Woodberry Forest students had the chance to question author Louis Bayard about his writing career during an all-school assembly April 11.
Many of the students had recently read one of Bayard’s short stories, Banana Triangle Six, in the days before he visited campus at the invitation of Jennifer Hubbard, Woodberry’s writer in residence and a member this year of the English Department.
Bayard, who teaches creative writing at George Washington University, published his ninth novel, Courting Mr. Lincoln, earlier this week.
Bayard describes himself as “an accidental historical novelist and accidental mystery writer. His first novel, Mr. Timothy, focused on a grownup Timothy Cratchit — better known to readers at “Tiny Tim” in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
The author found he enjoyed visiting the past and mixing together fact and fiction.
“So I asked myself, what author can I drag out of the graveyard and force to collaborate with me,” he told students and faculty. “I believe there’s a universal appeal to the mystery genre, because we like puzzles. The human mind likes to be active, and this is the appeal of TV shows like CSI and NCIS.”
When answering questions submitted by students, Bayard said he rarely outlines his stories and that he does rewrites as he goes along rather than completing a first draft and going back to revise. He also told the boys that adverbs are his least favorite part of speech, noting that “if you have a really good verb, which is my favorite part of speech, and adverb is often unnecessary.”
Bayard also told the students how to spot bad writing, from themselves or others.
“Bad writing is inauthentic or untruthful writing,” he said. “It’s OK for your writing to be raw or messy as long as it is real.”