MORNING COFFEE 34 - fresh cider

By Susan Weber

I don’t exactly need more pain right now, but when the author of The Cider House Rules and The World According to Garp brings it up, I pay attention. In his talk last week, John Irving spoke about never getting to meet his father. “I could work with that,” he said, adding that there has to be enough that’s painful in a novel’s premise to make it worth writing.

I was tempted to leave before the author said more about pain, but he’d already launched into secrets of his craft with equal parts charm and manifesto. For example, do the research, even if you think you know something about, say, apple farming. “Your memory is a monster—you don’t have a memory, it has you.”

Read everything good you can find so you don’t make a fool of yourself in your writing. Nineteenth century fiction made Irving want to be a novelist. Approaching a new project, he writes his last sentence first, because he can already see what will happen long after his story arc is over. Then he rolls up his sleeves and imagines the story that led to that conclusion.

He had much more to say about imagination. In the Q & A a questioner bemoaned the dearth of fiction reading by a youthful cohort that devours digital content on devices it can’t put down. Irving said young people have always been attracted to the world they’re in. What’s vying for readers’ attention now isn’t mobile content, it’s the eruption of based-on-a-true-story titles the reading public of any age can’t put down. According to Irving, the world of make believe suffers under constraints imposed by the “true story.” Oh boy, here we go with suffering again. Readers' increasing loss of imagination requires today’s writer to make up stories more real than what really happened. Otherwise, says the philosopher scribe, we’ll all be bored right out of our minds.

A painful thought, ripe to be supplanted by well-versed fiction writers spanning the globe.

Photo by Andrey Korzun CC BY-SA 3.0