Monday, May 26, 2014

Reads for Writers: Ann Patchett Provides a Masterclass

From Kate's Writing Crate…

As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

        Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don't generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice, and/or creativity.

        I adore essays. The best are literary affairs filled with truth and wisdom.

Want proof? Read any of Ann Patchett's in her latest collection—especially "The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir about Writing and Life," "The Sacrament of Divorce," "This Dog's Life," "The Wall," "Love Sustained," "The Bookstore Strikes Back," "This is the Story of a Happy Marriage," and "The Mercies."

While I love these essays and most of the other fourteen published with them, I hate the title of the book: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It just sounds smug—and the essay it's based on is not. In fact, Patchett left a very unhappy marriage, see "The Sacrament of Divorce," and swore she would never remarry, but her plans go engagingly awry a dozen years later.

If I hadn't read a rave review of this book by someone I trust, I never would have picked it up—and I would have missed this masterclass. However, I think the paperback (and the hardcover) should be reissued/renamed as My Getaway Car. That grabs interest without putting too many people off. Who hasn't wished for a getaway car at some point in his or her life?

In "The Getaway Car," Patchett shares how she became a published author. She always knew she was a writer, but it took a while to support herself with just her words.

A college class taught by Allan Gurganus, who assigned a story a week, is the basis for her career. "Ninety percent of what I know about fiction writing I learned that year. Write it out. Tell the truth. Stack up the pages. Learn to write by writing. Slowing down was for later, years later. We were to keep going at all costs…Had I wound up with a different sort of teacher, one who suggested we keep an ear cocked for the muse instead of hoisting the pick, I don't think I would have gotten very far." (page 28)

Patchett paid her dues. She worked as a waitress after completing the Iowa Writers' Workshop. "With so much time for thinking and so little time for writing, I learned how to work in my head…I was going to make up a novel…the novel was going to be my getaway car." (page 39) Patchett is the author of six novels to date.

"This Dog's Life" made me laugh as Patchett states, "I have believed that happiness and true adulthood would be mine at the moment of dog ownership…[She adopted a puppy named Rose, but people just said she must want a baby badly.]…Being a childless woman of childbearing age, I am a walking target for people's concerned analysis. No one looks at a single man with a Labrador retriever and says, 'Will you look at the way he throws the tennis ball to that dog? Now there's a guy who wants to have a son.'" (pages 75-76)

In her essay "The Wall," Patchett recounts her training and tests to get into the Los Angeles Police Academy. "Love Sustained" illuminates the caretaking side of love that takes grit and gumption. "The Bookstore Strikes Back" tells the tale of opening a successful local bookstore despite Amazon and the naysayers. And "The Mercies" highlights friendship and caring through decades.

All of these essays reveal the allure and strength of this art form whether Patchett is celebrating the truth about love, her grandmother, her husband, her dog, books, friends, or fate.

These essays are the story of a now happy writer's life.


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