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How Patti Callahan Found the Places of Joy. Mountain Brook Magazine.

Patti Callahan Henry has lyrically weaved tales of love and self-discovery for 12 New York Times bestselling novels now, setting each in distinctly Southern places from the Carolina Lowcountry to familiar landmarks near her Mountain Brook home. But her latest project took her on a new road, penning a novel of Joy Davidman, a poet, writer and the woman C. S. “Jack” Lewis called “my whole world.” Patti, here writing as Patti Callahan, traces Joy’s story from transatlantic letters from New York to London to Oxford, breathing her extensive research into her storytelling voice in Becoming Mrs. Lewis.

“For the first time in 13 books, I don’t feel like I am pushing myself because this is all about Joy,” she told us over lunch this summer. “You have to meet this amazing, fiery woman who has something to teach all of us about living a better life and being brave and making choices people don’t approve of.” We recommend reading the novel for yourself after it comes out Oct. 2, but first here’s what Patti had to say about how her world became entrenched in Joy’s.

How did you get interested in writing about Joy Davidman?

I am a preacher’s kid, so I grew up with C.S. Lewis’s books. I read the Screwtape Letters when I was too young to read them, and I fell through the wardrobe into Narnia. I had heard about his wife, Joy, through the years, and I am always fascinated by improbable love stories. But really it all started when I was at a Christmas party with about 10 of my writer friends in Nashville, and I was talking to my dear friend Ariel Lawhon, who writes historical fiction. We were talking about how I have read more historical fiction than anything else, and how I have thought about writing it but that it’s such a departure from what I do. She asked who I would write about if I could. I don’t where it came from, but I said, “I would write about C.S. Lewis’s wife. She is so fascinating!” She got this look on her face and said, “If you don’t do, I am doing it.” And I started it the next day.

How did you want to frame the story?

The question I started with is: “How in the world did they ever get together?” It’s impossible. Joy is this Bronx-born woman 16 years Jack’s junior who is married with two kids living on a farm in New York, part of the New York literati, a communist, an atheist who had a conversion experience. Jack’s brother Warren wrote in his journal, “We received a letter from this fascinating American woman.” So whatever she wrote grabbed their attention.

I wanted to know her journey. I loved the movie Shadowlands, but that’s the story of her dying. I wanted to write a book about her living. There wasn’t a single voice telling her to do what she did. How was she brave enough to save her own life? That was the whole seed of the story. I found this quote she wrote in an essay called “On Fear”: “If we should ever grow brave, what on earth would become of us?” I think she asked herself that and answered it with her life.

What did your research process look like?