Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Character Development: Author Ann Patchett's Catholic Faith Has Played a Starring Role in Her Growth as a Writer

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Character Development: Author Ann Patchett's Catholic Faith Has Played a Starring Role in Her Growth as a Writer

Article excerpt

There is no particular person author Ann Patchett has looked to for inspiration. Instead, she credits her Catholic faith for teaching her a boundless capacity for creativity and appreciation for metaphor. Patchett has harnessed that power to her audience: She is the recipient of the PEN/ Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize (2002) and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for her novel Bel Canto, which sold more than 1 million copies in the United States and has been translated into 30 languages.

Her most recent novel, Run, has a suspenseful plot that takes place in the span of one day. Run offers a glimpse into the remarkable ways in which Patchett's characters are transformed by secrets revealed and by a family's unexpected circumstances.

Patchett's insights are also expressed in an essay based on a commencement address she gave at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. What Now? reminds those on the cusp of change that their journey is as important as their destination.

Although she says her readers are the last thing on her mind when writing her stories, the beauty and redemption at the heart of a Patchett book are so captivating, her readers can't help but feel that she wrote it just for them.

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Ann Patchett

Novelist

Selected works:

What Now? (Harper, 2008)

Run (Harper, 2007)

Truth & Beauty (Harper, 2005)

Bel Canto (HarperCollins, 2001)

Author Ann Patchett's Catholic faith has played a starring role in her growth as a writer.

An interview with Ann Patchett

Why do you think Catholics who both adore and sometimes struggle with their faith play such a major role in your stories?

Because I am one, both adoring and struggling. I went to Catholic school for 12 years, and it's just so much a part of the fabric of my life that I would have a hard time picking it out of things. It's not that I'm trying to put it into my writing. It's that I would have a hard time getting it out.

Do you have any special desire for your readers when they come to your stories?

I honestly never write a novel with a reader in mind. I write my books entirely for myself. I don't sell my books before I write them. I don't sell them until they're finished, and for the most part nobody reads them while I'm writing them. It is this very special time where I'm telling myself the story that I want to hear.

In the same way when I cook, I cook the food I like to eat. I'm not a great cook, but I love my own cooking because I cook to my own taste. When I write, I write the kind of story I want to read. I can't even imagine sitting down and thinking, "I wonder what people would want now? How am I going to make the reader fed now?" I can't ever fully imagine people reading my books.

But many do!

I wonder if people are buying them and using them as building material or putting additions on their house with them or something. I meet people who tall me my work was so meaningful to them, and I smile and I nod--but I know there's some way in which I don't make that fundamental connection between what I do in the privacy of my home when I'm sitting in my study working and what somebody else is doing in the privacy of their home years later when they're sitting in their study reading.

It would be quite an impersonal thing to be thinking about people you don't know as you write.

It would make you crazy because you'd have this enormous jury sitting on your shoulder all the time saying, "Now I don't think I'm going to like it when you do that."

This very idea might be what's responsible for so much bad writing and the bad movies that seem so geared toward what audiences may want in a story.

Right, and the question that everyone asked me when I was out on book tour with Run was, "Wasn't it hard to write a novel after the success of Bel Canto? …

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