Southern writer Patti Callahan Henry has been compared to Anne Rivers Siddons, Mary Alice Monroe and Dorothea Benton Frank. With a touch as graceful as a twilight breeze, she explores the lives of women;old and young and in-between;in novels like Losing the Moon and Between the Tides. Her fifth book, The Art of Keeping Secrets, is a delicately wrought exploration of the unlikely relationship that forms between two women, Annabelle and Sofie, after the untimely death of Annabelle's husband, Knox Murphy, in a plane crash. The Art of Keeping Secrets delves with kindness into the dilemmas of history and memory, love and duty as Annabelle and Sofie are forced to confront and examine the truth about Knox and their pasts;something each has actively avoided until now. We caught up with Henry at her home near Atlanta to ask about the new book and the appeal of the literary life.
This is your fifth novel in five years;and you came to writing after pursing a career as a nurse. What has been the biggest adjustment you've had to make to the writing life?
Before I was published, writing was my private passion, something I did for my own heart and soul. The biggest hurdle came for me when I had to somehow integrate my passion into a job a blessing and a struggle simultaneously.
Is there something about writing that's surprised you?
My two biggest surprises and joys have been the relationships I've made with other writers and then the life lessons I learn from the craft of writing. When I first began to dip my toes into the literary life, I immediately found a world I hadn't known existed, a world where other people cared as much about books, words and novels as I did. My life has been enriched with these newfound relationships.
Secrets and their consequences are the centerpiece ofseveral of your novels. What fascinates you about the nature of secrets?
I'm intrigued as a storyteller about the unlived life, the road not taken, the secret not told. I'm always thinking about what-if scenarios, that "Y" in the road where a character makes what seems a small decision at the time, yet it is something that changes a life for better or worse. These are the things that have me returning to the page again and again.
Your novels center on the myriad relationships between women. Do you draw inspiration for these supportive relationships from your own life?
I have been blessed with wonderful, kind women in my life, so I am sure I draw from those feelings and memories both intentionally and unintentionally. I also think that we as writers paint a picture of the way we would like things to be, or how we would like things to turn out for all of us.
There are some beautiful scenes connected to dolphins in The Art of Keeping Secrets. How did you do your research? Are dolphins really that smart?
Thank you for the compliment. Those scenes were a delight to write. I spend my summers on the South Carolina coast where the dolphins are an integral part of the landscape. I have watched them for years, touched their sleek backs, believed they were talking to me and inspiring me. I can take a walk along the beach and watch a dolphin follow me, flicking his tail at me as if trying to tell me something important. They can make me cry. I also did research to get the facts right. I read numerous books on dolphins, read research papers and contacted a marine scientist at Duke. And, yes, dolphins are that smart – but that's just my humble opinion.
If a book club chose to read your book, what is an appetizer or small plate you might suggest to complement the mood?
Knox's famous crab cakes [mentioned in the novel]. OK, so I have no idea how to make them, but they sound good.
What books are in your beach bag this summer?
I've heard this called the summer of women's fiction, so after my book tour, I'll grab a handful and hide with my family. I can't wait for Anne Rivers Siddons' new book, Off Season, and Mary Alice Monroe's Time Is a River. I'm also a big fan of Elizabeth Berg and I know she has a new one. So many books, so little time.
Novelist Barbara Samuel writes from Colorado Springs, Colorado.