Thursday, June 23, 2011

No one told me Ann Patchett was so charismatic...

So, as noted about 12 times on this blog, I went out to hear Ann Patchett speak last week.  And I was just enthralled, from start to finish.  I'd never met the lady before, nor heard her speak, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.  I guess I was expecting more of a quiet, literary Nicole Krauss-type (Although why, after reading this novel, I have no idea.) and I got this great, outspoken, unsentimental character.

But now I feel self-conscious, because we had a discussion about this event at my face-to-face book club the other night, and I was all, "Ann Patchett is awesome!"  And a friend, whose opinion I greatly respect, was all, "I used to worship her, but now I spit on her.  Phooey!"  (I'm paraphrasing.)  We'd both sat in the same room, listening to the same lady, but we'd walked away with very differing impressions of her.  And alas, the video below is not going to clarify the situation.

This first little snippet is her opening remarks before she began her reading.  She tells a story about clearing Canadian customs for this book tour, and then she introduces the excerpt she's about to read:

Now, I didn't record the excerpt she read for two reasons.  The first reason is that she read probably the most exciting and dramatic scene in the novel.  It's a terrific scene, and you'll enjoy reading it yourself in context.  The other reason is that I only had a few minutes of space left on my video recorder, or else I would have filmed much more than this.  She talked and did Q & A at length.  (It was the Q & A that was her downfall.)

So, I resumed recording right after she finished reading, and here she is essentially telling a story that took place during her research trip to in Amazon that led to the scene she had just read.  I'll warn the phobic among you: there is much talk of snakes.  In fact, there is exactly six minutes of snakes in the Amazon, followed by two minutes announcing her next venture, which ends abruptly when I run out of digital space. Sorry!

Let me save you some trouble:  Mr. Greg's Reptile Roadshow

But you get the gist of how things were going. It was lively and very entertaining. The Q & A started out well, too. Someone asked if there would be a film version of Bel Canto, which allowed Ms. Patchett to speak at length about the vapidity of Hollywood producers. She said that people had been talking about making a movie for 10 years, and it was like being at a junior high slumber party. One girls says, "I want to take George Clooney to the prom. What do you think?" And the other says, "No, I want to take Matt Damon." And all they do is talk, talk, talk, FOR 10 YEARS!  So, she's not a fan of Hollywood. She said if a film is ever made, she doesn't want to know about it until she see's the ad in her local paper, at which point she'll go and buy a ticket. She also mentioned that Bel Canto has almost been an opera three times and a Broadway musical three times.

Truthfully, I can't remember all the questions, but she did express some unusual sentiments. At one point she stated that she cares about the books for about two weeks after they're published. After that, she said that you could come up to her and say, "I hated your novel," and she would reach into her handbag and hand you your money back, but she doesn't care. She's moved on. That's different. Where she got into trouble was when an adoring fan tried to ask her about an unresolved plot thread from a 20 year old novel.

Ms. Patchett hadn't looked at the book in 20 years, and, as noted above, had moved on. She was not kind to her questioner. She told him that she had done her part of the contract, she had written the book. It was his job to decide what it meant. The questioner did not quit while he was behind. He said something about loving the book, and desperately wanting a sequel. Ms. Patchett said something to the effect of, "Great, grab a pen and paper. Write it yourself. I've done my part. You want a sequel, you write it."

All of the above is paraphrased, and maybe my friend will chime in and share her memories and impressions of where things went astray. But ultimately, she was far more distressed about the interaction than I was. In our discussion the other night, I suggested two reasons why she was so much more disturbed by the author's indifference to her fans. First, she's a hard-core fan herself, whereas I'm merely an admiring newbie. In other words, Ms. Patchett didn't have to live up to any expectations for me. I was just thrilled she was so entertaining. The other thing is that I'm fairly familiar with the hell that is a book tour. Twenty cities in 20 days! It takes a lot out of a person. I've seen the best of them have meltdowns. This was not a full scale meltdown, but Ms. Patchett was not at her most diplomatic. I can empathize.

If you have the opportunity to hear Ann Patchett speak in the future, I urge you to go see her and make up your own mind.  And whether you think she's nice lady or not, I defintely urge you to read State of Wonder, reviewed below.  I, for one, was delighted with this first experience of a new favorite author.


  1. Thanks for the recap! I'm eager to start State of Wonder after hearing so many grea tthings about Ann Patchett. And I agree that book tours must certainly be stressful and hellish at times... I've seen authors snap at audience members, too, and it's awkward. But I can understand.

  2. I was just commenting above that I spent this weekend hanging with author James Rollins as he did three tour stops in the Bay area. This was the easy leg--where he got to sleep in the same place two night in a row. It is so exhausting! Earlier this week, he launched the novel with an event in Sacramento and then hopped on a red-eye to NY. He did the Glen Beck show, met with his publishers, and twelve hours after arriving he flew to Portland, OR! I think he FINALLY got to sleep at that point, did the event in Portland, and then flew to San Francisco. I put him on a plane to LA last night, and he was up before dawn to begin doing four hours of media interviews at 6:00am. Then down to San Diego for a signing...

    It goes on for weeks. I'm testy that I have to fly back to the east coast a month after my last trip. Doing the schedule of a best-selling author would probably kill me.

    Oh, and they get the same questions at every single event. It's uncanny. Yeah, I think she did quite well, all things considered.