'The Big Three': What we talk about when we talk about love

Shadyside author anchors her book with great loves

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Former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette advice columnist Catherine Specter was struggling to feel the "movement" of a novel she was writing when she remembered something a family friend had told her years earlier about love. The memory inspired her to write a new book we all can enjoy today: "The Big Three" (Nine Twenty Books, $14).

"He said everyone will have three great loves," Ms. Specter said. "Every book needs an anchor, so no matter where it goes, it's still anchored by one overall idea. I remembered that man telling me that; all of a sudden 'The Big Three' came together in my mind.

"I deleted 16 chapters of the other book and kept only the first paragraph, and that became the first paragraph in 'The Big Three.' "

Eight weeks later, including writing "all day every day for seven weeks straight," the novel was finished. It would need rewriting and editing later, but the family friend's statement remained the anchor.

"The Big Three" became Ms. Specter's first published novel in October 2012, and it has been selling well for the Shadyside writer ever since. Which it should. "The Big Three" is a terrific story. The heroine, Amanda Morgan, is a freelance newspaper columnist in an unnamed city much like Pittsburgh who is enjoying a new relationship with Timothy, an architect-engineer from Washington, D.C.

But then the other two of Amanda's three great loves come back to see her, and she must figure out how many of the three she should date: Timothy, or New Yorker Paul, who proposes marriage 10 years after they broke up a serious relationship, and/or Steve, a local car lover who split up another great relationship a year ago.

It's confusing for Amanda, whose columns contain advice to readers who have written her about their problems. Fortunately, she has two close girlfriends, Anne and Ravenna, who help her deal with her romantic problems. Anne, meanwhile, is dealing with two male friends herself, while the French Ravenna, who travels in from her home in New York, has a new relationship with a local older man.

Ms. Specter, 39, has written two more books since she finished "The Big Three," and her readers may get to enjoy them in the near future.

"One is nonfiction based on my advice column. That's a humorous advice book. The other is the sequel to 'The Big Three,' " she said. "Fiction's my favorite thing to write. I do love it. There's a certain liberty in fiction you don't have with other modes of writing."

Pohla Smith: psmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1228.

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