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…which invariably arrives as she is just coming to critical point in a book half completed. These ideas appear coy and bright, bringing out the charm of a new flame, urging her to dump the tired out book she has been working on for oh however long. But Ann Patchett resists, finishes work in progress and lets this new idea languish for a bit, perhaps to see if it is really worthy. Such was the case with State of Wonder.

State of Wonder is not and never will be Bel Canto,  perhaps her watermark novel. But Ann Patchett is still Ann Patchett and reads a spell-binding, evocative tale from State of Wonder leaving the audience amazed at the real-life adventures Patchett encountered while in the Amazon doing research for this latest novel. After all, few among us know the stench of an attacking Anaconda or the sounds of a jungle river, less still where the machete is found on a river guide’s boat.

State of Wonder is a wonderful blend of magical realism, modern fiction and mythic archetypes. It is a book for those who love language and who wish to be carried by the flow of words into new realms, albeit on known rivers.

At Town Hall Seattle, Ann Patchett described her books as basically all the same—involving a group of strangers trapped together through circumstances beyond their control, creating a new community. And she admits, for whatever reason, characters in her books usually keep their clothes on and don’t have much sex.

She describes her process as one of staying loosely engaged, but often not actively working on writing—letting ideas come together while cleaning house or busy with other things. Once done, Patchett prescribes to a ritual of having close friends, who coincidentally are mostly famous authors, act as early copy editors. After sharing the first draft of State of Wonder, Liz Gilbert instructed Patchett to keep all actions in the first portion of the book the same, but to remove 75 pages by omitting words, which she did.

During the Q&A, a guest who had just finished the book found herself haunted by one of the book’s characters, the boy Easter. Asked about this, Patchett said she was not troubled and did not see herself writing a sequel. She explained that the difference between commercial fiction and literary fiction is that commercial fiction puts the reader in a car and drives everyone to the same place. Literary fiction is part author and part reader, making decisions about the destination—the reader is part of the equation.

The real trick of it is to come up with an idea. Writing itself is about practice and work.—Ann Patchett

Seattle Arts & Lectures season passes for 2011-12 are now on sale. Single event tickets will be available July 1, 2011.

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