I was disappointed to miss Richard Ford‘s appearance here last night. He signed my copy of Independence Day in June ’96 at the old Davis-Kidd in Nashville, and we had a brief but engaging conversation about teaching and living. Oh well. Oh Canada.
So I did the next best thing, and hunted up his recent appearances on YouTube. There are a few. I’m impressed by Ford’s seemingly effortless ability in Q-&-A sessions to call up just the right illustrative quotation.
I’m also impressed by Ford’s commitment to always finding something, in even the bleakest of stories, to affirm and assent to.
Q. Would you say you are a positive writer who explores existential failures in your books?
I feel that’s exactly what I am – an optimist, who believes with Sartre, that to write about the darker possible things is an act of optimism. But what I’m looking for is drama, which occurs when people are at a loss, and not succeeding. I try to find a vocabulary which makes those things expressible. In the process of making those expressible to a readership, it becomes an act of optimism, because it imagines a future in which these things will be understood, and be mediated in some way. Writing for me is always an act of optimism. I probably wouldn’t do it otherwise, no matter how dark things are. CSM
He discourages young writers from setting out to make a career of it, unless they just can’t help themselves. Every author he knows, successful or not, works “like a dog.” (Strange expression: my dogs actually have it pretty easy.) But that’s because they want to, are driven to, are unable to settle for any other vocation.
But, he wonders, if you’ve made that commitment why would you settle for less than the best in terms of your own output? Why would you be content merely to cobble competent sentences rather than try to craft something truly great and enduring?
It’s obvious, as a review noted recently, that Ford takes extreme care in the production of each of his sentences. (“I estimate my success by how the words sing to me.”) Sorry I didn’t get to see him doing that live and in person last night. Next time.