The author as editor

By Amy Brown

Until an author has the good fortune to land a publishing contract and an editor or, as many advise—the good sense to hire an editor—most of us need to become very good at being our own editors. I have worked as an editor as well as a writer of non-fiction (journalism and business writing) all of my career which has helped me look critically at my own work. Editing fiction, I’ve found, is a more nuanced process. Here is how my inner editor gets to work on strengthening my manuscript.

First drafts: Don’t write and edit at the same time. Write a chapter, then the next day go back and do a quick review of the most recent chapter. Make some general notes, not a line edit, i.e., it would be good to expand here and there. Reviewing the previous day’s work pulls you back into your story so it is easier to move forward.

Hone your opening: You’ve heard it before but the first two and last two chapters are the most important you will write—the first two especially. Get that hook in the first sentence. Revise and edit until you get it right. How do you know if beginning doesn’t work? A writing teacher once told me to have something happen immediately. Start the book 20 pages after you think it should start. It’s tempting to begin with a lot of exposition, “let me set the scene and present the character’s background.” This doesn’t work because life doesn’t work that way.

Ensure a character arc: Your readers need to attach to your characters: undeveloped or flat characters won’t do the trick. Even if the character is an anti-hero, there must be some characteristic that attracts a reader and makes them care enough to follow the journey. A character arc is equally important: ensure a midpoint in their development, an inciting incident, a conflict. Use this arc as an outline or diagnostic tool when you edit. The character must show some kind of growth or change by the end.

Staying in character: Avoid head hopping—that is, being inside more than one person’s head in one chapter (I am currently writing a YA novel with four main protagonists, often in the same scene—avoiding head hopping in such a structure is hard). But if you are inconsistent about this, you’ll confuse and potentially lose your reader.

 Dial up the dialogue: Getting dialogue to sound natural, authentic to each character and serve the purpose of moving your story forward is a challenge. Fake dialogue is a no-no. Read your dialogue out loud. Avoid having dialogue just to provide facts. Make it sound natural. I highly recommend eavesdropping. I do it to pick up the nuances of teen dialogue, even if it means eavesdroppingJ. Even tape it on your phone. Figure out the cadence your characters would have until it becomes natural to you. Keep dialogue tags simple, “he said”, or “she said.” Make sure the identity of the speaker is clear in every piece of dialogue.

Tracking tenses: Another possible quagmire. Choose the tense that comes naturally to your story and stick with it. If you change tenses, make sure you’ve corrected everything before you submit it anywhere. Writers often trial tenses before they find the one that best suits that piece of work. Write 500 words in one tense, then try it in another tense.

 

Around the world: In my current novel, three of my four main characters are from different European countries; a secondary character is from the Middle East. Writing characters from different cultures who have different languages or accents is a definite challenge and if it is not your own culture, do your research. When you first introduce a character, make sure that accent is evident, and then once in a while, introduce a phrase in dialogue so that reader is reminded of that accent again. If foreign words are used, one way to approach it is, “In French, she said to me…”

Sharpen language: Avoid modifiers like “very”  and eliminate groups of two or more adjectives. Avoid adverbs (which end in “ly” ). Use the active rather than passive tense, i.e., instead of “She commanded the attention of the room,” the better sentence is “I felt her presence before I saw her.”  Keep an eye out for awkward phrasing, ie., “She put the shoes on her feet,” as opposed to where? Use this “as opposed to…” phrase as a test to weed out unnecessary obvious things. Be careful using technology references; use generic terms when possible, i.e., cell phone, car, laptop or computer. Beware two words that mean the same thing: “She grinned happily.” Never use the ‘s’, i.e., “towards,” or “backwards.”

Other common errors: “Farther” is physical distance; “further” is a dimension of time. Affect vs. effect/Beside and besides/Lay or lie/Who and whom/There and Their. Learn how to use commas, ellipsis and an em dash properly. Consult the Chicago Manual of Style or your preferred grammar guide.

Make description count: Make sure you’re not accidentally writing a laundry list, i.e., “She walked into the classroom wearing a white T-shirt, blue jeans and red sneakers” doesn’t give the insight into the character or scene that this alternative would: “In her white T-shirt, blue jeans and red sneakers, she was the only student not wearing a uniform.” Don’t give a driver’s license type of description of your character. Your reader wants to see and inhabit a place. Describe it as you were walking into that situation. Explain without seeming to explain.

Weed out repetition: We all have favorite words or image. You can do a search and replace when you notice this, but some of this will go undetected as hard as we try. An editor can help with this.

Simplify, simplify, simplify: It is tempting, especially as new writers, to overwrite. Make sure you take time to streamline your work. For example, one does not “ascend a staircase,” and if your character decides to lie down, don’t have her “recline.”

A satisfying ending:  The end of story is as important as the beginning. You may have loved a movie right until the end, but if you hate the ending, it’s the worst movie you’ve ever seen. This doesn’t have to mean a formula of hero wins the day or the villain dies but some conflict has to be resolved and loose ends tied up. Make sure you have a resolution to the plot and the emotional arc of your main characters.

If there’s one editing rule of thumb that should guide you above all: don’t let your reader fall out of the dream of the story you’re creating. As you revise and revise again, look for moments where your own attention flags. Choose some valued beta readers to read the manuscript, to report back when they “fall out of the dream,” and ask them to be honest with you. Consider their feedback carefully; look for common themes and weigh it against your own gut feelings about what you need to do to make your fictional world soar.

Devote enough passion and dedication to your editing and you’ll reap the reward of satisfied readers—and just maybe that agent or publishing contract.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Words. Words. Words.

by Alexa Padgett

Words. Words. Words.

 Hamlet informs another that’s what he’s reading. And we’re still reading them—those little or enormous or hard to pronounce words that help us shape our concepts and constructs of reality. Of personhood. Of self.

And that’s what I want to focus on today: words and how we use them unconsciously.

I heard an ad for next week’s Hidden Brain podcast that crystallized a thought I’d been trying to glean: when we give any word a gender, we change the words we use to describe said word. The example used in the advert was “bridge.” When a bridge is female in a language, then it is described as beautiful, elegant, etc., but if a bridge is masculine, we tend to describe it as strong, sturdy, etc.

 A side note: if you listen to the podcast, you might find I paraphrased the word-choice above. In my defense, I had a chatty seven-year-old in the car talking about Wonder Woman’s inability to fly while the ad was on. So…yeah, this is what my brain must plow through to have a thought.

What does it mean to be a man today? That’s the premise of the Death, Sex, and Money podcast titled Manhood, Now.

 Seems a relevant topic for us all in light of the Me, Too movement. That podcast—and the survey created in conjunction with 538 peaked my interest, which, in turn, lead me back to one of my favorite books of my youth, The Catcher in the Rye. Published in 1951, Holden Caulfield talks about masculinity and manhood thus:

“Every time you mention some guy that’s strictly a bastard— very mean, or very conceited and all— and when you mention it to the girl, she’ll tell you he has an inferiority complex. Maybe he has, but that still doesn’t keep him from being a bastard, in my opinion.”

 Succinct and still spot-on, in my opinion.

Now, to bring this back around to writing today…I write in a variety of genres. Urban fantasy, mystery, and romance are my main three. Each is its own type of story—its own fantasy I’m weaving for a specific reader. Those words, on paper, create something someone else can enjoy, get lost in, maybe learn a bit about themselves or their culture. So…I wondered what a modern writer had to say about men and masculinity—about the words that surround the idea of personhood? A lot apparently.

 A recent quote that stuck out as I listened to the Manhood, Now podcast is from John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down: “I is the hardest word to define.”

Then, now, always will “I” be challenging to define. Because I is me and I am not you. Stephen King wrote, “The mind can calculate, but the spirit yearns, and the heart knows what the heart knows.”

I think this is the crux of the matter. We assign gender and connotations to words based on previous generations’ culture. I’ve read my kids the Magnus Chase series by Rick Riordan, which has a gender fluid character, Alex Fierro. I like Alex, especially this exchange:

“So can I ask…?” I waved my hands vaguely. I didn’t have the words.

“How it does work?” She smirked. “As long as you don’t ask me to represent every gender-fluid person for you, okay? I’m not an ambassador. I’m not a teacher or a poster child. I’m just”—she mimicked my hand-waving—“me. Trying to be me as best I can.” 

Aren’t we all? As writers, as people. This world is confusing and often painful, maybe even profoundly depressing.

Here’s the conclusion I came to after dropping off the chatty seven-year-old at soccer camp (“Mom, how come girls don’t get the same recognition on the Olympics as boys? Is it because women look weaker?”): We are never free from previous generations use of words or from those generations’ strictures. We can spin 180 degrees, we can negate former ideals, but those histories, those years and decades and centuries of meaning assigned to words, assigned to gender, remain.

 But it’s what we, the storytellers, of today do with those words, with their past connotations and their potential futures, that matter—that have intrinsic and sometimes remarkable value.

Finding a character’s voice

When fictional characters jump off the page and seem to be sitting right beside you in conversation, you’re under the spell of a distinctive voice. It’s the magic that happens when a character’s voice lingers in your head long after you’ve put down the book.

Dialogue is an essential part of that voice. It conveys what a character is like; it can also embed conflict. A character speaking reveals a whole world of information: gender, race, nationality or other background information, socio-economic status, geographical location, humor, emotion, body language, beliefs, interests, passions, attitudes and that character’s own idiosyncratic way of speaking. There is a rhythm and cadence to language, a musicality, that can make your character sound like no one else.

Skilled writers create subtext in dialogue: that is, they show us what the character wants versus what the character says they want. The author is looking to craft (and the reader is turning the pages to discover this very thing) a moment of epiphany for that character: an internal realization that leads to an external resolution.

Author Ta-Nehisi Coates believes that good fiction is all about voice. He writes: “Pride and Prejudice, for me, is all about voice. I don’t find Mr. Darcy gripping at all, except when the Austen’s narrator is describing him. It is as though she is letting me on a secret. Ditto for Edith Wharton in The Age of Innocence. The voice belongs to society insider, one who believes in all of its trappings but also loves to gossip about its hypocrisies. It is as if the voice is saying to you—’If you don’t have anything good to say, come sit by me.’ Same with Moby Dick and the vagabond intellectual Ishmael. Same with The Great Gatsby and its everyman, Nick Carraway.

“In fiction, if you like the person telling you the story—which is to say the voice, not the author—you generally will let them tell you a story,” says Coates.

The novel I am currently reading, A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson, is a dazzling tour de force,  full of rich voices, each distinct from one another and unique onto themselves. The book covers almost a century, tracks four generations, and is rich in scenes and characters and incidents.

The novel jumps constantly from past to present, alternating different characters’ perspectives on the same event. Only the most skilled author can take the reader on that kind of journey, and weave together so many voices seamlessly.

In this NPR interview, Atkinson talks about how she crafts characters at all stages of life. She says, “I think as human beings we don’t just live in this moment, but the whole of our lives we’re dragging with us — aren’t we — and we’re constantly thinking about the past and what it was like and what we were like as children and what our parents were like. So I think in a novel it’s more pointed, you kind of go, ‘Oh, now they’re talking about 80 years in the future or something,’ but I think that is how we think.”

As a writer, I’m constantly listening for my characters’ unique and authentic voices. And when I hear it, I know I’ve unlocked the key to my character’s story. I let them tell it—and try my best to get out of the way.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Club Characters

By Foday Mannah

In my early days as a teacher, we ran a book group for senior pupils. We decided to choose novels that were quite diverse and examined various aspects of life and the world we lived in. We met fortnightly to have loose discussions on aspects of plot, setting, historical context etc. However, it soon became clear that characterisation was the aspect that drove most of our discussions, whilst obviously not being mutually exclusive from the other components of the texts.

One of our decisions was to have a Scottish novel on our list; we therefore chose Alan Warner’s Morvern Callar. Warner’s lucid and riveting presentation of his eponymous character  grabbed the imaginations of us all from the get go especially as her actions were warped and highly unconventional – upon realising that her boyfriend has committed suicide leaving behind the manuscript for a novel that is to be published posthumously, Morvern simply disposes of the body in a macabre manner before affixing her name to the manuscript, thereby claiming the novel as her own. In essence therefore, characterisation drives plot as our young readers were justifiably appalled at Morvern’s actions whilst also being fascinated at how the rest of her life unfolds.

Another of the books we studied was Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart which examines the advent of colonialism and the catastrophic effect it has on Igbo society in Nigeria. The protagonist is Okonkwo, whose personal tragedy aptly mirrors the disintegration of his society. Again, Achebe’s etching of Okonkwo is mesmerising – the man who achieved personal success through sheer determination and hard work, whilst also being consumed by a crippling insecurity that sees him bearing a hand in the harrowing murder of Ikemefuna, the young boy from another village who lived in his household.

And then we also read Atonement by Ian McEwan with Briony Tallis the character who was extensively analysed in our discussions; she received little sympathy from our young group several of whom dismissed her as a devious brat whose actions ruined lives.

In high school and indeed university one of the key components of studying literature often involved analysing characters. A university lecturer from back in the day often spoke about “the growth and development of characters.” Fundamentally, characters change and evolve over the duration of the text and are often presented as being complex and multi-faceted. One of the first assignments we did for said lecturer involved comparing the protagonists from the novels Jane Eyre and Tess of the d’Ubervilles. Both Jane and Tess made for engrossing analysis and one observation was that both characters literally travel through different locations as they “grow and develop.” Indeed even Briony Tallis  the “precocious brat” from our book group discussions evolves into somebody much more mature and repentant.

My colleague Lu Anne Stewart threw brilliant insight on how characters are developed in television programmes thereby engaging audiences whilst providing thrill and drama. My mind immediately went to Walter White from the critically acclaimed Breaking Bad as a perfect example of the riveting transformation of a character across seasons. Another recent favourite with the pupils is Stranger Things which again represents a masterclass in the establishment and development of characters whose lives and circumstances are complex.

I have spoken in the past of plucking memorable individuals from my past as inspiration for characters in fiction. Good and well-etched characters stay with you not exclusively for the things they do but more so for their emotional resonance whilst engaging with the environment they find themselves in. In essence, they could simply tie their shoe laces rather than leap out of a helicopter whilst still remaining memorable and relevant.

And so I continue to stockpile characters from my past: Zagallo, the rogue soldier who parked twelve vehicles he had looted from hapless civilians outside his house during our country’s civil war; Pa Lamina, the landlord who would evict tenants from his properties for not greeting his many wives in the mornings; Bernard, a classmate who memorised every page of every literature text we studied in boarding school to the extent that he was paraded around all the dormitories to narrate excerpts from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar!

Thanks for reading and have a nice day. 😊

 

 

 

 

Writing conferences summon the muse

By Amy Brown

Where we find inspiration as authors is the theme this month at The Author Lab. In the past six months I’ve found a huge source of inspiration in attending three writing conferences with a fourth coming up in Stockholm in April. There is strength in numbers, meeting other writers and getting the advice of agents, editors and other industry experts to get better at craft and to navigate the challenges of getting published.

These conferences are golden networking opportunities to find not only a community of writers who understand the same struggle, but also to find those valuable industry contacts. Each conference has not only provided me with essential information on publishing, both self-publishing and traditional but also insight into becoming a better writer. No matter how long you’ve been writing and working at your craft, there is more to be learned. I found myself at many sessions scribbling ideas in my notebook for the current manuscript I was working on. There is nothing like being surrounded by dozens, hundreds, even thousands of creative souls to get your own juices flowing. Here are some highlights of the conferences that have helped summon my muse:

SWF Ellie
Novelist Elinor Lipman is one of the main reasons I’m excited to attend the Stockholm Writers Festival next month.

 

October 2017: Through the annual Florida Writers Association conference in Orlando, FL, I’ve been able to form a community of writers where I live in Florida. This conference brings together published authors sharing craft tips, agents offering pitch opportunities and insights into the publishing world, and the camaraderie of a diverse community of writers. The FWA sponsors two annual competitions: a contest to write a 1,200-word themed piece for their annual collection (where my work has been published in the past two years) and the Royal Palm Literary Competition (where my unpublished middle grade novel won First Place in 2016). I’ve also served as judge for the RPLA. The organization’s motto is “writers helping writers” and I’ve enjoyed giving back for all I’ve received in recognition and publishing and pitch opportunities.

January 2018: The annual conference of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Regional chapter in Florida, /held in Miami in January was a smaller conference but attracted some top agents and editors (what New York agent isn’t enticed by the prospect of Miami in January?) I liked its small size for the opportunity to easily fall into conversation with other writers and I literally on the spot made an elevator pitch at an elevator, to an agent, when she asked what I was working on. “Send me the full manuscript,” she said, handing me her card. These are the kinds of magic moments that can happen at a conference. (I’d like to report she snapped me up as a client and the book has been sold, but alas, it’s not that fairytale ending). The inspiration came in the form of talks by brilliant children’s authors like Sara Pennypacker whose latest book Pax is a National Book Award Longlist recipient. She generously shared with us the “Top Ten Things I Learned From Being a Children’s Writer,” including “Creation is a river. We create the river; the river will take us and we will take others with us.”

March 2018: The Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP),  is the biggest writer’s conference in North America. The 2018 event, attended by 7,000 people, was being held in nearby Tampa, FL so I grabbed the opportunity to find out what this event was all about. AWP is a huge convention with dozens of events led by prominent authors, editors and academics. There are panels, readings, workshops and networking opportunities.  It was amazing how accessible famous authors were and how generous they were with their time. Some authors sat on panels and would answer questions both during and after the event. Others writers could be approached after their readings and most were happy to chat as well as sign their books. Man Book Prize winning author of Lincoln in the Bardo, keynote speaker, George Saunders, deserves a special mention for his wonderful talk and for his kindness in making everyone feel welcome and included.

AWP is all about networking, so if a friend of a friend knows someone who knows an agent, AWP is a great place to be introduced. There are also many informal and accidental opportunities to speak with agents. This is the place to literally try your elevator pitch in the elevator or while waiting in line at the concession stand.

As for finding a publisher, editors from some of the big New York publishing houses were in attendance, but they almost never speak with a writer directly. However, many small independent publishers, generally all looking for adult fiction, had tables at the book fair and were quite open to queries and submissions. My writer friend walked away with a number of good names in her pocket to contact if that New York agent doesn’t call.

AWP is a whirlwind. There were approximately twenty different events scheduled at one hour and fifteen-minute intervals from nine in the morning until ten o’clock at night. Thousands of writers scrambled between the Tampa Convention Center and the Marriott Waterfront Hotel to find the rooms they wanted. If they weren’t fast enough, they’d find themselves sitting on the floor or standing at the back of popular panels and events. There wasn’t even a break for meals. There were so many choices that whatever you did, you missed two other things you wanted to attend. Writers with enough stamina went on to the evening reception where they enjoyed a live band and free wine or read at the late night open mic.

It’s definitely a way to get a writer’s adrenalin fired up! I packed a lunch and pushed myself all day and night to pack in as much as I could, even those evening readings. I popped into the dance party with the open bar one night. As thousands of MFA students let off steam dancing (and imbibing) wildly, I made mental notes of a party scene in a future novel and took myself to bed to dream up new stories.

April 2018: From April 13-15 I will be attending the more intimate kind of conference I like best, the Stockholm Writers Festival,  the Swedish capital’s first-ever writers’ conference in English. It was the brainchild of my friend Catherine Petterson, as she shares in this recent article, and the Stockholm Writers Group that I helped found many years ago. Realizing that there were many writers working in English in Sweden and Scandinavia, and elsewhere in Europe, Catherine thought the time was ripe to have a festival in Sweden, where there is a high degree of English fluency. Through persistence, luck and charm, Catherine and team have put together a fantastic three days of immersion in craft and opportunities to pitch to top agents, under the theme of “find your path to published.” I understand it’s not too late to book a ticket, although there are only a handful left. Haven’t you always wanted to visit Stockholm? And if that wasn’t enough allure, the keynote speaker is the exceptional New York Times acclaimed novelist Elinor Lipman. I’m looking forward to a stimulating few days in Stockholm next month.

 

 

 

 

 

Honing my craft among friends

There is no better home for an author of children’s literature than the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), and I was reminded of that at the recent Florida regional conference, @SCBWIFlorida. As a middle-grade and young adult fiction author, it was wonderful to meet members of my tribe—those who share a passion for telling stories for young readers. Founded in 1971 by a group of Los Angeles-based children’s writers, namely the terrific Lin Oliver, who shared her wisdom with us, the non-profit SCBWI is the only professional organization specifically for those writing and illustrating for children and young adults in the fields of children’s literature, magazines, film, television and multimedia. 

The SCBWI acts as a network for the exchange of knowledge between writers, illustrators, editors, publishers, agents, librarians, educators, booksellers and others involved with literature for young people.  There are currently more than 22,000 members worldwide, in over 70 regional chapters writing and illustrating in all genres for young readers, making it the largest children’s writing organization in the world. The Florida chapter is particularly active, with some 43 events planned for 2018 alone. It wasn’t difficult to attract several terrific editors and agents to the conference in Miami this past weekend. The professionalism of SCBWI members is always a draw for industry people, but I’m sure Miami’s weather in January was enticing, too. Continue reading

The book that matters most

By Amy Brown

Writers are readers—usually voracious and eclectic readers. It’s the best way to improve your craft. Book clubs therefore hold a strong appeal for writers. I’ve founded several and been in many, in all the places I’ve lived in the world. Most often over wine and cheese, we vigorously debate the merits of the novel, if we can manage to prevent the inevitable creep into tangential conversations. So Ann Hood’s latest novel, The Book That Matters Most, intrigued me.

In the novel, the central character Ava’s twenty-five-year marriage has fallen apart, and her two grown children are pursuing their own lives outside of the country. Ava joins a book group, not only for her love of reading but also out of sheer desperation for companionship. The group’s goal throughout the year is for each member to present the book that matters most to them. Ava rediscovers a mysterious book from her childhood—one that helped her through the traumas of the untimely deaths of her sister and mother. Alternating with Ava’s story is that of her troubled daughter Maggie, who, living in Paris, descends into a destructive relationship with an older man. Ava’s mission to find that book and its enigmatic author takes her on a quest that unravels the secrets of her past and offers her and Maggie the chance to remake their lives.

When I learned that Ann was appearing at the wonderful independent bookstore, Bookstore 1 in Sarasota, I leaped at the chance to meet her and brought my mom. Ann is originally from

Book that Matter Most

Rhode Island, where both my mom and I used to live. Ann was a delightful speaker. Kicking off her shoes, she curled her feet under her on a chair and faced the audience comfortably, as if we were in her living room, ready to talk books. And we were. She informed us that she had pledged to her editor to take photos of 60 book clubs before her upcoming 60th birthday. Were there any book club members in attendance? Hands shot up and she snapped their photo on her smart phone.

“I feel like I’ve been writing this book for years”, she told us, acknowledging the novel took five years to write.  “Books are quite magical. They are bold, they have such power.” Many in the audience nod in agreement. “I firmly believe that the books we need find us.”

Ann started reading at age four “I wanted to live in a book; the seed was planted then. I grew up in a town with no libraryin an Italian-American family. My mother thought books were a waste of time. From the newspaper, though, I Iiked Dear Abby and especially hints from Eloise.”

Ann HoodAnn wrote her first story at age eight, about her overbearing grandmother, who lived with the family. “In the story, the girl’s grandmother vanishes and the little girl’s life gets better. And after I wrote it, and went back downstairs, life seemed better. I realized just writing a story could make me feel better.”

Reading and writing became Ann’s comfort, especially when, in 2000, she lost her five-year-old daughter to a virulent form of strep throat. After the tragedy, she said, “I lost the ability to read and write.” Instead, she said, “I knit my way through grief.” That led, in 2008, to her novel, The Knitting Circle, in which, after the sudden loss of her only child, Mary Baxter joins a knitting circle in Providence, Rhode Island, as a way to fill the empty hours and lonely days.

Two years after her daughter died, Ann returned to reading, and the first book she picked up was The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Returning to writing took longer. “When I’m writing, I go to a deep, dark emotional place.”

During the time she was dealing with the loss of her daughter, she found a book club in Westerly Rhode Island that had been meeting for 30 years. “I liked them so much and their food was so good. I am terrible in groups. I do not play well with others.  But I said to myself, I want to join a book club. And their theme, that year, was to choose the book that mattered most to each member. The idea stayed with me.”

“Choosing just one book is hard. I think we get five: the book that matteredto us as children, which for me, was Little Women. For many it’s Heidi. As a young adolescent, it was Marjorie Morningstar,” she said (and here my mother nudged me. “Me, too!” she whispered. My mother has now given this wonderful coming-of-age novel to my eldest daughter,  the third generation enjoying this timeless story).

“In high school,” Ann continued, “It was The Great Gatsby. And then there’s always a book that lifts you up at your lowest. For me, that was the Ladies Detective Agency. She also said Ann Tyler’s Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant mattered most as a beginning novelist.  “That helped me write my first novel, Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine.”

Reading and writing will forever be entwined for Ann Hood. I’m still pondering my list of the books that mattered most. But one novel that is definitely on the list, for me, is Unless, by the late Canadian novelist Carol Shields. I read it in 2002 as a beginning novelist and young mother. This beautifully written, poignant, heart rending novel (leavened with just the right amount of humor) captured everything I understood to be true about being a mother and a writer. Continue reading