clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Reporter-turned-author answers the questions

No matter how far she gets from her life as a reporter, Anna Quindlen says, she'll never get used to being on the wrong end of a notebook. But the former New York Times reporter was on the wrong end of about a dozen notebooks last week, when she gave a group telephone interview to promote her latest novel.

"Black and Blue" is the story of a woman who married a handsome, magnetic, violent man. The book begins with the main character changing her name and, son in tow, running away.Reviewers have called it a novel of domestic violence. Quindlen says it's not about a social issue - it's about a relationship. If there is a larger issue at work in the book, she says, the issue is a search for identity. Most women, she believes, tend to define themselves through men. But part of every relationship includes a woman's yearning to be autonomous.

At the same time Quindlen spoke of how weird it felt to be answering instead of asking the questions, she was clearly enjoying herself. Her best friends are reporters, she said. The best part of any book tour is talking to reporters. And about this specific group interview she said the whole experience was as fun as a pajama party.

Mostly, she talked about writing.

Reporters wanted to know why Quindlen, who won the 1992 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, decided to leave the New York Times. What we really wanted to know, but were too polite to ask, was "Why give up something you do extremely well in favor of something you do fairly well?" (Let's face it. "Black and Blue" is a good read, but it won't get the 1998 Pulitzer for fiction.)

Quindlen said, "Over 17 years I had about every good job there was at the New York Times." There was nothing else she wanted - except to write fiction.

Fiction came first. She always meant to get back to it.

Quindlen was born in 1952, the first of five children. She grew up in a pleasant suburb of Philadelphia and went to Catholic schools where the nuns chastised her behavior but praised her writing. Happy as her childhood was, and she says it was quite happy, she was always ready to escape into the story of someone else's life - Jo March, Heidi - whomever.

She studied fiction writing at Barnard but couldn't figure out how to make it pay. So she became a New York Times reporter, a job to which she had an instant reaction, "a chemical attraction, not unlike love."

Her newspaper work helped her develop an eye for detail and an ear for dialogue, she says. ("You know how sometimes you are reading a quote and you say, `No one ever talked this way, not in this world?' ")

Her editors made her write when she didn't feel like it, thus saving her from ever having writer's block. Now she has that luxury she says, "Even if I don't write something that stays, at least I know how to sit down and do it."

As for her writing life, she gets up early and runs with her black Lab. He tries to eat garbage. She enjoys the view from Hoboken of the New York skyline. She gets her three kids off to school, talks on the phone to her best friend, sits at her computer by 10 a.m. and works until 1. She only has three hours a day of good writing in her, she says. She doesn't show anyone what she's working on - not even her husband - until after it's read by her trusted editor at Random House.

"This is how I knew I had really become a fiction writer," she says. She planned to have her main character flee from New York City to Florida and she didn't know much about Florida, but she told herself, "It doesn't have to be the literal Florida. It can be my Florida." And she knew she wasn't a journalist any longer.

Reporters asked about her future. She's already at work on another novel. The movie version of her book, "One True Thing," just wrapped, she says. Directed by Carl Franklin ("Devil in a Blue Dress"), it stars William Hurt, Meryl Streep and Renee Zellweger. She may be the only novelist in history to be pleased with the movie version.

As time ran out on the interview, a reporter quickly asked, Who's your favorite novelist? "Charles Dickens," she said. The master of the telling detail. "He started out as a reporter," she said.