In a 1996 Paris Review interview, Richard Ford, the Pulitzer-winning author of multiple books and short story collections, gives some words of advice to aspiring writers: If you can, talk yourself out of it.
The writing life is forged in misery and failure, he goes on to say, ascribing his own success as an anomaly, and "a rare combination of fear, an affection for language, a reverence for literature, doggedness, and good luck." Plus, he adds, "I married the right girl."
The Mississippi-born author left the south for Michigan when he was still a teenager, to "save" himself, he's said; he counts among his literary influences Eudora Welty, Ann Beattie, Joan Didion, and Walker Percy. But Ford's most enduring association is with the "dirty realists," a label tacked onto a group of writers in the 1970s and 1980s who wrote about the "belly-side of contemporary life" in a spare and minimalist style infused with dark humor. Tobias Woolf, Raymond Carver, Jayne Ann Phillips and Joy Williams found themselves lumped into this category, as did Ford himself, for his short story "Rock Springs."
Ford's latest novel Let Me Be Frank With You continues with the Frank Bascombe series that put Ford on the literary map in 1986, with The Sportswriter. Lauded as a milestone by the New York Times Book Review, the novel introduced Bascombe, a failed novelist turned sportswriter whose life is turned upside-down by the death of his nine-year-old son. The Bascombe trilogy continued with Independence Day (1995), winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and The Lay of the Land (2006).
Ford's latest book adds a fourth installment, taking up with Bascombe as a 68-year-old retired real estate agent living in post-Hurricane Sandy New Jersey. Told as a collection of longer short stories, Bascombe is grumpy, existential and searching for comfort amid a host of physical and mental maladies. The book arrived last month to mixed reviews, but if you're an established fan of the Bascombe tales, it'll surely be something to add to the Christmas vacation reading list.