Thursday, September 17, 2015

Richard Ford on Frank Bascombe

The other day when I was stuck in a small town in Northern Italy due to a train strike, I ended up having time to attend Richard Ford's event.

These translated events are something we don't typically do in Montreal and I find the rhythm of them hard to deal with. It was an interesting conversation but something he said, really stuck with me. It was this:

Ford: Frank Bascombe would be nothing without him
People ask him all the time if he learns from his character, Frank Bascombe. What Frank is doing while Ford isn't thinking about him. How Frank speaks to him, the writer.

Ford said something to the effect of: Frank is a made up character. He says what I want him to say. He does what I want him to do. He teaches me nothing. He says nothing to me. All he is and all he does is because I give him life.

I found this so refreshing and honest. Writers often want this to be a magical experience, writing, creating characters. But it's not. Characters are simply figments of writers' imaginations and that's how it should be. Why mystify it? Why make it seem more romantic than it is?

Another writer during the Festival Letteratura said something along these lines: I don't choose my themes or subjects, or even my characters. They choose me.

Nonsense. That kind of statement is something that people like to hear but it means nothing. Writers have something to say and they write books to say it. That's how it should be.

It's a simple idea but for some reason this bold and honest statement that Ford made is something I've been thinking about for several days now. Good on him.

(It actually made me think of a story I read in the latest New Yorker special edition on True Crime Writing, an article about Sherlock Holmes and all the fanaticism he has always created around his personality and the fact that many people do want to believe that he IS real and ISN'T made up.)

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