Q&A with Ron McLarty
How much did your own life experience influence the creation of your characters and drive the plot of THE MEMORY OF RUNNING?
My parents had a car accident while visiting me at a vacation spot in Maine. I stayed at a motel between my mother’s trauma center and my father’s neurological hospital. Between visits, I wrote THE MEMORY OF RUNNING as a play. After their deaths, I expanded it into novel form. Like in all of my work, I try to explain the world and its affect on me. I have always felt that writing is a deeply personal thing and not a road to wealth and happiness. In terms of my characters, although I start from my own experience, I seem to let my characters go from my control. They wrote their own stories from their own points of view.
Although Stephen King calls Smithy Ide, “a smokes-too-much, drinks-too-much, eats-too-much heart attack waiting to happen,” he also posits that your protagonist Smithson Ide, “is an American original, worthy of a place on the shelf just below your Hucks, your Holdens, and your Yossarians.” What do you think of his impressions?
I appreciate his impressions although I must say that I don’t think Smithy Ide is a shelf lower than Yossarian or Caulfield. And who could be on par with Huck Finn anyway?
How has your acting career shaped your life as a writer? Do you think acting has made writing easier because you have a better understanding of real characters? Now that your writing career has taken off with flying colors, will you continue to act?
Acting has been my entrée into the world. Not just creating roles but the energy that swirls around each varying project, starts me up. But it’s also a calling that requires permission to do it. If your career is a hill then the mountain next to it is the rejections accrued. Writing was something that I didn’t need permission to do. It’s why, I think all my work, is different. No rules. Nothing but myself and my imagination and memories…But writing has never been easy for me. If I work for, say, five or six hours in the morning, I might go through twenty five pages, but almost inevitably, I end a session with 5 or 6 I can use. I would prefer to only write I suppose, but I think it’s too late to change at my age. I need even the small order an acting career offers so that I don’t flab away the days.
Do you have a specific routine that helps you write? How has having insomnia shaped your writing process?
I write in the early morning, four or five hours. Later, if there’s time between auditions, I love the energy of the main reading room at the NY Public Library .To be able to get even a paragraph or a phrase, that feels right, down on paper in stolen time is a joy. I’ve always had what my mother called ‘short sleep,’ so over the years I’ve learned quasi meditations to give myself additional rest. I always have a pad and pencil next to me for when I ‘meditate’ upon a character or idea that’s been consuming me.
Stephen King acted as a catalyst in getting THE MEMORY OF RUNNING published, will you talk a little bit about this experience. How did it feel to finally get that call saying that it would be published?
I certainly am in Stephen King’s debt. How does one say thank you? We’ve talked and I’m determined to put my own good will out into the world as selflessly as he did for me. I will never forget being thunderstruck by the realization that I will finally have a chance in the writing arena. Yet everything comes with a price tag. I’m not the only writer to put everything he is onto paper and been told there’s no room at the inn. After I while, I gave up on sending work out—too difficult…Although I do believe it took kismet for my work to get any credibility, it’s important that I express how hard I labored over this novel. I learned from a myriad of failures. I found my voice, lost it and found it again. Sometimes, frankly, it’s discouraging to think that this and subsequent work will be viewed by many as luck, as if I sat down one day, popped a beer and scribbled it down…I still have 37 years of the whipped dog in me.