Joyce Carol Oates drew one of Saturday’s largest crowds in the House Chamber during the Texas Book Festival. She started by reading the beginning of “Mastiff,” one of the stories from her new collection, “Lovely, Dark, Deep” and then presented a look into the thought process of assembling a book of short stories.
Overall, Oates said, her writing is informed by relationships. “I believe in sudden, almost radiant accidents between people. My stories are about characters and relationships rather than settings.”
When asked what advice she had for aspiring writers, she said, “Young writers and young artists of any kind don’t take advice. But just to be polite sometimes, they should take advice.” Then she switched to what she really would advise: “Doing a lot of reading and reading obsessively and happily. Travel to someplace that you wouldn’t ordinarily go. Your brain is actually working much harder when you’re in a different situation.”
Perhaps the most moving revelation of the session was when she was asked about her mother’s being adopted. Oates had no inkling about that until she was in fifties and her mother finally told her about it. Oates then went on to write the novel “Missing Mom” –– “ It was a little sentimental, but I thought why not?”
She closed with the story behind the story that got her into trouble: the Robert Frost story, which is the titular story of the collection. “I wrote a story about an old man who was nasty but kind of funny and a genius.” People at the Robert Frost estate were not happy and fired off some pointed letters. But as it turned out, she had received letters from people who knew Frost who said, “That’s exactly how he was!”