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BEA Writing Advice from Richard Russo and John Irving

irvingrusso.JPGA massive crowd gathered around a BEA stage this morning for a headline event that featured novelists John Irving and Richard Russo in conversation with journalist Charles McGrath. GalleyCat covered the panel, following a reader request.

The two novelists focused primarily on writing craft, explaining how they conceived their books. Irving said his upcoming novel “Last Night in Twisted River” was inspired by Bob Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue,” and explained his method: “I always begin with last sentence and work myself backwards to what the first sentence should be.” Russo said he chooses characters carefully: “I don’t want to spend four or five years in the company of bores. I surround myself with characters I care about.”

Both writers explored early influences. Irving explained: “As a young writer in his 20s, I felt like a dinosaur. It was Dickens, Hardy, and Melville that made me want to be a writer. You can’t worry about being on the right or wrong side of taste. Russo concurred: “In grad school, everybody was reading the meta-fiction writers…but it wasn’t what I wanted to be good at…It was hard to find my voice. I latched on to Richard Yates like a lifeline.”

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