a conversation with Ann Packer      


Bold Type: First things first, we at Bold Type want to congratulate you on the wonderful success of your first novel as it enters its seventh week on the New York Times bestseller list.

Ann Packer: Thanks so much. It's been great, really great.

BT: So let's get all the "standard" interview type questions done and out of the way. How long did it take you to write The Dive From Clausen's Pier?

Ann Packer: 10 years and 9 drafts.

BT: Really? Wow! 10 years and 9 drafts? That's a really long time. Were you working on it straight through day in and day out? Were you working on other things while you were writing it, short stories?

AP: I was working on it pretty consistently through those years, although there were times, such as when I gave the manuscript to a friend to read, when I would take a break and work on a story.

BT: So in the ten years that you were working on the book, did it go through drastic changes from draft to draft? What were your biggest changes?

AP: The basic storyline never changed and I always knew that it would end the way that it did. Most of the changes were in terms of refining the characters and their relationships with one another. In terms of style, though, I switched from a third-person narrator to first-person, at about the halfway point in the writing, and that changed the book a lot.

BT: Where did you get your idea for the book, was it autobiographical in any way?

AP: It was loosely autobiographical; when I was ten years old my father had a stroke. I experienced firsthand the kinds of things that can happen when a loved one is paralyzed.

BT: Is there a particular reason why you picked Madison, Wisconsin as a setting for the story? Also, why New York City as a place for Carrie to escape too?

AP: I picked Madison because I had lived there before so I knew the town and it was familiar to me, and the same goes for NYC since I lived their in my twenties. I also thought they were an interesting contrast, very different but not so different that the differences would be too obvious or comical.

BT: Is it safe to assume that you sew? The imagery of Carrie sewing and the talk of all the colors and the fabrics was really some beautiful imagery.

AP: Thanks. Yes, I do sew. I started when I was around 8 or 9 and have been doing it off and on since then.

BT: Where were you when you heard that you were going to be the first selection for Good Morning America's new book club?

AP: I was actually in my car when I got the call from my publicist and my editor. It was unbelievably thrilling. The experience has been so much fun.

BT: Any thoughts on the rise of TV book clubs?

AP: I'm happy to see book clubs on TV. Talking about books has always been an important and invigorating part of reading them, and it's nice that that is getting attention from the media. And the TV book clubs do their viewers a great service when they point them toward books they might not otherwise find.

BT: There was a piece in the NY Times a few weeks ago in the "Writers on Writing" column that was discussing that most of the people who come to book readings may have secret yearnings to be writers themselves, and that they ask a great many questions regarding "process" hoping to get a few secrets of the trade. Do you have a specific schedule for writing?

AP: I write pretty much when I can. I used to be very particular about needing certain conditions for writing, but when I had children I discovered that I was a lot more flexible than I thought.

BT: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

AP: Read everything! I believe that reading made me a writer. Also, trust your instincts, give all your ideas a chance, and after you've worked on it a while show it to people and get it out there. Of course you may not want to follow the advice you hear, but at least you'll know what's happening on the receiving end of the process.

-- interview by Jenny Lee
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    Photo credit: Jenny Lee