Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Pen Pals: Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Gilbert

The story goes that Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Gilbert sat on an author panel together one day, and liked each other but had no time to talk, so they exchanged addresses. Not email addresses, but the kind on your house that the mailman uses to bring you bills and credit card offers. Unlike I'd probably do, they both actually followed through and wrote to each other, and hence a pen pal relationship began.

Ann and Elizabeth met in person for the second time this week, when they came to Portland to give a lecture together. Among other things, they spoke of the uncanny things they have in common:
  • Each achieved her big success with her fourth book
  • Each had a terrible first marriage followed by a wonderful second marriage to a man 16 1/2 years older than her
  • Each gladly remains childless
  • Each dotes upon an obese pet (can't remember which has a cat and which has a dog)
  • Each is responsible for nurturing several other people
  • They're both fond of Henry James and nineteenth-century authors such as Dickens.
A few nuggets I wrote down:

Both Patchett and Gilbert find nonfiction much easier to write than fiction, but while Patchett feels compelled to continue writing fiction, Gilbert would be satisfied never to write another novel.

The book Gilbert is most proud of is her collection of short stories, Pilgrims. (Patchett didn't answer this question). She wrote the stories in college and the years shortly afterwards, and the collection was published when she was 26. Looks like great fodder for the 100 Shots of Short challenge, to me.

Ann Patchett doesn't believe in writer's block. She says, there is a time to write, and a time to not write. Just as you don't plant corn one day and eat it the next, ideas need to percolate. What some people call writer's block, she would call taking the time to let the seeds grow. (This was my favorite gem of the whole night)

And, when asked about men reading books written by women, Elizabeth Gilbert told a funny story about a reader who wrote to her after having picked up Eat, Pray, Love off his girlfriend's bedside table. He got hooked in, but was embarrassed to be reading it in public so he hid the book inside an issue of Maxim on the bus (or maybe the subway). But he was so moved by one section that he began to weep. On the subway. While reading what, to all the world, appeared to be the contents of Maxim. That's when he decided it might be better to let the cover of Eat, Pray, Love be known to the world.

It was a very fun chat to listen in on--and I love the image they shared of the two of them perusing the aisles of Powell's together this afternoon before their talk, pulling books off the shelves for each other to read. Thanks to the power of snail mail pen pals--the chemistry between these two was delightful.


  1. Wow...what a tremendously fun post! Thanks for sharing yet another of your cool experiences. :)

  2. Lucky you to get to listen in on that chat.

  3. Debi and Kathy, the best part was that my friend got 2 last minute free tickets from a friend--she just asked me to go at about 4:00 yesterday afternoon. I love little surprises like that!

  4. Very interesting! I've read one book by each of these authors. (I think - now I have to go find out if I've read something other than Bel Canto...)

  5. Wow, they really have a lot in common. Funny how life works that way sometimes. Two great authors, Two great books, and One great blog post. I liked that...very interesting!
    Have a Great Day!

  6. Lucky you...that sounds like a great lecture! I've seen Gilbert speak...she was hilarious.

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  8. What a neat conversation. I love listening to writers talk about writing and that sounds like a great time to be a fly on the wall.