Tim Gautreaux, author of The Clearing, began writing fiction when someone gave him an old Remington typewriter. The preteen found a pen pal in Canada and started sending him about 1500 words a week. “In 1958, in Morgan City, Louisiana, there’s not much to talk about so I ran out of material after about three letters and began to lie,” says the critically acclaimed author. “I told him I had a pet alligator with a saddle on it. Stuff like that.”
These days, Gautreaux’s stories are still culled from his real life. “On a little bit of research and a little bit of family legend, I can get a lot of mileage,” he tells Gene Edwards early in the roundtable discussion on Writers. “You just extrapolate from what you observe.”
In the summer of 2004, Edwards gathered Gautreaux, Kent Haruf, and Tom Franklin at Jackson, Mississippi’s Lemuria Books, for an in-depth discussion on the craft of writing the contemporary novel. The conversation was so compelling that he kept the cameras rolling for a second hour and created two one-hour episodes of his television program.
Kent Haruf shared the secret of the peculiar way he wrote the first draft of his novels Plainsongand Eventide. “I shut my eyes and write it that way, on an old manual typewriter,” he says. “I sometimes wear a stocking cap over my eyes so I don’t open my eyes. I don’t want to let the analytical part of my mind into the process too soon.”
And Tom Franklin, whose first novel, Hell at the Breech, was published just a year earlier, honestly admitted that he only writes for about an hour and a half in an eight hour session. “I play a lot of computer solitaire. I check email about twenty times. I’ll be out in the back yard. I go to get Chinese food for lunch. I do laundry.”
But Haruf and Franklin agree that a productive day of writing may be one good paragraph. “Or even one good line. One good simile would be a good day,” adds Franklin.
From inspiration—“I heard a great line in a bar once,” says Franklin; to the writing process—“I think you are looking for a rhythm, a prose that does have a rhythm on it,” adds Haruf; to publication—“I used to take my rejection slips and stick them on the wall in my office and after about eight years, the walls were all covered,” shares Gautreaux, these novelists trace their careers from their early mentors to their future plans.
All three authors praised independent bookstores for hand selling their books and contributing to their success. In a sidebar, celebrated novelist John Grisham explains, “What independent bookstores will do, take an unknown author for a first novel that they liked and create the buzz, and talk to each other and push the book and get the author in the store. And they could make a career.”
Grisham was in Oxford, Mississippi ,to celebrate Square Books’ 25th anniversary. He spoke of owner Richard Howorth’s support of The Firm. “He did a lot of promotion, a lot of promotion forThe Firm and all the books. And It’s always been a reason for me to come back to Square Books. I look forward to it with every book.”
The evening before taping, the novelists participated in a reading at Lemuria Book. “We are very honored to have these three writers,” owner John Evans told the audience. “These are three of my favorite writers and I think that they are three of the finest writers writing in this country today.”
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