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Intuition, Imagination Lead the Way for Packer

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 The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer

An Authorlink interview with Ann Packer

By Columnist Ellen Birkett Morris

From a young age Ann Packer knew what it meant to be a writer. Her mother was a fiction writer and was a professor at Stanford.


The Children’s Crusade
by Ann Packer

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“It didn’t look that good when I was a kid,” said Packer. But in her senior year at Yale University , she took a writing class and was hooked. Packer went on to attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

“The most important moment in my education was a class, a short story boot camp of sorts, which I took from Jane Smiley,” said Packer. During the course students turned in four drafts of two different stories.

“I was constantly revising. It taught me to look at the work I am doing as very fluid.”
—PACKER

“I was constantly revising. It taught me to look at the work I am doing as very fluid. I write to get to the point where I can see what I am doing, and then I rewrite,” said Packer.

She is the author of two collections of short fiction, Swim Back to Me and Mendocino and Other Stories, and two bestselling novels, Songs Without Words and The Dive from Clausen’s Pier.

In her latest book, The Children’s Crusade, Packer turns her attention to the Blair family, husband Bill, a Korean War vet, wife Penny, an aspiring artist, and their children Robert, Rebecca, Ryan and James.

The story begins with Bill finding a parcel of land in what will become Silicon Valley , and dreaming of the family life he will build there. The reality of that life, complicated by his discontented wife and rambunctious son James, is different than he expected.

Packer began the story with the idea of an older sister meeting with her younger brother, who is in trouble. The characters ultimately evolved into Rebecca and James.

She develops characters very intuitively, imagining them into being and try to put herself into a scene to anticipate their reactions.

The Children’s Crusade centers on an idea expressed by Rebecca Blair’s therapist that we never get over having started out as children. “This is something I believe very deeply, but was not an idea I knew I was writing toward. Yet, the whole novel is an exploration of that idea,” said Packer.

The story follows the Blair children as youngsters negotiating family life and later as adults as they decide whether or not to sell the family home. As they interact, they bump up against each other’s expectations and ideas about how they are supposed to behave based on who they were as children.

“Everything happens in the writing. I never look to express a theme. I imagine as I go along.””
PACKER

Packer’s writing process is very organic. “Everything happens in the writing. I never look to express a theme. I imagine as I go along.”

The children’s crusade of the title represents two things. It is the name the children give their effort to integrate their mother into the family. It also stands for the children’s allegiance or lack of allegiance to their father’s belief that all children deserve care. This is explored through scenes involving a troubled child named Daphne, whose parents are renting the Blair home. For some of the siblings, Daphne’s reaction to the potential sale of the house is a factor in their decision making about whether or not to sell the house.

Packer said as she has gained experience as a writer she has also gained confidence. “I approach writing with faith that I will figure it out as I go. I am less anxious.”

She crafted The Children’s Crusade with the help of her editor Nan Graham of Scribner and her writer’s group.

“The biggest question was ‘What about Penny?’ How terrible is she?” said Packer. “With each revision, I was able to shave off monstrosity and go deeper into her character. I was afraid it would be too sad, and the final draft is sadder than the first.”

She advises apprentice writers to “write what you want to write. Don’t try to figure it out. Just imagine it. Then revise, revise, revise.”

“I wish writers fortitude, luck, courage, and the support of other writers.”
PACKER

Packer acknowledged that it harder to find an agent and sell a book than it was ten years ago. “It makes having a community of other writers that you can rely on a central goal.”

“I wish writers fortitude, luck, courage, and the support of other writers,” said Packer.

She has “just barely” begun her next project. “It’s too soon to talk about it.”

About the Author

Ann Packer is the acclaimed author of two collections of short fiction, Swim Back to Me and Mendocino and Other Stories, and two bestselling novels, Songs Without Words and The Dive from Clausen’s Pier, which received the Kate Chopin Literary Award, among many other prizes and honors. Her short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and in the O. Henry Prize Stories anthologies, and her novels have been published around the world.

About Regular Contributor
Ellen Birkett Morris
Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning journalist whose interviews and reviews have appeared in Authorlink, Prairie Schooner Online, The Louisville Courier-Journal, and reprinted in the reader’s guides to The Receptionist and Clever Girl. Her fiction has appeared in journals including Antioch Review, South Caroline Review and Notre Dame Review. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink.