Back in late October, I had the pleasure of talking to Richard Ford about his new book, The Lay of the Land, which had just been released and for which he had begun a long book tour that continues until year end (see "On the Road Again," issue of Nov. 29-Dec.5). His third book about Frank Bascombe has been received with rave reviews, and The New York Times has named it one of the top five books of the year.
If you think Ford started out writing his masterful novel on a computer or word processor, think again. Here's some of the conversation we had about it.
Gross: You worked three years on this book?
Ford: Four years.
Gross: That's a long haul.
Ford: To do one thing, yeah, that is a long haul, but I feel fine about it. I'm really glad I did it. I take most of my satisfaction in the writing of this book, which is to say sitting down in my boathouse and writing it with a Bic pen like I always do.
That was really a great pleasure.
Gross: Did I hear you say you write with a Bic pen?
Gross: Well, we have that in common. They used to be 19 cents, and those things last forever.
Ford: They really do. It's kind of fun to see the ink disappearing down the barrel.
Ford: I bundle up all the ones that I use up and send them to Michigan State (where Ford received his B.A.)
Gross: Well, that's unique!
Ford: You know, when I was a kid living in East Lansing, that's what I use to write all my papers with. I had to write all my papers with a Bic pen. Because I'm dyslexic, I'm sort of a terrible typist, so I did everything first with a Bic pen, and I'm still doing writing with a Bic pen.
Gross: Well, it works for you.
Ford: I like other pens better. With those Bics, you have to bear down pretty hard. I like the little Pilot pens — they just kind of flow off the end of the nip. But somehow, when I grab one of those pens, I can't write anything with it.
Gross: Well, I'm just going to keep using my Bic.
Ford: Yeah, me, too.
Gross: Last Christmas someone got me a Cross pen. I've still got the thing in the box. I don't know what the hell to do with it.
Ford: Yeah, you know, I would love it if the Bic Pen Co. would make me their poster boy but I don't think they will.
Gross: Well, maybe I'll suggest that to them.
Ford: Maybe you could.
Gross: When your tour ends, what do you plan on doing during the winter months?
Ford: We're (he and his wife Kristina) going to New Orleans and stay there all winter and try and make ourselves useful with the rebuild (wife Kristina was the city planner for New Orleans for a number of years).
Gross: Yeah, OK.
Ford: After that, I got a few things to do in the spring, some money making stuff, but I don't think I want to turn much of a hand for a year. I got a little novel that I would like to try to write.
Gross: Now, I wasn't going to bug you about what's next.
Ford: No, it's all right. I got a little novel set up in Canada — up in Saskatchewan — that I want to write, so probably a year from now I'll go to Saskatchewan, take up a little temporary residence out there and see what I can scare up. This book has been on my mind for 20 years.
Gross: Twenty years?
Ford: Yeah. It was the size of the project that really prevented me from doing it. It's a small little novel, and I didn't want to write a small little novel. I wanted to write great big novels.
Gross: Now you're ready to write that smaller one?
Ford: You bet I am.
Larry Gross' book, Signed, Sealed and Delivered: Stories, is in bookstores now or can be ordered through Amazon.com.
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