Franzen’s signature glasses were stolen right from over his nose at a literary event in London. During a Freedom book launch, two 20-somethings crashed the party, lifted the spectacles, left a $100,000 ransom note and ran. A (successful) police chase immediately ensued. Glasses thief James Fletcher later wrote in explanation, “I’d mentioned several times to my accomplice how much I admired Franzen’s frames and thought that they deserved to be the subject of a hostage-ransom situation” (GQ, October 2010).
Franzen guest-starred on an episode of The Simpsons along with other well-known authors Tom Wolfe, Gore Vidal and Fanzen’s good friend (and Readings and Conversations 2009-2010 season author) Michael Chabon. While they appear together on a literary panel, at one point in the episode Chabon exclaims, “That’s it, Franzen! I think your nose needs some corrections!” After Chabon’s fighting words the two animated authors begin pummeling each other.
Franzen studied at Freie Universität in Berlin as a Fulbright scholar and speaks fluent German. In 1986 he was paid $50 by Swarthmore College’s theater department to write an English translation of Frank Wedekind’s play Spring Awakening. Twenty years later, after being deeply disappointed by a Broadway musical version of the play, Franzen published his long-shelved translation.
Thousands of copies of Franzen’s latest novel, Freedom, were distributed in the United Kingdom starting in October of last year. Unfortunately, those thousands of copies omitted more than 200 changes Franzen had made to the manuscript. Publisher HarperCollins tried to do a recall but many copies had already sold.
UK’s The Guardian asked Franzen to list ten indispensable rules for fiction writers (February 2010). The full article can be found here, with other author responses including a list by 2007-2008 season Readings and Conversations author Richard Ford. Here are Franzen’s suggestions:
- The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
- Fiction that isn't an author's personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn't worth writing for anything but money.
- Never use the word "then" as a conjunction – we have "and" for this purpose. Substituting "then" is the lazy or tone-deaf writer's non-solution to the problem of too many "ands" on the page.
- Write in the third person unless a really distinctive first-person voice offers itself irresistibly.
- When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.
- The most purely autobiographical fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more autobiographical story than "The Metamorphosis".
- You see more sitting still than chasing after.
- It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.
- Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.
- You have to love before you can be relentless.