John David California, real name Fredrik Colting, is the Swedish author of 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye. The book, which has been published in Sweden by Colting’s own company Nicotext and in England by Windupbird, takes place six decades after the events of Catcher in the Rye, and features a nursing home fugitive Holden Caulfield, his drug addicted sister Phoebe, and an insecure J.D. Salinger trying to kill off his literary creations. Unsurprisingly, Salinger was not amused. Earlier this month, Salinger’s legal team announced that the Catcher in the Rye author was suing Colting for “ripping off” the original, successfully delaying the American publication of 60 Years Later. We talked with Colting via e-mail about his current legal troubles, his goals for the book, and the elusive link between Catcher in the Rye and The Pornstar Name Book.
Why write 60 Years Later Coming Through the Rye? Why not just write an original novel, rather than one related to Catcher in the Rye?
I think 60 Years Later IS a super-original novel. In many ways I believe 60 is as original and creative as Catcher. I realize I’m putting myself on the line saying this, but it’s really a modern day Frankenstein. On a good day when I think of Holden, I see him as a rebel – I admire him because he refused to sell-out. Other times I wonder what’s so out of the ordinary about a spoiled 16-year old kid anyway? Holden acts like the entire world revolves around him. And, in a way, now Salinger is acting much the same. With that said, I still think Catcher is a great novel! I’ve never had much respect for old things, just for the sake that they are old. Especially if they act as brakes, keeping things from evolving. Creativity has to move freely or it will fall flat on its ass. If it was up to me I’d replace Mona Lisa with something new. Things change, we should embrace that and not try to desperately hold on to everything.
Previously, you’ve written books like The Pornstar Name Book: The Dirtiest Names on the Planet and The Macho Man’s Drinkbook: Because Nude Girls and Alcohol Go Great Together. This work is a major departure for you.
I’ve written some humor books but just because you say something funny or goofy doesn’t mean you can never be serious. The essence of 60 is to discover the results of when a writer creates a character, and the responsibilities he has to it after. It’s this dance between these two dimensions, the HERE that we perceive as reality, and the THERE that we perceive as a made up world contained inside the covers of a book. With 60 Years Later I’ve taken on the task to seek out the real meaning of this reality, and the true relationship between Salinger and Holden. Holden has become just as real as Salinger himself. To anyone who hasn’t met Salinger, and most of us haven’t, he is simply a fictive character himself living in our minds.
Did Salinger’s reaction surprise you?
Not trying to act like an innocent Swede here, but I really had no idea Salinger would sue us. I live in a small town in Sweden and I’ve never even known anyone who’s gotten sued before! Frankly, I’m still having a hard time believing that, in this day and age, in a civilized world, someone can go to such lengths to try to ban a book. And what blows my mind is that I don’t think Salinger has read the book. If he had I think he would understand the points I think I achieved with it.
Why should a book like this come out against the original author’s objections? Don’t you stand to profit from what is, essentially, someone else’s hard work?
I’ve put in very hard work creating 60, and I’ve given it my heart and soul. It’s so very far from a rip-off, like Salinger’s lawyers call it, and I think once readers get a chance to experience it, I’m sure most will agree.
It’s not a money thing for me. I have another job, I have enough to eat and live fine as it is. This is about creating. I find it appalling that things that belong to everyone, things you can’t own, are being vandalized by greedy authors that are hiding behind laws that were meant to boost creativity and creation, not hinder it.
Salinger is written into the book, in a pretty unfavorable light, attempting to kill off Holden Caulfield “in order to gain control over his own life.” Writing a parody of Salinger’s characters is one thing, but how do you defend the depiction of Salinger the man?
Even though I’m an unknown author people write bad things about me. That goes with the game and I’m sure Salinger has the wits to disregard anything I write about him. I have a lot of respect for Salinger, both as a person and as a writer. Obviously, I don’t know him and like most other people, I’ve never met the guy. But he deserves respect just like everybody else. But I don’t get to decide what people say about me or my books and I don’t think Salinger should either.
Why write the book under the pen name John David California? There’s the “J.D.” reference, of course, but are you hiding behind the name at all?
Not at all. Writing is a lot about trying to find out who you are by pretending to be someone else, and sometimes you pretend so well that you, instead of finding yourself, find someone else. During the development of 60, this character called John David California appeared, and I came to like the guy. But if you want to be boring about it, I used a pen-name because I am also the publisher and it was a way to keep the two roles separate. I didn’t tell anyone I was J.D. California because it was supposed to be a secret. As far as I understand it, that’s the whole point with pseudonyms.
Anything else you want to say about the book and the controversy surrounding it?
Dreams and creations have to be able to roam freely, otherwise we wouldn’t have popsicles nor would we have had people walking on the moon. That’s the whole point of creativity, to think outside of the box, not to stick it inside a pre-measured mold and chop off anything that dares to stick outside. This is what moves things forward and my exploration will shed new light over two of the greatest characters in the history of US literature, Salinger and Holden.