Author down on Kindles, done with Hollywood
Latest a collection about ‘things I feel married to’
TORONTO — She’s best known for her six novels and a moving memoir of her friendship with the late poet Lucy Grealy, Truth and Beauty. But over the years, Ann Patchett has written bushels of non-fiction.
She financed her fiction with magazine work, starting at Seventeen and Bridal Guide, working her way up to The Atlantic, Harpers and Granta. There was an undercover assignment to infiltrate the world of Winnebago travel. A personal Christmas tale about children, divorce and the holidays. An essay about getting hooked on opera.
Those pieces and others have just been published as This is the Story of a Happy Marriage (HarperCollins). The title comes from one of the pieces in the collection, an exploration of how she came to wed her second husband after vowing for years not to remarry.
“It is a book about commitment. And I feel like all of the essays are in some ways about things I feel married to,” Patchett says.
Patchett is on a book tour and answers questions gamely and with grace:
On the short story’s moment:
Patchett was guest editor of the 2006 edition of The Best American Short Stories, and introduced the anthology with an essay bemoaning how little love these literary gems receive. “The short story is in need of a scandal,” she suggested tongue-in-cheek in the piece, which is also contained in her new collection.
Well, short stories are finally having a moment in the sun. Not thanks to a scandal, but rather Nobel recognition for the high priestess of the art form, Alice Munro.
Patchett has a face well suited to beaming. She proceeds to do just that when Munro’s feat is mentioned.
“That was one of those things that not one person anywhere that I know had anything but a joyful response,” she exclaims.
“I just got so many emails from friends saying ‘I’m in tears,’ ‘This is the greatest day,’ ‘Joy, joy, love, love.’ I have heard no backlash. No eye rolling. Zero. Everybody loves her. Everybody’s happy. And it’s wonderful.”
Patchett is also aware short stories hit a second bonanza this fall in Canada when Edmontonbased author Lynn Coady won the 2013 Giller Prize for her collection, Hellgoing.
“I’m looking forward to reading her short stories,” she says, calling Coady’s previous outing, The Antagonist — a novel — “terrific.”
On Kindles and technology in general:
Patchett, who is sapling slender, is standing up to the colossus Amazon over what its business model has done to independent booksellers.
A couple of years ago she and two partners opened an independent bookstore in Nashville, where she lives, after the city’s only two bookstores closed. It’s called Parnassus, and it’s flourishing, she says.
Though she writes books and sells books, Patchett doesn’t have a problem with e-readers. In fact, Parnassus sells ebooks through its website. But Kindles are another matter. They only accept books bought or loaned through Amazon, giving the online seller a monopoly.
“I would really, really rather see somebody reading on their iPad and buying their books through Kobo, which allows independent booksellers to sell the books.”
She shakes her head when asked if she reads on an e-reader.
“I have no relationship with technology. I’ve never done any social media. I have a 10-year-old flip phone that was $19. I’ve never texted. I don’t watch television.”
Patchett corrects herself. She texts her husband when she travels without him. They are always the same, always one word. “Landed.”
On turning books into movies:
Well-crafted plots, finely drawn characters and fluid prose are hallmarks of Patchett’s novels, which seem like they would be Hollywood bait. But oddly, only her first, The Patron Saint of Liars, has been turned into a movie. A TV movie of the week at that.
Patchett shrugs. Her first five novels were all optioned by production companies. And she confesses to having earned a lot of money over the years from those options. For that she is grateful.
But none has made it to the big screen — and for that she is grateful, as well. “It’s a best-case scenario, I think, that I make the money and they don’t make the movie.”
She is at the point in her career, though, where she feels she doesn’t need the aggravation. When State of Wonder came out in 2011, she decided not to accept more movie offers.
“It just falls apart, falls apart. You’re putting all this energy into nothing,” she says of the experi- ence of partnering with Hollywood to try to convert words on pages to images on screens.
“They call you all the time. And they say: ‘We’re really interested in having Nicole Kidman play Roxanne Cross,” — the opera star heroine of her breakthrough novel Bel Canto — “but her breasts are too small. We really need somebody with bigger breasts. What about Catherine Zeta-Jones? What do you think about her breasts?’
“Have that conversation for eight years and you want to blow your brains out.”
On her next novel:
As she explains in Happy Marriage, Patchett’s fiction writing process starts with a mental gestation.
She plots out her tales — figuring out who her characters are and what becomes them — before she begins to write. It’s a process that plays out entirely in her head, and it can be protracted. She’s puzzling out one now that’s been percolating in her imagination for two or three years.
“It’s been very slow to kind of come together in my mind. But I’m hoping that means it won’t take me that long to write it. It can take me anywhere from a year to three years to write a book.”
During the mental exploration phase, Patchett writes nothing down.
“I do have a good memory. But you know, when you get to know people, you don’t take notes. … You ask them questions, you forget, you ask again. You just get to know people.”
Patchett expects to begin writing her seventh novel in February.
Author Ann Patchett’s first five novels were all optioned by production companies. But none has made it to the big screen — and for that she is grateful.
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage Ann Patchett HarperCollins Canada