I’ve been getting a few questions about where the idea for Swimming Monkeys came from, so I thought I’d post the story here.
While on a business trip to Singapore, my wife, CJ, and I decided to take a tour of the surrounding islands. As part of the tour, the boat docked at a small island with an ancient chapel. While on the upper deck, I surveyed the area and spotted another jungle-covered island about three football fields away. From my previous trips to Indonesia, I remembered seeing monkeys and apes in the jungles. For some reason, I was curious if our guide had ever seen a monkey swim across that small lagoon. As soon as I asked the question, the vision of a monkey swimming like Michael Phelps popped into my head and made me smile. Of course, the guide looked at me like I was from another planet. Still, I continued. I turned to CJ and asked her. After getting the same response, I stated that they were built like perfect swimmers—small torsos, strong long limbs and large hands—and should be able to swim the freestyle better than any human. CJ simply warned me not to keep asking people that unless I wanted to end up like Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Despite the warning, I turned to an ex-secret service agent travelling with us and asked the same question. Well, it was nice to see a secret service agent grin while questioning my mental state.
My curiosity only grew from there. I had never seen a monkey swim like a human. On the long plane ride home, I sketched a monkey in mid-stroke and teased CJ about writing a book about one. I had no premise or plot in mind, but it was fun to joke about it. Once home, I unleashed my questioning on my teenage kids, and actually had them laughing with me instead of at me (a rare moment as you parents know).
For several years the image of a swimming monkey pulled at my curiosity. Then I came across a copy of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. For some reason, I thought of the Scopes Monkey Trial, and as a former chemical engineer and Catholic school graduate, I was always intrigued by the battle between science and religion. At that point I decided to explore it through the eyes of a seventeen-year-old boy in a novel called Swimming Monkeys.