These Precious Days: Staff Q&A with Ann Patchett

Around book publication time, I start answering a LOT of questions. Often I answer the same questions four or five times a day. So when Sarah asked me what I wanted to do for Musing to acknowledge the fact I have a new book coming out, I asked her if maybe my friends at Parnassus could come up with some different sorts of questions, either about the book or about the zombie apocalypse. Not surprisingly, what they came up with was considerably better than the standard fare. Thanks, team!

Let’s start with some questions about These Precious Days and writing in general!

Heath asks: How was the process different in writing the essays in this book, as compared to the essays in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage?

I wrote most of these essays during the pandemic because I was staying home and not writing a novel. I wasn’t thinking about writing a book. I was thinking about filling up my time.

Kathy asks: Do you enjoy writing the essay or non-fiction more than fiction? Which form requires the most work?

Photo by Heidi Ross

Writing essays is easier for me and often more fun, but writing novels feels like what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. I may be wrong about this. I often wonder why I don’t just stick with the thing that’s fun.

Madeline asks: What are themes that you gravitate towards and unintentionally write about in your essays? 

Death. I don’t mean to write about death but it keeps coming up. The good news is the more time I spend thinking about death, the more beautiful life seems. I think of this as an inadvertently uplifting book.

Shop Dog Barnabus asks: May I eat the book?

Ask your mother. It’s a lot of fiber.

Speaking of Barnabus’ mother, Lindsay asks: Tell me about your research process! How much do you find yourself researching for essays? How does that research compare to your process for novels?

Pretty much no research for these essays because they’re all personal. All I need to do is pay attention. The novels are much more research intensive. That said, I’d love to start writing John McPhee style essays where I do a lot of research into, say, oranges.

Karen asks: Your essays seem to be more and more personal, which I think was something you resisted earlier in your career. Is it becoming easier to write a personally revealing essay for you?

I never wanted my fiction to be personal but by definition, I feel like personal essays should be personal. I think the older I get, the less I worry about those things. My life is pretty quiet, there isn’t a ton to reveal.

Sparky the Muse looking sharp in his sweater

Ashby asks: Which part of the writing process does Sparky participate in the most? Brainstorming, drafting, revising or editing?

Sparky is both my muse and my emotional support animal. You have no idea how hard he has to work. I really should get a second dog so he could rest.

Sydney asks: How many literary projects do you have going on at a time? Are there unfinished and/or abandoned Ann Patchett works floating around in the void somewhere?

I pretty much just work on one thing at a time, except for picture books. I always have picture books floating around and they can get abandoned because of an ill-timed phone call.

Heather asks: Of all your books (knowing that you do not go back and read them again), which is your favorite?


Sydney asks: Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome as a writer? If so, how did you overcome it?

Yeah, Lindsay and I were talking about imposter syndrome just the other day. I definitely had it when I was first starting out. After a while it just wears off. You can’t do the same job for this long and continue to feel like an imposter.

Hannah asks: What does your drafting process look like? How do you know when to call an essay finished?

I can rewrite an essay fifty times. The shorter something is, the more likely I am to rewrite it. It’s finished when Maile Meloy and Kate DiCamillo tell me it’s finished.

Let’s move on from writing to some of the other burning questions our booksellers have!

Listen to the audiobook on!

Karen asks: What actress would you choose to read your essays on the audio edition, if you didn’t do it yourself?

Laura Dern!

Heather asks: Who is YOUR favorite author? Favorite book?

I have too many. Sticking to the living, I’m very high on Louise Erdrich, Elizabeth Strout and Colson Whitehead these days.

Chelsea asks: What is your zombie apocalypse plan?

I’m going to use the neighbors’ cats as my first line of defense. They keep eating the birds in our backyard and they make Sparky insane.

But Ann, how could you say no to this sweet face?

Heath asks: Who is your favorite musician/band?

I am presently obsessed with Michael Kiwanuka. He’s pretty much the only person I’m listening to right now.

Shop Dog Marlee asks: Can I sleep at your house? In your bed?


Hannah asks: If you were a dog, what breed would you be and why?

According to Sandy Boynton’s calendar “Every Day’s a Fabulous Holiday“, I was born on Mutt Day. Enough said. (Everyone should have a copy of this calendar. It’s so enlightening.)

Heath asks: What are some of your favorite places in Nashville?

My house, my office, my desk, exactly where I am now.

These Precious Days: Essays Cover ImageThese Precious Days: Essays

By Ann Patchett

These Precious Days will be released on November 23. All copies purchased at Parnassus will be signed by Ann Patchett! If you’d like Ann to personalize your copy, leave an order comment with the recipient’s name.

Check out Alex Witchel’s rave review of These Precious Days in the New York Times!