Laura Pritchett, novelist and professor, is the winner of the PEN USA Award for Fiction, the Colorado Book Award, and the Milkweed National Fiction Prize. In addition to novels, she has written short stories, essays and nonfiction. Holding a Ph.D. in English in Contemporary American Literature from Purdue University, her writing career also includes coaching and instruction as a faculty member at Pacific University’s low-residency MFA Program and Denver’s Lighthouse Writers.
Her latest novel is Stars Go Blue, which Library Journal calls “a brilliant novel, filled with heartache and humor.” Aging and estranged, couple Renny and Ben have been living at opposite ends of their northern Colorado ranch when Ben is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The connection between the characters and the land threads its way throughout the narrative. Regardless of the genre, Ms. Pritchett says that place is important in her writing because she finds her “solace, center, and [my] ideas while outside, engaging in the natural world.”
Ms. Pritchett first wrote about Renny and Ben in Hell’s Bottom, Colorado. She knew she would continue their story, even though it took a decade. Her raw, piercing prose tackles some of life’s most painful losses including the death of a daughter and the increasing loss of Ben’s memory and independence to Alzheimer’s.
Drawing from her personal experience, when Alzheimer’s was stealing her father’s language, Ms. Pritchett said her father became poetic. She wanted to convey this lyrical communication and the story using Ben’s point of view but Ben’s confusion could confuse readers. Adding Renny’s point of view provided the voice of a tough, hard working woman wearing down under the pressure of constant caretaking. It also gave structure to the narrative. Ms. Pritchett believes that her characters are heroic in the way they bear up to life, making choices from their core, even when Ben’s mind is under siege from Alzheimer’s.
Reading Ms. Pritchett’s’ heart-wrenching passages, I wondered what the experience was like for her as a writer to live a long time with the character’s painful experiences. While she acknowledges that the passages are “difficult,” she was “invigorated and happy to be writing the real stuff of life” because she is not a fan of what she calls the “dessert stuff.”
“Writing, for me, also helps me understand things—I write what I’m curious about, what I need to process or ponder. In other words, it’s always a joy to write, even difficult passages. Because I’m interested in real life.”
Ms. Pritchett is the keynote speaker for Castle Rock Writers Conference 2014: Write Around the Rock on October 4, 2014. Readers will find more information at www.LauraPritchett.com .
Based on an interview with Laura Pritchett by Susan Rocco-McKeel, Castle Rock Writers Conference Team member and co-author of Chronicles of Douglas County, CO (July 2014)