As part of Diane's remote author interview series, she had the chance to speak with Ann Patchett in January over video Zoom as a live audience watched. Here's that conversation.
Writer Ann Patchett describes herself as a housewife with a dog, who rarely leaves the home. But she has an adventurous imagination. Her sixth novel starts in Minnesota and quickly takes readers on an Indiana Jones-type journey deep into the Amazon. A female doctor is sent by the pharmaceutical company who employees her on an odyssey into the jungle. Her mission: to find a missing scientist and the secret lab where she’s developing a drug that acts like the fountain of youth for women. It’s a tale of medical ethics, cultural respect, friendship and love.
- Ann Patchett Author of six novels, including "Bel Canto," which won the Pen/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize.
Aging, Medicine, Love, and Friendship
Ann Patchett’s latest novel takes readers deep into the heart of the Amazon. It’s a tragic comic adventure tale, replete with poison arrows, deadly snakes and rumors of cannibals.
Patchett says that she’s perfectly happy imagining places that she may not necessarily have visited in person as settings for her novels. She did visit the Amazon, though, and said she thought it was the most beautiful and exciting place she had ever been for about three days. But by the seventh or eighth day, she says, she would have sold her soul to get out because the leaves and jungle cover were making her claustrophobic.
Patchett also experienced some of the Amazon’s wildlife more closely than she would have preferred. On a boat tour, one of the fellow passengers, who turned out to be a naturalist, pulled a 15-foot anaconda into their skiff. “I wanted to leave that boat. I did,” Patchett said.
Patchett’s Writing Process
When she’s writing, Patchett says, her characters come alive for her and she believes in them completely. “However, I will say that I am not one of those writers who says, and then the characters took the novel over and I had no idea what was going to happen and I was just typing like mad and they were talking, talking, talking. No,” she said.
“Someone asked me at a reading last night, do you miss your characters when the book is over? Never. And I never think of them again. When the book is over, it’s finished, I never read it again once I’ve finished copy editing it. I never have gone back and looked at any of my books,” Patchett said.
Opening a Bookstore
Patchett surprised some listeners by revealing that she is opening her own bookstore where she lives in Nashville. “We lost our independent bookstores,” she said. “There is not a bookstore in Nashville…I can’t live in a city that doesn’t have a bookstore.” Patchett says she hopes to have the store up and running by Christmas.
Read an Excerpt
Excerpt from “State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett. Copyright 2011 by Ann Patchett. Excerpted by permission of Harper.
State of Wonder: Ann Patchett
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Author Ann Patchett takes readers deep into the heart of the Amazon in her latest novel. It's a tragic comic adventure tale, replete with poison arrows, deadly snakes and rumors of cannibals. It also raises serious questions about aging, medicine, love and friendship. Ann Patchett is the author of five previous novels, including the prize-winning, "Bel Canto." Her latest is titled, "State of Wonder." She joins me in the studio.
MS. DIANE REHMI know many of you have enjoyed her books and will want to join us this morning. 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to email@example.com, join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you, Ann, it's so good to see you again.
MS. ANN PATCHETTI'm really glad to be back.
REHMThank you. Give us a brief rundown of this plot because it has many, many facets to it.
PATCHETTIt's true. It doesn't really lend itself to the brief rundown, but I'll give my best shot. Dr. Marina Singh is in her early 40's and she lives in Minnesota and she works for a large pharmaceutical company called Vogel and her officemate, lab partner of seven years, Anders Eckman, has been sent down to the Amazon jungle in Brazil to find out about the progress of Dr. Annick Swenson, who is developing an incredibly potentially profitable drug for the company.
REHMAnd it turns out that Dr. Swenson is a former instructor of our heroine at medical school and sort of got in the way of her completing her medical studies.
PATCHETTWell, she did complete her studies, but it was in her residency that there was an accident and she was derailed. So she was going to be a surgeon. She continued to be a doctor, but now is working in pharmacology instead of in surgery.
PATCHETTBecause of Dr. Swenson, she really withdrew from the world of patient care and sequestered herself away in the lab. So right from the beginning, we know that Dr. Eckman has died of a fever down in the jungle and Marina is going to be sent to confront her former mentor, Dr. Swenson, and to find out what happened to Anders and almost more importantly, to find out what's going on with the drug's development because they've put a lot of money in and nobody knows even where Dr. Swenson is.
REHMYou left out one critical factor...
PATCHETTI'm sure I did.
REHM...and that is that Marina is having -- is very much involved with her boss, Mr. Fox.
PATCHETTYes, who is the head of the pharmaceutical company. So he both doesn't want to send her and wants her to go and she feels that if she does this, if she completes this mission, that perhaps when she comes back, their relationship will move forward and that will be her reward.
REHMAnd it's interesting that you begin in Minnesota. You moved to the Amazon. I think of you, and you've said of yourself, as someone who is pretty much a homebody and yet you've got this wide geographical range in this novel.
PATCHETTIt's the life of the mind. I mean, I think that's the perfect thing for a homebody to do because I don't really enjoy going out so much, although I do plenty of it. And so when I'm home, I can very happily imagine other places.
PATCHETTI was in London a couple of weeks ago and having dinner with my editor and she was talking about Yemen. You must see Yemen. It's so beautiful to see Yemen. And I thought, you know, I will pass from this life without seeing Yemen, which doesn't mean that I might not write a book about Yemen at some point.
REHMYeah, that's interesting, but -- so how much research did you end up doing on the Amazon?
PATCHETTI did research on the Amazon and actually, on a lot of very interesting, different things as well. My husband and I did go down to the Amazon and for three days, it was the most beautiful, thrilling, exciting, deeply gorgeous thing I had ever seen in my life, but unfortunately, I stayed for 10 days and by the seventh, eighth day, I would have sold my soul to the devil to get out of there.
PATCHETTIt just -- those leaves, they just squash you. They're everywhere. You can't get out. You can't go take a walk by yourself in the Amazon because something's going to kill you.
PATCHETTOh, you know, the ants or the bees -- I remember once we were taking this very small walk through the jungle with a guide and the guide all of a sudden said, Okay. Now, we're going to whisper and we're not going to make a sound. We're going to walk very, very quietly because in that tree, I see there are killer bees. And this sort of, you know, Hanna-Barbera cartoon image of the bees coming out of the tree and forming an arrow and then killing you. It really felt like that.
REHMIt was interesting, you went to Peru for Gourmet magazine.
PATCHETTOh, that's what this trip was.
PATCHETTYes, because how much did I love Gourmet magazine? How much do I miss that magazine? Anything I was working on, I would call them up and I would say, I'm writing a novel about the Amazon. Send me on the Amazon trip so I can do my research and I'll write a piece for you. It wasn't that I minded paying for my own travel, but I didn't know how to book my own travel. I didn't know how to figure out how to find some obscure lodge in the Amazon or how to find a boat that would take me down the river. And they would book the whole trip.
REHMOf course, of course.
REHMToo bad about that magazine.
PATCHETTReally, really too bad.
REHMPeople adored that magazine.
REHMWhat's surprised you most about the trip to the Amazon?
PATCHETTWhat surprised me most was the day that I was in a 12-foot open skiff with eight other people for about four hours and we were on endless, tiny tributaries going right, left, right, left, hadn't seen another human being in four hours, we're so deep into it and one of the guests, no not the guide, one of the guests on the boat asked the boat to be stopped and he reached into the water and pulled a 15-foot anaconda into the open skiff. And I am not a snake phobe, but I really wanted...
PATCHETT...I wanted to leave that boat. I did.
REHM(laugh) I'm sure you did.
PATCHETTBut one imagines that, you know, mother snake and brother snake are living under the boat, there's no place to go and this guy, whose name was Greg Greer, who's a naturalist -- I didn't know any of this at the time. He was a stranger to me. A naturalist who lives in Atlanta and this is his job. He goes all over the world, picking up snakes and he takes people on tours and shows them -- he knows every bird, every leaf, every twig.
REHMHow -- this anaconda, 15...
PATCHETTWrapping around Greg Greer, who is wrestling, trying to keep the snake from biting his face while he is so happy, he's so thrilled to have caught this anaconda and he's giving us a lecture on the anaconda and showing us the structure of his jaw and the teeth without ever saying, and by the way, I'm a professional herpetologist and I pick snakes up every day and I know what I'm doing. So that was the big -- that was the big surprise.
REHMSo you got a scene in the book...
REHM...something like this?
PATCHETTYes, obviously, that came directly from that experience.
REHMWhy did you want to write about a young woman who had a relationship with her former teacher?
PATCHETTThat's where the book starts for me. That was definitely the point of intrigue into this story and it is because I have had teachers -- I've had a couple of scary teachers, but I have had a couple of teachers in my life who were wonderful people and nothing like Dr. Swenson, but I changed the shape of myself to please them. I loved them so much, admired them so much. It wasn't that I was trying to be like them, but I was trying to be someone they would like and this was at Sarah Lawrence when I was an undergraduate, Allan Gurganus, my most important teacher, Grace Paley, Russell Banks and...
REHMThose three writers.
PATCHETTCan you believe that? Undergraduate.
PATCHETTPeople ask me why I was never interested in the Iowa Writer's Workshop, where I went afterwards, because I studied with these three people when I was an undergraduate. But they, of course, had had hundreds of students, a thousand students in their life. I was a very quiet kid, I sat in the back, I turned my homework in on time. They don't know me and yet everything I am today sitting here is because of them.
PATCHETTI have also had the experience of meeting a student of mine from 15, 20 years ago whose name I don't know, whose face I don't know. I've never seen this person before and they will come up to me in a signing line and say, I was pre-med and I took your fiction class and I dropped out and I became an English major and now I teach English and I write.
PATCHETTAnd I think, how could I have changed your life if I don't even know who you are? And then extrapolate that out to people who read your novels and they come and say, I read your book. It changed my life. How is that possible?
REHMAnn Patchett and her new novel is titled, "State of Wonder." She is, of course, the author of six novels including, "Bel Canto," which won both the Pen/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize. If you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, join us on Facebook, send us a tweet. We'll be talking more about the novel, taking your calls, reading your e-mail after just a short break. Stay with us.
INTERVIEWERAnd welcome back. Ann Patchett is with me, an author I have long enjoyed. I talked to her -- with her about her book, "Bel Canto," which, of course, won the Pen/Faulkner Award as well as the Orange Prize. She has a new book, it's titled, "State of Wonder." And Ann Patchett, why don't you read for us?
PATCHETTI'd love to. This is the very opening of the book. "The news of Anders Eckman's death came by way of Aerogram, a piece of bright blue airmail paper that served both as the stationery and, when folded over and sealed along the edges, the envelope. Who even knew they still made such things? The single sheet had traveled from Brazil to Minnesota to mark the passing of a man, a breath of tissue so insubstantial that only the stamp seemed to anchor it to this world.
PATCHETTMr. Fox had the letter in his hand when he came to the lab to tell Marina the news. When she saw him there at the door, she smiled at him and in the light of that smile, he faltered. 'What,' she said finally. He opened his mouth and then closed it. When he tried again, all he could say was, 'It's snowing.' 'I heard on the radio it was going to.' The window in the lab where she worked faced out into the hall and so she never saw the weather until lunchtime.
PATCHETTShe waited for a minute for Mr. Fox to say what he had come to say. She didn't think he had come all the way from his office in the snow, a good 10 buildings away, to give her the weather report, but he only stood there in the frame of the open door unable to either enter the room or step out of it. 'Are you all right?' 'Eckman's dead,' he managed to say before his voice broke. And then, with no more explanation, he gave her the letter to show just how little about this awful fact he knew."
REHMMarina is a combination of American and East Indian. She and Mr. Fox have a personal, very personal, relationship, but within the office setting, they call each other by very formal names. It's only when they are by themselves that their personal relationship comes forward, so that scene just seems so rigidly formal.
PATCHETTYes, yes. Mr. Fox is not a bad guy and he's...
REHMMuch older than she.
PATCHETT...he is much older, which doesn't make them bad. But I wanted her to be in a relationship at the age of 42 with someone who is good, but not perfect. And when we're in relationships in our 20's and the relationship is not perfect, you just dump it and you get another relationship. But when you're 42 and maybe you might want to have a child and this relationship is pretty good, then you hang onto it.
REHMIt's interesting that you said and you might want to have a child because the experimental drug that the doctor in the Amazon is working on could prolong the fertility of a woman into her, what, 70's?
PATCHETT'Til death, 'til death. They remain fertile for their entire life. The Lakashi tribe chews on the bark of a tree that only grows in this one part of the Amazon. A particular moth lays its eggs in the broken bark. They continue to chew the bark and there's some combination between the saliva, the bark and the eggs of the moth that have sealed these women for -- sealed their fate for everlasting fertility.
PATCHETTAnd so what Dr. Swenson is trying to do is make a synthetic replication of this whatever, this compound, and so that American women and women all over the world can keep their reproductive options open for all eternity.
REHMAnd, of course, could make a fortune for the chemical company, Vogel.
PATCHETTRight. And when I was starting this book, I thought, okay. Now, I want her to be working on this incredibly popular drug, so what would it be? Eternal youth, effortless weight loss, fantastic hair or everlasting fertility. And I went with fertility.
REHMAnd here is Marina down in the Amazon taking a bit of the bark itself and what happens when she does?
PATCHETTWell, she starts to chew it. All of the scientists who are working down there as part of their research start to chew the bark. And what happens is that when she wakes up in the morning very early, she would like the bark, she'd like the bark right now. It becomes that strong cup of coffee that she must have.
PATCHETTShe really leaps off her cot in the morning and goes straight out to this particular grove of trees with all of the Lakashi women to chew the bark because it has a little kick to it and you have to wonder if maybe part of the reason why this research has gone on for so long is there's something delicious in the bark.
REHMAnd there's something addictive...
REHM...about the bark.
REHMIt made me wonder exactly how Marina and Dr. Swenson would get along when they first came into contact with each other. It took a little while before Dr. Swenson showed up.
PATCHETTYes. Well, Dr. Swenson's obviously trying to avoid her. And when they do finally find each other, Dr. Swenson closes her down so authoritatively and completely, you're not going. You know, you have been dismissed. Very much as a teacher, class is over, dismissed, you go home. But Marina finds it in herself to press ahead and say, no, I'm going to follow you down the river and I'm going to figure out what's going on.
REHMWhen you are in the midst of writing something like this, do these characters come alive for you, really come alive?
PATCHETTThey absolutely come alive and I believe in them completely. However, I will say I am not one of those writers who says, and then the characters took the novel over and I had no idea what was going to happen and I was just typing like mad and they were talking, talking, talking. No.
PATCHETTI am writing the book at every moment. There is no hocus pocus involved. So I do believe in these people, I think about them constantly. Someone asked me at a reading last night, do you miss your characters when the book is over? Never. And I never think of them again. When the book is over, it's finished, I never read it again once I've finished copy editing it. I never have gone back and looked at any of my books.
REHMWhy is that?
PATCHETTIt's a horrifying thought. It just -- it makes me sick to even think about it. In the same way that I wouldn't go back and read an old diary. I don't know. I don't like to look back. It's my own mental problems.
REHMVery interesting, because I don't like to listen to programs...
PATCHETTThere you go.
REHM...that I've done. It's behind me.
REHMI'm moving on to the next thing.
PATCHETTYes. And it makes me feel just a great divide if I look at something old. If I look at an essay -- in fact, I've been trying to put together a book of essays. I've written hundreds of essays, but it's almost unbearable for me to go back and read them, so for me to choose the essays for the book is sort of impossible. I don't know that I'll ever get this book done because it's so hard for me to look back at my own work. It's not that I think it's bad, but I just don't want to be transported back to that moment of my life.
PATCHETTI would be a very, very poor candidate for analysis (laugh).
REHMWhy did you decide to give Marina a biracial or b-social or whatever identity?
PATCHETTThere are a lot of reasons. One, that she loves Minnesota so much, but Minnesota is a state that is always turning around and staring at her because she's the only person in the room who's not blonde. And when she goes down to the Amazon kind of kicking and screaming, she doesn't want to go, but low and behold, for the first time in her life...
REHMShe fits in.
PATCHETT...she fits in. Nobody is staring at her. She is mistaken for one of the natives. People want to take her picture because she is one of the locals. Also, I wanted her to have the experience with Lariam as a child. When she goes to India to visit her father malaria plays a big role in this book and the drug Lariam, so that was an important reason for her to be mixed race. And also because we don't live in a world of white people and I don't want to write books in which all the characters are white people.
REHMDid you take Lariam when you went to the Amazon?
PATCHETTI did, I did. And actually, if I hadn't gone to the Amazon, I probably would've just taken it recreationally at home because I really wanted to take it out...
PATCHETT...for a spin, right.
PATCHETTAnd the side effects of Lariam listed on the package, psychotic dreams, terrible nightmares, paranoia, suicide is a possible side effect and I've known a lot of people who have had true psychosis on Lariam. I did not, but I did have a terrible reaction to it. I had something quite rare, I’m proud to say, called Stevens Johnson Syndrome, in which the inside of my mouth, my throat and my tongue blistered and peeled off and it wasn't painful. It wasn't so bad, but I couldn't taste anything for three months, which was very funny considering that it was Gourmet who was sending me on this trip to the Amazon.
REHMYou couldn't taste anything.
PATCHETTWell, in the same way if you have a scalding cup of coffee and it burns your tongue off, you can't taste anything, but the whole mouth, the whole everything fell off, so I couldn't taste anything for a long time.
REHMWhat happens to Marina in the novel when she takes Lariam?
PATCHETTShe has terrible nightmares concerning her father and being separated from her father. When she was a child, she had these dreams that were so violent and horrifying that her mother would say, well, we can't go back to India for another year because your dreams are so bad. And she never knew that it was the Lariam that was giving her the dreams.
PATCHETTShe thought that it was going to India and seeing her father, so this is the last thing in the world she needs, but here she is at 42, she takes these pills again for the first time since she was a child, she goes right back into the same childhood nightmares and suddenly, she realizes that that had been the problem all along.
REHMAnn Patchett and we're talking about her new novel, it's titled, "State of Wonder." If you'd like to join us, 800-433-8850. We've gotten a number of tweets saying how much they love the book and the discussion they're hearing this morning. And we're going to open the phones, 800-433-8850, e-mail to email@example.com and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We'll go first to San Antonio, Texas, to Marco. Good morning to you.
MARCOGood morning, Diane.
MARCOYou have the most beautiful show.
REHMOh, thank you.
MARCOAnd briefly, I want to say that yesterday's show was very interesting about E. coli and I wanted to talk to you about it, but then I'll talk to you today about the author's trip to the Amazon.
REHMAll right. Go right ahead, sir.
MARCOAnd I want to congratulate you and the author because I was born in Ecuador, South America, and we have the Amazon there and I was there for seven months and I just got back and it is beautiful.
PATCHETTIt is absolutely a magical place. I envy you getting to spend seven months there.
REHMThanks for calling, Marco. To Ocean City, N.J. Good morning, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETHGood morning, Diane. First time caller. Thank you for having me on your show.
REHMYou're most welcome. I'm glad to have you.
ELIZABETHI did meet Ann very briefly at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C...
ELIZABETH...shortly after she had written, "Bel Canto."
ELIZABETHAnd the reason why I am calling is to ask her if concerning the particular floral that was mysteriously mentioned in, "Bel Canto," does it relate to this most recent novel and it's having its location in the Amazon? So my question is this, does the floral mentioned in, "Bel Canto," have a link with this most recent novel that takes place in the Amazon?
PATCHETTHelp me out here. I don't know what you mean by the floral because, of course, I haven't read, "Bel Canto," in 11 years.
ELIZABETHI haven't either.
PATCHETTWhat are you talking about? What floral? A floral arrangement or...
ELIZABETHWe're going to help each other.
ELIZABETHFrom my memory, if my memory serves me correctly, there was a particular flower or floral that you had brought up descriptively in, "Bel Canto," which also I remember the particular location of, "Bel Canto," where the party was and where the action took place was a mystery. You didn't bring out the particular location.
PATCHETTRight, that's true. It was an undisclosed country, just called the host country, but I am sorry, I don't remember a plant.
REHMIt had a very strong fragrance and that's all I can remember, Elizabeth.
PATCHETTYou're both doing a much better job (laugh) at this than I am.
REHMAnd I think Elizabeth is going to have to go back and read the novel.
PATCHETTOr I am, but let me just say no, there is no connection between any plant in, "Bel Canto," and any plant in, "State of Wonder."
REHMWhen you were there in the Amazon, did you see gorgeous flowers?
PATCHETTI mean, some flowers, but it really wasn't about flowers as much as it was about leaves.
PATCHETTEverything was very thick, very, very green.
REHMAnd what kinds of trees?
PATCHETT(laugh) Well, then we would have to bring Greg Greer on the program (laugh) because he was the one -- and who knows.
PATCHETTI mean, they're just -- they're in such a knot and then everything frosted with vines, everything's half dead or just starting to grow. There really isn't anything that you could say, oh, look, there's that tree, I know what that tree is.
PATCHETTIt's a blur.
REHMAnn Patchett and we're talking about her new novel, "State of Wonder." Short break and we'll be right back.
REHMWelcome back. Ann Patchett is with me. If you've just joined us, she has a new novel, it's titled, "State of Wonder." Here's an e-mail from Russ in Princeton Junction, N.J. He said, "While I've yet to read your novel, there do appear to me some striking structural parallels between it and Conrad's, 'Heart of Darkness.' If this is more than coincidental, could you talk about that?"
PATCHETTAbsolutely. And I've been hearing that a lot. And, "Heart of Darkness," definitely played a role in this. Although I was probably halfway through the book before I started thinking about it. First and foremost, the influence in this book is Werner Herzog's films, "Fitzcarraldo," and, "Aguirre: The Wrath of God," which is where I first saw the Amazon jungle, was in those movies, and my vision of the Amazon will always be Herzog's. I thought a lot about Evelyn Waugh's, "Handful of Dust." There's a great Dickens reference in here.
PATCHETTThought about Henry James', "The Ambassadors," when I was starting, which oddly has the same structure as, "Heart of Darkness," which is basically character A goes missing, character B is sent to find character A. And when gets to the location, realizes that character A is happy and actually this is something of a paradise.
PATCHETTAnd so I was pretty far before I started thinking, wait a minute, people are going to say, "Heart of Darkness." There are so many influences. I think of myself as a compost pit 'cause I read constantly and take so much in and then all of a sudden, you're writing and you think, yeah, this is great, this is Conrad.
REHMAnd talk about the Bovenders.
PATCHETTI love the Bovenders and that is such a funny story because I am a big support of public libraries and I'm on the board of my public library in Nashville, Tenn., and we have a huge fundraising gala every year. I was asked to donate an auction item and I said I would name a character after you, after the highest bidder in the next book that I was working on. And the Bovenders bought the auction item and they were people that I know. And they're pillars of the community, great philanthropists, wonderful, very intelligent people.
PATCHETTThey're small and they're stayed. And I thought if I could remake the Bovenders and put them in a novel, how would I remake them? And I made them into beautiful incredibly tall blond Australian surfers and it was such a gift because I loved these characters and they really had a huge role in the book. And had I not put that auction item up and made some money for the library, I never would've had those characters. It's not like I had the idea for them and named them. They really were inspired by the Bovenders.
PATCHETTAnd also, probably the world's most famous Australian lives in Nashville, Nicole Kidman, and I have bumped up against her a few times and she is terrifically, lovely, generous person and I e-mailed her and said, Nicole, I need some Australian lingo, I need some surfer lingo. And she very generously called her surfer friends in Australia and got me the lowdown. And so it was great. The Bovenders are just my favorite.
REHMThat's terrific. All right. Let's go back to the phones, 800-433-8850. To Ann who's here in Washington, D.C. Good morning, you're on the air. Ann, are you there? I guess not. Let's go to Pawtucket, R.I. Janet. Have we got a phone problem?
PATCHETTIt's a quiet morning.
REHMNo. These phones should be working, but apparently they're not. Now, Janet, are you there?
REHMGo right ahead, please.
REHMJanet, you're on the air.
JANETOh, thank you. Hi, Ann. I was wondering -- I've been to the Amazon in Peru. I was wondering if you'd been to the same place. Were you at Explorama Lodges?
PATCHETTDo you know, the lodge that I went to was called Ceiba Tops in Peru.
JANETI've been there.
PATCHETTAnd the big selling point was they had electricity 24 hours a day. They kept saying, oh, you are so lucky, you're going to the lodge that has electricity 24 hours a day. I was like, man, my standards are just a little higher than that. And then for half of the...
JANETWell, I have to...
PATCHETTPlease, go ahead.
JANET(laugh) I have to tell you that the other lodges without the electricity were my favorite. I stayed at all three.
PATCHETT(laugh) You're just a tougher soul than I am. And then for the other half of the trip, I was on a boat that actually went down the Amazon and I liked that more. Just visually, I liked being able to look around. I thought that Ceiba Tops was incredibly claustrophobic, but nice.
JANETYeah, yeah, yeah.
PATCHETTYou know, that electricity, it was terrific (laugh).
REHMAll right, Janet, thanks for calling. What about Dr. Bill Frist?
REHMTo what extent did he influence this novel?
PATCHETTWell, that's a really interesting question. Bill Frist, of course, was the former Senate majority leader and lives in Nashville and is a friend of my husband's. And I've known him for a long time and was a heart transplant surgeon. And he would go and work both at the zoo here in Washington and in Africa, performing heart surgery on the apes, which apparently, they have hearts that are structured very much like ours and there was a heart disease problem.
PATCHETTBut he told us stories of being in Africa, going to do heart surgery on the apes and finding all of these medical emergencies were being foisted on him because he was the only person around, so he was doing all of these different surgeries helping people because he was the only doctor available. And that really did get me thinking about what it would be like to be freed from all of the constraints of insurance and, you know, you're only allowed to operate within your field.
PATCHETTBecause he's a heart transplant surgeon, but if there's a kid with an arrow through his shoulder, then he's the person who's going take the arrow out. But it really did get me thinking. It's an amazing story about him.
REHMTo Indianapolis. Good morning, Billie, you're on the air.
BILLIEGood morning. Thank you so much. I, as Ann, going down to the Amazon. I haven't been yet, but I'm looking forward to going. Did you meet any fabulous shamans and were you able to drink the Ayahuasca medicine while you were down there?
BILLIEWhat did you think of it (laugh) ?
PATCHETTI didn't drink it, I didn't meet any fabulous shamans, although there is a fabulous shaman in the book. I met a fabulous American doctor when I was there who had gone down on vacation 20 years before, fallen in love with the place and stayed and set up a clinic and I had lunch with her one day. And I said to her, so have you met the fabulous shamans? Have you had this drink that's so magical and curing? And do you use native cures when you're treating you're patients?
PATCHETTAnd she looked at me (laugh) and she said, so do you go to your internist in Nashville and ask for Native American cures? She said, this is just stupid. It's just absolute western romanticizing. You know, she was like, people need medical care and really put me in my place in a way that was very thoughtful.
REHMHope that answers it, Billie. To Ann, let's try this again, here in Washington. You're on the air.
ANNThanks again, sorry about that. Yes. I was just saying in addition to loving her nonfiction, "Truth and Beauty: A Friendship," which was very affecting, I did take a drug to cure the symptoms of giardia, which you get from contaminated water local.
PATCHETTOh, yeah, sure.
PATCHETTI just said, yes, of course. What did you take?
ANNI took something called Quinacrine...
ANN...or Atabrine is the name and I did have (unintelligible).
REHMAnn, I'm afraid you're breaking up on us.
ANNOh, no, no, not again. It was called an anti-malarial psychosis and I was in the hospital -- mental hospital for 10 days.
PATCHETTI'm so sorry.
ANNThank you so much, but my word of warning is, now, people know not to drink stream water when they're hiking and I didn't. Some water at an inn on the eastern tour of Maryland was dirty water, it washed the food or something, and several people got giardia, which is not uncommon, but I think Lariam may have replaced this drug, but the reason I understand that they -- the doctors prescribe it, ask you to take it a day or two early before your trip is because of these side effects that could be very, you know, serious.
PATCHETTRight, but, you know, there's no overlap between giardia and malaria. And so Lariam is an anti-malarial drug, but what you're talking about is something else. Both horrific things you don't wanna get.
REHMYes, indeed, indeed. Thanks for calling, Ann. To Indianapolis. Good morning, Kathy.
KATHYGood morning. I was really -- my interest was piqued when I heard, Ann, that you're a big advocate of public libraries as am I.
PATCHETTGood for you.
KATHYAnd I'm really interested -- I haven't heard any creative solutions. You know, electronic books are so popular, as are the -- you know, and the people carrying around their electronic readers. And funding for libraries is diminishing and that's used as an excuse. And there are so many people who can't buy every book they wanna read, so I'm just wondering if you or Diane may have some creative vision for how we might integrate electronic readers, because they're not going to go away into our public library system.
PATCHETTWell, we certainly...
KATHYAnd I'll take my answer off the air.
PATCHETTWe certainly have integrated them in Nashville. You can download e-Books from our public library in Nashville and there's a lot of conversation about how many times the book can be downloaded before the library has to buy it again from the publisher, but I think what's so important to remember, funding's being cut for everything. Funding's not being cut for...
PATCHETT...libraries because they are ceasing to be important. Use at libraries is up across the board. The main thing people are coming in for is still books, but it's for internet access, it's for help filling out job applications, it's our community center. And especially as more and more people are facing unemployment, it's a place where people are going, so I really urge people to get involved with their public libraries, either as a volunteer, if you're somebody who is checking out books every -- you know, all the time, buy a book every now and then for them, slip them a little money on the side. They need it and they really need our support.
REHMBut the question is, are hardcover books going to go the way of all?
PATCHETTI'll tell you what, Diane, I am opening a bookstore. I live in Nashville. We lost our independent bookstore, Davis-Kidd and several months later, we lost our Borders. There is not a bookstore in Nashville.
REHMOh, my goodness.
PATCHETTWe have used bookstores, but the closest Barnes and Noble is 20 miles outside of town. And, you know, I don't know if I'm opening an ice shop on the age of Frigidaire, but I can't live in a city that doesn't have a bookstore. And I've partnered with an amazing woman named Karen Hayes who really knows what she's doing. She's been a sales rep for Random House for 18 years. She knows how to run a store and we're getting it together. We're hoping to be up and running by Christmas.
REHMWell, we're so thrilled here in Washington, D.C., that the independent bookstore, Politics & Prose, has been purchased by two individuals who like you, want to keep that independent bookstore going.
PATCHETTAbsolutely. And I think that the problem is the bookstores got too big. The bookstores that closed in Nashville, they were both over 30,000...
REHMYeah, huge, huge.
PATCHETT...square feet. We're looking at 3,000 square feet. So, you know, it's kind of this model for what's gone on in our country in so many different ways. We just super-sized. We got bigger and bigger and bigger and it couldn't sustain it. We can't sustain a 30,000 foot bookstore, but we really can sustain a 3,000 square foot store.
REHMAnn Patchett, the book is titled, "State of Wonder, " and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Baltimore, Md. Good morning, Carrie.
CARRIEHi. I was wanting to ask about your writing process, first of all. I write short stuff. I can't write anything long.
CARRIEAnd wondering, do you write every day? Do you set a minimum number of words? How do you get the words out? And second question, you mentioned Iowa. What do you think of these writing programs?
PATCHETTOkay. First thing, I don't really have a writing process and I never much have. And yet, I get the books out, I've written plenty of books. When I first start a book, I maybe write 20 minutes a day and it's torture. By the end of a book, I can sit still for eight hours. So it just depends on where I am in my process.
PATCHETTI would never set a page minimum for myself, for myself. But let me tell you, for other people, it works magic. What you've got to do is find out what works for you. And I am a big believer, especially when you're starting something, to take some time, sit down, make a commitment to a couple of hours a day, get yourself in the discipline and the practice of writing.
REHMAnd that comes to my last question. One of the characters in your book says, never be so focused on what you're looking for that you overlook the things you actually find.
PATCHETTThat's true because what they actually find in, "State of Wonder," is something much, much greater than a way for women to have children forever.
REHMAnd that whole process of looking for that does take into account some ethical questions as well for the drug company, for the people involved, for the doctor involved, most especially.
PATCHETTThere are a lot of ethical questions in this book and I don't have the answers. I'm just putting them out there and I think all of the characters, you can really understand, they're -- nobody in this book is right or wrong, but they're all struggling to find their way through a very complicated maze of ethics.
REHMAnd do you believe that your central character, Marina, comes out a stronger person?
PATCHETTOh, my gosh, absolutely. This is a story of a woman who just keeps losing everything and she thinks, I've lost it all now and then she goes one layer deeper and loses something else. But with everything she loses, she becomes more and more focused within herself. There's something very Zen about her journey because she casts off her possessions, her expectations, but she really finds her strength.
REHMAnn Patchett, the book is titled, "State of Wonder." Thank you so much for joining us.
PATCHETTI loved being here. It's so good to see you.
REHMThank you. Thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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