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  • Anne Tyler on Perspective, Publishing and Inspiration
Anne Tyler on Perspective, Publishing and Inspiration
Written by
She Writes
July 2018
Written by
She Writes
July 2018

Anne Tyler is an American novelist, short story writer, and literary critic, regarded among the best chroniclers of family that this country has ever known. She’s quiet, humble, and believes that her childhood – growing up on a rural Quaker commune – has fueled her writing and given her the capacity to see things from a unique perspective. Her latest novel, Clock Dance, is available now.

On Drafting:

According to Anne Tyler in a recent interview with The New York Times, the best way to get through your own process is to pretend it won't ever have an audience. For those stuck in their first draft (or 82nd), this is sage advice from a Pulitzer winner:

"I always say that the way you write a novel is for the first 83 drafts you pretend that nobody is ever, ever going to read it.”

On Her Characters:

"Her characters share her perspective. Sweet and sad, funny and flawed, they carve out their own path through a world that can be confusing or disappointing. Their triumphs are small but satisfying, their failures the stuff of everyday life. Tyler says her characters are wholly a product of her imagination, not drawn from her own life or based on anyone she knows. And she says she falls in love with all of them."

[The above excerpt was first featured on NPR. Read the full interview here.]

Her favorite, however, is Ezra Tall from Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant.

“I like his mild, accepting, gentle demeanor. I like the fact that he doesn’t expect a whole lot. He isn’t resentful. It’s funny, because he would probably be infuriating to live with, but I’ve always felt fond of him and sad for him. There’s a point where he says, ‘I’m trying to get through life as a liquid,’ and I think, ‘You’ve kind of managed that.’ I think of myself as a liquid.”

[The above interview was first featured on CBC Books. Listen to the full interview here.]

On the Process:

"When I finish a book, I send the book to New York to be read by my agent. I picture them on a train, and my heart is broken. I mean, I'm thinking of how they're sort of limited people or shy people, and they're just so brave to be going up there on their own. It's really anthropomorphic. But then, after they get accepted, so to speak, and they're a book on their own, I'm like a mother cat with kittens. I never think about them again. They're gone."

[The above interview was first featured on NPR. Read the full interview here.]

On What’s Next for Her:

Retirement is not an option.

“Not to me,” says Tyler. “Unfortunately I never developed any hobbies, which was very shortsighted of me. I’ll carry on writing because that is what I do,” Tyler says. But she is not on autopilot. “When I finish one book I never think, ‘Oh, there’s another one.’ It takes a little while to refill. My happiest moment is to be in the middle of a book. The characters are talking to me. Sometimes, one will make a joke I haven’t thought of and I’ll laugh.”

[The above interview was first featured on The Guardian. Read the full interview here.]

“I have to go on writing just because I have no hobbies,” Tyler told The Washington Post after A Spool of Blue Thread released in 2016. “But I don’t feel as if the world needs another book from me.”

That was her 20th novel. This month she celebrates the release of Clock Dance, her 22nd novel.

About Clock Dance:

"Willa is neat, sweet, pretty, and gracefully acquiescent, until she receives a phone call from Baltimore, where Denise, a betrayed ex-girlfriend of Willa’s older son, is in the hospital after an accidental shooting, leaving her young daughter and dog alone in their humble home. There is no tie between them, yet Willa feels summoned, and then, as she makes herself useful on a funky city block among motley, struggling, warmhearted neighbors, she feels needed. And liberated."

–Donna Seaman, in a starred review for BOOKLIST

On Inspiration:

“One of the things that started my writing the book: Why do families have certain two or three stories? There are others, but they don’t tell the others. They just tell two or three. They must be significant,” says Anne Tyler. “It’s not so special. But to them it is.”

She recalls memories from a very early age – as early as under a year – and recalls the acute insight she had in books. A picture book that makes an appearance in one of her novels is The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton.

“I don’t know why exactly it hit me so hard, but I remember the first time I was read it. It’s about a little house that lives out in the country and wishes and wishes she could live in the bright lights of city life. Gradually it happens and all of a sudden she’s huddled in among sky scrapers and miserable. Then someone comes along and says, “That was my great great grandmother’s house,” and they move it out to the country. And she starts life over in the country and it’s peaceful. As a child when your mother or father is reading to you, you are looking non-stop at the picture. You have a lot of time while the reading is going on, and you have a lot of time to sink into a picture. In the picture at the end of the book when she’s back in the country, everything is the same - but there is no little fish pond the way there was the first time. I don’t know – maybe Virginia Lee Burton just forgot there had been one. I took that very seriously. I thought, you can try really hard to get something back but it will never be exactly the same. So you shouldn’t wish for things to change while you’re going through them.”

[The above interview was first featured on CBC Books. Listen to the full interview here.]

(Photo Credit: Facebook)

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  • Betty Hafner

    I never miss an Anne Tyler book! This piece reminds me why. Loved it.