If you didn’t already know, Richard Ford is my favorite living writer. I read his story collection Rock Springs when I was 18 and those stories literally shook me — I had never read anything so frank and funny and simple. And when I read his novel The Sportswriter, I thought it could make a great sequel to The Catcher in the Rye. I imagined Ford’s balding Frank Bascombe looked just like Holden Caulfield would if he were a thirty-something divorcee. I even own a first edition of Ford’s fourth novel, Wildlife. Without Ford, I never would have discovered other great writers like Tobias Wolff and Raymond Carver and the wondrous Barry Hannah, so I owe a lot of my reading life to him. So imagine my surprise when I learned that Richard Ford would be visiting a bookstore near me!
He have a book signing at Politics and Prose in May and my wife took me out to meet him. I sat in the first row while Ford read from his new novel, Canada. (My kind wife sat in the back since there wasn’t enough room up front. You can read a review of Canada at her blog, The Science of Reading.) Ford read in a slow Southern drawl that contrasted with the setting of his book, northern Montana and Canada. And he had surprisingly small feet. But he did a wonderful job and, later, he answered my questions about writing and revising. After the Q&A, Ford autographed our books and allowed my wife to take this picture.
Ford’s writing advice:
- Take a whole year to plan your novel before writing it. Compile a long list of characters and scenes and observations before trying to set anything down.
- Keep a notebook with you at all times and write down every idea as soon as it pops in your head. Otherwise, you’ll forget it.
- Write your first draft like Faulkner — put everything you can on the page, any notion at all, just to get it all down. You might discover something wonderful that you hadn’t planned to say. Once you’re done, edit it like Hemingway.
I regret that I never wrote to Barry Hannah to tell him how him much I enjoyed his work, not to mention Kurt Vonnegut or J.D. Salinger. So to tell Richard Ford that I appreciate his work and that I find his books enjoyable and thoughtful and entertaining meant a lot to me. Plus he seemed to accept my gratitude towards Barry Hannah and Raymond Carver himself, since they are both late friends of his.
So who is your favorite author? And did you ever write or meet them?