In the first 20 pages of Me & Mr. Cigar (Soho Teen, Dec. 1), the debut young adult novel from psychedelic rock musician Gibby Haynes, the following things happen: A young boy named Oscar adopts a terrier he encounters in the woods; the boy is attacked by bullies who beat him and kill the dog; and the dog comes back to life, accompanied by a mysterious flying creature who, in a fit of pique, bites Oscar’s sister’s hand clean off.
Because of Winn-Dixie this ain’t. Me & Mr. Cigar is a fever dream of a book following Oscar, now a 17-year-old “MDMA-dealing rave promoter,” and the titular dog as they travel from Texas to New York in order to rescue Oscar’s sister, who’s being held hostage by mysterious bad guys. They’re accompanied by Lytle, Oscar’s best friend, and are forced to dodge corrupt cops and a crazed government contractor who believes that Mr. Cigar is “an immortal clairvoyant dog given to John F. Kennedy by the leader of the Soviet Union.”
Fans of Haynes, the frontman for the legendary rock band Butthole Surfers (best known for their 1996 breakout hit “Pepper”), won’t be surprised by the book’s bizarre twists and turns, but they might be surprised to hear about its inspiration.
“The terrier that was buried and digs his way out, that happened,” Haynes said via telephone from his New York home, recalling that he read about the quasi-resurrection years ago in a “News of the Weird” item in the Austin Chronicle.
The story appealed to Haynes, a dog lover who wishes all mutts could live forever.
“It’s such a drag when they die,” he says. “They’re like fucking flowers, man. They last for like a week and then they wilt before your eyes.”
Dogs frequently meet with sad ends in young adult fiction—see Where the Red Fern Grows, Stone Fox, Sounder,and many more—but Haynes was determined not to add to that trend.
“Old Yeller—fuck, man, the dog always croaks,” Haynes says. “In after-school specials, the dog always dies. Everything dies. The teenager dies of fucking leukemia. Goddammit. The running back dies. Well, there wasn’t a dog in Brian’s Song, but [if there were], it would’ve died.”
Haynes makes no secret that Mr. Cigar lives to see another day—the dog will feature in his next book as well. (There is a twist that we won’t reveal here, though.) Haynes based the dog partially on two terriers he owned, one named Donut and one named, yes, Mr. Cigar.
The real Mr. Cigar (itself named after a cat owned by Butthole Surfers guitarist Paul Leary) died years ago of cancer and was buried in the backyard of Ween guitarist Mickey Melchiondo.
“Mickey moved,” Haynes says, “but I’ve been wanting to go to this house and knock on the door and ask if I could visit the grave of my dog. That would freak them out. Or just be in their backyard when they wake up in the morning, crying and looking down at the dirt. That’d get me 48 hours on [psychiatric] hold.”
Me & Mr. Cigar is just as psychedelic as Haynes’ music, with Oscar spending much of the book under the influence of MDMA, which a DJ covertly slips into his energy drink. But readers hoping for sex, drugs, and rock and roll will only find two of the above in the book.
“I stayed away from sex, but I went to the drugs pretty heavily,” Haynes says with a laugh. “I didn’t go for the sex. That’s Hello, God, It’s Me, Emily territory. Or whatever that book was.” Told the correct title of Judy Blume’s 1970 book, Haynes muses, “I’d like to write Hello, Margaret, It’s Me, God. Starring a thinly veiled Satan as God.”
Until then, he’s got the sequel to Me & Mr. Cigar to write. Haynes says he has the outline for the book down pat, so all that remains is the writing.
“The next one is even more fun,” Haynes says. “It’s not really a spoiler, because it happens in the first couple of pages, but it starts with bodies falling from the sky. I’m really horrified by that thought.”
In the meantime, he plans to promote Me & Mr. Cigar, hoping that booksellers and librarians will help get the novel into the hands of young adults. He says he talked to one librarian who read an excerpt from the book and told Haynes, “This will be great for our hard-to-reach kids.”
“That’s the demographic I want,” Haynes says.
Michael Schaub is an Austin, Texas–based journalist and regular contributor to NPR.