A collection of essays, lectures, and observations on the art of writing fiction from Alice McDermott, winner of the National Book Award and unmatched "virtuoso of language and image" (Rebecca Steinitz, The Boston Globe)
What About the Baby? Some Thoughts on the Art of Fiction gathers the bestselling novelist Alice McDermott’s pithiest wisdom about her chosen art, acquired over a lifetime as an acclaimed writer and teacher of writing.
From technical advice (“check that your verbs aren’t burdened by unnecessary hads and woulds”) to setting the bar (“I expect the fiction I read to carry with it the conviction that it is written with no other incentive than that it must be written”), from the demands of readers (“they’d been given a story with a baby in it, and they damn well wanted that baby accounted for”) to the foibles of public life (“I’ve never subscribed to the notion that a film adaptation is the final imprimatur for a work of fiction, despite how often I’ve been told by encouraging friends and strangers, ‘Maybe they’ll make a movie of your novel,’ as if I’d been aiming for a screenplay all along but somehow missed the mark and wrote a novel by mistake”), McDermott muses trenchantly and delightfully about the craft of fiction.
She also serves throughout as the artful conductor of a literary chorus, quoting generously from the work of other great writers (including Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Nabokov, Morrison, and Woolf ), beautifully joining her voice with theirs. These stories of lessons learned and books read, and of the terrors and the joys of what she calls “this mad pursuit,” form a rich and valuable sourcebook for readers and writers alike: a deeply charming meditation on the unique gift that is literature.
Alice McDermott is the author of several novels, including The Ninth Hour; Someone; After This; Child of My Heart; Charming Billy, winner of the 1998 National Book Award; and At Weddings and Wakes—all published by FSG. That Night, At Weddings and Wakes, and After This were all finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. Her stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, and elsewhere. For more than two decades she was the Richard A. Macksey Professor of the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the faculty at the Sewanee Writers Conference. McDermott lives with her family outside Washington, D.C.
Praise for What About the Baby?
"Fans of McDermott’s fiction should flock to this sprightly collection, which demonstrates that the author expects “a lot” from the craft . . . Set aside those bulky how-to handbooks for this healthy balm of common-sense wisdom, inspiration, and encouragement." —Kirkus Reviews
"With style and wit, novelist McDermott (The Ninth Hour) offers a master class on writing fiction . . . Her love of fiction and its craft is apparent, and her advice is at once encouraging and direct: “I expect a lot of fiction—of mine and yours and everybody else’s.” Within these pages, there is room at the table for all." —Publishers Weekly
"[T]his collection offers a tender but still often pragmatic set of reflections on writing. Most of all, it is a welcoming and warmhearted exploration of what it means to write (and re-write) when one finds one can do nothing else." —Shelf Awareness
Praise for Alice McDermott
“McDermott is a poet of corporeal description . . . it's the way she marries the spirit to the physical world that makes her work transcendent.” —Sarah Begley, Time
"McDermott manages to write lyrically in plain language, she is able to find the drama in uninflected experience.” —Charles McNulty, The Los Angeles Times
“That’s the spectacular power of McDermott’s writing: Without ever putting on literary airs, she reveals to us what’s distinct about characters who don’t have the ego or eloquence to make a case for themselves as being anything special.” —Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air, NPR
“Vivid and arresting . . . Marvelously evocative.” —Mary Gordon, The New York Times Book Review