Feb. 26, 2010

For Our Anniversary

by Jason Tandon

Now that the flowers have dried and withered,
I will tell you that they were a re-wrapped
bouquet—severely discounted—
which allowed me to purchase
those two salmon fillets I glazed
with a bottle of maple dressing,
the crab cakes I served with a spoonful
of spicy mustard from the housewarming sampler
your mother had gifted us,
the package of pre-mixed chocolate chunk
cookie dough I baked from scratch,
and from a fundraising ballet troupe,
that banana nut votive candle
which lasted just the one night.

"For Our Anniversary" by Jason Tandon, from Give Over the Heckler and Everyone Gets Hurt. © Black Lawrence Press, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of a woman considered by many to be the greatest living mystery novelist, New York Times best-selling author Elizabeth George, (books by this author) born in Warren, Ohio (1949). The London Times recently ranked her with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie on its all-time best "masters of crime" list. She's the author of the Inspector Lynley series, which includes the titles Payment in Blood (1989), Well-Schooled in Murder (1990), In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner (1999), and A Traitor to Memory (2001).

She grew up in Mountain View, California, where Google is now headquartered. But back then, it was a sleepy, slightly rundown town, which she's described as "pre-pre-Silicon Valley." Her parents didn't have that much money, and trips to the public library were her family's most constant form of entertainment. She always knew she wanted to be a writer, and she wrote her first novel when she was 12. It was a mystery in the Nancy Drew tradition.

She graduated from college with an English major. Rather than sitting down to write novels, which she knew was her calling, she did what she calls the "Divine Dance of Avoidance." She was busy doing everything except writing. She got a teaching credential, became a high school English teacher, and got a master's degree in counseling. Every summer break, when she'd get 10 weeks off of school to write, she would be filled with anxiety about starting a book, about whether her plot or characters would be any good, or whether she'd be able to write convincingly, or whether she'd be able to finish anything she started.

And then, in 1983, her husband bought a computer in order to write his graduate thesis. They'd never owned a computer, only typewriters, and she said she knew it could make her "life as a writer much easier," to be able to cut and paste and edit on the screen. She chose to make it a defining moment: When the computer arrived at their house, she said: "I was faced with the simplest life question I've ever had to answer. I asked myself whether, on my deathbed, I wanted to sigh and say, 'I could have written a novel' or 'I wrote a novel.' Believe me, the answer was simplicity itself."

She sat down on June 28, 1983, created a file called "Simon" on the IBM PC, and on September 5, she stood up, having finished the first draft of her first English crime novel. It featured a cast of characters that included Thomas Lynley, Simon St. James, Lady Helen Clyde, and Deborah and Joseph Cotter. She called it Something to Hide, which, she later joked, "was pretty much the recommendation of those who read" the novel. The novel was rejected by everyone she sent it to, but the people at Scribner's said along with their rejections some nice things about her writing style, and she was thoroughly encouraged.

She made a trip to England, wrote a second English crime novel which was similarly rejected, made another trip to England the following summer, and when she returned she had 42 days left until she needed to go back to the classroom to teach high school English for the year. She felt like she'd come up with a great plot, structure, and twist, and she was determined to write the novel before school started up. So she sat down and wrote for 8 to 16 hours a day. She finished the first draft of the novel in three and a half weeks. She revised it and sent it off to an agent. The agent sold it Bantam Books, which was just beginning a line of hardcover mysteries.

The book was A Great Deliverance, her first published title and the first in the Inspector Lynley series, and it was a great success. She quit her high school teaching job of 13 years and began writing full time.

She writes five days a week when she's working on the first draft, and when she's on subsequent drafts, she writes seven days a week. She always gets up at 6 a.m., she says, feeds the dog and takes vitamins and works out on an Exercycle for 30 minutes while reading a meditation book, then inspirational book, then a novel. And she lifts weights for 35 minutes while watching The Today Show. She meditates for 10 minutes, sits down at her desk, reads great literature for about 15 minutes — something along the lines of Jane Austen — and writes a paragraph or page or two in a journal. And then she begins to work on the novel she's writing. She keeps a plot outline, and everyday she writes a minimum of five pages, even if she's on the road for book tours or on vacation.

George said, "The only way to succeed at the writing life is to be able to live according to a schedule that accommodates time to write." Her newest Inspector Lynley novel, This Body of Death (2010), comes out this April.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
  • “I want to live other lives. I've never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.” —Anne Tyler
  • “Writing is a performance, like singing an aria or dancing a jig” —Stephen Greenblatt
  • “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • “Good writing is always about things that are important to you, things that are scary to you, things that eat you up.” —John Edgar Wideman
  • “In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.” —Denise Levertov
  • “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” —E.L. Doctorow
  • “Let's face it, writing is hell.” —William Styron
  • “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” —Thomas Mann
  • “Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials.” —Paul Rudnick
  • “Writing is a failure. Writing is not only useless, it's spoiled paper.” —Padget Powell
  • “Writing is very hard work and knowing what you're doing the whole time.” —Shelby Foote
  • “I think all writing is a disease. You can't stop it.” —William Carlos Williams
  • “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.” —Iris Murdoch
  • “The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is…that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.” —Pico Iyer
  • “Writing is my dharma.” —Raja Rao
  • “Writing is a combination of intangible creative fantasy and appallingly hard work.” —Anthony Powell
  • “I think writing is, by definition, an optimistic act.” —Michael Cunningham
Current Faves - Learn more about poets featured frequently on the show