Monday, April 9, 2012

For Ann Patchett fans Only — The Getaway Car, Reviewed

Here's an article I wrote for fictionebooks about Ann Patchett's book, The Getaway Car. I heard her speak at Town Hall Seattle last year when her book State of Wonder came out. She was a very real, accessible, down to earth person altogether; open, funny, unaffected.

The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing by Ann Patchett.

I’ve been a long-time fan of Ann Patchett, starting years ago with Bel Canto and continuing through 2011’s State of Wonder.  I heard her speak at Town Hall Seattle and was wowed by her comfortable, open, engaging presentation. She was real and pleasantly confident as is this memoir of her writing life. “I was always going to be a writer,” she announces. She knew even before she could tie her shoes.

Patchett begins by giving us lots of advice, based on her experience of course. She’s careful to say that this e-book is not an instruction manual but a disclosure of how she writes fiction.

• She maps out every book in advance, often taking a year of two to get the full picture. This is her happiest time. There are no written notes or outlines, just mental mechanisms, gyrations, decisions. She says, “In short, the story is in use, and all we have to do is sit there and write it down. But it’s right about there, the part where we sit, that things fall apart.”

• The difficult part comes when the writer decides to “. . .reach into the air and pluck the butterfly up.” . . . “Suddenly, all the excitement, the color, the movement is gone.” Patchett explains how tough it is to get a two –year old vision translated into words. “The more we are willing to separate from distraction and step into the open arms of boredom, the more writing will get on the page.”

• Her love of poetry has been useful to Patchett and should be mandatory for all writers in her opinion

Patchett goes on to tell readers about her studies and mentors. She attributes much credit to Allan Gurganus at Sarah Lawrence, who dictated the necessity of hard work and disciplined practice. “Had I been assigned a different sort of teacher, one who suggested we keep an ear cocked for the muse instead of hoisting a pick, I don’t think I would have gotten very far.” Teachers and their lessons changed her life.

Patchett’s next message is one that follows my own strong beliefs, in different words. My blog http://intelligentwomenonly, although touching on many topics, focuses on women and the necessity to give up negative self-talk, a bad habit. She touts forgiveness as the key to finding happiness in life. “I believe that, more than anything else, this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I’m capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.”

 “I am a compost heap and everything I interact with, every experience I’ve had, gets shoveled onto the heap where it eventually mulches down, is digested and excreted by worms, and rots. It’s from that rich, dark humus, the combination of what you encountered, what you know, and what you’ve forgotten, that ideas start to grow. I could make a case for the benefits of wide-ranging experience, both personal and literary, as enriching the quality for the compost, but the life of Emily Dickinson nearly dismantles that theory.”

And from my perspective, so does the life of Ann Patchett; a Catholic girl from the South who went to Sarah Lawrence, lives in Nashville, and recently opened an independent book store.

“Writing is a miserable, awful business. Stay with it. It is better than anything in the world.” No wonder I like her as a person and as a writer. She’s smart, forgiving, normal, expressive, appreciative, and practical; not arrogant, not silly, down to earth, sane, sound. Can’t wait for her next book.

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