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The best preparation I could have had for a life as a novelist was life as a newspaper reporter. At a time when more impressionistic renderings of events were beginning to creep into the news pages, I learned to look always for the telling detail: the neon sign in the club window, the striped towel on the deserted beach. I learned to distinguish between those details that simply existed and those that revealed. Those telling details are the essence of fiction that feels real. The command of those details explains why Charles Dickens, a onetime reporter, has a byline for the ages.
I learned, from decades of writing down their words verbatim in notebooks, how real people talk. I learned that syntax and rhythm were almost as individual as a fingerprint, and that one quotation, precisely transcribed and intentionally untidied, could delineate a character in a way that pages of exposition never could. And I learned to make every word count. All those years of being given 1,200 words, of having the 1,200 pared to 900 at 3 o'clock: it teaches you to make the distinction between what is necessary and what is simply you in love with the sound of your own voice. The most important thing I ever do from an editing perspective is cut. I learned how to do that in newsrooms, where cutting is commonplace, swift, and draconian.
That’s where I learned about writer's block, too. People have writer's block not because they can't write, but because they despair of writing eloquently. That's not the way it works, and one of the best places to learn that is a newspaper, which in its instant obsolescence is infinitely forgiving. Jacques Barzun once wrote: "Convince yourself that you are working in clay, not marble, on paper, not eternal bronze: let that first sentence be as stupid as it wishes. No one will rush out and print it as it stands." Journalism is the professional embodiment of that soothing sentiment.
Of course, it is also the professional embodiment of fact-finding, and that, more than anything else, is why the notion of a journalist who is also a novelist perplexes readers. "I could never make it up," one of the very best reporters I've ever known said to me. But that notion of untrammeled invention becomes illusory after a while. If you manage to build characters from the ground up carefully, make them really real, your ability to invent decreases as their verisimilitude grows. Certain people will only behave in certain ways; certain behaviors will only lead to certain other behaviors. The entire range of possible events decreases as characters choose one road, not another. Plot is like a perspective drawing, its possible permutations growing narrower and narrower, until it reaches a fixed point in the distance. That point is the ending. Life is like that. Fiction is like life, at least if it is good. And I know life. I learned it as a newspaper reporter, and now I reflect that education as a novelist. --Anna Quindlen
There are far too many characters who aren't even integral to the story.
Anna has a way to take us into situations that can be quite uncomfortable and makes one feel so many different emotions all at once.
I loved the book because the characters were very well developed and likable and the story was intense.
Excellent and heart wrenching story that shows depth of characters and the resilient nature of humansPublished 10 hours ago by Jmac
Great read. Good character development, interesting plot. Crazy sad in a "worst fears" kind of way. Will pull your heart strings.Published 8 days ago by ABBY P LANE
Anna once again reaches high human notes, touching on family, that she knows so well. Heart-breaking and uplifting as well.Published 10 days ago by Lisa
Quindlen delivers another riveting novel about family relationships. The only reason I gave it 4 instead of 5 stars is because the story is so devastating--I'm not sure how she was... Read morePublished 15 days ago by Julie
I can't imagine dealing with losing 2 of my 3 children and my husband. Anna Quindlen made it seem so real, the horror, the struggle to start over again and make a food life for... Read morePublished 17 days ago by Sharon F. Lenox
Loved this unexpected story line…my only complaint was that I was distracted by what seemed like an over-focus on all things Ruby. Read morePublished 20 days ago by guest
A beautifully written, heart wrenching story about a woman dealing with the normal problems of raising a family & then enormous grief.Published 21 days ago by JoAnn Reding
Can't believe the mom did not see the need Ruby had to break free of Kiernan and the fallout of their break up. Read morePublished 22 days ago by Ellen M. French
This novel was not what I expected. The tragedy caught me off guard, yet somehow I knew something was going to happen. The writing was exemplary. Truly a sad, yet beautiful storyPublished 22 days ago by Cathleen Gwin