Tobias Wolff: “Tell the truth.”

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At Kepler's in 2008 (Photo: Mark Coggins)

Acclaimed novelist Tobias Wolff shares his own evolutionary path in the Los Altos Town Crier this week.

“The first step to becoming a writer is to be a reader,” Wolff said. “I remember being huddled under the blankets with a flashlight reading Albert Payson Terhune. I loved those collies. Being able to see the world through the eyes and the mind of a dog captivated me. I read all his books.”

As a boy, Wolff was also taken with with the works of Jack London.  “I was so enthusiastic that I changed my name to Jack,” he said. “I was writing all the time and began to try to imitate London’s style. I learned a writer reads differently. He notices the form, language, sense of character and voice.”

In fact, he said:

“You need to imitate until you find your voice,” he told the audience. “It’s just like listening to great music before you play. I assign my students an essay to be written in the style of Henry James,” he said. “One of the most difficult parts of writing a book is selecting names for your characters. They need to fit like a suit of clothes.”

His final advice to those writing memoirs:  “Tell the truth.”


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