More from Ann Packer
Published: December 1, 2007
|Kathy Pohl interviewed novelist Ann Packer, author of The Dive From Clausen's Pier and Songs Without Words, in the February 2008 issue of The Writer. Following are some additional comments from Packer.|
You went from writing short stories to novels. What was the transition like, going to that much longer format?
Yes, my first book was called Mendocino and Other Stories. I think there are 10 stories in it, the first of which was published in The New Yorker just before I got my degree at Iowa. The rest of the stories were published in literary quarterlies, and the book itself was published by Chronicle Books in San Francisco in 1994. It eventually went out of print, but when Vintage brought out the paperback of The Dive from Clausen's Pier, they brought out a new edition of the stories as well, so it's now back in book form, which is very nice.
I didn't think a lot about making the transition. I knew that I was moving toward writing the novel [The Dive from Clausen's Pier], and I was thinking about some aspects of the story and about the characters, and when I started the book, I just accepted that it was going to take a lot longer to write. The story is about a young woman whose fiancé is injured in a diving accident. Should she stay or should she leave? I knew she was going to leave, I knew she was going to eventually come back on her own terms, but I didn't want that to happen in 20 pages. So it had to be a novel, from the beginning. There's something about having the form match the material; it seems to work out.
One thing I did have to adjust to was that I had a tendency in the first draft or two to write sequences or scenes that had a kind of short-story structure, with big breaks or pauses in between them. It took a while before I realized what I was doing. I had to learn how to massage some of those scenes so that they worked together better.
Is it ever hard to get yourself to write?
It would be harder if I didn't know myself, that I always feel much better when I'm working. If I have a bad day or a bad week, I can coach myself to get back out there, because even if I'm feeling really despairing over the state of a piece of work, I know intellectually that the way to optimism is through work. And just having that knowledge can sometimes be enough.
What is your advice for beginning writers?
I think it's important to be among other writers and to share your work. Find people you can trust, people who aren't going to tell you that everything you do is wonderful, but who have the right approach to constructive feedback. And, of course, writers should read, constantly.
I think, too, that you have to convince yourself that the work is worth it, and that you have a right to be doing it. You can't be looking to anyone else to give you permission or to validate what you're doing. Essentially, you have to have confidence and drive.
But my biggest piece of advice is: Don't do it unless you love it. And if you love it, make sure you do it.