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new england writers at work

Richard Ford, without clutter and drudgery

Richard Ford.

Greta Rybus for the Boston Globe

Richard Ford.

Richard Ford’s fiction has won the Pulitzer Prize, the PEN/Malamud and PEN/Faulkner awards, and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence. His most famous character, Frank Bascombe, haunts the New York suburbs, and his latest novel, “Canada,” takes place in Great Falls, Mont. Both are worlds away from his home in coastal Maine. Ford is at work on a new collection of short stories to be published next year.

SERENITY NOW I write with a Pilot blue pen No. 10 on white unlined paper in a room that doesn’t have a telephone or a TV or Internet. I try to maintain a kind of nice serenity. I don’t look out the window. I don’t like cluttered spaces. I just try to make it very serene and do the kinds of the things that I like to do.

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BOAT-FREE BOATHOUSE I usually write in a boathouse on our property, which is right down by Linekin Bay. . . . [The] building is just a single room, which was formerly used by the original owner of his house as his sort of winter workshop. He was a lobsterman. It has doors big enough that you could pull a pretty good-sized dory through, but you couldn’t pull a whole lobster boat into it. It’s got a ramp on the outside that would facilitate pulling a boat inside of it, but I don’t have a boat. . . . It’s heated with a wood stove. I’ve had it insulated and some wallboarding put up. It used to just be beaverboard. It’s quite warm, and I still heat it with wood, and you could say it’s a little atmospheric down here, I guess, though once you start to work in any particular space, it ceases to be atmospheric.

UNBIDDEN TOMES Lots of books come into my house every week, and I’ve got to fight through those that come in unbidden to get to the books that I actually hear about by word of mouth and that maybe my friends write. [My reading habits are] really willy-nilly, not a subject of discipline. Frost said that writing and art are the last vestiges of our childhood, and we should be somewhat irresponsible as we pursue them, and that goes for reading, too. . . . Books inspire me all the time. I was reading James Salter’s novel “All That Is,” and then I’m reading a book right now that’s quite spectacular. It’s called “Hell at the Breach.” It’s by a novelist named Tom Franklin. It’s a book set in the South, in Alabama, at the end of the 19th century, and it’s about a kind of a countywide war that’s sort of a civilian insurrection. It’s not about race; it’s not about history; it’s just about meanness and deprivation.

NO DRUDGERY I promised myself when I left law school that I was not going to imagine for my job just another version of law school: no drudgery [or] living in big cities. I just don’t like them. . . . But I think [training as a lawyer] has probably shaped my routine in all kinds of ways. I’m very assiduous. When I’m there, I’m really there. I think that the solution to writerly problems, whatever the problems are, are always not there, and you have to make them up. It’s not a matter of finding a needle in a haystack. There is no haystack, and there is no needle.

NO VACATIONS I don’t take vacations. My life is one long, 40-year vacation. You have to grab your wallet when you find writers who tell you how hard they work. You have to make it look easy.

Eugenia Williamson is a writer and editor living in Somerville. She can be reached eugenia.williamson@gmail.com.
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