Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
If you have 20 minutes to listen to this interview with John Gardner from 1981, you won’t be disappointed.
Gardner was one of those novelists who influenced me hugely when I was a young wannabe, even though I’ve never written anything remotely like his work. His scope was always too enormous, his knowledge too expansive, his literary imagination way off the chart for a little schmo like me to hope to emulate. I gobbled up his books, especially The Sunlight Dialogues and October Light. Grendel, of course. And when it was time to get serious about my writing, I read The Art of Fiction, On Becoming A Novelist, and On Moral Fiction over and over.
I was fascinated to hear Gardner say that it often took him ten years to finish a book and that therefore he found a writer like Updike too quick to publish and unwilling to revise enough. He speaks of having a couple of paper bags full of manuscripts that he shlepped into an editor’s office and plopped on the desk, and how the editor found some gems in there and gave him a career. Both stories are hard to believe, nowadays. Today a writer who takes ten years to finish a book will be quickly forgotten, and I know from experience that you can’t walk into a New York editor’s office without getting past security. I guess those were the days.
It struck me as I listened to JG talk — with interviewers who knew their stuff too — that there aren’t that many writers of his stature anymore. Or that we don’t have much access to the ones who might be out there. I’m not sure who our John Gardner is today. It’s not Jonathan Franzen. Maybe it was DFW, but he’s gone now and there seems to be no one emerging from his shadow.
This cat with the long blond hair who described himself as a “medievalist and banjoist” — he was cut from some pretty rare cloth.