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Author Interview with Ann Packer
Ann Packer is the author of two bestselling novels Songs Without Words and The Dive from Clausen's Pier and two collections of short stories, Mendocino and Other Stories and her most recent, Swim Back to Me. Ms. Packer joined us for a reading on April 28.
In her novels and stories, Ms. Packer tackles complicated human emotions and the often ambiguous moral universe. Recently, she answered a few questions from book group coordinator Lacey Dunham.
Lacey Dunham: In addition to your two bestselling novels, you've written two collections of short stories, including your most recent, Swim Back to Me. Have you felt pressure to publish in one genre over the other? Is it a conscious choice to write a piece of short fiction versus a novel? Or does the story unfolding determine its length?
Ann Packer: Generally, the material of the work determines the length. With both of my novels, I knew from the outset that I was writing a novel, and with all of my stories I knew I was working on a story. The only exception is "Walk for Mankind," the novella that opens Swim Back to Me. I had some of the characters and themes for that piece at least 15 years ago, and I didn't know at the time if it would turn out to be a novel. Once I was seriously writing it, I knew I would have something around 100 pages long.
LD: In The Dive from Clausen's Pier, you delve into complex issues of self and duty when the novel's protagonist, Carrie, leaves her quadriplegic boyfriend - who was also her high school and college sweetheart - for the buzz of New York City. The novel resonates with themes of guilt, forgiveness, ambition, and desire as Carrie embarks on the life she'd always dreamed for herself. I think women who make the often difficult decision of putting their own needs and desires before anyone else's are harshly criticized in our culture. What lead you to create Carrie's character? Did you know from the outset of writing the novel that she would make the decisions she eventually does? Or did these arise much more organically through the process of writing?
AP: My earliest note about this book ran, in its entirety, "A woman whose husband is injured in maybe a hunting accident"- so clearly I began with the desire to write a story about a relationship tested by adverse events. I moved from "husband" to "fiance" and "hunting accident" to "diving accident," but from the beginning I had a sense of the important themes, and I did know, from the outset, where the main character, Carrie, would wind up. I didn't know how she would get there or what her various actions would come to mean. That evolved over many drafts. Another thing that changed was the narration; when I first began, the novel was told in third person; it was only after several drafts that I began again with Carrie telling her own story.
LD: Your novels and stories frequently handle difficult themes with pathos and humor. Why combine these two elements in your fiction?
AP: I think this is the kind of thing where I don't make a choice; it just happens. I suspect that I combine them because I have to - that it has to do with my world view, how I experience life and cope with hard times. Another answer might be that I couldn't bear the pathos without the humor, and I couldn't pull off the humor without the pathos.
LD: What are you currently reading that you're excited about?
AP: I'm always happiest when I'm reading something that is both fantastically suspenseful and beautifully written. By suspenseful I mean posing questions that I need to see answered: what is going to happen to this character, this couple, this family, this city, this world?
To read more about Ann Packer's novels and stories, click here.
To listen to an audio recording of Ann Packer's event, click here.