Once Upon a (Career) Dream


What is your dream career? As a child, what would you tell people you would be when you grew up? For many of us, those answers and what we are doing now don’t align. Maybe your interests changed, or maybe life just led you in a different direction. Today, we are speaking with Patti Callahan Henry, author of The Stories We Tell.  She shares with us her journey from pediatric nursing to becoming a New York Times bestselling author.


4word: Tell us about your career path. What led to your interest in writing?

Patti: I was a nurse for years. My graduate degree was in Pediatric Nursing. When my three kids were born, I decided to take time to be with them, and that’s when I started writing in earnest. I’d always written — I think I wrote my first “book” when I was ten years old. But I had not thought of it as a viable career until my mid-thirties. Or maybe I just wasn’t brave enough to pursue this dream until then.

4word: What sacrifices did you have to make in order to make your dream of being an author a reality?

Patti: Time and sleep. When I wrote my first novel, the kids were five, three, and newborn, so I awoke at 4:30 AM to write for two hours before the day started. There are, of course, many “extra-curricular” activities of my own that I must forgo if I am going to produce a novel. But I don’t necessarily consider it a sacrifice as much as something necessary to follow my passion.

4word: How do you balance the demands of writing with your family’s needs?

Patti: Family first. Period. Of course there are times when I must be gone on book tour, or at a speaking engagement, but my husband and I work as a team, and our kids know that they are our priority. I also believe it is important for my kids to see me pursuing my passion and gifts, because of course I want them to do the same.

4word: Your newest book, The Stories We Tell, has some interesting themes, including truth and fidelity. Why did you choose to write about these topics?

Patti: I usually don’t know the “theme” of the book until I am almost done. I write character driven stories, usually inspired by a “what if.” The themes of truth and fidelity found their way into the story as the writing progressed. I believe we all struggle with these subjects in our life in one way or  another. As they say, “The Universal in The Particular.”

4word: How was writing The Stories We Tell different from your other books?

Patti: This book was different as I usually start my novels with a “what if,” but this time I started with inspirations: I was inspired by the beauty and handmade world of letterpress and typography. In our fast-paced world where image is everything in social media and branding, where does the handcrafted, honest life fit in? I imagined a woman who valued not only the image of her life and family but also the creative life that nourished her. I saw these two worlds colliding as she struggled to keep both worlds alive in a tension of opposites. Eventually something had to unwind, which of course it did.

As an ex-nurse who specialized in closed head injuries, I was also inspired by the constantly wavering life of memory and imagination. What is real? What is imagined or remembered? How accurate is our memory, especially after a head injury? These fascinating questions pulled the story along as I uncovered the answers. I’m always inspired by storytelling and the ultimate ability of creativity to heal a heart, a life, and an injured brain.

Balancing your dreams and the needs of your family can be challenging, but it can be done if you are creative and persistent. There will be sacrifices along the way, so be ready for them and know what you are willing to give up in order to achieve your dreams.


What is your passion? How are you pursuing it?

New York Times bestselling author Patti Callahan Henry has published ten novels: Losing the Moon, Where the River Runs, When Light Breaks, Between the Tides, The Art of Keeping Secrets, Driftwood Summer, The Perfect Love Song, Coming up for Air, And Then I Found You, and the recently released The Stories We Tell. Hailed as a fresh new voice in Southern fiction, Henry has been shortlisted for the Townsend Prize for Fiction, and nominated four different times for the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Novel of the Year. Her work is published in five languages and in audiobook by Brilliance Audio. She is a frequent speaker at fundraisers, library events and book festivals. A full-time writer, wife, and mother of three—Henry lives in Mountain Brook, Alabama.