Patti Callahan Henry
Patti Callahan Henry is , quite frankly, amazing. She has published ten novels since she started on her career in 2004: 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 Then I Found You, The Stories We Tell, and
The Idea of Love —which will be released by St. Martin’sPress in June 2015. Patti has been nominated four different times for the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Book Award.
She has been featured in many magazines including Good Housekeeping, skirt!, South, and Southern Living. Two of her novels were Okra Picks and Coming up For Air was selected for the August 2011 Indie Next List.
Patti grew up in Philadelphia, the daughter of an Irish minister, and moved south with her family when she was 12 years old.
Now a full-time writer, wife, and mother, she lives in Mountain Brook, Alabama.
I first met Patti in 2010 when she did her book, The Perfect Love Song, for Vanguard Press, which made me her rep. We had a delightful dinner at the SIBA convention in Daytona Beach and have been good chums ever since. Here are her answers to my questions:
Tell me about where you live and why you love it so much.
I live in Mountain Brook, AL. Although I didn’t choose the city (we moved here for my husband’s job three years ago), I do love the area. There is a certain nostalgic small-town feel to this place. I can walk to the village, and my kids’ school is only a few minutes away. In Atlanta, where I lived for twenty-two years, nothing was only a few minutes away. I love the convenience; neighborhoods and tight knit community feel of Mountain Brook.
|Meeting her fans at the world famous Malaprop's in Asheville, NC.|
Where were you living when you were 7 years old?
I lived in a small wooden house in a middle class neighborhood in Narberth, Pennsylvania. This was a “commuter town” for Philadelphia, and the train station was within earshot. Distant, lonesome train whistles still carry me back to that time. My mom was a teacher and my dad a preacher for a Presbyterian Church. It was a charming, stone church set on a grassy hill where almost all my childhood memories frolic in the basement rooms. The other memories I keep are the ones where I am running around with the neighborhood kids playing kick-the-can and other time-wasting-fun with a freedom my kids never had.
|Patti with fellow author Mary Kay Andrews|
Did you have a favorite teacher and are you still in touch with him or her?
I believe I am one of the few that can’t name a single teacher that impacted me in a way I can remember. I feel a bit sad about this fact, because I’d love to be able to say “Oh, Mr. X changed my life when he showed me a book that altered my view of the world. Or Mrs. Y encouraged me in a way that allowed me to see my possibilities.” But this never happened. We moved around a lot from my twelfth year on, and it’s all a blur of survival. If there was a teacher, it would have been in third grade (and I don’t remember her name). I was a shy, reticent child (I know you don’t believe me, but it's true) and I always had my nose in a book. It was “reading time” in class, and I was reading a book about the real Von Trapp family from The Sound of Music. The teacher announced that reading time was over but I didn’t hear her because I was so engaged in the book. She pointed me out and used me as an example of a “good reader”. I’ve never forgotten that.
Is there a book that changed the way you look at life?
I’ve mentioned this book so many times that I almost want to give a different answer, but I won’t. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis changed the way I viewed the world, and eventually influenced my writing. I read it when I might have been too young to read it – twelve years old or so – and I’ve re-read it many times during my life. It’s not so influential because now I believe the devil is after me, but because of Lewis’ style of writing, his irony and his ability to draw me into an allegorical tale. I did look at life differently after this book—I didn’t take it all so seriously. Maybe the book was meant to do the opposite, but for me, I saw the irony and humor in all we took to be so deadly important.
Do you have a favorite children’s book?
When I was a child it was Narnia, but my favorite children’s book is one I read to my daughter over and over and over:
The fiendish, daring little girl was an example for both of us. She visited Paris and Moscow; she ate from the Sweet Shoppe; she dressed in quirky outfits. She charmed and exasperated everyone she met, and she made us laugh. Eventually I found a first edition signed copy and gave it to my daughter who is now twenty-two years old. Who didn’t want to be Eloise, if only for a day? To gallop around the Plaza and be adorable.
What are the funniest or most embarrassing stories your family tells about you?
Oh My! I have no idea what they say when I’m not listening, but I’m going to guess they talk about the time I walked directly into a sliding glass door. We were in a fancy restaurant in South Florida and I was holding a glass of wine. I walked with full, swinging confidence toward the open door. Apparently it was hilarious to everyone else.
|The book she did for us in 2010|
Is there any message you want to give to or anything you want to say to your great-great-great grandchildren when they read this?
I don’t have all the answers, I would tell them first, but neither does anyone else.
This life is such a gift of mystery and beauty, but it is also going to be peppered with heartbreak and disappointment. Who you are, who you become, will depend so much on how you handle the mystery and the heartbreak, the great and the not-so-great. Don’t protect your heart and keep it safe, but instead crack yourself open to the world and all that it holds.
I would tell those great great grandchildren to stop looking for so much outside approval and dig deep for the inside approval. Make decisions based on the kind of person you want to be, and the kind of person you want to become. There will be things and people that you will want, and yet some of those things and people will not be yours to have, and “letting go” is imperative to your happiness. You can’t control anyone but yourself, and even that is a full time job.
I would tell them to read and read and then read some more. Mythology especially. I would tell them to chase the wonder of truth, which myth reveals.
See the world—it is a big, big place. Take care of yourself; be gentle with yourself. Stay away from toxic relationships. Keep a journal. Don’t live someone else’s version of your life; live yours. And so much more, but I’m starting to babble like the Great, Great, Great Grandma I would be to these kids.
|Working with me at SIBA.|
How did you meet your husband? How did your first date go?
I never really “met” Pat Henry. I just knew who he was and he knew who I was. In college, we had similar friends and so our paths often crossed. When I look at my college scrapbooks, I find pictures of him in the crowd. But we didn’t start talking until we’d graduated and we were both living in Atlanta. I was a nurse at Emory, and he was a graduate student at Emory. One night we were at the same bar and he sent a friend over to say, “Pat wants to ask you out. Would that be okay?” I said it would not be okay, and that I would not go, but he asked anyway, and I went and that was that. Well, not that quickly. We dated for four years and married in 1991.
|Two "Okra Picks" at SIBA, Daytona Beach, her honor is real, mine is not.|
Finally, Patti's answer to my time travel question:
IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME
to any period from before recorded history to yesterday,
be safe from harm, be rich, poor or in-between, if appropriate to your choice,
actually experience what it was like to live in that time, anywhere at all,
meet anyone, if you desire, speak with them, listen to them, be with them.
When would you go?
Where would you go?
Who would you want to meet?
And most importantly, why do you think you chose this time?
I’ve thought about this question for weeks now and my answer changes with the wind. But I think I’ve settled on an answer.
When I was in high school, I was in the Latin Club. It was there that I became obsessed with mythology, with the origins of story and religion. This brings me to the Classical Period of Greek culture when Gods and Goddesses reigned and the world exploded with writing and theater, with philosophy and history, with philosophy. I think it’s probably safe to say that rhetoric as we know it now was developed then and there.
Although this wasn’t the best time in history to be a woman (as Thucydides wrote in the fifth century BC “The greatest glory [for women] is to be least talked about among men, whether in praise or blame.”), it was a fascinating period in history for those of us obsessed with story.
Maybe I’d choose the year 330 BC to hit the time of Socrates and Aristotle. A couple glasses of wine with Aristotle would be nice. Of course I’d like to be safe from the constant wars and plundering, but for this high school Latin Club geek, this is both a time and place I’d like to set my eyes and my feet, if for only a brief moment.
Patti, I love it, "drinking wine with Aristotle," sounds like a great book title.
Patti, I love it, "drinking wine with Aristotle," sounds like a great book title.
Will your fans get to read another book from you any time soon?
so I was set back a few months on finishing the book, but it is now officially done and in production. I’m thrilled with this book and love the triumph it represents.
Thanks, Patti! We are all glad you made it back in one piece!