From John Irving's Q & A with Athena McKenzie about his twelfth novel, Last Night in Twisted River:
Is it true that a Dylan song was the beginning idea for this novel? How?--Marshal Zeringue
No, it’s not true. I had been thinking of a story about a cook and his son for more than 15 years. I knew it began in a northern New England logging camp; I knew it was a fugitive novel, that both father and son were on the run. In Jan. 2005, I was driving in Vermont to a doctor’s appointment when I heard Dylan’s “Tangled Up in Blue” on my car CD player; this stanza jumped out at me, though I’d heard it many times before. “I had a job in the great north woods/working as a cook for a spell/but I never did like it all that much/ and one day the ax just fell.” By the time I got to my doctor’s office, I’d thought of the novel’s last sentence; seven months later, I got the first sentence. I always work that way — back to front. The Dylan song was enhancing, but hardly the beginning idea.
Why do you start with the last line or paragraph?
In twelve novels, that’s how it goes. I write endings first, then work my way backwards through the plot to where the novel should begin. When I get the first sentence, which comes last, I can then begin writing the book. By then, I know the whole story; it is as if the story has already happened and I am simply remembering it. That way, I can concentrate on the language. I’m not distracted by what’s going to happen — I know what’s going to happen! I can just concentrate on...[read on]