What’s All This About a Desert?

by | Nov 12, 2006 | The Great American Desert

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Posts by: Brian

Watching and waiting for the books to arrive, more and more people are reading the Prelude, the first section of the novel, which is available for perusal on this website.  The other day I was taken to task by one of these impatient readers, who demanded to know why, after nineteen pages, there still wasn’t anything about a desert.

She must have been reading very quickly, because there are actually a number of references, some more direct than others, to deserts in the first nineteen pages.  There are the pyramids, which Antony brings up as an example of the desperate ways people try to keep time and history at bay.  Lots of desert around the pyramids.

And right on the heels of the pyramids comes the first of many mentions of the desert monks of Egypt.  The working title of the novel was, by the way, ‘The Monk,’ but then my protagonist wouldn’t do what I wanted him to, and I changed the title to better reflect his understanding of the story.  But the desert monks, and the stories about them, and the things that they supposedly said, are still essential to the story.

The last two ‘desert’ references in the Prelude concern Gus Munchner, Antony’s father, who died behind the wheel of a sports car out in the middle of what used to be called the ‘Great American Desert.’


The Great American Desert is an extraordinarily vague geographical designation whose meaning has varied greatly over time.  Zebulon Pike, at the foot of whose mountain I currently reside, used the term, in his diaries, to describe everything between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains.  Later, after much of this ‘desert’ had been turned into farms and ranches, the term was used to refer to the arid country between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas.

If you do a web search on the Great American Desert, you will soon notice that just about everybody disagrees with just about everybody else on what, precisely, it means or meant.  Which is precisely one the reasons I was so attracted to it as the title for the novel, whose protagonist is obsessed with the uncertainty surrounding so much of the past.

Another reason is that it points to how things are so often not what they seem.  Zebulon Pike saw nothing but dry grassland.  He could not have known that underneath the dusty soil was the largest aquifer in the world.

There are lots of other reasons I chose it as the title, though my marketing guru was desperate for me to change it.  She told me that it sounded like the title to a nature book, and was not much mollified when I told her I’d put the designation ‘a novel’ on the cover.


Another reader of the Prelude tells me that at first she was excited to see that I’d written a book about desserts, but then noticed her error.  Maybe I will write a book about dessert some day.  Of all the jobs I’ve had, pastry chef is one of the ones that I’m best at.

Although the book is not about dessert, there are quite a few mentions of pie, especially apple pie, and a few mentions of a curious baked concoction known as cherry float, a delicacy indigenous to Jersey County, which is located safely on the eastern side of the river system that forms the western boundary of what used to be known as the Great American Desert.