The Story of Edgar Sawtelle Webcast Transcript
David: It's the very first problem he has to solve. But along with that is this other problem of how did his parents meet. It's a sort of mystery he has to solve. And I intended for him never to know the real answer to that because I think of those two problems as sort of practice problems for Edgar. He's going to have a bigger problem later in the book, and the bigger problem is, what actually happened between Gar and Claude? And he's never going to have evidence that is irrefutable about that. So he's only going to be able to solve those problems through his imagination. So he—in the first chapter, he solves that—that problem about Schultz. And just—just by visualizing Schultz over and over again, he decides that Schultz left because he was lonely. With regard to his—how his parents met, he reaches a point in the story where his mother offers to tell him, if you remember.
David: When the fires are burning out in the field to soften the ground for his father's grave. And she says, "If you really want to know, I'll tell you." And he decides he doesn't want to know because to know that would eliminate all of these other ways that they met and it would reduce it to just one way. And for him, it was more important that all those different ways existed and he felt like his life would be more complete with all those different alternatives in place than if he just picked one.
Oprah: Wow. You did think about it a lot. Yes.
David: Yes. But this is an example of one of the story elements that didn't get finalized until very late in the writing process. And my editor and I talked a lot about this very point. Should we give a final answer to this or not? And—and part of it was, I don't know myself. I don't know how they met. And just working within the confines of the book, you know, there's a framework. And you need to know answers to certain questions, and I felt like if I knew the answer, Edgar would have to know the answer. So I very studiously tried not to know that answer. To not try and solve that problem during the writing of this book.
Oprah: So Appleton Wisconsin Reading Club, did you all have a lot of talks amongst yourselves about this book?
All: Oh, yes. So many.
Oprah: So many. Yeah. And we're going to be talking—
All: So many.
Oprah:—of course later on about the ending and why that ending.
All: Lots of questions about the ending.
Oprah: Yes. All right. But thank you for joining us, everybody.
All: Thank you.
David: Thank you, Wisconsin.
Oprah: Did you all coordinate your colors?
Oprah: You must have. You must have. That could not have happened by accident. Really. You look great. Thank you. Thank you so much. We talked to Ann Leary on the show last Friday and learned from her husband, actor and writer Denis Leary, that she loved Edgar Sawtelle and she joins us tonight from New York City. Hi, Ann.
Ann: Hi, Oprah.
Oprah: Is that Daphne?
Ann: I can't hear you.
Oprah: Is that Daphne? Is that dog Daphne?
Ann: This is Daphne. I'm sorry, she's not posing very well.
Oprah: That's okay, she's sleepy.
Oprah: That's okay.
Ann: David, congratulations. I really loved your book. I'm an author myself and I have to say the first thing I loved about your book was its title, and I know how hard it is to name a book. But when I first heard the title of your book, I understood immediately that it was going to be a legend of some type. I was really glad you said that earlier in the show. It really is—is quite a legend about Edgar.
Ann: And my question is, I was really—I also liked your device of giving a little history about Edgar's grandfather and his breeding program and the way you used correspondence with the—a Mr. Brooks from the—I can't remember the name of the German Shepherd breeding.
David: The Fortunate Fields project, yeah.
Oprah: The Fortunate Fields projects.
Ann: Yeah, so anyway, I was very interested in the correspondence between the two men about their ideas of kind of selecting—selective breeding and trying to perfect a breed, and I also noticed that it was set—these letters were set in like 1944. I think the last one was 1944. So I was interested in was there any deliberate attempt to draw a correlation between what was going on in—and I know they were talking about breeding German Shepherds. So I didn't know if there was some deliberate attempt to compare what was going on in Nazi Germany with kind of trying to develop the superior race.
David: Oh, interesting question. And I have to say that Daphne is the—is the most relaxed person on camera ever.
Ann: I'm sorry, Almondine would never pose like this.
Oprah: I know.
David: She's very relaxed.
Oprah: Oh, gosh.
David: So the answer to your question is no, actually. There was no intent on my part to draw any connection to Nazi Germany or any of that. In fact, I tried as hard as I could over the course of the story to sort of wall off the outside world in every way.
Oprah: So 1944, you weren't trying to make a superior dog.
David: No. No. But it was drawing on the Fortunate Fields program, which was established in Switzerland back in the—like in 1925 and was the first attempt to breed—to scientifically breed dogs for behavior. To breed working dogs. And there's this very famous old book, it used to be out of print, it's now back in print, called Working Dogs by Humphrey and Warner, and Brooks is this fictional third author to that book. But I did read that book and drew on that experience to sort of integrate into the discussion of the breeding program, so...