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Posts Tagged ‘women’s fiction’

The Guest Cottage by Nancy Thayer: Discussion Questions

Thursday, June 18th, 2015

Guest Cottage_ThayerNancy Thayer whisks readers back to Nantucket in a delightful novel about two single parents who accidentally rent the same summer house—and must soon decide where their hearts truly lie.

Sensible thirty-six-year-old Sophie Anderson knows her role in life: supportive wife of a successful architect and calm, capable mother of two. But on a warm summer night, as the house grows quiet around her and her children fall asleep, she wonders what’s missing from her life. After her husband leaves her, she impulsively rents a guest cottage on Nantucket and leaves Boston for a family vacation, minus one.

Also minus one is Trevor Black, a software entrepreneur who has recently lost his wife. Trevor did not imagine himself raising a little boy like Leo—smart and sweet, but grappling constantly with his mother’s death–on his own. Hoping a quiet summer on the Nantucket coast will help him reconnect with Leo, Trevor rents a guest house on the beautiful island from his friend Ivan Swenson.

Best-laid plans run awry when Sophie and Trevor realize they’ve mistakenly rented the same house. Still, determined to make this a summer their kids will always remember, the two agree to share the Swensons’ Nantucket house. But as the summer unfolds and the families grow close, Sophie and Trevor must ask themselves if the guest cottage is all they want to share.

Discussion Questions for The Guest House by Nancy Thayer

1. On page 80, Sophie thinks to herself, “When one door closes in your life, another door opens. But what if the entire house comes down?” For Sophie and Trevor, a summer in Nantucket holds so much more than fun in the sun. They resolve unfinished business, get to spend time with their kids, and even learn to love again. Do you think any of this would have happened if they hadn’t had to share the guest cottage?

2. Living under the same roof, Sophie and Trevor are forced to compromise. Do you think they’re the better for it? Have you ever thought of a compromise you’ve had to make as an opportunity to grow?

3. Compare Trevor and Sophie’s parenting styles. What do you think each of their approaches say about them? What do they do differently? Do you think they learn anything from each other?

4. At Sophie’s dinner party in chapter 19, Connor tells the story of Wooly Bully, a stubborn bull that his wife succeeded in taming on their farm. Why do you think he tells this story to the Andersons and the Blacks?

5. On page 238, Trevor muses that perhaps the traditional family “never existed except on Christmas cards.” Do you agree with Trevor?

6. Similarly, in chapter 32 Trevor’s son Leo asks Sophie, “Are you my family?” How do you define family? How do you think it is defined in The Guest Cottage?

7. Sophie admits that she never loved Zack as much as she loved music, and Trevor acknowledges that he was drawn to Tallulah for superficial reasons. Do you think their reasons for marrying the first time were similar or different?

8. On page 204, Trevor observes that sometimes “people marry the wrong people to get the right children.” What do you think about that statement?

9. When Sophie sees the piano in the music room, her dreams of becoming a concert pianist come flooding back to her. Although music has always been her first love, she hasn’t played a note since she froze on stage as a teenager. Why do you think Sophie froze? What do you think enables her to play again?

10. Have you ever rediscovered something you were passionate about? What made you revisit it?

11. Throughout The Guest Cottage, Leo struggles to play the song his mother used to sing to him on the piano. Why do you think Sophie is the one who recognizes the song he is attempting to play?

12.  Sophie rents the guest cottage with help from the inheritance left to her by her unsinkable Aunt Fancy. Aunt Fancy was a woman of many mottos. “If I’ve gotta go down, I’m gonna go down in style,” Sophie remembers her saying. Even in memory, she inspires Sophie to love life and take chances. Does Aunt Fancy remind you of anyone who tells you, in one way or another, “If the horse throws you, climb right back on”?

Friday, April 17th, 2015

The One That Got AwayThe Place We Call Home

I just wanted to write a love story.

As an incurable romantic, I’ve always had a soft spot for those stories that are as warm and gooey as the center of a molten chocolate cake. My lifelong favorite, over even Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, is the story of Anne of Green Gables’ Anne Shirley and Gilbert Blythe. So that’s what was foremost in my mind when I started working on The One That Got Away. But what I soon began to realize, as the book developed, is that it’s equally a story about home.

Home is one of those simple ideas that gets more complicated the harder you think about it. On one hand, it’s such a universal concept that, in its broadest terms, it ought to mean the same thing to everyone—­a place of shelter, safety, belonging. Just the phrase “keep the home fires burning” conjures a place we can return to after wandering, where someone we love will be waiting . . . a place that will always be there. But, unthinkable as it is to ourselves as children, what happens to all of us is that our definition of home changes over time. And sometimes it changes more than once. The thing is, though, that each of our homes, and the people who share them with us, shape us in ways it takes years to fully understand.

Most of us begin with the same kind of home: Where we come from. Where we grew up. Our oldest, most fundamental place; the place we really began. It may not have been happy, but it’s still our origin, and for better or worse, we can’t forget it, or carve away the imprint it left upon us.

For me, this home was the ten acres in the Blue Ridge foothills where my parents built their dream house. Before then, we had been living among clinking sailboat masts and dapper white-­clad midshipmen in Annapolis, Maryland, and my six-­year-­old self utterly failed to see what had so enchanted my mom and dad with this steep and unruly hillside in the boondocks. By the time construction was completed, though, I was as bewitched as they were. And partly because the house had been designed according to my parents’ specifications, I was always aware of the way my physical environment reflected who our family was. One big bathroom for the three of us to share, but separate his-­and-­hers art studios for them. The spacious open-­plan living/dining room, because my parents disliked the tradition of separate “formal” rooms that sat mostly unused. The immense windows along the western façade, so we were seldom out of sight of the rippling blue silhouette of the mountain range that formed our horizon, thirty miles away.

My mother took her last breath in that house. Her blinds were often open as she lay in her bed; I can only hope the beauty of the mountains eased her pain. She had bright eyes and a joyful smile, and the kind of laugh that could make friends from all the way across a room. Her warmth drew people to her like a hearth fire in January. Since I was only thirteen when she died, we were robbed of the time for me to grow to appreciate her, not just as my mom, but as the vivid, kind, charming woman I now know she was. But in the time we did have, her love taught me to value myself, and to treasure beauty, and those two things have been at the core of every good decision I’ve ever made.

My second home, I wasn’t looking for. While I was studying in England during my junior year of college, everything my father had been struggling with at home collapsed. When my winter break came, I had no home to go to. My mother’s older sister, without question or hesitation, said, “You come here.” And her house has been my go-­home-­to place ever since. Because of the woman whose house it is, that place represents as big a part of me as where I came from. My aunt opened both home and heart to me, and her dead sister’s girl became her third daughter. With remarkable patience and more than a little tough love, she knocked a navel-­gazer, overly prone to whining and stewing, into a decisive and determined adult. I owe more than I can ever convey to my exposure to her challenging, sparky intelligence.

If you’re lucky, your own go-­home-­to place, the place you head for holidays and family weekends or just to take a break from being an adult for a couple of days, is still the same as where you come from. But for many people it’s not. Parents move, divorce, die, betray. Your go-­home-­to place may not even be where your parents or siblings are, but it’s a place that brings you comfort when you arrive there. It’s the place where you know all the stories and inside jokes that get retold, and where somebody will have your favorite meal waiting for you when you arrive.

Of course, like most of you, I also have my own home now. Mine is a sunny little aerie in Brooklyn, and I share it with my husband, whose dimples are the only thing that can coax me out of bed in the morning, and our cat, who travels from sunbeam to sunbeam as each day glides by. I made it partly with pieces of my other homes: artwork my mother painted, books my aunt has given me, furniture my grandmother bought in the fifties, which is beautifully scuffed with age and with my family’s use. But also, my home is made with pieces of who I am now. Artwork I drew, books my friends have written. Because I lost my mother’s gardens, I cram my windowsills with flowers, and because my husband loves to cook, I grow herbs to use in our meals. This is the place where I welcome friends and family, both my own and my husband’s. And every single inch of it is made of something I love.

Throughout The One That Got Away, Sarina is on a journey to find her home. The home she comes from is too laden with painful memories to be a welcoming place any longer, so she’s left Virginia behind and made a life for herself in Austin. She’s spent much of her adult life trying to find the right go-­home-­to place, where she truly belongs, and to build her own home at the same time. When the story opens, she believes Noah is the answer to both of those. Except, as Eamon points out, she’s never taken any steps to make her home with Noah a reality; she only thinks it’s her future because it looks like it should be. So what she has to find the courage to do, in spite of the risks, is to open herself up to the person she’s come to realize is the one who really belongs in that future, and in that home.

This is why the home you build yourself, in many ways, is the most rewarding one of all. You can fill it, and populate it, with whatever and whoever you wish. It can be whatever you want it to be, whether it’s the place you share with your partner, or your partner plus the colorful chaos of children (or the furry and malodorous chaos of pets), or just the solitary peace of your sofa, a good book and a big glass of wine. This home is the one you fill with your own family, whoever you choose them to be—­but the peace is in the choosing.

Rowan Coleman Discussion Questions: The Day We Met

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

The Day We MetFor fans of Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You comes a beautifully written, heartwarming novel about mothers and daughters, husbands and wives. The Day We Met asks: Can you love someone you don’t remember falling in love with? The discussion questions below can help guide your book club to answering that question and more.

1. A consistent thread throughout the novel is that of history repeating itself. Both Caitlin and Claire get pregnant young and without husbands, and Ruth must watch her husband and her daughter succumb to the same disease. What do you think Coleman suggests about fate? Do we have the ability to carve our own destiny? Can we be prevented from making the same mistakes that our parents and their parents made?

2. After watching Caitlin in a play, Claire realizes, “Being a mother is about protecting your children from every conceivable thing that might cause them hurt, but it’s also about trusting them to live the best way for them, the best way they can; and trusting that even when you are not there to hold their hand, they can succeed.” Do you agree? Was Claire right to shield Caitlin from the truth about her father? If you were Claire, what would you have done?

3. Why do you think Claire can confide in Ryan more easily than she can confide in the rest of her family? Why is an outsider more appealing to her at this time in her life?

4. At one point, Claire realizes that people have started seeing her as the crazy person, as “the one that no one looks in the eye anymore.” How do you think it would feel to be aware of being a pariah? If you saw Claire in her altered state, what would you think/assume?

5. Do you agree with Caitlin’s decision not to find out if she has the Alzheimer’s gene? What would you have done in her situation?

6.  If you and your loved ones were making a memory book of your life, what would you want to include?

7. How did you feel about Claire’s relationship with Ryan before and after it was revealed that he was Greg? Were you surprised? Was Greg right to mislead her? Why is it important that she have this experience?

8. At the end, Claire says, “I did write a book. We all did. We wrote the story of our lives, and I am here, among these pages. This is where I will always be.” Beyond an exercise assigned by her doctor, why do you think the book becomes so important to Claire?

9. If you knew you had early-onset Alzheimer’s, would you change anything about your life?

10. As Claire starts to lose her memories, she worries that she’s starting to lose hold of her identity. Do you believe identity and memory are intrinsically linked, or can they be separated?

Reader’s Guide: Q&A with Nancy Horan, author of UNDER THE WIDE AND STARRY SKY

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

978-0-345-51654-1Nancy Horan’s newest book, Under the Wide and Starry Sky, is now available in paperback! The book tells the improbable love story of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his tempestuous American wife, Fanny. Joining her for the Q&A is Lauren Belfer, author of the novels A Fierce Radiance (a Washington Post Best Novel of the Year, an NPR Best Mystery of the Year, and a New York Times Editors’ Choice Book) and City of Light (a New York Times Notable Book and New York Times bestseller).

Lauren Belfer: When I first heard that Under the Wide and Starry Sky was about Robert Louis Stevenson, I thought—perfect, I’ll be spending time with an old friend. Was I ever wrong about that! Under the Wide and Starry Sky captures a Stevenson I never imagined and a story I never knew, a story that’s filled with adventure, anguish, and heartbreak. How did you discover the story of Robert Louis Stevenson and his American wife, Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne?

Nancy Horan: was visiting the Monterey Bay area and discovered that Stevenson had lived there in 1879. I wondered what the Scottish author of Treasure Island was doing there. I soon learned that he had come to California seeking to marry an American woman he had met in France. Naturally I was curious about the woman. Who was this Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne who so upended Stevenson’s life? I did some initial research about both of them, and when I learned about their amazing life together, I knew I had the concept for my next novel.

LB: Many readers wonder about the line between fact and fiction in “historical fiction.” When letters, journals, and diaries are available, do you quote the actual words of your characters, the way a biographer might? Do you have any personal rules to guide you, when you put real people into scenes and conversations that are imaginary?

NH: My general rule is that because these were real people, I try to get it as right as I can. I feel I owe it to them. I stick to agreed-upon facts as a framework, because it was the historical story that drew me in the first place. The dialogue is invented, except for a few quotes. When I use these lines I put them into the mouths of the people who spoke them. If I quote from a diary or letter, I put it in italics, and if it is more than a couple of sentences, I make note of it in the Afterword. Because Louis was a prolific letter writer and Fanny was a diary keeper, I was sometimes able to write dialogue informed by how the characters were feeling at the time. But people are not always forthcoming in their written correspondence or diaries. Even with the rich resource material available for this book, much interpretation and imagining took place.

Read the rest of their Q&A here, and connect with Nancy on Facebook!

Giveaway Opportunity: A WEDDING IN PROVENCE by Ellen Sussman

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

Sussman_Wedding in Provence Attention readers! Ellen Sussman, author of French Lessons, has a new novel coming out this summer! If you can’t wait until July 15th for A Wedding in Provence, then enter below for your chance to be a lucky winner of an Advance Reader’s Edition of this moving novel of love, forgiveness, and trust, set among the beaches and vineyards of southern France.

Enter here for your chance to win!

When Olivia and Brody drive up to their friend’s idyllic inn—nestled in a valley in the Mediterranean town of Cassis—they know they’ve chosen the perfect spot for their wedding. The ceremony will be held in the lush garden, and the reception will be a small party of only their closest family and friends. But when Olivia and Brody’s guests check in, their peaceful wedding weekend is quickly thrown off balance.

The first to arrive is Nell, Olivia’s oldest daughter from her first marriage. Impulsive and reckless, she invites a complete stranger—an enigmatic man who is both alluring and a bit dangerous—to be her guest at the wedding. The next is Carly, Olivia’s youngest daughter, the responsible and pragmatic one. Away from her demanding job and a strained relationship, she feels an urgent need to cut loose—and for once do something brash and unpredictable. Then there is Jake, Brody’s playboy best man, and Fanny, Brody’s mother, who is coping with the fallout of her own marriage. And in the middle of it all is Olivia, navigating the dramas, joys, and pitfalls of planning a wedding and starting a new life.

A delicious, compelling, and utterly enchanting novel, A Wedding in Provence captures the complex and enduring bonds of family, and our boundless faith in love.

Enter here for your chance to win!

“Utterly charming and wildly romantic.”—Christina Baker Kline, New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train

Find Ellen on Facebook and Twitter!

Giveaway Opportunity: LOVE LETTERS by Debbie Macomber

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

Macomber_Love Letters Oh, dear readers! We have a treat for you! Enter here and at the link below for your chance to win an advance copy of Love Letters by Debbie Macomber. This latest Rose Harbor Novel celebrates the power of love—and a well-timed love letter—to inspire hope and mend a broken heart.

Summer is a busy season at the inn, so proprietor Jo Marie Rose and handyman Mark Taylor have spent a lot of time together keeping the property running. Despite some folks’ good-natured claims to the contrary, Jo Marie insists that Mark is only a friend. However, she seems to be thinking about this particular friend a great deal lately. Jo Marie knows surprisingly little about Mark’s life, due in no small part to his refusal to discuss it. She’s determined to learn more about his past, but first she must face her own—and welcome three visitors who, like her, are setting out on new paths.

Twenty-three-year-old Ellie Reynolds is taking a leap of faith. She’s come to Cedar Cove to meet Tom, a man she’s been corresponding with for months, and with whom she might even be falling in love. Ellie’s overprotective mother disapproves of her trip, but Ellie is determined to spread her wings.

Maggie and Roy Porter are next to arrive at the inn. They are taking their first vacation alone since their children were born. In the wake of past mistakes, they hope to rekindle the spark in their marriage—and to win back each other’s trust. But Maggie must make one last confession that could forever tear them apart.

For each of these characters, it will ultimately be a moment when someone wore their heart on their sleeve—and took pen to paper—that makes all the difference. Debbie Macomber’s moving novel reveals the courage it takes to be vulnerable, accepting, and open to love.

Enter here for your chance to win!

Reader’s Guide: NEVER SAY GOODBYE by Susan Lewis

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Lewis_Never Say Goodbye Susan Lewis delivers a deeply moving novel in Never Say Goodbye about finding friendship and love in the most unexpected of places. If you are a fan of Jodi Picoult, Heather Gudenjauf, or Elizabeth Flock then this just may be the perfect read for your book club. Below are the questions and topics for discussion.

For more information, stay up to date with Susan on her Facebook and Twitter.

Questions and Topics for Discussion:

1. How would Josie’s life have been different if she had been able to tell her family about her condition immediately? Do you think her life would have been better or worse if she had?

2. Have you ever had a secret you felt you had to keep from those closest to you in order to protect them? How did you deal with it?

3. Did you relate to one of the two main characters, Josie and Bel, more than the other? Which one, and why?

4. Why did Josie take her husband, Jeff, back after he cheated on her? Did he deserve it? Would you have done the same? Do you think he redeemed himself in the end?

5. Bel is upset when Nick and Kristina get married so soon after the death of her sister, which puts her off to a rocky start with Kristina. What brings Bel and Kristina together in the end?

6. Do you think Josie’s son, Ryan, actually committed the crime he was accused of?

7. Why does Bel push Harry away?

8. In what ways do Bel and Josie complement each other? Do you think they would have discovered a friendship if horrible circumstances hadn’t thrust them together? Has their friendship changed them by the end of the book?

9. Which of the many themes of the novel (friendship, family ties, love, and loss, among others) struck you as most important?

10. Were you surprised by the ending? What did you think would happen?

11. Did you learn anything you didn’t know before about breast cancer because of reading the novel? Did the book change your thinking in any way?

12. How did Bel’s volunteer work affect her life? Have you ever volunteered with or would you ever consider volunteer- ing with an organization like Breast Cancer Care?

Reader’s Guide: PERFECT by Rachel Joyce

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Joyce_PerfectPerfect is one of the best book club picks for 2014.

This spellbinding novel from Rachel Joyce, the author who brought you The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, will resonate with readers of Mark Haddon, Louise Erdrich, and John Irving. Perfect tells the story of a young boy who is thrown into the murky, difficult realities of the adult world with far-reaching consequences.

Perfect is a poignant and powerful book, rich with empathy and charged with beautiful, atmospheric writing.”—Tana French, author of In the Woods and Broken Harbor

We have the book club questions to get your chat started. Trust us, you’ll have a lot to talk about with this one!

1. The attempt to achieve perfection is central to both Diana’s and Byron’s behavior. Has the novel changed your perception of what it may mean to be ‘perfect’?

2. Rachel Joyce portrays time as a slippery and unpredictable concept. Has this affected your attitude towards the ways in which we measure the paths of our lives?

3. Responsibility is a theme that plays a key part in the novel. Who do you believe holds the greatest responsibility for the accident?

4. Is Jim’s mental illness the inevitable result of the events of his childhood?

5. Diana says, ‘I’m beginning to think chaos is underrated.’ Do you agree?

6. Byron identifies the moment at which he no longer considers himself to be a child. How does the novel question traditional definitions of childhood and parenthood?

7. Rachel Joyce writes beautiful descriptions of Cranham Moor and the English landscape. What is the significance of the natural world in the novel?

8. What is the significance of class in the relationship between Beverley and Diana?

9. Several characters struggle with depression and obsessive-compulsive behavior in the novel. How effectively do you feel mental disorders are portrayed?

10. Diana believes that the course of her life is determined by destiny. What part does spiritual belief play in the novel, and do you agree that our actions cannot influence our own fates?

11. Seymour and Andrea Lowe express strong views about feminism. How does Rachel Joyce represent the role of women in the novel?

12. How does Rachel Joyce represent the different time periods of the novel? Are there echoes from 1972 in the present or is it a world and time that has disappeared without trace?

13. Diana is lonely despite having a family and friends; Jim experiences intense loneliness. What do you think makes people feel connected to each other, and what creates fulfilling relationships?

14. Byron and James Lowe are best friends as boys, and the employees at Mr Meade’s café form bonds of kinship. How does Rachel Joyce represent friendship, and what do you think it means to be a true friend?
Who is the most powerful character in the novel, and why?

15. Eileen and Jim are damaged, in different ways, by their pasts. To what extent do you feel their private pain is transformed through the act of sharing?

Connect with Rachel on Facebook!

Giveaway Opportunity: A NANTUCKET CHRISTMAS by Nancy Thayer

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Thayer_Nantucket Christmas The holidays are right around the corner, so now is the perfect time of year to curl up with a favorite holiday book (or author)! This year, we are excited to read New York Times bestselling author Nancy Thayer’s A Nantucket Christmas. We have some copies to share, so enter below for your chance to win!

Holidays on this Massachusetts island are nothing short of magical, and the season’s wonderful traditions are much loved by Nicole Somerset, new to Nantucket and recently married to a handsome former attorney. Their home is already full of enticing scents of pine, baking spices, and homemade pie.

But the warm, festive mood is soon tempered by Nicole’s chilly stepdaughter, Kennedy, who arrives without a hint of holiday spirit. Determined to keep her stepmother at arm’s length—or, better yet, out of the picture altogether—Kennedy schemes to sabotage Nicole’s holiday preparations. Nicole, however, is not about to let anyone or anything tarnish her first Christmas with her new husband.

Nancy Thayer’s wonderful tale reminds us that this is the season of miracles. Before the gifts are unwrapped, surprise visitors appear, and holiday joy comes to all, both naughty and nice.

Reader’s Guide: A Q&A with Anna Quindlen, author of STILL LIFE WITH BREAD CRUMBS

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Quindlen_Still Life with Bread CrumbsAnna Quindlen is beloved by all readers and book clubs alike! From her “Last Word” column in Newsweek to her irresistible New York Times bestselling books such as Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake and One True Thing (to name a few!), Quindlen has truly captured the minds of of her readers.

We are so happy to share this Q&A between Anna Quindlen and Kate Medina, her editor, with you in anticipation of her upcoming novel, Still Life with Bread Crumbs.

Still Life with Bread Crumbs is your seventh novel. You write both bestselling fiction and nonfiction. How are the processes different for you, if they are? How do you decide which one to write next?

I always mean to sound purposeful when we talk about things like that, but it’s all pretty unexamined and intuitive. My last nonfiction book, the memoir Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, came to life with an off handed comment I’d made to my daughter and a piece of data I stumbled across when writing my last Newsweek column. I’d been very satisfied writing novels, and I had no intention of moving back into nonfiction. Right now I’m juggling a novel in its nascent stages and a nonfiction book, as you know, and the most obvious difference is that on the first, I eventually plunged right into the writing, and on the second I’m still doing the reporting. Sometimes the reporting is an excuse not to write; other times it is such an aid to composition because, unlike the material in the novels, it is in your notes or on tape, doesn’t have to be excavated from the sometimes hard rock of imagination.

People love to know where the inspiration for a novel comes from. Would you say something about Still Life with Bread Crumbs in this regard?

It’s not one thing. It’s never one thing. I’ve thought a lot about the nature of art, and why women’s art, particularly if it arises from domestic life, is minimized, or denigrated—why, for instance, we pay less attention to the work of Alice McDermott, a genius miniaturist whose novels reflect the quiet everyday, then we do to the more sprawling, outward-facing work of Philip Roth. Some of my thinking on that is embodied in Rebecca’s photography and public reaction to it. I’m 61 years old, and I’ve thought a lot about aging, and the stages of a woman’s life, and that’s in there, too. From a purely mechanical point of view, I try to do some essential thing in each novel that I haven’t done before. In this book it was twofold: I’ve never written a love story, and I haven’t written a book with a happy ending, and this material lent itself to both. Anna-Quindlen-Author-Photo

We’ve been working together for 25 years, on a wide range of your books—fiction, nonfiction, memoir. We are both often asked about the editorial process between writer and editor. Might you comment briefly about that process? What is the heart of it for you?

Oh, Kate, you broke me in. I cringe when I remember the first draft of Object Lessons. You said the writing was lovely, and the characters memorable, but not much happened in the course of the book. And I replied, “That’s how real life is.” You said, so sweetly, “And that’s why we call this a novel.”

The heart of the editing process is a fresh pair of sensitive and informed eyes. By the time I’m done a draft, I have no clue. Is it the best thing I’ve ever done? Is it a complete disaster? Depends on which day you ask me. But more than that, I am so close to the material that I not only can’t get out of the weeds, I can’t figure out where they are. That’s where you come in. You read and read again and then send me your long memo, which always begins “I love this book!” Then come the buts—about murky character development, fallow areas, missed opportunities. I’m not going to go into detail and thus illuminate my own dopiness, but sometimes you ask a question about something I’ve done, or failed to do, and I want to smack myself in the head, it’s so obvious.

Of course, a critical part of this process is the trust between us. You speak fluent Quindlen and you don’t try to edit me into someone else. And once our dialogue begins, I become more confident about my own work in that I know where you are right about changes, cuts, amendments, and where I disagree and will leave well enough alone.

Join the conversation with Anna on Facebook!

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