Richard Ford, the celebrated author of The Sportswriter and Independence Day, is about to release the third book in that trilogy, called How Was It To Be Dead? Ford talked to the New Yorker about, among other things, why he decided to make the main character of those books a real estage agent:
Frank is a Realtor, and a large portion of the novel, if not of this excerpt, is taken up with his thoughts on real estate and on what constitutes a home for Frank’s various friends and clients. Is real estate an obsession of yours (or of America’s)?
I can only say (since the word “obsession” seems sort of unpleasant) that real estate must be something I’m interested in—again, at a very primary level of impulse. I made Frank a Realtor, in “Independence Day,” because I needed to give him a new vocation, something different from being a sportswriter, which he was in the prior book. Giving characters a line of work is a way to make them begin to be plausible to me. The vocation I chose had to be one that a person could enter in midlife without a lot of preparation, because I didn’t want to write about that preparation. Realty is such a job. I also liked the working vocabulary of real estate; it seemed both serious—because practitioners take it seriously—and often very funny.
The way in which real estate connects to our national spirit in America came along entirely fortuitously. I was writing a paragraph about what it feels like to live in a town where housing prices are falling. And, in the process of thinking about that, I just expanded my frame of reference to include the larger human condition.