Monday, August 17, 2020

Patty Dann

Patty Dann's novels include Mermaids, Starfish and Sweet & Crazy. The books have been translated into French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. Mermaids was made into a movie starring Cher, Winona Ryder, and Christina Ricci. Dann is also the author of The Butterfly Hours: Transforming Memories into Memoir, The Goldfish Went on Vacation: A Memoir of Loss, and The Baby Boat: A Memoir of Adoption. Dann's articles have appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, O, The Oprah Magazine, and numerous other publications. She teaches writing workshops at the West Side YMCA in New York. Dann is married to journalist Michael Hill and has one son and two stepsons.

Her new novel is The Wright Sister.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Katharine Wright was extremely well known in her day. I wanted a title to give her the attention she deserves, so I've called it simply but boldly, The Wright Sister, which seems comparable to referring to Orville and Wilbur as The Wright Brothers.

I must admit, that frequently when I tell people the title they say, "I didn't know the Wright Brothers had a sister."

What's in a name?

The names of the main characters in the book are real, as it is a historical novel, but I've also invented some characters and taken names from people I've known or made them up.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

My teenage self would certainly be shocked that I write about the intimate relationship between Katharine and her husband, Harry Haskell. I've written that they have an extremely passionate life, which I never would have imagined when I was a teenager.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

People often say that in good writing there should be surprises for the writer as well as the reader. I certainly have found that. I wrote so many drafts of my books, even though they are very short. I end up going back and re-writing my opening pages after I've written an ending. I like to have the whole conflict of the book in the opening, but I often don't know what that is until I finish it.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

I, like Katharine Wright, married in my 50's to a journalist. In Katharine's case it was her first marriage. I had been widowed, but I, like Katharine married a widower. Being a second wife and socializing with my second husband's friends was something I drew on in my book.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I am very interested in family life. In this book I write about adult siblings, which I find a fascinating topic, how family dynamics can change or stay the same after the death of the parents. Wilbur, Orville and Katharine were such a tight unit, for so long. Katharine's marriage was such a dramatic move, that I felt compelled to write about it.

I'm also fascinated by inventions. The first automobile, as it was called, was sold in 1903, the same year of the Wright Brothers' first flight. I'm constantly thinking about how inventions change our world.
Visit Patty Dann's website.

--Marshal Zeringue