The Story of Edgar Sawtelle Webcast Transcript
Oprah: Thank you. Thank you, Lori. Richard Skyping us from London, where I believe it's the middle of the night. Hi, Richard. Thanks for staying up with us.
Richard: Hello there. Oh, my pleasure. It's an honor to take part.
Oprah: And your question?
Richard: I wanted to ask David, but first of all, thank you for spending that 10 to 15 years it took you to come to grips with getting this novel finished because it's been a pleasure to read.
David: Thank you.
Richard: I noticed in the—in the blurb, the author's blurb at the back of the book that you had done an MFA in creative writing, and it's something that I've been in two minds about doing myself, so I just wanted to get your thoughts on first off what prompted you to undertake like a really structured and almost theoretical, very detailed study of the craft of fiction in that way, and in what ways did it help you?
David: Well, this is a great question, and we could probably talk for the rest of the night on this one thing. I'll tell you that I tried everything I could not to enter an MFA program, so I went to lots of other sources. I read a lot of other books on writing. I read, for instance, the Paris Review interviews with writers, which are this wonderful, wonderful archive of long and fascinating interviews. But there was a particular question I could not answer for myself. Once I started working on a novel, these things that I had been reading my entire life, and which felt like the most natural art form in the world, once I started to try and make one for myself, I couldn't understand how they could—a story that long, 200, 300, 500 pages, how could it hold together and be a single experience? I mean, it—it's almost like I—I stopped believing that a story that long could be coherent.
David: And so I started looking for—I thought there must be some technique or craft point that ties everything together. And I was looking—I was obviously looking in the wrong places. And it didn't stop me from writing. But what it—but I ended up with islands of text. So, eventually, I reached a point where I need to—I happen to believe pretty strongly in apprenticeship learning. Find somebody who's really good at what they're doing and watch them do it. And so the MFA program that I was—that I ultimately entered is a very one-on-one kind of program, and it allowed me to say to these people one after another, "How do you—you know, how do you solve this problem? Do you even see it as a problem? What do you do about it?" And I got different answers from all of them. But eventually the answer that I came up with for myself was that this braid structure that I talked about is the very thing that holds a novel together and there's not some—I used to call it middle—middle level, middle layer. That there's not some middle layer. There's all the details of individual scenes there's the—there's the overall arch of the story. But everything is twined together, and you can't point at any one thing and say, "Well, this is sort of a framework that makes this—makes this whole center section hold together or anything like that.
Oprah: Richard, thank you so much. Thank you, Richard.
Richard: Thank you.
Oprah: Thanks for staying up.
David: Thank you.
Oprah: We've got a couple of e-mails here. Renee Davis has a question about when your book is made into a movie, who do you see playing Gar, Trudy and Edgar.
Oprah: And what kind of dog should play Almondine? What kind of dogs should play the Sawtelle dogs. That's going to be a—
David: Really great question.
David: I have no idea. I have no idea. I think I—these are people that I have—I have—that are absolutely distinct individuals to me. So part of the exercise for me as the author is to let go of them a little bit and let somebody else inhabit those characters in film in this particular completely different medium. And actually the—the human characters are much easier for me than the Sawtelle dogs.
Oprah: I know.
David: Specifically because I think of the Sawtelle dogs as whatever you—whatever you, the reader, creates.
Oprah: And so now there's going to be a dog.
David: There's going to be a picture—
Oprah: Of a dog.
David: —of a particular dog there so that's going to be very tricky. So I don't know. And Almondine, I'm as fascinated as anyone could possibly be to see how Almondine gets cast.
Oprah: Well, Daphne may be a good one.
David: She had the spirit right.
Oprah: She had the spirit right.
Oprah: Really. Yeah, I look forward to making the—working creatively with Tom Hanks' company, Playtone, and my company and Universal to figure all that out.
Oprah: It's going to be a wonderful process. Okay, here is June from Dudley, Massachusetts. Did you give Edgar the power to see ghosts to compensate for his inability to speak?
David: Interesting question. I—not directly. But I—I think of them as connected. As I said earlier, I think of things that can set you apart, that can isolate you. One of them is speechlessness.
David: It makes you—it makes you a loner. It also makes you an observer, like I said. But also the whole idea of haunting has to do with being isolated. Because when you're haunted, you've been—nobody's haunted in a crowd. They're haunted all by themselves, right?