When an author completes a novel, do the lives of the characters continue in the writer’s mind? If you write a novel that jumps around in time, is that the way you planned it, or did you mix up the chapters after outlining the plot? As an author, do you still get the chance to read, and if so, what?
|Students Hear Acclaimed Authors Speak at McKinney Awards Ceremony
These were some of the questions Rensselaer students asked of The English Patient author Michael Ondaatje and his wife, novelist/poet Linda Spalding, during a question-and-answer session on April 14 as part of the 69th annual McKinney Writing Contest awards ceremony.
Ondaatje and Spalding obliged, often contradicting one another and drawing light laughter with their answers. Yes, Ondaatje does think of his characters after the book is done, and in at least one case a character from a previous book has appeared in a subsequent one: Caravagio, the thief in the English Patient, appeared previously in his novel Skin of a Lion.
The McKinney Writing Contest was created in 1941 as an opportunity for graduate and undergraduate students at Rensselaer to display their original works of fiction, drama, poetry, essay, and, more recently, electronic or mixed media.
This year, students submitted more than 200 entries.
Ondaatje, who still pens his novels in longhand, said he writes in the way that people think a thought here, a thought there, until the story emerges. His wife posited another approach, pointing out that her husband, when writing, is constantly surrounded by loose papers, which may allow him to shuffle the narrative.
And the couple said they do read, as often as possible. In particular, Spaulding and Ondaatje recommended the works of John Ehle, whom Ondaatje called “a great American novelist.” Ehle’s books, which were largely published in the 1950s and ’60s, are frequently set in Appalachia and the American Southwest.
The event continued in the evening with an awards ceremony and reading by Ondaatje and Spalding.
The McKinney Writing Contest was created in 1941 as an opportunity for graduate and undergraduate students at Rensselaer to display their original works of fiction, drama, poetry, essay, and, more recently, electronic or mixed media. This year, students submitted more than 200 entries.
The McKinney contest traditionally includes author readings. Ondaatje’s novel, The English Patient, was awarded the Booker Prize, and later made into an Academy Award-winning film. Ondaatje’s most recent nonfiction work is The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film and his latest novel is Divisadero (2007), which won the Governor-General’s Award.
Spalding is the author of three critically acclaimed novels, Daughters of Captain Cook, The Paper Wife, and Mere. Who Named the Knife, her most recent work, is a memoir about her relationship with a woman serving a life sentence.
A list of McKinney Writing Contest winners can be found online at www.llc.rpi.edu/pl/mckinney-contest-prizes.