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Attention Please, Anne Tyler Has Something to Say

The novelist Anne Tyler, whose 22nd novel, “Clock Dance,” comes out July 10, has been around for so long, reliably turning out books of such consistently high quality, that it’s easy to take her a little for granted. Oddballs, misfits, sad sacks, melancholy, messed-up families — by now we know, or think we know, exactly what we’re going to get. Nor has Tyler made much of an effort to publicize herself. She doesn’t do book tours, almost never gives interviews. She doesn’t need to. She has a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Critics Circle Award and legions of satisfied fans, among them writers like Jodi Picoult, Emma Donoghue, Nick Hornby. John Updike, another admirer, once said that she wasn’t just good but “wickedly good.”

Tyler is not a recluse, exactly — or, as one critic called her, the Greta Garbo of the literary world — but she’s a creature of rigorous habit, rooted in Baltimore, her home for the last 51 years and one she seldom leaves. She doesn’t do interviews, because she dislikes the way they make her feel the next morning. “I’ll go upstairs to my writing room to do my regular stint of work,” she said recently, “and I’ll probably hear myself blathering on about writing and I won’t do a very good job that day. I always say that the way you write a novel is for the first 83 drafts you pretend that nobody is ever, ever going to read it.”

So why was she sitting in front of a voice recorder now? “I don’t know.” She laughed. “Maybe because I’m getting old and easier to push around.”

For the last 10 years, since her husband died and her children moved away, Tyler, who is 75 now but looks much younger, has lived in a high-end Rouse development on the edge of Baltimore’s leafy Roland Park neighborhood. Furnished in contemporary Shaker style, with lots of polished wood, her house is almost disturbingly neat. Her upstairs writing room is so uncluttered and antiseptic you could safely perform surgery there, and what actually takes place at her desk is only a little less complicated. She writes in longhand, draft after draft, and when she has a section she’s satisfied with, types it into a computer. When she has a completed draft she prints it out and then rewrites it all in longhand again, and that version she reads out loud into a Dictaphone. The result is a style that she modestly calls no style at all, but is nevertheless unmistakably hers: transparent and alert to all the nuances of the seemingly ordinary.

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