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Interview with Patti Callahan Henry

     It was my great honor to interview Patti Callahan Henry. She is the author of Becoming Mrs. Lewis, a fictional biography about the unlikely romance between Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis. Joy's story has been memorialized in the play and movie, Shadowlands, but this novel examines the woman behind the famous man. Becoming Mrs. Lewis also shines a light on the fiery genius that made a literary legend eschew a lifelong bachelorhood only to marry a woman who was taken too soon from cancer. My sincerest thanks go to Patti Callahan for generously taking time for this interview, and I hope you find it enjoying and enlightening.

This was the first historical biography you had written. How different was it from writing your other novels, and was it a more difficult process? 

It was different mainly because Joy and Jack were very real and very well known people! I wouldn’t say it was more difficult, but it was definitely tapping into a new set of skills. Usually when I plot or outline, I am doing it straight from my imagination. But here, with Becoming Mrs. Lewis, I was doing more excavation and research than “making it up”. I spent more time understanding her as a real person than I would have if I'd made her up from my own clay and dust. I wanted to tap into Joy’s psyche as much as I could from this side of the grave and that meant loads of reading and research, but I truly loved every single minute of it. Well, most minutes. 

Joy was a very spirited woman. She also became a spiritual one as well. Is this what drew you to her?

 What initially drew me to her was a question — “How in the world did these two people ever come together?” It was such an improbable love story. And then I came to know her, and her fiery and spirited personality, her quest for understanding of the spiritual world and her genius, drew me in and changed the story from what I thought it was about to what it actually became. 

Popular culture, such as the movie, Shadowlands starring Debra Winger, have brought attention to Joy Davidman and her romance to C.S. Lewis. So, in researching her life, what surprised you about Joy?

SO very much surprised me. First, so little attention had been given to her genius, to her award winning poetry and to her life pre-C. S. Lewis. I wanted to show that Joy, that woman who had overcome so much and who had a fascinating life even before she met Lewis. Secondly, I was stunned by how little due she had been given for the influence she had over Lewis’s work. The last thirteen years of his life’s work were heavily influenced by Joy, including a book they co-wrote together: Till We Have Faces.

They seemed to have quite different backgrounds in some ways, yet they were both converts to Christianity What role do you believe Christianity played in Joy and C.S. Lewis's early relationship? 

Christianity, or more accurately, spiritual seeking for a whole life, was exactly what brought them together. Both had been atheists and had been accosted by what they referred to as “The Hound of Heaven”. Both of them sought to understand their spiritual lives with both intellect and heart. 

What do you hope readers from the 21st Century can take away from the life of Joy Davidman? 

Her bravery in saving her own life with hard choices, and her courage in seeking a spiritual life against all odds. She once wrote, “If we should ever grow brave what on earth would become of us?” And then she lived out the answer to that question.

Any story about Joy Davidson must include C.S. Lewis. Did you find it hard to write about him, to faithfully fictionalize him, being as he is so well-known? 

Yes! I was terrified to write about Lewis, and to speak in his voice. But as I came to know Joy, I came to know Lewis as more than a carved marble statue. I came to see him as human, broken in places like the rest of us, and a genius with a soft side. That was the Lewis I wanted to write about. And that was the Lewis I wanted to introduce to others.

There is now an expanded version of Becoming Mrs. Lewis. What are some new elements that readers can expect from the edition?

I am so excited about the Expanded Edition, along with the accompanying podcast called Behind the Scenes of Becoming Mrs. Lewis. Both give us more insight into both Lewis and Joy’s life. In the expanded edition you’ll find a map, an expanded discussion guide, a fictional letter Joy wrote to Lewis, a timeline of their lives for easy reference, a list of “Ten Things” you probably didn’t know about their love story, and an essay on Oxford, England. 

Ultimately, the story is tragic, in that she passes from cancer. Yet, what can someone facing cancer learn from her experience?

That even with faith, we are human and there is great pain and sadness but also great joy to be found on the journey. I had breast cancer seven years ago, and this part of the book was both difficult and healing to write about. 

Do you plan on writing any more historical biographies? 

My next novel is a historical fiction novel about the sinking of a grand steamboat called The Pulaski, a tragedy that earned the ship the nickname The Titanic of the South. So it isn’t necessarily about one person, but you will meet real historical people and discover this untold story through their lives. 

Becoming Mrs Lewis

by Patti Callahan
Paperback release: March 24, 2020
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Pages: 448
Synopsis: From New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Patti Callahan comes an exquisite novel about Joy Davidman, the woman C. S. Lewis called “my whole world.” When poet and writer Joy Davidman began writing letters to C. S. Lewis—known as Jack—she was looking for spiritual answers, not love.  History has diminished Joy and Jack’s love story and now BECOMING MRS. LEWIS has brought it back to life. 

     Everything about New Yorker Joy seemed ill-matched for an Oxford don and the beloved writer of Narnia, yet their brilliant minds bonded over their letters. 

     Embarking on the adventure of her life, Joy traveled from America to England and back again, facing heartbreak and poverty, discovering friendship and faith, and against all odds, finding a love that even the threat of death couldn’t destroy.  In this masterful exploration of one of the greatest love stories never told, we meet a brilliant writer, a fiercely independent mother, and a passionate woman who changed the life of this respected author and inspired books that still enchant and change us. Joy lived at a time when women weren’t meant to have a voice—and yet her love for Jack gave them both voices they didn’t know they had.

     At once a fascinating historical novel and a glimpse into a writer’s life, BECOMING MRS. LEWIS is above all a love story—a love of literature and ideas and a love between a husband and wife that, in the end, was not impossible at all.

About the Author:

     Patti Callahan Henry is a New York Times best-selling author of fifteen novels, including the (Historical Fiction), BECOMING MRS. LEWIS—The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis. Now a USA TODAY, Publishers Weekly, and The Globe and Mail bestseller.  (writing as Patti Callahan)  Her latest novel, THE FAVORITE DAUGHTER, (Southern Contemporary Fiction) was released June 4, 2019, and is available now. A full-time author and mother of three children, she now resides in both Mountain Brook, Alabama and Bluffton, South Carolina with her husband. For more information, please visit her website, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook page. 


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