Patti Callahan Henry’s Sisterhood of Characters


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Words by Charlotte Brackman

“The mundane in writing is a fight to stay present. It is not magical, but when you finally say what you meant to say, you lose all track of time or the present and you get lost in a whole different world,” explains Patti Callahan Henry.

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For Patti Callahan Henry, this steady wrestling for the next creative idea has not always been her profession, but it has always been a sacred dream. One day when her daughter Meghan was five years old, she told Patti that she wanted to be a writer when she grew up. Patti agreed with her exclaiming, “I do too!” but her daughter said “But you’re already grown up.” The challenge to fulfill her dream was born with those words, and fifteen novels later, is still unfolding.

Her first novel came from her own imagination’s “what ifs”–putting herself in other’s shoes and wondering how different people respond. Her first novel Looking for the Moon came from an instance when she was tailgating at her alma mater, Auburn University, with her husband and newborn baby. A friend from college joked about their kids ending up dating one day, and that idea was what sparked the plotline for her first novel. Since then, her hunger for history, hobbies, and people’s motives has taken her to new places with each novel. 

Patti’s southern voice comes from the South Carolina Lowcountry. The ancient live oaks, air heavy with atmosphere and mystery, beckon stories with unexpected twists and turns to be told.

“I don’t write romance novels or love stories, I write life stories–and many of them do include love, but that is not the center of people’s lives,” Patti explains. 

Although each of her novels focuses on unique and varied characters and even genres- they have a common thread. This thread is spirited women and a moment in time when they are faced with a choice. They have to make a decision. She believes that the moments in our lives when you have to ask yourself what you want and if you are brave enough to listen to your heart’s longings  creates the most authentic storylines. 

Joy Davidman was faced with this crossroads in Patti’s New York Times Bestselling novel Becoming Mrs. Lewis. In this “Improbable love story” between C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman, Patti uses letters to create years of history and eventual romance between these two iconic real people.

 “What on earth would become of me if I should ever grow brave?” This quote in Becoming Mrs. Lewis causes readers to stop and ponder as they are quickly turning the pages of this story. They might not be like Joy Davidman and pack up their bags to go across the Atlantic ocean, but they may have to pack up people’s expectations for themselves, and like Joy Davidman–grow brave.

“The story behind the story is what interests me. I don’t want to retell something or state the obvious, I want to dig deeper and look at someone’s situation or life and then rewind.”

Her most recent project once again is pulling her into the whimsy of “the story behind the story” and this time it is for a historical event off of the coast of Savannah, Georgia. This new genre of Historical Fiction–looking into the past and reimagining where there are spaces or unknowns–is a new passion for Patti. Just as in her previous 14 novels, she dug into imaginary characters’ pasts and led them to gutsy places. She has reached her goal of becoming a writer, but she will never stop being a researcher and dreamer.