Patricia Engel is a writer who has been called “gloriously gifted and alarmingly intelligent” by Junot Diaz following the debut of her short story collection, Vida, in 2010. With the arrival of Engel’s first novel, McNally Jackson hosted “All the Swooning and None of the Commitment: An Evening with Patricia Engel,” an author reading and a Q&A, on August 14. Engel shared two sections from her novel, It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris, and discussed what it was like deciding to be a writer, the commitment of writing a novel and who people become when no one is there to remind us of who we’re supposed to be.
Audience Member: Out of all the things you could have done with you life, why did you decide to become a writer?
Patricia Engel: Well, I decided to be a lot of other things before. I sort of had to become a writer. It’s like a disorder … of sorts. I actually grew up in a very creative family with a lot of artists and musicians around me, and everybody had their own thing, so writing was my thing. But I also thought everybody had a day job and did their art on the side, and I didn’t know any writers, so I didn’t know how you go about doing it. It’s not like medical school, where people say major in this, take this test and you’ll find your way!
I actually wanted to be a marine biologist who wrote novels on the side. And then I wanted to be … lots of things that I shouldn’t mention. But I would write novels on the side, basically. And then after I went to college, I was here in New York, and I worked many jobs over the course of many years, and I was always writing on my own. And then I just decided. It called to me more and more, so I had to take action to pursue it. I applied to graduate school, and there the journey began. But I was sort of reluctant to become a writer in some ways.
Audience Member: How is the process of writing short stories different from the process of writing a novel?
My first book is nine short stories that together form one large story, and even though it was part of a longer story, I was able to step away in between stories and clear my mind and do what I need to do. Whereas in writing a novel, I found the real difference is stamina. In my case, I am terribly afraid of disconnecting from it, of forgetting why I’m writing it, sort of breaking my own bonds to it. I had to remain obsessed with it in a way that is not at all functional for trying to maintain a normal life. But stamina is the difference, I think.
Audience Member: The title of the book is compelling. Would you say that this is more of a love story or a more of a story about deep affairs? How would you describe it?
That’s a good question because of course it comes off like a love story. In my mind, it’s not entirely a love story. There is a love story present in it, but it’s also a story about growing into oneself and the way that one navigates their familial bonds with their personal bonds and decides who they want to be. When you’re ripped away from your identity — which, what I did here was take all my characters and displace them entirely so all the characters in this novel are away from all the reminders of who they’re supposed to be. I wanted to explore who we become when no one is there to remind us who we’re supposed to be. But I also wanted to examine what’s going on with immigration now, and how the economy and tourism and globalism and international education and this concept of study abroad, which is a fairly new one, sort of affects the lives of young people.
Freddie Moore is a Brooklyn-based writer. Her full name is Winifred, and her writing has appeared in unFold, The Leaf Unturned and Italics Mine. As a former co-president of SUNY Purchase’s Cheese Club, she’s a big time foodie who knows her cheese.KEEP READING: More Cheap Wine, Plastic Chairs
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