- GOOGLE PLAY
- Dying, A Memoir
- Making Friends With Death
- Grapes Of Wrath
- Red Lightning
C. G. Cooper: Welcome to Books in 30 with me, C.G. Cooper. Here at Books in 30, we discuss great books with some of today's top authors. So welcome to our listeners, and a big Books in 30 welcome to today's guest, Laura Pritchett. Laura Pritchett is the author of nine books. She began a writing journey in her early 20s with a short story collection, Hell's Bottom, Colorado, which one the PEN USA award for fiction and Milkweed National Fiction prize. This was followed by a bunch of novels, I won't read all of them right now, she's an editor of anthologies, she also has two nonfiction books. She's published hundreds of essays and her work has appeared in the New York Times, O magazine, Salon, and Publishers Weekly, just to name a few. You could find her at LauraPritchett.com. Laura, welcome and thanks for joining us today.
Laura Pritchett: Thanks so much for having me on the show about books.
C. G. Cooper: Yeah. Well tell you what, can you give us a quick snapshot of why you became an author.
Laura Pritchett: Because I loved books and discussing books so, that's why I'm happy to be here. No, just early on in my life, I fell in love with the power of words, and I think I had a pretty lonely childhood. Books kept me company and also made me more empathetic to the human condition, and so I found my very first diary, I'm age seven, and I wrote on the very front page, "I want to be a writer someday, just like Laura Ingalls Wilder." And I spelled it, R-I-T-E-R. I couldn't spell yet but I knew I wanted to write.
C. G. Cooper: What age was that?
Laura Pritchett: Seven.
C. G. Cooper: Seven years old. Wow, so you really knew early on what you wanted to do.
Laura Pritchett: I really did. I had really the best librarians and English teachers, and I know that's a cliché among writers, with "somebody put the books in our hands and we fell in love" but that's what happened to me, is they put good books in my hands.
C. G. Cooper: You know what though? That's so important. That's one of the reasons that I do what I do, and I do a little bit of outreach, and I had a fantastic program with an elementary school in Virginia that, I don't think we can help children enough by getting books into their hands. It's either, it's a great escape and it's a great way for them to learn and yours is a perfect story of, that's how you escaped and that's how you found something that you loved, and now that's what you do for a living, isn't that crazy?
Laura Pritchett: It is crazy and beautiful, and I'm so lucky and grateful.
C. G. Cooper: Well, cool. Well tell you what, why don't we dive into some of the stuff that you're reading. What's something that you're reading right now that's just kind of blowing you away or something that you've recently finished that you think the listeners would enjoy?
Laura Pritchett: Okay, I don't want to depress your listeners because this is an amazing uplifting book but it's called, Dying, A Memoir. I've been on a death kick lately because of my new book, which is called Making Friends with Death: A Field Guide for Your Impending Last Breath, and we can talk about that later. But for the last year, I've been reading all the books out there about death and it has not made me depressed. It has made me really aware of the vivacity of life. But this book is just amazing. It's written by an Australian woman who was diagnosed, and knew she was dying at the age of 60, and she's a poet. It's just such a gorgeous, honest look at dying before she wants to, and she talks about that and her love of words, and I was just gonna read one paragraph, if that's okay with you.
C. G. Cooper: Yeah, please do. Definitely.
Laura Pritchett: It just blows me away. This is kind of from the beginning of the book, which just came out, published by Tin House. Anyway, she writes, "This is what I'm doing now in my final book. I am making a shape for my death so that I and others can see it clearly. I am making dying bearable for myself. I don't know where I would be if I couldn't do this strange work. It has saved my life many times over the years and it continues to do so now. For a while my body is careening towards catastrophe, my mind is elsewhere, concentrated on this other vital task, which is to tell you something meaningful before I go, because I'm never happier than when I'm writing or thinking about writing or watching the world as a writer, and it has been this way from the start."
C. G. Cooper: Wow. Holy cow. Was that the beginning, is that the end, or was it somewhere in the middle?
Laura Pritchett: That's somewhere in the beginning chapter but she's just talking about how writing saves her, and I thought it was so appropriate to read that for this podcast and just ... I think we're also interested in what the power of words do and in her case, it's to face her death. You know?
C. G. Cooper: That's fantastic. Is that what you've been researching? How death affects us or what's your research kind of revolved around?
Laura Pritchett: Just how to do it right, you know?
C. G. Cooper: How to die right?
Laura Pritchett: How to die right. I mean, you know, with your chin up, your heart brave, feeling okay about it. It seems so basic but, it's really such a terrifying prospect. I started my own book about 10 years ago when two things happened. One, I was watching my father and some friends die, and it was super bitter, painful, medicalized, horrible thing and I just looked around and I thought, "I don't want to die like this." Secondly, I had a health scare. Sorry, I was gonna say crisis. Health crisis scare, and I thought I might be dying, and I totally didn't know how to do it. So. I just started doing research, and a lot of that was reading books about death, and a lot of it was going around talking to Buddhist Monks, or people who made coffins, or morticians, or hospice workers. I put it altogether in the book, Making Friends With Death, which is a book I need to write for me but, turned out I'm not dying.
C. G. Cooper: That's a given.
Laura Pritchett: Again, I'm mortal so I will die but, I'm not dying now.
C. G. Cooper: That's fantastic. That's fascinating to me, you know? It's interesting that you say that, you know. Again to the listeners, I never like to prep what books we're gonna be talking about because I like to be surprised, and I want you to be surprised as well. It's funny because, dying is one of those interesting things. It's a taboo topic, as you probably found in a lot of circles. People don't want to talk about it either, because they're scared of it, or they just don't want to deal with it. In my family, everybody's got some death in their family. I'm told my wife and my family in fact, I need to put this in the will, that when I go, I want it to be a celebration. It's like, "Remember me for the good stuff, not the stuff that was so terrible at the end." Is that kind of one of the takeaways of the book? You know, the Dying: The Memoir that you read, and kind of your research and where you writing went with it?
Laura Pritchett: Yes, both books. In Dying: A Memoir, she really tried to find what her joys in life were, and that is really gonna help her die. In my book, Making Friends with Death, it's basically a workbook to force you to do things, like you just said. Like, write down what kind of celebration you want, and write down what you want done with your body, and write down your greatest joys, and accomplishments, and what you stood for, and what you believed in. Then, give it to somebody, so that someone has that record. It's been fun to write my own book but, it's been fun to be reading other books all around the same topic, because I feel like finally, a conversation is going on in this country about how to have a better death.
C. G. Cooper: Yeah. Well I mean, it's never going away, and it can be an uncomfortable thing to talk about. But, you better have your stuff in order before that happens. That is fascinating to me, that you physically, mentally went through that process, and it ended up ... Basically, correct me if I'm wrong, part of your therapy was, getting these words on paper, right?
Laura Pritchett: Absolutely. So, I feel like I have the same impulse as Corey Taylor in that passage I just read, which is by writing about it, I could understand it, and accept it.
C. G. Cooper: That is so cool. I love that writing does that. I remember writing my first book. It was just an idea I had in my head that I had to get out, and I had to explore it. One of the fascinating things about writing is, how it happens differently for each of us as creatives. It's like, you wrote a story about that, and I've been jumping into all kinds of the same issues in fiction. So, I can't wait to take a look at your book. Well, let's move onto favorite book. What is your favorite book of all time? I know this is a tricky question, especially for writers because we love so many books but, is there one that just stands out, and it's like, "Man, this changed my life," or, "This is just who I am as a reader."
Laura Pritchett: It's such a good question, and it's such an impossible question as you know because, the point of books is that, it feels like a community and it teaches you all kinds of stories, and potential outcomes, and various people's culture, and that's the lovely thing about literature, is that it's a conversation. But, I hear ya. I mean, we all have maybe one or two that stand out so, I was thinking about that, and I thought there's two. One is Grapes of Wrath I have to say, because I read it when I was quite young, and I think it make me into a more empathetic human being. That was the first time I realize that I wanted to write about people who are down and out and blue-collar. The people I saw around me. I grew up on a ranch in Colorado, and I wanted to write out those people. So that one, and Willa Cather because, that was the first time I felt like I was seeing myself in a book. You know, my rural life and the troubles of landscape, and so on. So, I have to say, "Those two great earlier American writers really influenced my life and work."
C. G. Cooper: That's awesome. Why do you think the listeners should check one or both of those books out?
Laura Pritchett: Well Steinbeck, because if you haven't read Steinbeck, your life is not complete. And Grapes of Wrath, it's a great movie too but, just his use of language and pure compassion for all of his characters, even unlikable ones. And Willa Cather because, she was such a feisty woman, really writing in a time when some of what she was writing about wasn't that kosher. I love people who stand up, and more or less who have the attitude that art does not apologize. Writers should not avert their gaze. They should write about the hard stuff, and I really love gritty, real books.
C. G. Cooper: I love that. Yeah. I mean, do you feel that in your writing, when it's painful to write, that that's some of the best stuff that you've done?
Laura Pritchett: Yeah. So, I'm mostly a fiction writer. This whole death book was a kind of an anomaly for me. But my fiction is dark, and it gets accused of being dark pretty frequently. All I can say is, that life is dark. You know? I'm not gonna shy away from it. We all love escapist literature, and I'm not gonna criticize it. It's wonderful. But also, I feel like if that's all you read, it's like you're just having dessert, and you're never getting a good hearty meal full of more nutritious stuff. I mean, dark stuff teaches us stuff, and it can be really important I think, to face the world as it is.
C. G. Cooper: Absolutely. Like were talking about with death, it happens. Dark stuff happens in our lives all the time. You can't sugarcoat it 24/7. Again, the reason I do this show, is to talk to people like you, who just bring a completely different perspective from the action-adventure thriller genre that I'm so used to. I'm just fascinated, and that's why I cannot wait for you to read our next portion, which is a snippet of your own work. Did you happen to bring something that you can read for the listeners?
Laura Pritchett: I did. By the way, I think there's plenty of dark in action adventures, and that's what makes them so compelling so, I'm sure you're writing dark stuff too.
C. G. Cooper: Oh yeah, definitely. Yeah, I just don't like to admit it. you know?
Laura Pritchett: I'm making you admit it on air.
C. G. Cooper: There ya go.
Laura Pritchett: All right. I'm just gonna read the first few paragraphs of my book, Making Friends with Death: A Field Guide Through Your Impending Last Breath, which I swear to you, is a spritely, fun, spunky book actually, about life. Because, I don't want your listeners to feel like it's all depressing. But anyway, here's my first opening paragraphs.
Laura Pritchett: "My position on death, I'm totally against it. That said, I concede I will lose that argument and that moreover, there isn’t much of an argument to be made. Die I will.
Laura Pritchett: So, the first thing we must do is to accept our mortality. But come on, doing that is hard! Even if we repeat, “There is no life without death” over and over, and over some more, my guess is that at the end of the day, many of us cannot easily accept the fact of our own inevitable demise.
Laura Pritchett: But the fact remains: Death is a grand mystery, a necessary mystery. We don’t know much about it or how it will go for us, but we do need to do it. The actual act of dying will be the last physical act of our lives. By breaking it down into little parts, we might have a better way of accessing the enormity of it.
Laura Pritchett: I want my last breath to be graceful, beautiful, serene and full of equanimity, my chin up and my heart brave. But frankly, knowing myself as I do, I’m afraid it will be a crazed herky-jerky thing for which I get no second chance."
Laura Pritchett: There you go.
C. G. Cooper: That's fantastic. Thank you so much for sharing that. What do you think about when you read that out loud?
Laura Pritchett: I just think I'm being honest with the world of, "We all need to accept our mortality." It might go really badly, and maybe it's good that we just laugh about that, and kind of try to deal with it.
C. G. Cooper: It's awesome that you say you want to be graceful and all those things on death, but you know, it's going to be a herky-jerky and crazy. I mean that's so human, right?
Laura Pritchett: I love crazy humanity.
C. G. Cooper: It gives us plenty of fodder for writing, doesn't it?
Laura Pritchett: It does. I do think to be a writer, and I wonder what you think about this but, you just have to be curious about human psychology and what motivates us and scares us.
C. G. Cooper: Absolutely. Here's one of my secrets: one of the things that I do when nobody is watching is, some reality TV just pulls me in because, I think it's an interesting peek inside the human condition of, "Why are these people: A, on this show? And, B, why are they doing what they're doing?" I'll have to admit, shows like Below Deck, which is this crew that's on a super multi-million dollar yacht, and just kind of goes through every trip. But it's like, I don't know if I'm proud, or sad, or little embarrassed to say that some of those episodes and the characters in their head, made their way into my books. Who knows where you get it from but, when you see somebody acting crazy or the complete opposite, it somehow stream back into work, doesn't it?
Laura Pritchett: I think we catch stuff all the time from overheard conversations, and watching crazy family members and neighbors. It's funny. I think we just all pull it in and use it how we must.
C. G. Cooper: Amen. Well, speaking of pulling it in and using it how we must, let's talk about mean reviews. It's one of the favorites for listeners and authors alike. Did you happen to bring a couple that you can read for the listeners out there?
Laura Pritchett: I sure did, and thanks so much for making me look through all my reviews.
C. G. Cooper: You're welcome.
Laura Pritchett: No so, Making Friends with Death is so new, as it just came out, there are no mean reviews of it yet. Although, I'm sure there will. Although, I'd like for there not to be. My most recent novel was called The Blue Hour, and it's set in a Colorado town, and it's not erotica but there is a lot of sex in it, and it says that on the cover. The very first line on the back cover is, "Desire, passion and unexpected violence simmer in Laura Pritchett's dazzling new novel. Blah, blah, blah." So, I think readers are warned and yet, a lot of them ... I got all these mean reviews about there being too much sex. I pulled out some of my favorites, either from Goodreads, or Amazon or other places that people leave reviews. Here's one of my favorites:
Laura Pritchett: "I was left thanking my lucky stars that I don't live on some Mountain in Colorado, and wondering why anyone would choose to do so. Oh, natural beauty you say? Okay, that's alright. But, do people really, really obsess this much about sex? I get a bit about damaged people forming a community, but I just feel irritated when I think about all of them."
C. G. Cooper: I love how they say in the beginning that, that's how they imagine living in that particular place. That, that's how life is, you know?
Laura Pritchett: I know. I mean, I think it's really just an honest look at people's sex lives, whether it's good, or bad, or not happening or whatever. Then, another person said:
Laura Pritchett: "This is a dark creepy sexual novel. I did not get past page 10."
Laura Pritchett: Which, just makes me want to say, "Well, what if the other 200 pages had been completely light and fluffy? Give it more than 10 pages.
C. G. Cooper: Well it's like, why wouldn't you just say, "Okay, I'm gonna return this, and just not post anything." I've talked about this with a couple other authors, about what makes people leave a mean review, and what do you think it gets down to 90% of the time?
Laura Pritchett: Well exactly. That's such a good question because you know, my book is so clearly ... The cover material and the cover itself indicate that there's going to be some sexuality in it, so why would you even pick it up if you're going to be offended? And then, why write about it? I sometimes tell my friends, "When you're reviewing a book, if you really didn't like it, I mean you know, be careful what you say, cuz it can really hurt an author. It can hurt them in person, but it can also hurt their sales, and what if it just wasn't your kind of book?
C. G. Cooper: Yeah.
Laura Pritchett: You know? I mean, I'm all for honesty, and if you want to get on it and really take a book to test for something, that's fine but, to just not get it because it's not your type of book and then to go online, that seems kind of cheap.
C. G. Cooper: Well, it's the new world, isn't it? Anybody can post a review.
Laura Pritchett: Yes. I had an article come out last year in the New York Times and it was about my divorce, and it is called, No Sound, No Fury. And man, that elicited a lot of a lot of love mail, but a lot of hate mail. So, I picked out a few of my favorite hate mails on that one too.
C. G. Cooper: Sweet. Let's hear it.
Laura Pritchett: Okay. One person says, "There is just no valid reason to break up a family if things aren't bad. A good dose of couples therapy would have helped you." Someone else responded, "That's a load of crap. Who gets to decide what's bad? She had obviously had enough." The reason that makes me chuckle is that, it leads to this big long conversation, and then I like how people just riff off and start arguing amongst themselves, about something I wrote. Sometimes people got kind of cruel. One woman wrote, "So you are lonely and bored, and what you did was for your benefit. How selfish. If you were really putting the kids first, you would have sucked it up and made this marriage work, no matter what."
C. G. Cooper: Wow.
Laura Pritchett: To which, I can only disagree from a really tender, sincere place. No, I did try to make my marriage work, and I was trying to write honestly about why it fell apart.
C. G. Cooper: Golly.
Laura Pritchett: I wasn't just lonely and bored. It was a lot bigger than that, so.
C. G. Cooper: Wait, wait. So, you're saying, "You weren't just writing it for the for the amusement of the public?"
Laura Pritchett: I was actually trying to bear a bit of my soul, man, and talk about those tough, tough decisions because, if one of us is honest in the world, then others will be honest, and then more people are honest. You know, it has a cascading effect.
C. G. Cooper: Amen.
Laura Pritchett: I wrote a tender little piece. There was a lot of love mail so, I appreciate that.
C. G. Cooper: Well, that's good. How do you deal with that? Obviously, we've put ourselves out in the public realm, so people can say whatever they want. But I mean, you've been doing this for a while, when you get one of those in your inbox, how do you internalize it?
Laura Pritchett: Well, I won't say it doesn't hurt. I mean, I'd like to say, "Oh I'm so tough, nothing hurts." but that would be a lie. Sometimes it does hurt. But I do joke, and my joke is kind of true that, I grew up with a super critical mother. In fact, she commented on one of my reviews. She doesn't read my books anymore because they contain cuss words and sex but she posted, "Your character's just need to grow up." So, actually having a mother like that, really has helped me. I'm not kidding. Like you know, when you're growing up and you just become sturdy, and you like hold your own, and you and therefore nothing that anyone else says is going to hurt that much because, you've already worked through having a parent who doesn't care for what you do or what you write. I'm glad I had a tough upbringing.
C. G. Cooper: We draw strength from the most amazing places, don't we?
Laura Pritchett: We do.
C. G. Cooper: Holy moly. Well all right, how about we move on to the speed round? I've got four questions here for ya. Are you ready for them?
Laura Pritchett: Yeah, I'm ready.
C. G. Cooper: All Right.
Laura Pritchett: Speed round.
C. G. Cooper: Yeah. These take a little bit or a lot to answer these. We like to keep them a little bit shorter but, obviously we're having a great time chatting. So number one, what's your favorite thing about being an author?
Laura Pritchett: That one is so easy to answer. The answer is, that I get to sleep until I feel like waking up.
C. G. Cooper: So, you're not an early riser?
Laura Pritchett: I work really hard, and I go right to my computer and I start writing but, I don't have an alarm clock. I don't have to be anywhere at any certain time.
C. G. Cooper: That is definitely a good one to have. Number two, what is the best advice you ever received? I know that's a loaded question.
Laura Pritchett: It is but, something came to mind fast. I have a good friend, Rick Bass, who writes fantastic novels and he lives in Montana. I was on a car trip with him once and I asked him what I need to do to get better, and as a writer? And he said, "I don't know Laura, but I just think all writers are cowards. The bar is so low about being brave and courageous." That really struck me because, was working on a book called, Red Lightning, a novel about post-traumatic stress disorder. I had just been thinking about making it less violent, and less traumatizing, and then I didn't. You know? That advice has stuck with me. I think he's a little worn out by the fact that writers play it safe, and don't really get into deep hard territory sometimes, and so yeah.
C. G. Cooper: That's a good one.
Laura Pritchett: That's the best advice.
C. G. Cooper: I really like that one. I'm gonna write that one down. Okay. Well number 3, what is one piece of technology you could not live without?
Laura Pritchett: My coffee maker.
C. G. Cooper: The writer's best friend, right?
Laura Pritchett: Yeah. I think I could actually write longhand if I had to but, I couldn't write without coffee.
C. G. Cooper: Good to know. Alright, and last one. Who is someone that you look up to?
Laura Pritchett: I was thinking about that, and I thought, "Right now, anyone who stands up for what they believe in, and gets out there and does something to make the world a better, kinder, more compassionate place."
C. G. Cooper: Awesome.
Laura Pritchett: That's right now, who I'm looking up to.
C. G. Cooper: Cool. I love it. I love it. well you know, this is your time. We'd love for you to give a few last words to the listeners, let them know a little bit more about you and where they can find you.
Laura Pritchett: Well, I would love if they visited my webpage, http://www.LauraPritchett.com, and I also just started a new web page specifically for Deathy, is what I call my book finally. It's like my nickname, and that's http://www.MakingFriendsWithDeath.com. They can also follow me on Twitter at @authorlaura, and I'm on Instagram as AuthorLaura, I believe is my call name. And, I'm always out there writing. I just love to have people check a book out and/or email me, and let them know about their favorite books.
C. G. Cooper: Awesome. What's the best email address to get you?
Laura Pritchett: My Gmail account, which is on my website.
C. G. Cooper: Okay.
Laura Pritchett: And it's prevalent. It's all there, and I love communicating with other readers and writers.
C. G. Cooper: I'm the same way. I answer every one, and I know you've been very good at answering my emails when I wrote to you so, thank you for that.
Laura Pritchett: Yup. You bet.
C. G. Cooper: All right. Well Laura, thank you so much for visiting today. We had a great time. Obviously, some fantastic books that our listeners can grab. This has been Books in 30 with
C. G. Cooper: Thank you for listening, and don't forget to email me at CGC (at) CG-Cooper to say hello, to let me know of an author that you'd like to see as my guest, or just to tell me that you're gonna post a good review. Not a mean review. Thanks for tuning in. This is C.G. Cooper, I'm out.
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