He hadn't planned on writing a book about a soldier returning from the First World War. In fact, for Josh Ritter -- one of the great American songwriters of his time -- the tragic yet often humorous tale of Henry Bright started out as a song.
"I got this idea in my head for this story about this guy who gets random, trivial instructions from an angel," says Ritter (35), "and he doesn't know where they come from. I wrote it quickly and then I waited for it to feel like it was turning into a song. And even though I had finished it, it didn't feel complete."
Which sort of bugged him. So much so, that he decided to forget about the music and focus on the story. "I was thinking, 'well, this is not done, so what do I do with it?' And then it occurred to me that it was a great chance to take this sort of completed storyline and try and explode it outward into a novel. I kind of jumped with that idea, and then, two pages in, everything was different."
Indeed it was. Fast-forward a couple of years and we have Bright's Passage -- a marvellous piece of fiction. And the big dogs agree. For years, the great Stephen King and Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island) have championed Ritter's songwriting. And now they love his book. Happy days.
"It's awesome," he smiles. "Those guys are such big heroes of mine, so that's really cool."
Currently working on his second novel ("it's set in Idaho ... and it's rowdy"), not to mention his seventh album, Ritter shows no signs of slowing down in the work department. He is, however, watching his health following a brief scare last month.
"Yeah, I got a rare but very deadly case of this thing called rhabdomyolysis," he explains. "It's something that happens where your muscle actually breaks down in parts and releases muscle pigments to the blood called myoglobin and those muscle pigments can gum up your kidneys real fast. So it was a really nerve-wracking week or so."
Of course, doctors are still trying to figure out how it happened. Too much exercise, maybe (Ritter is an avid runner). But at least he's feeling better. "I'm taking it easier," he smiles. Glad to hear it.
Bright's Passage is published by New Island