Anna Quindlen gave up a thriving journalism career that included a Pulitzer Prize to write novels and personal nonfiction.
Perhaps best known for "One True Thing" -- which became a 1998 film with Meryl Streep and Renee Zellweger -- Quindlen produced six novels that have been acclaimed for their fine writing and strong characterizations. Like Anne Tyler, she turns intimate domestic matters into powerful tales that strike universal chords in readers.
Quindlen's seventh novel -- "Still Life with Bread Crumbs" (Random House, $26) -- will be in stores and available online on Jan. 28.
I recently had the opportunity to conduct an email interview with the writer:
Q: On one level "Still Life with Bread Crumbs" seems to be about the way that moving out of our comfort zones can radically change our lives (and our vision of what our life could/should be). Have you ever pushed yourself to do something like this?
A: Yes, of course. There was a period during which I left one great job after another -- deputy metro editor of the Times, columnist on the Op Ed page. I finally wound up throwing in my lot with full-time fiction writing. If that's not outside of any human comfort level, I don't know what is. But I think the key to growing professionally is to scare yourself every couple of years. That's what I've done over and over again.
Q: People these days seem to have no trouble talking about their most intimate activities -- and sharing them on Facebook and Twitter -- but few discuss their relationship with money. Many of us have no idea of what salaries our friends are earning or what their credit card balances might be. Did you have any sense of violating a taboo when you made Rebecca's financial anxiety a key part of the novel?
A: People think about money all the time, especially if they don't have any, or enough. There is definitely a taboo, though: look at Rebecca. She doesn't admit to anyone that the reason she is moving to this Godforsaken cottage is that she's low on cash. But I didn't feel as though I was violating a taboo when I wrote about it because I was inside Rebecca's head as I wrote. As the novel suggests, she is running numbers all the time in her efforts to stay afloat, and therefore so was I.
Q: Speaking of money, Rebecca's role as an artist in New York is under assault by her financial situation. Is New York no longer the artists' haven it has been for so many years?
A: It's never been a haven for artists, only a temporary home. When I had my first apartment I was on the fringes of Soho, which at the time was a fantastic place for cheap artists' housing. Then the inevitable happened; the artists made it cool, and the cool attracted the boutiques and the people with money. The artists got pushed out. That happens over and over again in New York. The city is rife with trendy neighborhoods that painters and musicians colonized and from which they've been pushed out by rising rents.Read Full Article
Q: Why did you make Rebecca a photographer?
A: I was fascinated by the difference between seeing the world in two dimensions and in three. I think about it all the time, when I look at photographs and films and all the things on the Internet. Flattening things out, giving them sharp simple edges, makes it easier for us to apprehend them at a threshold level and harder to understand them deeply and thoroughly. At some level Rebecca has had a two-dimensional life, and the changes she makes when she moves out of the city enable her to see the world more completely.
Q: There has been a lot of controversy on Internet book sites lately over the notion of readers being able to identify with the characters in novels (i.e., the Jennifer Weiner vs. Clare Messud dust-up). What's your take on this flap? Should we want to go out for drinks with the protagonists in the novels we read?
A: There's a difference between being able to identify with a character and wanting to go out for a drink with that character. The trick of the fiction writer is to make the reader understand and resonate to someone utterly different than she or he is. I don't think I want to have a drink with Alexander Portnoy, for example, or Cathy in "East of Eden," or Serena in Ron Rash's excellent novel. But I get them all. A part of me, perhaps a small part of me but a part nonetheless, responds to who they are. That's what makes for great fiction.
Q: Do you ever miss journalism?
A: I miss newsrooms. If there is a heaven, I will wake up in a place with a sea of desks and the sound of people's fingers hitting keyboards very very fast. But do I want to go back and be a daily reporter? No. My work today better suits my life today. I do get itchy when a big story breaks, but then I just follow it obsessively and admire the work of my younger colleagues.
Q: Will there be newspapers in 10 years?
Q: Is there a novel you've read recently that you would like to recommend?
A: I've just discovered the work of a writer named P.G. Sturges, who has three novels about a character called the Shortcut Man. I suppose you would call them comic noir. He reminds me a bit of Elmore Leonard. Irresistible, really. And the new Doctorow is fantastic. But that's like saying the Alps are mountainous.
Q: What's next for you?
A: I'm going to go downstairs and make lunch for my son Quin. He's writing a novel on the first floor, and I'm writing one on the fifth floor, and we meet on the second floor for lunch. I'm the luckiest woman, and novelist, on earth.
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