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Elizabeth Strout, the #1 New York Times Bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-Winning author of Olive Kitteridge and other works of fiction, has a new book of short stories out, appealingly titled Anything Is Possible. The linked short stories revisit places and people that will be familiar to readers of Strout’s previous books. As always, Strout creates empathetic portraits of people working hard to make it in America’s heartland, peeling back the layers of seemingly ordinary people to reveal their secrets and heartaches.

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Back in 2010, Ladette Randolph profiled Strout for Ploughshares. The piece offers insights into what makes a writer, as when Randolph notes that “as a girl, [Strout] played people-watching games with her mother. Together, they would imagine the lives of strangers they saw around town. ‘It seemed to me,’ Strout says, ‘from an early age, that nothing was ever as fun as that…The first ambition I remember having was that of becoming a writer. It seemed as natural as the fact that I would have another birthday. . .it did not seem a wish, but a fact of life.'”

How does this feeling become an exceptional writing career? In Strout’s case, there were long detours during which she attended law school, worked as a lawyer, and cared for her daughter; there were years and years of writing stuff no one paid any attention to. She says:

For many years…my entire writing schedule was around my daughter. . .she was a good baby, and when she napped I would write. Because she napped best when she was in the car, I often drove somewhere, had her fall asleep, and would turn the car off quietly. So for a couple years, my writing time was done in a car in some warehouse parking lot or on a street in New York. Quite honestly, this worked very well…I think working around her schedule was good for me. It took away choice, and I don’t do well with choice. There were very specific times when I could write, and so I did.. .Routine is essential. For years I would tell myself, three hours or three pages.

For more on how a couple of stolen hours a day translated into bestselling and beloved novels like Amy and Isabelle and Olive Kitteredge, download the PDF for free here.


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Ploughshares, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Spring 2010), pp. 174-179