Richard Ford…

was born in Jackson, Mississippi, on this date in 1944. As they often do, The Writer’s Almanac has a nice essay on Ford, one of NewMexiKen’s favorites.

[Ford is] best known as the author of the novels The Sportswriter (1985) and Independence Day (1995). He has said that one of the reasons he became a writer is that he was mildly dyslexic as a child and had to concentrate on words more intensely than most people. He also lived across the street from novelist and short story writer Eudora Welty, and his mother used to point her out to him as someone to look up to.

After his father had a heart attack, Ford went to live with his grandparents, who managed a hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas. He went to college to study hotel management, but when he got there he realized what he really wanted to do was read literature, and he switched his major to English. After college, he taught for a year, tried to join the Arkansas State Police, and spent a semester at law school. In 1968, he moved to New York City, got married, and decided on a whim to try to become a writer. He said he wanted to do something different, and “being a writer just seemed like a good idea. It was just casting off into the dark.”

Ford’s first novel, A Piece of My Heart, came out in 1976. He followed that up with The Ultimate Good Luck (1981). The two books together sold fewer than 12,000 copies, and Ford started thinking that maybe he wasn’t cut out for writing novels. He quit writing fiction and got a job as a sportswriter for Inside Sports magazine, covering baseball and college football. He liked his new job and would have kept at it if the magazine hadn’t…folded the following year. He didn’t have anything else to do, so he started writing a novel about a fiction writer who becomes a sportswriter after the death of his son. The Sportswriter was published as in 1986, and it was huge critical and popular success. He wrote in The Sportswriter, “I had written all I was going to write, if the truth had been known, and there is nothing wrong with that. If more writers knew that, the world would be saved a lot of bad books, and more people—men and women alike—could go on to happier, more productive lives.”

Ford’s 1995 novel Independence Day picks up where The Sportswriter left off, with the sportswriter now a realtor trying to connect with his wife and his teenage son. After Ford finished writing it, he read aloud the whole 700-page manuscript, twice. Just before it was going to be published, his editor mentioned offhand that there were quite a few verbs that ended in “-ly”. Ford agreed, and spent two weeks going back through the novel to change all the “-ly” verbs he could. All of his work paid off: Independence Day won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995.

Ford said, “If loneliness is the disease, the story is the cure.”

“Though finally the worst thing about regret is that it makes you duck the chance of suffering new regret just as you get a glimmer that nothing’s worth doing unless it has the potential to fuck up your whole life.” Independence Day