Howard Anderson’s biography on the jacket of Albert of Adelaide (Hachette/Twelve) reads like a novel of its own—he’s flown helicopters in Vietnam; worked on fishing boats in Alaska and in steel mills in Pittsburgh, Pa.; done a stint in Hollywood (his biggest success as a scriptwriter was writing the sequel to Annie); and is currently a defense attorney in New Mexico. And at 66, he’s also a first-time novelist. Asked about the publisher’s bio, he quips, “They have no idea. It’s much abridged.”

It’s only fitting that such a real-life character would give birth to one of the season’s most unusual protagonists: a talking duck-billed platypus searching for “Old Australia” through an outlandish outback. The novel began 20 years ago as a bedtime story for a then-girlfriend’s daughter. In 2009, Anderson picked it back up and finished it, and through his old Hollywood connections finally managed to get it into the hands of powerhouse agent Nicole Aragi.

When Aragi sent the book to Cary Goldstein at Twelve, the publisher and editor-in-chief had just published The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore, the tale of a talking chimpanzee. Said Goldstein, “There’s no way. I’ll be branded as the talking animal guy.” After reading it, however, he put in a pre-emptive bid. He describes the book, which will have a 50,000 first printing, as “the ultimate kids’ book for adults.”

And how does Anderson feel about this latest chapter in an unusual life? “This is just another great adventure.”