With her 20th novel, “The Beginner’s Goodbye,” about to be released, Baltimore novelist Anne Tyler is already hard at work on her 21st — a “sprawling family saga that goes on and on and on” that she’ll be writing backward, beginning with the ending.
That way, Tyler explained in an interview broadcast on NPR on Friday morning, should she die before the book is finished, it could still be published.
“Backwards, nobody would ever know whether you had reached the end you had planned,” she told NPR’s Lynn Neary.
The interview, Tyler’s first in 35 years, began with Tyler taking Neary on a quick tour of her beloved Roland Park, where many of her novels — including “The Beginner’s Good-Bye” — are set. The pair then settled in for a talk in the dining room of Tyler’s townhouse.
“This is where I just think I’m in heaven,” Tyler said of Roland Park.
Tyler, 70, also spoke of the writing process, noting that the best time for her is when she is in the middle of her books. The hardest times, she said, are starting a book — “I have nothing to say,” she said she thinks to herself. “Why do I think I can do this?” — and then sending off the finished product to her New York publishers.
“I just seem to picture them on a train, and my heart is broken,” she said. “They’re so brave to be going up there on their own.”
The eight-minute NPR piece included Tyler’s thoughts on the perfect afterlife — appropriate, perhaps, since “The Beginner’s Goodbye” centers on a man who is being visited by his recently deceased wife. Tyler’s husband, psychiatrist and novelist Taghi Modarressi, died in 1997.
“I always say when I die and go to heaven, I’m going to have an 11-year-old daughter and a new cat, and I’m going to be in the middle of [writing] a book,” Tyler said.
As to why she’s so seldom interviewed, Tyler insisted the answer is simple.
“I don’t have much to say, so I figure about every 35 years will do, right?” she said. “It does make me very self-conscious when I go back to writing, after I talk about writing.”
Tyler’s 20 novels include “The Accidental Tourist,” which was turned into an Oscar-winning film starring William Hurt, Kathleen Turner and Geena Davis, and “Breathing Lessons,” for which she won the Pulitzer Prize.