Patti has a special talent. She takes a story, invests her heart and soul into it - and in turn - it wiggles right into your heart and soul.
Her stories are so true to life that at times one can become uncomfortable reading them. You recognize things in them about your own life. In this way you become terribly invested in what happens to her characters.
Patti's newest novel does not stray from this path. Take a nice, normal, long surviving marriage and have it experience a tweak. Sometimes tweaks straighten out...............sometimes they twist.
You'll enjoy this story, but prepare to feel a bit uncomfortable at times.
A nice hearty-sized Q & A below!
The Stories We Tell
Patti Callahan Henry
St. Martin's Press
June 24th, 2014
Bestselling author Patti Callahan Henry is back with a powerful novel about the stories we tell and the people we trust.Eve and Cooper Morrison are Savannah’s power couple. They’re on every artistic board and deeply involved in the community. She owns and operates a letterpress studio specializing in the handmade; he runs a digital magazine featuring all things southern gentlemen. The perfect juxtaposition of the old and the new, Eve and Cooper are the beautiful people. The lucky ones. And they have the wealth and name that comes from being part of an old Georgia family. But things may not be as good as they seem.
Eve’s sister, Willa, is staying with the family until she gets "back on her feet." Their daughter, Gwen, is all adolescent rebellion. And Cooper thinks Eve works too much. Still, the Morrison marriage is strong. After twenty-one years together, Eve and Cooper know each other. They count on each other. They know what to expect. But when Cooper and Willa are involved in a car accident, the questions surrounding the event bring the family close to breaking point.
Sifting between the stories—what Cooper says, what Willa remembers, what the evidence indicates—Eve has to find out what really happened. And what she’s going to do about it. A riveting story about the power of truth, The Stories we Tell will open your eyes and rearrange your heart.
A Conversation with Patti Callahan Henry
Author of The Stories We Tell
What is the story behind your most recent novel, The Stories We Tell? What was your inspiration for the story?
A: I was inspired by the beauty and handmade world of letterpress and typography. In our fast-paced world where image is everything in social media and branding, where does the handcrafted, honest life fit in? I imagined a woman who valued not only the image of her life and family but also the creative life that nourished her. I saw these two worlds colliding as she struggled to keep both worlds alive in a tension of opposites. Eventually something had to unwind, which of course it did. As an ex-nurse who specialized in closed head injuries, I was also inspired by the constantly wavering life of memory and imagination. What is real? What is imagined or remembered? How accurate is our memory, especially after a head injury? These fascinating questions pulled the story along as I uncovered the answers. I’m always inspired by storytelling and the ultimate ability of creativity to heal a heart, a life and an injured brain.
Were any of the characters (Eve, Cooper, Willa, etc.) based on someone in your life? How did they influence the character’s development?
A: Not one of the characters is based on people in my life. As usual, there might be a curious amalgam in each character but I did not fashion a single character after a loved or known person in my life. I did use some teenage actions I have witnessed or been a part of in raising three high-spirited teenagers (was that a nice way to say it?). I have not owned a letterpress and I definitely can’t write a song (or even sing one). So these characters are born of imagination and the murky world of storytelling.
All of the characters in The Stories We Tell are relatable in some way. What character do you relate to the most and why?
A: Because I wrote this novel in the first person immediate, I relate the most to Eve. I lived in her head and in her life for almost two years. I wrote many scenes in her voice that didn’t end up in the book, and I knew her the best. I also relate to her as I have my own teenagers and a creative life that doesn’t always bend to family life at the most convenient times. She has a vibrant need to be safe within a family structure while pursuing her creative life, and I understood that part of her best.
What do you think is the most important lesson that Eve learns on her search for the truth?
A: That just because it looks good doesn’t mean it is good.
The Ten Good Ideas play an interesting role in the story, originating from Eve and Willa’s childhood reimagining of the Ten Commandments. Is your own list of Ten Good Ideas the same as Eve’s? If not, what would you add? What idea do you think is the most important on the list?
A: My list was and is the same as Eve’s, although I will admit to frequently thinking of other ideas that could just as easily make the list. “Say Sorry” was one that made the list and then dropped off because “Forgive” seemed to cover that territory. The most important thing for Eve and Willa (as children) was that the ideas would be made of something TO DO instead of something NOT TO DO. “Laugh a Lot” was another idea that wanted to make the list and maybe should have because it is one of my very favorite things to do. And also “Be Brave.”
The idea that is the most important? That would depend what one needs most in life at that point. But “Number One: Be Kind” can cover a multitude of transgressions in life. If kindness comes before anything else we do, maybe our rules and lists won’t have to be so long.
Eve owns and operates a letterpress studio—are you similarly interested in typography and fonts? What was your experience in researching letterpress studios?
A: One of my dearest friends owned a store in Atlanta that did custom letterpress and I was fascinated with the machines, the fonts and letterpress blocks. I was stunned that they could design a card on a computer and then have it made into a photopolymer plate, which was then pressed into paper. It was beautiful. I have always been particular about the paper I use, even the notebooks that I write in. I’ve spent more time picking out the right font for an invitation than I spent on planning the party itself. So I was already well-versed in the aesthetics but not the craft. I interviewed a professor who teaches letterpress and typography; I visited Hatch Show Print in Nashville, Tennessee, which is one of the oldest letterpress companies still working.
I also wanted to go through the entire process that a customer at Eve’s studio might go through, so I hired a branding company to make a logo and letterpress blocks for me. It was great fun and now I have stationery, tags and logos to use for almost anything. I incorporated this experience into the novel.
Willa undergoes a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) during the car accident with Cooper. What knowledge did you have of brain injuries prior to writing this book? How did your nursing career help you better adapt the TBI to the plot?
A: I was a pediatric nurse when I decided to go back to graduate school to be a Clinical Nurse Specialist. It was there that I focused on head injuries and worked on the Neurology floor. My thesis was on Closed Head Injuries, which now we commonly call TBI. When someone says they’d like to read my first published work, I dissuade them of that idea when I tell them that it was in The Journal of Neuroscience Nursing. I haven’t, until this novel, written about my job or used my nursing experience. This story seemed to be the right one in which to delve into some of my fascination with memory, imagination and brain activity.
Why was it important for you to address the topic of financial infidelity? What makes financial infidelity part of a wider spectrum of infidelity?
A: I didn’t set out to write a story about financial infidelity at all. I set out to write a novel about how we betray each other with our stories, how we can fool ourselves and those we love about what we are doing and our intentions in doing it. Cooper has fooled himself almost more than he is fooling Eve. Financial infidelity is a gray area, something we all can’t quite agree is an infidelity, and it was interesting to write about. I did a lot of research and read about the red flags and the rationalizations of those who were hiding monetary issues from their spouse. I read interviews where the partner felt that although their significant other wasn’t sneaking around with another woman, they were sneaking around with the bank account and it felt like a cheating spouse. It is the lying and the secret keeping that place this into the larger spectrum of infidelity.
Love is a central theme in The Stories We Tell. Why does Eve try so hard to ignore her feelings for Max?
A: Eve wants to be good and right and true. She wants to keep her family together and love her family completely. She wants to be a good wife and a good mother. Her feelings for Max oppose all of these desires, therefore she fights and rationalizes her feelings for him. She tells herself that she cares about him only because they work so well together; it is a kind of denial that allows her to keep her life together and neat until it all begins to unravel.
There are many different stories of love in The Stories We Tell, from the love of a mother to the love between sisters and friends and even lost love. Which kind of love do you think is the most important in the book?
A: Ah! There is no love that is the most important. Love itself is the most important. That was part of Eve’s dilemma: Which love wins out? When does love blind us or open our eyes? Eve loved her family and her work; she loved her daughter and her sister and her husband; she loved Max.
Did you travel to Savannah to research the setting for the story? If so, what places were the most inspiring?
A: I am often in Savannah as we have a home nearby and my daughter attends SCAD in Savannah. There is so much about Savannah that is inspiring and I talk about much of it in the novel. The ancient history is fascinating. Almost all buildings were something else before they became what they are today. An orphanage becomes a school building; a bank becomes an apartment building. The ghost stories are fascinating. The beauty of the city is stunning with the squares that connect the streets like small islands that then lead to the raucous Savannah River and its blue-gray glory. The restaurants are interesting and quaint. There is just so much to love about the city.
Did you ever consider a different ending to the story? If so, what was it?
A: I don’t know much about my stories when I begin to write them but I usually know the ending and where I’m headed like a vague destination without a map. I didn’t consider a different ending this time though because I knew what Cooper was doing; I knew what he was up to from the very beginning.
What do you think the most important themes of the novel are? Which is the most important to you?
A: I like the reader to choose the most important theme. I am continually stunned by the ability of readers to show me something about my work that even I don’t see. It is often in the writing that I begin to see the themes; I don’t set out to push a theme forward. Now that the novel is finished and entering the world, I can see the themes more clearly. There is our ability to see the truth when we don’t want to see it; trusting our intuition. I wrote about the struggle between family and work and the need to please others at the expense of our creative life. I wrote about love and being a mother and the powerlessness that comes with motherhood when you can’t fix something for your child. I wrote about the elusive nature of memory and imagination. The more obvious theme rests in the question, “What is infidelity?” and how do we deal with it? I think that if I had to choose the most important theme for me it would be the message about the ability of creativity to both open our eyes and also to heal our hearts.