"When I get there, I will have an 11-year-old daughter, be in the middle of a novel, and will have a new puppy."
- Anne Tyler's definition of heaven, as told to her audience at the recent Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival
I had been vaguely aware of Anne Tyler and her work before she came out of decades of avoiding publicity, but now she is everywhere, and reading various interviews and articles has made me curious about her novels and her life. Since I have mountains of books at home I still haven't read, I will hold off a bit, but there most certainly is a list (I am undecided whether to start with her new one, The Beginner's Goodbye, or one of the earlier novels).
Two weeks ago, there was an interview with her in the Guardian, in which she shared some of her writing secrets (I love reading about writers' routines, and they can generally be applied to other art forms, too, especially the bits relating to discipline and inspiration):
-She has no time for the idea of waiting until you feel inspired and instead believes in discipline and showing up.
-She collects ideas in an index box and lets them ripen for years - I do this with ideas for paintings and other things; I have notebooks full and love revisiting them. The looser format of an index box appeals to me - the sequence can be changed; it shakes things up a bit.
-She reckons The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life by Erving Goffman is "the most valuable book a novelist could read", helping with the showing-rather-than-telling that is so important for creative writing.
-She feels very strongly that she has to like her characters.
-Her actual writing process involves, among other things, "quite small and distinct" handwriting and reading into a tape recorder.
I am interested in artists living a reclusive or any alternative lifestyle and how it affects their art, so it was particularly fascinating to read about Tyler's upbringing in a Quaker commune in the mountains of North Carolina. She credits this upbringing with giving her "that slight distance", enabling her to "look at the world as if I were a sociologist a little bit".
Apparently she writes male characters really well, and a lot of her protagonists, including narrators, are men. I am in awe of authors who successfully put themselves in the shoes of someone of the opposite sex and/or a very different age (Siri Hustvedt told What I Loved from the perspective of an old man; Nicole Krauss did the same in The History of Love).
I am already slightly obsessed with the world of Anne Tyler, which may sound strange considering I haven't read any of her books yet, but I love that sense of anticipation and discovery.