Happy Holidays from Jennifer, Jean, Alice,
Elizabeth, Tara, Laura, and Ariana
Told in multiple voices, Joss' novel is a stunner. It's crime fiction the way Kate Atkinson is crime fiction — a novel cleverly plotted around a single event that reaches out across the story in mysterious and menacing ways. Set in an isolated farm in the English moors, Picnics in the Sun examines the lives of Howard and Deborah after Howard has had a debilitating stroke. Their marriage is in decay; their lives, like their farmhouse, are crumbling. The plot becomes increasingly suspenseful as a festering event in their past infects their present and a stranger inserts himself cruelly into their lives.
Our Picnics in the Sun is [Joss's] gutsiest book yet as there seemingly isn’t a likable character in it...Yet it turns out to be every bit as much of a pageturner, and a search for grace, as Quiet Dell. Much of that is due to Joss’s artful writing — the psychological depth of her characters, the description of the English countryside and the trust that one has in her, given the richness of her previous books...I’ve been re-reading parts of the book and I’m agape at what Joss pulls off here. These are two books [Our Picnics in the Sun and Quiet Dell] that not only transcend their genres, they’re just plain transcendent.
Many of us have read subtle, well-wrought stories in which a character's most secret soul is illuminated—and yet (yawn) nothing really happens. The writer tried too hard to Make the Reader Care. There are also pyrotechnically masterful stories in which cars explode and the world ends—and yet (ho-hum) nobody cares. The writer tried too hard to Make Something Happen. To avoid both problems, I've found it helpful to ask three questions: What does my character want? What keeps my character from getting what he or she wants? Does my character get what he or she wants in the end or not?
I spent the first half of my childhood seeing what the AIDS of dying looked like up close and personal, and then the second half of my childhood, after my father's death, seeing this whole new vision and life of what AIDS and HIV could mean for somebody. And so to have one foot in each, and reconciling myself with that and growing up with that duality....I think...now is the moment for people to be talking about this. Because it wasn't that long ago, and I think we've forgotten what it looked like.
When you write screenplays, says Dixon, you are creating a blueprint of a story others will execute. “Especially in animated television,” she adds, because she is not an animator. No matter how successful Dixon has been in Hollywood—where she never thought she’d end up—she says she feels most at home writing novels because she is creating the whole story herself.
Was she worried about treading on what many readers consider sacred text? Only after the fact, it seems. "There’s been so much written about Anne over the years...." [Cantor] says. "...But really nothing has been written about Margot...So I felt like I wanted to tell her story and when I was writing, I didn’t think about anybody reading it. I didn't think about what other people would say. I just sort of thought 'well this is a story that I need to tell. And this'd be a book I would want to read.'"
|E-book omnibus re-release|
The writing varies. Sometimes I can conceive a story in a few hours. I wrote a rough draft of The Itsy Bitsy Spider on an hour-and-a-half bus ride. Other times it may take months or even years for an idea to germinate. But generally, once I have a plot, I can write a story in a few days.
Writing for children is much harder than most people think. Exult in your writing, but keep a critical eye. Do not get too attached to your words. This is especially true of rhyming verse, where rhythm and meter are critical. A clever or beautiful line is worthless if the meter is off.