Mother's Day seems the right time to chat with devoted mom Anna Quindlen, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author who invented the "mommy/career woman blog" before blogs even existed.
A quarter-century ago, her New York Times weekly column Life in the 30s was an unprecedented self-examination of her own life, which was an intimate reflection of the lives of her readers "everyday women" and the issues they faced. What's more, it has been said about her, "She changed the face of journalism for women columnists, and provided readers throughout the world a clear image of values, growth and culture."
In her new memoir, "Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake" (Random House, $26, 208 pages), she reflects on her life "at midpoint," giving a new generation of women insight into marriage, parenting, girlfriends, body image, aging, faith and mortality.
Quindlen, 59, writes the Last Word column for Newsweek magazine. Three of her best-known books are the nonfiction "Living Out Loud" and the novels "Object Lessons" and "One True Thing."
She lives in New York City with her attorney husband, Gerald Krovatin. Their three children are 28, 26 and 23. Visit her at www.annaquindlen.com.
For decades, mothers and career women have viewed you as a mentor-in-print.
It's been wonderful because of the company. Over the years I've met so many great women who started out when I did, had children at the same time and had many of the same challenges. So it wound up being like having an enormous circle of friends you hadn't met. At book signings, it's commonplace for the women in line to start talking very companionably.
That makes me so happy.
What have been your greatest personal and professional triumphs?
Greatest personal triumph: our children. Greatest professional triumph: comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable (through columns). And managing to write a whole mess of novels, none of which I'm ashamed of.
Your biggest fear?
Something really bad happening to one of my children.
What was your style of parenting?
I did my best work when I got out of (my children's) way, not in it. I didn't monkey with the raw material much. I drew bright lines of manners and behavior, but I tried not to massage their personalities into some universally pleasing profile.
My kids are real characters. And that's not so much because I was hands on although I was but because they sometimes forced me to be hands off. And you have to laugh.
In the "Generations" chapter of "Candles," you write: "I've learned the most about myself by looking back at my place in the succession of women who came before me." For example?
We all rise on the shoulders of those who come before us. There are the feminist leaders who made life possible for women like me. There are the women who brought a class-action suit against the New York Times that led to the hiring of a lot of women, including me. There was my mother, who taught me how to provide unconditional love, though she did it better than me. There are all those female writers who provided a template.
What are the sea changes you see between your generation of women and the 20- and 30-somethings of today?
They're learning from our mistakes, but they will make their own, of course. They've heard so much about stress and infertility and fractured marriages that they insist they will take it easier and start their lives earlier.
But that brings its own risks. I'm just so glad they don't have to go through some of what we did.
Any sage words to women regarding the issue of getting through the tribulations and triumphs of life?
I wouldn't be presumptuous enough to give wholesale advice to other women. But what works for me is this: Be not afraid. I think fear is a terrible paralytic. It keeps us from being our true selves, and the more we can be fearless, the better off we will be.
I would also say that there is no earthly reason to wear shoes that hurt, and that a warm doughnut never hurt anyone.
You've been quoted as saying, "I hate writing but I don't know how to do anything else." Given your body of work, that seems ironic. Any advice to aspiring writers about how to get on with their own work?
You have to put your butt in a chair in front of a blank page or screen. It's as simple as that. I don't believe in writer's block. I believe we frequently despair of writing well. So you have to write some bad stuff before you get to the good stuff if you ever do. I'm rarely optimistic about that last.
Your next book?
My seventh novel will be a love story called "Still Life With Bread Crumbs." That's all for now.
Please have the "Last Word," so to speak.
"You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you might find you get what you need." Oh, wait that wasn't really me, was it?
ANNA QUINDLEN APPEARANCES
9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Piedmont Center for the Arts, 801 Magnolia Ave., Oakland; (510) 595-1945.
7 p.m. Thursday at Bookshop West Portal, 80 West Portal Ave., San Francisco; (415) 564-8080.