Amazon Exclusive: Elizabeth Gilbert Interviews Ann Patchett
Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love, as well as the short story collection Pilgrims—a
finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and winner of the 1999 John C.
Zacharis First Book Award from Ploughshares. A Pushcart Prize winner and
National Magazine Award-nominated journalist, she works as
writer-at-large for GQ.
As your close personal friend, I happen to know that you traveled to
the Amazon to conduct research for this novel, and that you sort of
hated the Amazon--can you share a little about that?
I absolutely loved the Amazon for four days. It was gorgeous and
unfamiliar and deeply fascinating. Unfortunately, I stayed there for
ten days. There are a lot of insects in the Amazon, a lot of mud,
surprisingly few vegetables, too many snakes. You can’t go anywhere by
yourself, which makes sense if you don’t know the terrain, but I enjoy
going places by myself. I can see how great it would be for a very
short visit, and how great it would be if you lived there and had
figured out what was and wasn’t going to kill you, but the interim
length of time isn’t great.
EG: Didn't I hear
that you have a sort of magical story about a friend who is also a
writer, who was also once going to write a book about the Amazon? Can
you share this miraculous tale? Also, is your writer friend pretty?
This friend of mine, who happens to be you, is gorgeous, and much
taller in real life. Yes, you were writing a novel about the Amazon,
and then you decided not to write a novel about the Amazon, and then I
started writing a novel about the Amazon, and later when we compared
notes (your book dismissed, mine halfway finished) they had remarkably
similar story lines, to the point of being eerie. I thought this must
be because it was an incredibly banal idea and we had both come up with a
generic Amazon novel, but then you told me that ideas fly around
looking for homes, and when the idea hadn’t worked out with you it came
to me. If this is true I think your name should be on the cover. It
would increase sales significantly.
EG: Readers of your prior work--particularly the luminous Bel Canto--will
be delighted to see that opera makes an appearance in this novel, as
well. In fact, one of the most dramatic scenes in the book takes place
at the opera. Is that a wink and a nod to loyal readers, or just an
expression of your own deep and abiding musical passions?
It’s a wink and a nod to Werner Herzog and his brilliant Amazon film
“Fitzcarraldo” which opens at the opera house in Manaus where the
aforementioned scene takes place. I had very little experience with
opera when I wrote Bel Canto, and since then it’s become a huge
part of my life. It was fun to write a scene set at the opera now that
I know what I’m talking about.
EG: State of Wonder
a rollicking adventure story, full of peril and bravery and
death-defying action. I personally know you to be a homebody who likes
to bake muffins for neighbors. How the heck did you pull off this
wildness so convincingly? Was it as invigorating to write as it is to
AP: Ah, the life of the mind. All the
adventure I need I can dream up in my kitchen. I love writing outside
of my own experience, making imaginary worlds. If I wrote novels based
on my own life I would not be making a living at this. I also love to
write a strong plot. I want things to happen in my books, I want to be
thrilled. I always think about Raymond Chandler. I’m sure I’m getting
the phrasing wrong but the general idea is that when things get slow,
bring in a man with a gun. If you can’t find a gun, a poison arrow
works just as well.
EG: The cover is a work of beauty. Authors are not always so lucky. Tell us how you managed such a miracle?
When I first started writing this book, I came downstairs one night and
found my husband listening to “Horowitz at Carnegie Hall”. The album
cover has a very lush filigreed border. I had two thoughts: first, I
have an amazing husband who thankfully held onto his Horowitz LPs;
second, that the album cover had the exact the feeling I wanted for my
book--half jungle, half Baroque period. When I was finished writing the
novel I sent the album to my editor, who sent it to the art department.
They understood exactly what I was talking about.