Monday, October 23, 2017

Tom Hanks in Conversation with Ann Patchett

Friday night I went to the Warner Theater for another Politics and Prose event, this time Ann Patchett discussing Tom Hank's new short story collection Uncommon Type. Patchett asked Hanks as an actor when you go into interviews, what is the signal to you that your interviewer is not familiar with the thing you are promoting.  Hanks said that generally there wasn't that sort of sense, but there were signs that the interviewer hated your movie and wished they could somehow interview you without mentioning it, and usually you could tell when they did something like, "So, your new movie..."  
Patchett said for books, the sign is often when the interviewer holds up your book and says, "Wow, what a cover!".  And then they will flip to the author picture on the back, and say, "You look great there!"  And then they will open the book to the dedication page and ask about that, and that's when you know they never made it past the dedication page.  And then she asked about the dedication since it is to Rita and the kids and because of Nora. (Pop Culture Happy Hour recently released an interview with Tom Hanks.  If you would like to hear him talk about this and other things about the book with your own ears, check that out.) Hank explained that he had met with Nora Ephron and her sister Delia, who also worked on "Sleepless in Seattle" and he had liked her work, but he was kind of a big deal, and well, he had some thoughts about some things in the script that didn't reflect the way that a dad would talk to his son.  In particular he said, well, a dad would say, I'm going on this trip to get laid.  Not, oh, I know your poor feelings, or whatever.  And that afterwords, he had said, well, I think that worked great.  And Ephron has said, well, you wrote that.  And he said know, I just complained and made a suggestion.  And she said, well that's writing.  So, Ephron was the person who first treated him like a writer. And later when he wrote a thing, he sent it to her and said, is this a thing.  And she gave suggestions (about voice) and who and where to send it, and so, he felt it was because of her.  
Patchett noted that a famous photographer had recently released a jazz album at 73, so maybe we were in a moment of people who had been very successful in one career, trying out another.  She also said that she often says that she is a writer because she has no esprit de corp, preferring to work alone.  Whereas acting is a clear teamwork deal, so what are the things that are the same.  Hanks talked about taking a tough acting class where they made you be interesting while playing a side part, and that a lot of that was making an interesting backstory for that character so that even when they were setting the table it was clear other things were going on.  As an actor you have to show up knowing the character well, so that you can just create truthful moments. And then afterwords, an editor and other folks take the material you created and stitch it into something, so in many ways, acting and writing do have some overlap.  
Patchett said as an author and a bookstore owner she gets sent tons of books, and she was sent a galley of Hanks' book and eventually sat down to read it and was entranced.  She can often tell, because she is so well read, when she reads new fiction, who else the author has been reading.  And that Hanks' work had a very specific old school style, and yet seemed uninfluenced by others.  He mentioned he doesn't read a lot of fiction, more non-fiction.  And that some of these were inspired by snippets he had read in non-fiction, or from talking to various vets to prepare for movies he had done.  And one was inspired by his father-in-law's story of coming to America. 
Patchett was thrilled that he included a typewriter in each story but also wanted to talk about his inclusion of a Kobo ereader in several stories.  Hanks said he had met a woman who called it the Canadian Kindle and he had one and liked it.  Adding it, where possible, and the typewriter had become a fun thing to get him to sit down and write, where will the typewriter go.  Patchett noted for the audience that Kobo allows independent bookstores to sell ebooks to readers.  (I take advantage of this feature a lot.) 
They talked about Hanks' love of typewriters.  He has about 250.  Some are just for display, antiques with missing parts and such.  The rest, he rotates frequently, making sure they all get regular use. 
There were a number of audience questions.  One about raising kids, led to a story about an, ahem, unnamed child who skipped school one day.  They called him, after the school called them, and asked what he was up to, and the child said they were eating waffles.  So, Hanks and the child's mother did some math, they called the school to confirm the number of school days in a school year, and figured out how much that private school cost per school day.  And when the child came home, they took that money from the child's wallet.  Said child never skipped again. (Patchett did ask why the child had that much money, it was apparently Christmas money.) 
I've already read the first two stories in the collection and they are wry and enjoyable and I have spotted two typewriters and a Kobo.