the walls. It was quite the deluxe conveyance. It was our Orient Express, really.

SIMON: And I loved your expression here, which - do mind if I read a little of your prose?

PINKWATER: Oh, please.

SIMON: And Neddie's family is in there - I guess you'd call it their double room. Right?

PINKWATER: The of the doubled drawing room.

SIMON: And they've let the family parakeets out to frolic, and father is busy setting up his Zenith portable radio, mother leafing through a magazine.

And Neddie says, As the train came out of the darkness of the station into the semi-darkness of the rail yards on a gloomy winter afternoon, with the parakeets whirring and whizzing around the double drawing room and my family sipping 7-Up, I felt a kind of excitement I'd never felt before. I knew I'd begun my first big adventure. Up to now, all my adventures had been either small or completely imaginary.

That's a wonderful passage, Daniel.

PINKWATER: Look at that prose.

SIMON: I need to ask you some business questions.

PINKWATER: Yes.

SIMON: There must have been some concern that by putting the book on the Web, people can read it all there for free and therefore may not buy it.

PINKWATER: And they're welcome to do so. I wanted to say that Houghton Mifflin has been a brick throughout. They are very nice people. You know, Scott, in preparing for the segments that we do, where we talked about the children's books, I see hundreds and thousands of books. Every six months is a new list, so a book has a very little, short time in the sunshine to get anyone's attention.

SIMON: Yeah.

PINKWATER: So I was motivated to try and do something so I could know people were reading it. You know, I'm getting a sense of people are reading my book now, not a year and a half after I wrote it. You know, it's extremely pleasurable to have this happen. The question was: will this affect sales, good or bad? I don't know. It'll have very beautiful illustrations by Calef Brown, who you may remember from your very own radio program. We did Polkabats and Octopus Slacks.

SIMON: Of course, yeah.

PINKWATER: A wonderful book of poetry. A great artist.

SIMON: We get to read a section, don't we?

PINKWATER: If you like.

SIMON: Yes, I would like it very much. We'll explain to set this up a bit, that young Ned and his family - father, mother and sister - are on the Super Chief and Ned gets left behind in Flagstaff, Arizona.

PINKWATER: Ned gets left behind in Flagstaff, Arizona. He gets off the train. He thinks there's going to be more time than there is. The colorful stationmaster, who speaks railroad jargon, sends him up to the Monte Vista Hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona, having first cautioned him, You don't mind sharing a room with a ghost, do you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

PINKWATER: In the old hotel. You couldn't miss the Monte Vista Hotel. It was the tallest building in town and had a big electric sign on the roof in capital letters. I went in. The place was full of cowboys. A lot of them were in the bar, and a lot of them were standing around in the lobby hitching up their belts and spitting into spittoons. I walked up to the desk. A guy with slicked down red hair - I guessed it must be Charlie - said, You're the kid? Here's your key. Room 107, up there on the stairs.

PINKWATER: I looked around the lobby and listened to the sound of spit hitting the spittoons. The cowboys were interesting to look at and they were good spitters. There was a kid my age in the lobby. He was a handsome kid wearing a cowboy hat. He was leaning against the wall and spitting. He wasn't bad at it either. I went over and leaned next to him and took aim at a spittoon.

SIMON: Not bad...

PINKWATER: ...the kid said. I practice a lot, I said.

SIMON: That's a neat hat...

PINKWATER: ...he said. It's a hog head hat, I said.

SIMON: Mine's a Stetson...

PINKWATER: ...the kid said.

SIMON: You want to trade?

PINKWATER: For keeps?

SIMON: Let's see how we look...

PINKWATER: ...the kid said. We swapped hats.

SIMON: How do I look?

PINKWATER: The kid said. You look like a hogger, I said. Hogger is a engine driver. You look like a hogger, I said. Try the bandana.

SIMON: You look like a cowboy...

PINKWATER: ...the kid said.

SIMON: You want to make the trade?

PINKWATER: My father gave me the hat, I said.

SIMON: So? My father gave me that one. Your father a railroad man?

PINKWATER: Shoelace man, I said. Your father a cowboy?

SIMON: Nah, movie star.

PINKWATER: The kid said.

SIMON: I'm Shamus Finn.

PINKWATER: I'm Neddie Wentworthstein.

SIMON: My father is Erin Finn. You know who he is?

PINKWATER: Not sure.

SIMON: Did you see The Three Muskateers?

PINKWATER: Wait. Is he the guy who played D'Art Onion?

SIMON: That's him. He was D'Art Onion and he was Count Luigi in The Sword Master.

PINKWATER: He's good. Is he like that in real life?

SIMON: Nah, he's an actor. He's in the bar studying the cowboys so he can be one. Are you here with your father?

PINKWATER: I'm on my own. I understand the room where I'm staying has a ghost.

SIMON: No fooling.

PINKWATER: So I'm told.

SIMON: A real ghost? How do you know?

PINKWATER: Come with me, I said to Shamus Finn. I walked him over to the desk. Charlie, I said, does Room 107 have a ghost in it?

SIMON: Yeah, but it's not a real bad one...

PINKWATER: ...Charlie said.

SIMON: It's really a real ghost?

PINKWATER: Shamus Finn asked Charlie.

SIMON: It's a ghost.

PINKWATER: Charlie said.

SIMON: You know, it appears, it vanishes. Would you say that was real or not real?

When my father comes out of the bar, tell him I went up with Neddie.

PINKWATER: Shamus said.

SIMON: My father is the guy with the biggest cowboy hat.

I know, D'Art Onion.

PINKWATER: Charlie said.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: What else can readers look forward to, Daniel?

PINKWATER: You know there's going to be a ghost. You know there's going to be Erin Finn, the movie star. You don't know there's going to be a heck of a ride on Route 66 in an open Packard car.

SIMON: Oh.

PINKWATER: You don't know that there's an evil, evil man who does evil, evil things. And there's a ride in a Ford tri-motor airplane. And I better not say anymore.

SIMON: All right. Daniel, this is wonderful. Thanks

PINKWATER: Scott, it was a pleasure to talk to you about this book.

SIMON: Daniel Pinkwater's new novel, The Neddiad, is being serialized online at The Neddiad - the N-E-D-D-I-A-D dotcom. The hardcover edition will be out in April. And Daniel Pinkwater joins us from his home in the Hudson River Valley.

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