In The Sportswriter and Independence Day, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Ford, 62, introduced readers to the angst-ridden sportswriter-turned-real estate agent Frank Bascombe, creating a quintessentially American character in the process. Rendered philosophical by prostate cancer and lady troubles, Bascombe returns in The Lay of the Land. Ford will appear Monday, Dec. 4, at a 6 p.m. reception and 7 p.m. author lecture at the Margaret Mitchell House Visitor's Center, 990 Peachtree St. Admission is $10 to the general public and free to members.
A lot of The Lay of the Land is about awareness of one's own mortality. Do you think that reflects the times we live in?
It's just part of his set of mind because he's ill. You know you've got something that could kill you, and irrespective of whether it kills you or not, something's gonna. And so this is just a reminder of that fact of life. And in a way as much as he thinks about it and as much as the book is concerned about it, it's really kind of a preparation for facing the inevitabilities of your life with a good heart.
Its aptness for the times seems to me to be fortuitous. ... With all of our fellow citizens getting killed, it doesn't seem inappropriate that we should think that death is around us.
Does writing make you feel less mortal?
I'm not looking to feel less mortal. I'm looking to feel more mortal. More in my skin, and not less.
So much of your writing despite the theme of death is flat out hilarious -- and terminology such as "dangly bits" and "word sandwich" so inventive -- do you ever make yourself laugh writing those things?
All the time. Right to the very end, in fact. When I was finishing the book in August, I would read parts aloud that I was for some reason required to read and it would just make me crack up. And I think I have a very juvenile sense of humor. I don't think I have a very sophisticated sense of humor.
What is your writing routine?
On any given day? I just show up. For my novel I have compiled in the first year I'm thinking about it, a big notebook full of all of the stuff that I hope by some device to get into the book. I will do one of a couple of things: I'll either go back through that whole notebook which is 100 or so pages, or I will have the day before set for myself some pages of 3x5 cards full of notes which will let me start right away. The real trick in writing novels is somehow to make it continuous even though you've come to a stop at the end of every day and then come to a start at the beginning of the next. That's one of the real tricks of mind in a way. Because you know when you stopped on Thursday if you had just stayed at your desk another hour you would have written something. And if you stopped before that hour, then when you come back the next morning, you will write something, but it probably will not be what you would have written before. And that can get you down [laughs].
OK, you are not Frank. He is fictional. But in what way do his sensibility or anxieties parallel your own?
I think he has -- the way I would have if I could have -- a rather empathetic turn of mind. He's also quite observant and interested in his surroundings. He is in a way that I'm not, a generalizer. I'm much more of an Aristotelean than he is. But he's a fictive character and in that way not really like a human being. He's much more like a fictive character than he's like anything else. His willingness to be a generalizer is part of the use I want the reader to make of him. Of course all of the many details of his life are not like mine. I am hypochondriacal, I will say that. And I don't know if I would say Frank is or not. Of course he's had something I haven't had yet, which is cancer. And so I think that that makes him probably more like me on a regular basis, which is to say conscious of his health.
In what way are you conscious of your health?
I got sick when I was 20 years old when I was in the Marine Corp. And I got Hepatitis A and it scared me to death. The doctors scared me to death. And I think ever after that ... I probably would have been not this way had I not had it when I was 20. But I almost died and it made a big impression on me that I had to take better care of myself than probably I would have done had I not have been as ill as I was.