Gilbert Cruz
January 17, 2005 AT 05:00 AM EST

Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead recounts an elderly preacher’s open letter to his young son.

Time Lag 24 years since her first novel, Housekeeping.

Why the Wait? ”I’ve been very interested in the other things I’ve been working on,” says Robinson, 61, who wrote two nonfiction books. ”It wasn’t as if I were sitting around waiting to write my next novel.”

Frieda Arkin’s Hedwig and Berti follows the WWII flight of two German Jews to London and then America.

Time Lag 36 years since her debut novel, The Dorp.

Why the Wait? Says Arkin, 87, an ex-student of Thornton Wilder who lives in Ipswich, Mass., ”I wrote six cookbooks, a garden book, and a weekly food column for a local paper.”

Peter DeLeo’s Survive! describes his 13-day hike out of the Sierra Nevada after he and two friends crashed in a single-engine plane in 1994.

Time Lag 10 years since the real-life incident.

Why the Wait? ”It took me two years of physical rehab,” explains DeLeo, 43, ”and then a while longer to come full circle mentally and emotionally.”

Stanley Crawford’s Petroleum Man is a satirical novel about a hypercapitalist seeking to save his grandkids from his son-in-law’s liberal leanings.

Time Lag 27 years since Some Instructions.

Why the Wait? Crawford, 67, taught, wrote nonfiction, and worked on his New Mexico farm. ”For 25 years, garlic was our main crop.”

Maritta Wolff’s Sudden Rain is set in suburban ’70s L.A.

Time Lag 43 years since her previous novel, Buttonwood.

Why the Wait? Wolff, who died in 2002, kept the manuscript in her fridge for 30 years after refusing to revise it. ”If [her] house burned down,” a Scribner publicist explains, ”she knew it would still be intact.”

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