Oct. 12 Anita Shreve: I cut out this Globe and Mail article “You don’t sit waiting for the muse to come” by Kate Taylor on Dec. 4, 2010. She interviews the author Anita Shreve:
A book editor once had the gall to tell the popular American novelist Anita Shreve that literary fiction is written by men. What women write is women's fiction. Her retort started with Alice Munro and went on from there.
"My books at times have been classified as women's fiction," Shreve said on a recent visit to Toronto to talk about her new novel Rescue. "I find [the category] very offensive - and dismissive. It's meant to be dismissive." Still, Shreve acknowledges that, like many novelists, her audience is almost exclusively female while her publishers always put a woman on the cover and favour pastel colours. "They categorize things so they know what they are trying to sell … I have lobbied very hard for grittier covers."
Truth is that Shreve's work, which ranges from the Oprah's Book Club pick The Pilot's Wife to the Orange Prize nominee The Weight of Water, is unusually positioned somewhere between literature and less lofty fare. It's not a difficult spot for Shreve or her publisher (her sales are in the millions) but awkward for anyone who wants to pigeonhole her books. Her admirably unadorned prose once led a critic to speculate that the mighty E.B. White, co-author of that classic primer The Elements of Style, would approve; her plots, meanwhile, are driven by life-changing tragedies - a fatal plane crash, a climbing accident, a teenager's coma - and remarkable second chances. And she produces a book every 18 months.
On the other hand, Shreve doesn't do happy endings, sometimes tells her story from a male perspective and avoids those damaged women so favoured by Oprah's club.
"It's not all smiles and hugs at the end," she says of Rescue and the hopeful way it leaves its main characters. "I didn't think they were all going to go home and live together. They might make it, they might not."
Rescue's cover does show a young woman, her head turned to look out the rear window of a car. She is wearing a pale green floral print that stands out nicely on a background of soft yellows. But the novel's protagonist is actually a man, Peter Webster, who is raising a teenage daughter on his own after he banished an alcoholic wife when their child was just a toddler. The narration is in the third person, but the reader is only privy to Webster's thoughts as he tries to understand his daughter's rebellion and his wife's drinking, depicted in scenes set 18 years earlier.
Webster is a paramedic - hence the book's title - and the novel gets its structure from highly realistic scenes describing him on the job, defibrillating hearts and slipping bodies onto backboards.
"I was determined to write something about somebody who had a real job, not an artist, a gallery owner, a failed writer - there is so much of that," Shreve says. "And if you want to have someone who has a real job, you have to show them at that job." Shreve researched the profession by reading manuals and interviewing a paramedic who also vetted sections of the book. She originally created the Webster character to write a literary thriller, figuring a paramedic was less of a cliché than a police officer or private detective but would have access to his whole community. Her plan, however, did not work out.
"A) I didn't know how to write a thriller; and B) it was going to be a domestic tragedy, which is what all my books are," says Shreve, who answers questions with the same efficiency that drives her writing.
Where Rescue departs from much of her previous work is in the harshness of its milieu. Shreve's work is often set on the picturesque New England coastline where she lives, with a house in Maine and a condo in Boston. But this book takes the action inland to impoverished rural Vermont. Webster lives in a fictional, downtrodden town called Hartstone, while Sheila, the drunk driver who becomes his wife, is on the run from some nastiness in Chelsea, a small, real and violent city on the outskirts of Boston.
"Nobody gets out of Chelsea unscathed," Shreve says. "She is risky and you can't trust her as far as you can throw her." In short, Sheila is not the kind of woman who turns up in a pastel floral print.
Shreve once wrote a book ( Where or When) seemingly inspired by the unusual story of how she met her current husband (her fourth) - they had only known each other as kids at camp when he saw her photo in the newspaper years later and began a correspondence - but she says any autobiographical content in her books is unconscious and largely limited to the metaphoric. Her characters and their stories are mainly a product of her ever-active imagination.
"A large part of writing is daydreaming. We all do it," says Shreve, who confesses to occasionally missing her exit when driving. "You are rehearsing a conversation you had last night, and you are going to change the dialogue a bit so it comes out right, or you imagine what you are going to say when you get home. The only difference with a writer is a writer loves the challenge of structure and crafting sentences."
Shreve, who will turn 65 next year, thrives on that challenge and has produced her 16 books in the space of a mere 21 years. "It's embarrassing," she says of her prolificacy, noting her publisher places no particular demands on her. When she is writing, she works from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. seven days a week. Her only explanation is that her early years as a journalist - a former high-school teacher, she worked as a magazine writer as she tried to launch her literary career - built her work ethic and showed her the connection between what you can produce to deadline and what you get paid.
"It taught me that writing is work. There is nothing precious about it. You don't sit waiting for the muse to come."
After Christmas, which she and her husband will spend with their combined family of five adult children, Shreve will sit down at her desk and begin work on her 17th novel.
My opinion: What stood out to me was that the main character’s job is a real job like a paramedic and not an art gallery owner or private detective. Also there is nothing wrong with being a prolific writer. I write a lot of emails, but I pace myself in sending them. I only send 3 emails/ weekly blog posts a week.
Northwest Angle: I cut out this Edmonton Examiner book review "Oh, baby, this is good" by Terri Schlichenmeyer on Sept. 7, 2011. She reviews Northwest Angle by William Kent Krueger. I can’t find the article on the internet so I’ll have to type up a few excerpts:
“Corocan (Cork) O’Connor rented a houseboat and gathered his in-law and his children on a trip to Minnesota’s Boundry Waters Canoe Area.”
“And then the storm hit.”
“Dazed, Jenny went looking for Cork and stumbled upon a cabin. Inside it was the body of a woman who had obviously been tortured, and a hidden baby.”
“Staying where they were wasn’t an option, a notion underscored by the sudden, unwelcome presence of a man with a high-powered rifle who seemed to want nothing but the baby.”
“Local officials surmised that the baby was the son of Noah Smalldog, a Ojibwe native, Others say the child belonged to Sonny Chickaway, Smalldog’s friend.”
My opinion: It sounds like an interesting thriller.
Oct. 23 Digital version:
Why I’m putting up these book reviews and author interviews: