Friday, April 3, 2009
On my last day in New Orleans for the Tennessee Williams Festival, I went to see Richard Ford speak. Usually at these panels, in the interest of having something remotely more intelligent to say than “it was cool” if asked about how the panel went, I take notes. This endeavor happened to be complicated by the fact that, unbeknownst to me at first, Ford’s wife sat down next to me. She offered to make the seat in between us “the drink seat”, as I was fiddling with my camera to take a picture of him. Sure that she’d see my note scribbling in crazy stalker penmanship (see above) AND afraid for her husband’s well being because I was taking stalker pictures, I tried to keep it all very casual. This resulted in my notes looking something like a Bingo board, all marked up with the little purple marker dots. Shorthand quote here. Squiggle there.
Richard Ford had some great things to say about the practice of art. The "precious habit of art" he called it. Carving out the time to just go ahead and write. He talked about the genesis of his craft. He was in law school, which turned out to be “one of many failures.” He turned to his roommate one day and told him about an idea for a book he had and that he’d decided to be an author. The roommate turned down the idea.
Ford described writing as one thing he hadn’t failed at. Therefore, he knew it would stick.
He also explained that having an audience is, in fact, why he writes. Probably why we all write. I don’t think this has to be counter to the belief that we write for ourselves, maybe as a means of communication with the self. But then once we leave the little hovel with one light bulb we write in, we should acknowledge at some point we’re writing in the hopes that someone else will read what we wrote and take some meaning from it—it isn’t for money or a fame. It is because we are social creatures.
Later, Ford took questions. One audience member mentioned her church book group finished one of his short story collections. I forget now what the question was, but the church bit prompted Ford to talk more about writing for an audience and mentioning “life is our last resort.” Probably not what the woman was looking for, but it’s bold of him to admit.
Ford’s next novel, Canada, takes place in Great Falls, MT (and later in the novel, certain Canadian provinces). I hope the O’Hare Motor Lodge makes it in there somewhere.
Before leaving for Chicago, I went back for more pirates. And houses that reverse the aging process.