How was I lucky enough to read an advance copy of AND THEN I FOUND YOU by Patti Callahan Henry? We share an editor—the wonderful Brenda Copeland at St. Martin’s! And then, as luck would also have it, not only did Patti write a work of fiction laden with truths that hit all the right notes for me—family history, a little romance, a hopeful ending—but she is a very kind and generous author. Our paths and lives have criss-crossed without us knowing, which is what I like to think of as more than a coincidence— perhaps a wink or reminder from the universe that there are always new wonderful people (and new books) right around the corner. And maybe they’re not completely new after all. It’s inspirational for me to get to know an author who has NINE published novels to her name. Did you read that? NINE! One of the best parts of this blog is that we get to learn from others. You’ll learn a lot about writing, women’s fiction, and what Patti thinks of labels, below.
Please welcome Patti Callahan Henry to Women’s Fiction Writers!
Author Patti Callahan Henry Doesn’t Think About Labels, She Focuses On Her Stories And The Craft Of Writing
Amy: Congratulations, Patti! Today is publication day for AND THEN I FOUND YOU, your NINTH novel! I read an advance copy of your book, as well as posts and your essay, written with your sister, about the origin of this novel, which is based in truth. It’s about a woman who is found on Facebook by the daughter she placed for adoption. Did you have any qualms about bringing real life into your fiction in such an intimate way?
Patti: Thanks, Amy! Pub day is always exciting no matter how many times we have one. This book was the most personal I’ve ever written, and yes, I had many qualms about writing it. But in the end, it has been the most satisfying journey. I started trying to write the True (with a capital T) story and found it nearly impossible. It was my sister’s intimate story to tell. So what I did was sit down with my sister and tell her how the novel wasn’t working, how I thought she needed to write it as a memoir. And together we decided that what I would do was take the emotional truths of the story, the synchronicities and the reunion, but change the names, states, ages and facts. After that discussion, I started over. And as a novelist, Amy, you know how hard it is to begin-again just when you think you’ve finished. But begin-again I did. And then thirteen-year-old Katie fell in love with Jack on the first day of spring and the novel started there….
Amy: The idea of writing nine novels, for me, is not only exciting, but daunting. How does it make you feel? Did you know when you wrote your first book that you’d be prolific?
Patti: No! I had no idea I would take my story/book/reading obsession this far! I had a goal: to write a novel. And when that goal was accomplished, and the novel wasn’t published, I decided to try again. After my first novel (but the second book I wrote) was published, I understood that I wouldn’t stop writing. I had no idea if I would keep being published, but the writing would continue. It still does. I know I won’t stop. I can’t.
Amy: Is there a particular character or characters from any of your novels that hold an extra special place in your heart and memory?
Patti: They are all like family, which sounds hokey, but isn’t. For varied reasons, some characters won’t leave me alone. Amy and Nick Lowry in Losing the Moon seem to be a fan favorite and people write to me about them, and I often wonder how they are doing! Catherine in Between The Tides comes to mind because she was right next to me for the seven years it took to write, rewrite and mend that book (this was the first book I wrote, but the fourth published). But my main character, Katie, in And Then I Found You has settled herself directly in the middle of my heart. Her bravery and kindness far surpass my own qualities and I adore her.
Amy: Can you tell us what you’re working on now?
Patti: I don’t have a title. Or let me rephrase that—I have about sixteen titles for the new work. It is about a woman (artist, wife and mother) who must find the truth between two stories about the same event in a single night….
Amy: The term “women’s fiction” comes up against a lot opposition, of and its writers can take a lot of slack. What’s your definition of women’s fiction, and does that label bother you?
Patti: I mostly don’t think about these labels, but focus on my stories and the craft of writing. I don’t look under “category” when choosing my reading or even my own writing subject. I choose a book when the storyline sounds interesting, no matter the genre. But if I must define “women’s fiction” I would say that it is a genre with a “female protagonist who must make choices in her life that will forever alter her life.” In my novels, those choices are emotional, internal and come with great struggle. For me, love is an integral part of every story, and not just romantic love, but sister, child, best friend, etc… I have no idea if this definition is accurate, but it works for me. The label, whatever it is, doesn’t bother me. I write to tell a story, not find a “good enough” label.
Amy: What is your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction? (Or, let’s say, for about-to-be-published authors of women’s fiction?)
Patti: My advice for aspiring authors of any kind is always the same: Read. Write. Read. Write. Take classes on story structure, writing and publishing. Read On Writing by Stephen King and Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Read all genres. Write every day. Read. Write. Go to writing conferences. Meet authors and editors and agents. Follow authors, editors and agents on twitter and Facebook. Read. Write. Read. Write. Go to author readings and ask questions. Read. Write. Read. Write.
Amy, it is so fun talking to you. And I so look forward to your new novel THE GLASS WIVES.
Patti Callahan Henry
New York Times bestselling author Patti Callahan Henry has published nine novels: Losing the Moon, Where the River Runs, When Light Breaks,Between the Tides, The Art of Keeping Secrets, Driftwood Summer, The Perfect Love Song, Coming up for Air and the upcoming And Then I FoundYou—which will be released by St. Martin’s Press in April 2013. Hailed as a fresh new voice in southern fiction, Henry has been shortlisted for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, and nominated four different times for the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Novel of the Year. Her work is published in five languages and in audiobook by Brilliance Audio.
Henry has appeared in numerous magazines including Good Housekeeping, skirt! magazine, South magazine, and Southern Living. Two of her novels were Okra Picks and Coming up For Air was selected for the August 2011 Indie Next List. She is a frequent speaker at fundraisers, library events and book festivals. A full time writer, wife, and mother of three—Henry lives in Mountain Brook, Alabama.
Patti Callahan Henry grew up in Philadelphia, the daughter of an Irish minister, and moved south with her family when she was 12 years old. With the idea that being a novelist was “unrealistic,” she set her sights on becoming a pediatric nurse, graduating from Auburn University with a degree in nursing, and from Georgia State with a Master’s degree in Child Health. She left nursing to raise her first child, Meagan, and not long after having her third child, Rusk, she began writing down the stories that had always been in her head. Henry wrote early in the mornings, before her children woke for the day, but it wasn’t until Meagan, then six, told her mother that she wanted “to be a writer of books” when she grew up, that Henry realized that writing was her own dream as well. She began taking writing classes at Emory University, attending weekend writers’ conferences, and educating herself about the publishing industry, rising at 4:30 AM to write. Her first book, Losing the Moon, was published in 2004.