Oprah: Was she strong? Was she strong?

David: That's a really good—I think she's—I think she's both strong and very flawed.

Oprah: I was going to say, she was very flawed. Very vulnerable. I considered that the big weakness that she couldn't see through Claude. That she couldn't—that she would do that, that she, you know, that her love for Edgar wasn't strong enough to overcome her, you know, desires or whatever.

David: Yeah. But I also think that particularly in fiction, which heightens things anyway, people have who have great strength also have great weaknesses.

Oprah: Yeah.

David: That balance those strengths. And I think of struggle as a very strong character but blinded—but blinded by her—by her weaknesses at the same time.

Oprah: Yes. Yeah. Yeah.

David: So she's not—she's not modeled on any one particular person. I have known a lot of strong women in my life and people I've enjoyed working with and so on. My mother was a very traditional housewife and mother. She worked in a house most of the time, although she worked outside the house, so she's not modeled on my mother in any way. I just felt like I was too close to those people, and that's why I say I sort of evacuated our land and put all new people in.

Oprah: Yeah. Even to the point of the name of Edgar.

David: Right.

Oprah: You just—you liked that name and it was a name—

David: I liked that name, yes. I knew that when I started the book because I wanted to draw on Hamlet. I wanted a name for the main character that had two syllables and in some way sounded like Hamlet. Had a soft beginning, started with a vowel or a soft consonant and was two syllables and so on. So there's Edgar, Edwin or Oscar, words like that. I happened to like Edgar because I didn't know anybody named Edgar, so I didn't have any preconceived notions about it.

Oprah: Yeah.

David: Part of what—honestly what influenced my choice of Trudy, or my characterization of Trudy, is Gertrude in Hamlet. She's a mysterious character in that story. She has also great strength and yet she makes decisions about how to behave that are hard to explain. So those were all parts of the mix.

Oprah: Well, Jocelyn, thank you so much.

Jocelyn: Oh, you're welcome.

David: Thank you.

Oprah: I know you'll be reading because the thing about the Kindle is you end up reading more books than you thought you could even at one time. I used to be a one of a—one-at-a-time kind of reader, and I find that I do two or three at a time now.

Jocelyn: It makes it too easy to buy books now, man. I keep buying those books.

Oprah: I know, it's fantastic. Thank you so much for your support all these years.

Jocelyn: Thank you, Oprah.

Oprah: You must have quite a little library now.

Jocelyn: Yes, I do.

Oprah: That's great.

Jocelyn: Yes, I do. I've been buying a lot. So if you need any book recommendations, Oprah, call me.

Oprah: I will, yeah, because it's hard to find one after this one. It really is. For a while it was hard to read anything after Edgar Sawtelle. And where did the name Sawtelle come from?  

David: I don't know. I know I heard it on the radio when I was driving home from work one day, but I don't know in what context. So many people have asked me. I've been told that it's a more unusual name than Wroblewski, believe it or not. Which is hard to believe, isn't it?

Oprah: Yeah.

David: So it may be—it may be that I heard a reference to the Sawtelle district in Los Angeles. There's a blue grass musician named Charles Sawtelle. And perhaps I heard a reference to him. I don't know what was on the radio at all. All I know is I had been—I had been wondering, "What am I going to—what are these people's names?" I knew their first names, but I didn't know their last name, and it was about a 15-minute commute home and I heard it in the car shortly after I got on the road, and by the time I parked in the driveway, it was Sawtelle. It was Edgar Sawtelle. And I've never—it never—never seemed like it could be anything else after that.

Oprah: So let's talk about the parallels between Edgar Sawtelle and Hamlet. You were talking about how—

David: Yeah.

Oprah: —how Trudy modeled after Gertrude. You decided before you began writing the book that that's what you were going to do?

David: Yes. Yes.

Oprah: Really.

David: However, I should qualify that because the original idea was to draw on the story of Hamlet. Not the—not the play, necessarily, but the story. And the story goes back longer than the play. The story of Hamlet is actually—when the play was written, it was—it was drawing on a legend that was older than Shakespeare's time than Hamlet is in our time. So it's a very, very old legend. It's quite different, in many ways, than Hamlet, the old legend. So I wanted a—I wanted to draw on it very loosely and I also wanted to draw not just on Hamlet but on Shakespearean tragedy. Other plays like Romeo & Juliet. Like Othello. Like Lear and so on. In various ways. And I thought of them taken together as a sort of palette that I could draw from.

Oprah: So did you think that first and then this conception—this conceptual idea came to you that afternoon? What came first?

David: They came pretty much together.

Oprah: Did the package come—did the package come?

David: It was part of the package. There was the dogs, drawing on the story of Hamlet, it was muteness and it was five-act structure was the final part of that.



Next Story