Having a bad day of writing is like having a fight with somebody you love— the whole world gets tainted. You doubt everything—your character, their character, the future. I am in the hard part of writing, staring at a blank page, and life is tinged with doom. An itch, or knock in the engine, or whine in the refrigerator— something isn’t right. When I’m in that place I panic, start grabbing explanations: bi-polar disorder? Brain tumor? My father was crazy. Maybe I am, too. Maybe the best days of my life are over. Today, neck buzzing, slight headache, brain tumor seems like the best option. You think I’m kidding.

Books about dead people almost always interest me, but there’s a big difference between a Nancy Drew dead person and a Donna Tartt dead person. Part of the difference is detail– Nancy’s pink sweaters and healthy lunches, and Donna’s snakes and water towers, leeches and spreading trees. Part of the difference is voice: what Nancy thinks about life, which is, come to think of it, pretty much nothing, and what Donna thinks. What do we learn from Nancy? Mr. Tindle tried to hide the fact that he embezzled money. What do we learn from Donna? Life is unpredictable; one cruel accident can unmake a family: the loss can be absorbed, but never repaired. These are the reasons I put one book down, distracted, and stay with the other one, reading late into the night.