NPR Staff

When greeting card designer Emily McDowell had cancer, she got a lot of cards that just felt weird. "A get-well-soon card is kind of strange if you might not," she tells NPR's Rachel Martin.

So McDowell started writing nontraditional sympathy cards. They say things like "Please let me be the first person to punch the next person who tells you everything happens for a reason. I'm sorry you're going through this."

For decades, the two strong-willed women in Yewande Omotoso's new novel were committed enemies. Hortensia is black, Marion is white and both are widows in their 80s. Their properties — in an affluent neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa — sit next door to one another. Then, one day, an accident brings them together.

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LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

This past week, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber hit a milestone.

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George Saunders is acclaimed as a genius of the short story — and now he's written his first novel. It reads as part Our Town, part ghost story, and even part Ken Burns. It's a story that gives voice to a child who has died, and resonance to the silence of his father, who is enveloped by — and the instrument of — much grief.

On New Year's Eve, 2006, Christine Hyung-Oak Lee developed a splitting headache. She was 33, and her world turned upside down — as in, she literally saw the world upside down. Suddenly, she could hold things in her mind for only 15 minutes at a time. She was a writer who now couldn't recall words or craft sentences. She remembers looking at the phone and thinking to herself: What is the phone number for 911? Days later, she learned she'd had a stroke.

When author Viet Thanh Nguyen was 4 years old, he and his family fled South Vietnam and came to the U.S. as refugees. That's about the same age his own son is now — and Nguyen wonders if his child will ever know the feeling of "otherness" that he knows so well.

"I think it's a very valuable experience," Nguyen tells NPR's Ari Shapiro. "I wish, not only my son, but everybody, had a sense of what it is like to be an outsider, to be an other. Because that's partly what gives rise to compassion and to empathy — the sense that you are not always at the center of the universe."

Joyce Carol Oates' latest book opens in 1999 with a killing: A man who considers himself a soldier of Christ shoots a doctor who performs abortions. Over the next 700-plus pages, we see the consequences of that act ripple through the doctor's family and that of his killer.

The novel is called A Book of American Martyrs. Oates, who is outspoken about her liberal politics, spoke with NPR's Ari Shapiro.


Interview Highlights

On telling parts of the story from the perspective of the killer, Luther

"I think you work harder if you're haunted by some small darkness," says John Darnielle. And if the work he's produced is any indication, Darnielle is one haunted man.

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LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Trigger alert - does someone incessantly...

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The dynamic, sometimes evil and always enthralling Victor Newman has been a mainstay of CBS' daytime soap The Young and the Restless. The character is played by actor Eric Braeden, who is marking his 37th year on the show. Braeden also has a new memoir out called I'll Be Damned. In it, he shares stories from his career and his childhood in post-World War II Germany.

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