|IRVING Q & A|
|The following questions were submitted to John Irving via his publisher, Random House. The normally reclusive writer provided these responses while on vacation.|
|When you write the beginning of a novel, do you already have the ending in your head or does it only become clear after journeying with the characters?
Yes, I need to know what the end of the story is before I begin a novel. By the time I start to write the novel, I don't want to still be inventing the story; I want to be thinking only about the language or the next sentence, and the sentence after that. The process of imagining a whole story takes a year or eighteen months. I always begin with who the characters are and how and when their paths cross and recross.
What is your obsession with short people or dwarves (Lilly in THE HOTEL NEW HAMPSHIRE, Owen Meany, and the circus dwarves in A SON OF THE CIRCUS)?
I have no obsession with short people, at least not that I'm aware of. Often my characters are physically marked in some way-- that is more of a literary device (very Dickensian) than is a serious interpretation of human existence. Characters in my novels often have their specialness signaled in a physical form. Owen's voice (in addition to his size), Larch's sexual abstinence (and Jenny's in GARP), Melony's physical strength and unattractiveness. Lilly and Fuzzy Stone are both early terminal cases (to use a term from GARP); like Owen Meany, Fuzzy is described as being born too soon, the light actually passing through his thin ears.
What are the most common problems that translators have with your works in bringing them to other countries?
Certain Americanisms, expressions, slang, vulgarisms, expressions like the Under Toad, which rely on strictly English misunderstanding-- naturally, these give translators trouble. But the success of my novels in translations suggests that these problems are essentially small and surmountable. I sell more books in Germany than I do in the U.S. and Canada combined; I sell almost as many copies in France as I do in the U.S. And A WIDOW FOR ONE YEAR sold as many copies in the Netherlands as it did in the United States. More than half my writing income is from translations. I work pretty closely with many of my translators. Because translators have to read a work so closely they often catch errors that I and my American editor and copy-editor have missed.