Literary fiction fans get rare treat at Thin Air

Found another pain management strategy tonight – listening to two writers at the top of their form talk about writing. While there was some mutual back patting, and a dose of adulation as expected, there were actually a few moments when David Bergen and Richard Ford ventured to talk about literature, and writing. Comparing first (Ford in Canada) ) and third person (Bergen in The Age of Hope) narration with specific reference to Bergen’s use of free indirect discourse, that I have been learning about from Ted Dyck, for example.

Ford is an accomplished showman dispensing quotations and one liners in a southern deadpan that completely won over the audience.  He writes with a pencil and he described asking Joyce Carol Oates whether she used a computer, and she replied, “What, you want me to write more than I already do?” But there was also the nitty gritty description of the hard work of writing the middle of the book which for him was everything between the very first pages and the last pages. While he said there were definitely moments when writing came easily, moments which he accepted with glee, he had to spend a lot of time working hard, even when he didn’t want to, when it didn’t come easily. For him the test was when the book was finished and he couldn’t tell which part of the novel came easily and the parts that were hard earned. 

There were also discussions of how ideas for stories started, and Ford described the moments of “commotion” that generated his novels. He said when you start out writing you think they’re going to happen regularly and all the time, and he learned they happened a lot less frequently than he wished. This reminded me of Stephen Leacock’s comment about writing. “You just wrote down thoughts as they occurred. The writing was easy, it was the occurring that was difficult.”

Both writers selected and read well in the first half of the program, but it was the dialogue that made this evening stand-out as one of the best evenings ever at Thin Air.  It also helped that Lynn and I had read both novels, and we have no reservations recommending both. It is a special pleasure to have Lynn share my enthusiasm for reading  and we do disagree, but it makes for interesting conversation, and takes us past the “How was your day?” and “What are you thinking?”conversations,  our responses rarely as interesting as discussing what we are reading.

I’m also adding Pat Lane’s novel Red Dog, Red Dog to my recommended reading list, which I read when it was published, and Lynn has just finished reading and really liked. We’re hoping to take in his talk about sobriety on Thursday at the Big Ideas session. I still haven’t read his memoir There is Season. Tomorrow I want to hear Cordelia Strube and Sean Virgo on the Mainstage, and if I have the stamina, hope show up on Friday for poetry, Pat with his collected, Lorna with her new collection of oddities and Jonathan Ball with his new book kicking things off.



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