by ALEC HARVEY
November 15, 2019
Village Living: Mountain Brook's Community News Source
Ask Patti Callahan Henry when she knew a career as an author would work for her, and the best-selling author of 15 novels says, “I still wonder if it’s going to work.”
If you had asked Patti Callahan Henry a year ago what 2019 had in store for her, she never would have guessed.
The Mountain Brook author has enjoyed her best-selling book, hosted her first podcast and traveled the world doing book signings and presenting lectures — all thanks to the late Joy Davidman, wife of C.S. Lewis and the subject of Henry’s historical novel, “Becoming Mrs. Lewis.”
“If I look back at all the things I have done and all the places we’ve been, I wouldn’t believe it,” Henry said. “It has been so crazy.”
She’s the author of 15 novels, but Henry’s whole career might strike some — particularly those who knew her in high school and college — as a little crazy.
“I had my nose in a book 24/7, kept a journal, all that kind of stuff, but it literally never crossed my mind that writing was something that people did for a living,” she said.
Instead, she graduated with a nursing degree from Auburn University, moved to Atlanta and earned a graduate degree from Georgia State University, working as a pediatric nurse until her first child was born in 1993.
Around that time, Henry began thinking she might have a book in her.
“I first started taking it seriously about 1999 and said, ‘I’m going to try this thing I’m obsessed with,’” she said. “I wanted to see if I could write just one book. I started taking classes and going to writers’ workshops, and I didn’t tell anyone other than family what I was doing. I really wanted to see if it was something I could do before I decided to tell everyone about it.”
For two years, Henry wrote in her Atlanta basement each morning from 4:30-6:30, two hours of solitude amidst raising three children with her husband, Pat Henry, a Mountain Brook High School graduate she had met at Auburn and started dating in Atlanta.
By the time her third book, “When Light Breaks,” came out in 2006, Henry, who had continued working part time as a nurse at her children’s schools and other places, made a decision.
“It was time for me to renew my nursing license when my third book came out, and I thought, no, I’m doing this, and I’m not going to stop doing this,” she said of writing books.
And she hasn’t stopped, averaging about a book a year with titles such as “And Then I Found You,” “Coming Up for Air” and “The Bookshop at Water’s End.” Her work has been compared to Pat Conroy and Anne Rivers Siddons.
Siddons, the Auburn graduate and author of books such as “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Peachtree Road,” is one of Henry’s literary heroes, and when she died earlier this year, Henry honored her by republishing an essay she had written about her influence.
“When I moved to Atlanta, I was reading her so avidly,” Henry recalled. “I read an article that she went to Auburn, which I did, was in a sorority, which I was, and lived in Atlanta, which I did at the time. I thought, wait, authors can be real people.”
Henry first met Siddons at one of Siddons’ book signings. View Related Post
“This was before I ever set pen to paper,” Henry said. “I remember thinking that what I really wanted to do was meet her and tell her my story idea so she could write it and dedicate the book to me. … The idea of me writing it sounded absurd to me.”
Henry did not share her idea with Siddons — “I was so awestruck, I mumbled something incoherent to her,” the author said — but it became “Between the Tides.”
Henry broke from her contemporary Southern fiction genre for “Becoming Mrs. Lewis,” her first work of historical fiction. This year, she also published “The Favorite Daughter,” which returned to her original genre, and a re-release of her Christmas-themed “The Perfect Love Song.”
Henry will be signing that book at Homewood’s Alabama Booksmith on Dec. 3 at 5 p.m. Read More
In addition to all of that, she hosted a seven-episode podcast called “Behind the Scenes of ‘Becoming Mrs. Lewis,’” in which she interviewed experts, including Joy Davidman’s son, about Davidman.
Eight years ago, the Henrys moved to Mountain Brook. They also spent a lot of time at their home in Bluffton, South Carolina, near Hilton Head. Henry’s next book, scheduled for release in March 2021, is a second work of historical fiction, based on a steamboat explosion that rocked that area in 1838.
“It was called the ‘Southern Titanic,’ because it was carrying the elite of Savannah and Charleston,” Henry said. “It blew up off the coast of Wilmington. The book follows the family members of a very esteemed Savannah family, not only what happened to them but what the survivors chose to do with their lives.
“Mrs. Lewis definitely gave me the historical fiction bug,” Henry said. “I love the research, the bringing up past stories to kind of enlighten what we’re going through today.”
Patti Callahan and
Patti Callahan Henry Books
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