Picks and Pans Review: Talking With...

updated 02/07/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/07/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

>Judith Viorst

MURDER SHE WON'T

JOURNALIST, ESSAYIST, POET (HOW DID I Get to Be Forty and Other Atrocities, Forever Fifty and Other Negotiations) and children's book author (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Really Bad Day), Judith Viorst had never written a novel and had no such plans. "It's scary," she says, "because with a novel you think Moby Dick, you think Anna Karenina."

But given that the first line simply floated into her head, Viorst decided to come up with a second line. "The first thing you know I had a chapter, and before I knew it, I was writing a novel," she says. "I had a wonderful time."

A carefully scheduled wonderful time. "I had months on, months off," says Viorst, who is in her 50s. "On the months on I had to write one page a day—exactly 288 words. I took a pad and pencil wherever I went."

Such organization is typical of Viorst, mother of three grown sons and wife of political writer Milton, whose Sandcastles: The Arabs in Search of the Modern World is due this month. "I'm a planner," she notes. "On any given day I list everything from 'wash hair' to 'straighten out drawers.' "

While Viorst, like her heroine, advice columnist Brenda, lives in a rambling, balcony-festooned home in the Cleveland Park section of Washington, the similarities end there. Sort of. Viorst would never plot murder on behalf of her offspring, or meddle like Brenda. "I'm a pretty good advice giver though," she says. "I don't need much encouragement. A friend once gave me a sign that hangs in my office: 'For peace of mind resign as general manager of the universe.' "

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