By MADOLINE MARKHAM
Patti Callahan Henry is recovering from a hectic summer. She sold a home in suburban Atlanta, moved into a house outside Mountain Brook Village, got her oldest child off to start college at Auburn—and released a hard cover novel in book retailers across the country.
“I’ve never had so many new things at one time,” she said.
In August, the New York Times bestselling author released her eighth novel, Coming Up for Air, which was awarded the August Indie Next Prize. Henry lyrically writes heartwarming stories of love and self-discovery; their genuine characters and distinctly Southern settings have an emotional pull that make the books nearly impossible to put down. Notable authors including Pat Conroy and Emily Giffin have praised her work.
Henry’s other novels were set in the Carolina Lowcountry, where she likes to vacation, but for Coming Up for Air, she chose settings even more familiar: Auburn, where she attended nursing school and returns for most home football games; Atlanta, where she lived since college; and a city based on Fairhope. Central to the plot and themes is the Jubilee, a phenomenon in Mobile Bay where people can catch hundreds of flounder, shrimp or crab when they come up for air en mass. “I was fascinated by the concept of coming up for air as a woman,” Henry said.
Henry is excited to be in Birmingham, a city that she said has a such a creative environment, and in the company of writer friends like Michael Morris, Keith Thomson and UAB creative writing teacher Kerry Madden. “Writers are endlessly fascinating,” she said. “Everyone has a different story.”
Once Henry and her husband, Patrick, decided to move to Birmingham for his job in real estate development for Daniel Corporation, Henry said it was an easy decision where they would live. Patrick is a Mountain Brook High School graduate, and his parents, Gwen and Chuck Henry, lived here for 15 years. Their family is enjoying the change in pace from Atlanta.
“We’re all home because we’re not in the car as much,” she said. “We walk to the (Mountain Brook) Village. My husband drives 10 minutes to work. It’s taken life down a notch.”
Living within walking distance to the Jemison Trail was a prerequisite when the Henrys were house hunting, and her sons have quickly set up for target practice in their backyard. “We’re all outdoorsy,” she said, “but Meagan, a freshman at Auburn, is our fashion guru.”
After receiving her master’s in child health, Henry worked as a clinical nurse specialist until Meagan was born. As her children grew up, she pursued her passion for writing fiction, releasing her first book in 2004. “It’s fun to ask what happens next, and it’s more fun when you don’t know what will happen,” she said.
When Henry returns from her book tour this fall, she hopes to get involved in her sons’ schools and maybe to figure out how to drive to the high school without using her GPS. Her son Thomas is a sophomore at the high school and Rusk is in seventh grade at the junior high; they are both playing football this fall. She’ll also return to her writing space at home to get to work on her next novel. She’s got a box full of ideas, from saving historical homes to dolphin research to women pilots in the 1940s.
As she gets to know Birmingham, Henry said she will definitely write about the city at some point. “I don’t know how or why, but I will,” she said. “And I won’t write about my neighbors.”
For more information on Henry’s novels, visit patticallahanhenry.com.