On Monday night I was eager to hear what David Guterson had to say because I’d gladly include his first novel, Snow Falling on Cedars, on my Top 100 All-Time Favorites list — if I had such a list.
I found myself noting what NOT to do while on my imagined book tour.
Amiable and better looking than his author photos suggest, Guterson launched into a bit of a rant that had me puzzled: What was all this about his luxurious hotel room, the absurd bounty that comes with being born an American, and our “world system predicated on the exploitation of….” I found myself reading the jacket copy of his latest novel, The Other. Others were looking a little dazed.
I didn’t disagree with his politics, but I was there to listen to a writer talk about his craft, his latest novel, his inspirations.
Lesson #1: Don’t get too political out of the chute, and keep politics to a minimum in any case.
It was only after he’d gone on for a bit that he mentioned that he’d actually been describing the worldview of one of his main characters. Character development: now that interested me.
Lesson #2: Mention the connection to the novel before diving into deep topics; keep deep topics on point with novel.
After the reading, he was asked how he “overcame” the phenomonal success of Snow Falling on Cedars. Guterson began his answer with, “All human beings are always changing….” and rambled for awhile.
Lesson #3: Answer questions directly. Keep high-level mumbo-jumbo to a minimum.
Lest I sound too negative, let me hereby admit that I enjoyed glancing at Guterson’s pretty face while noting down these cool tidbits:
- On using significant others as readers: He noted that in the early days, his wife read too much into the writing — as a negative indicator of their marriage, for example — and that her sensitivity caused him anxious moments while writing.
- On this, his most autobiographical novel: The idealistic character mentioned above represents one aspect of Guterson, which conflicts with the part of him that enjoys luxurious hotel rooms. The novel is a fictional exploration of this “schism.”
- On his bad reviews: He has plenty of positive reviews, but also bad ones. How refreshing to hear a novelist cop to bad reviews — he didn’t seem to care too much either. Still, that’s gotta be hard. A thick skin is always good.
- On his ideas: His novel ideas often stem from things that cause him the most pain. (Jodi Picoult said much the same thing at her reading.)
And get this: He first got published by sending a set of 10 stories to three publishers (no agent!) with a letter that said something like, Dear editor, here are my stories if you want to publish them. Don’t we wish it was still that easy?