I first discovered author Ann Patchett in the pre-Kindle days of 2001 when I saw people so engrossed in her book Bel Canto that they nearly missed their subway stops.
Moments after buying my own copy, I became a fangirl: a heart-shaped photo of her in the high school locker of my mind.
What I love most are the interesting and complicated characters she creates, who you are curious about even if you don’t like them very much. If you hang on for the ride, there is a secret prize at the end when you discover how all of them are connected into a larger story you didn’t know even existed.
In between you learn about encyclopedia-worthy topics — the Amazon jungle, opera, magic — that you can then discuss at cocktail parties as if you are an expert.
When I heard that she was a guest on Fresh Air with Terry Gross (don’t tell Ann, but I love her even more), my heart fluttered. Thank God no one was around to see the stupid grin on my face for the whole 40 minutes of the interview.
They were discussing her latest book, a series of essays called, This is the story of a happy marriage, and I promptly reserved it at my local library. It took much longer to read, because first the library lost my reservation, and then I forgot to re-reserve it. I know, I know, some fangirl I am.
A year later, I was reminded to pick it up when David Sedaris recommended it on his book tour, referring to her essay, “The Getaway Car,” as a primer for every writer. (He’s right, by the way.)
The next day I finally went back to the library, and curled up with it that night.
I absolutely loved it, then hated it, and then loved it again with only slight twinges of jealousy.
Put simply: non-fiction is too close to home.
I can happily immerse myself in fiction, because I don’t write it. There are no comparisons to draw. Some writers read similar genres to their own for inspiration. When I do it, I can lose track of my voice and start using theirs instead.
And while I adore Ann’s tone and style, their polished perfection can add unnecessary pressure when I’m stuck in the third round of revisions.
It’s clear that she had hard years — her divorce, her childhood, waitressing at T.G.I. Friday’s — but the resulting essays made every misstep sound effortless.
The writer in me — green with envy while reading about her landing a publisher, and traveling to exotic places to write essays for the best magazines — wanted her to swim around in the muck a little more to make me feel better about my own messiness.
More than that, I wondered if I could ever summit the same Best-selling Author – Sought-After Speaker – Renowned Personality at ease with life and her place in it mountain. Man, does it seem steep from here.
I was impressed, and I kind of wanted to gauge her eyes out.
Then sanity kicked in, and I was reminded what I’ve heard from every successful writer, artist and businessperson — people make it when they never give up.
Or put another way, giving up gets you nowhere fast. Or put yet another way, jealousy is a good indicator of what you really want, so you better stick with it. (Maybe that last one was just for me.)
Ann returned to the blank page every day, focused on her dream, and in time something amazing happened. Then rather than keeping the experience to herself, she shared what she learned with all of us.
Yep, still love her.
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