Lee Woodruff, author of the new novel, Those We Love Most, is certainly one of the women I admire most. Lee is the coauthor with her husband, Bob Woodruff, of the number one New York Times bestseller In an Instant, and the author of the essay collection Perfectly Imperfect. She is a contributing editor to CBS This Morning and has written numerous articles on family and parenting for Parade, Ladies’ Home Journal, Redbook, Country Living, and Family Fun. She and Bob founded the Bob Woodruff Foundation to assist wounded service members and their families. Woodruff has four children and lives in Westchester County, New York.
I gobbled up Those We Love Most in a day. It’s the best kind of page-turner: suspenseful, taut, and propulsive while simultaneously being profound, delicate, and lovely. I’m delighted to share a Q &A I recently did with Lee about her debut novel, the differences between writing fiction and non-fiction, her belief in the value of literature to a life, her heroes, her ways of handling stress, and her go-to affirmation.
1) Was writing fiction more or less challenging than writing non-fiction? What was different about the experience?
Writing fiction is definitely more challenging as with non-fiction you have to stick to your life. With fiction you can make the characters do and say anything, so the challenge is to make the story hang together and to make the dialogue authentic. With fiction you could really go anywhere, the sky is the limit. I find that more daunting.
2) As a former English professor, I have to ask you about your experience as an English major in college! What were some of your favorite courses? Who were some of your favorite authors that you studied?
We English majors have to stick together, that’s for sure. I loved being an English major and I took a number of writing courses as well and loved that. Fred Busch and Peter Balakian were two of my published professors at Colgate University and they taught me well. Favorite authors that I studied include Thomas Mann, Tolstoy, Herman Melville—I’m going for classics here. But fave writers? Wallace Stegner, Sue Miller, Ann Patchett, Jane Hamilton, Annie Lamott, Anna Quindlen, are you seeing a gender divide here between what we studied and what I love now?
3) In an age where humanities departments are shrinking and the worth of a degree in literature is being questioned, can you speak to the value of an English major in a person’s life?
Liberal arts in general is a wonderful education. How many of us at 21 know what we want to really do and are qualified to do it? But if we know how to write, how to communicate, how to start the conversation and advance it, how to ask the questions, this is the ongoing value of a liberal arts education without question. If the world were tech and science based we’d all become a bunch of robots clicking away on our devices. There is a whole world out there of art and literature and history and nature that is the antidote to our tech selves.
4) Who inspires you? These can be public figures, historical personages, people from your personal life, even fictional characters!
Hmmmm. This is a tough one. We have so few real heroes today and when we make them, we are so quick to rip them down. Who in their right minds would ever want to enter politics today for example.
I think right now I’m inspired by the every day heroes I meet in the veteran community, the men and women who have returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with internal and external damage. Against the odds these families move forward often without resources and yet when you meet with them they are resilient to a fault.
5) You are an extraordinarily busy woman with a very full life! What are your favorite ways to unwind, relax, and replenish yourself?
I read, I swim, I hike when I can. I do lots of snuggling with my 12 year old twins and my dog, Woody.
6) What are some of your favorite novels? Did any particular novels or novelists inspire you in your own fiction-writing?
I loved Angle of Repose and Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner– I think if I could only take one book on a desert island it would be the latter. Anna Quindlen and her amazing prose and insightful essays has long inspired me and I first became a fan back when she was writing for the New York Times.
7) What is one piece of advice you would give every new parent?
This too will end– so enjoy it more, stress less about the little things and never underestimate the power of sleep to give you perspective.
8) Do you have a go-to quotation that never fails to inspire, calm, or motivate you?
Right now I’m one Mommy doing the very best I can. And that’s all I can do.
Watch a video about Those We Love Most here:
Follow Lee online here: