Au­thor down on Kindles, done with Hol­ly­wood

Lat­est a col­lec­tion about ‘things I feel mar­ried to’

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Books - HE­LEN BRAN­SWELL

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.

Melissa Ann Pin­ney/HarperColl­ins

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

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