Packer's late-blossoming career as a novelist may illustrate the adage that good things come to those who wait. She was in her twenties when she attended the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop, and in her early forties when her first novel was published. The Dive From Clausen's Pier, which was ten years in the writing, debuted at no. 9 on the New York Times bestseller list and was hailed by critics as "a reflective and probing first novel" (Kirkus Reviews).
The book is narrated by a young woman named Carrie, whose urge to break up with her fiancé is complicated after he is paralyzed in an accident, leaving Carrie with the choice of whether to take care of him or embark on a new life of her own. The primary theme of the novel, as Packer described it in an ABCNews.com chat, is "the interplay between the need to be true to oneself and the need and desire to be loyal to the people one loves" -- and therein may lie part of the book's broad appeal, given that everyone faces some conflicts between their own needs and those of their loved ones. The Dive From Clausen's Pier was the first pick for Good Morning America's book club, "Read This," and was featured on the front page of The New York Times Book Review.
Though most readers had never heard of Packer before Clausen's Pier, she had long since embarked on what Publishers Weekly termed a "Cadillac career": she earned her bachelor's degree in English literature from Yale, then worked in the New York publishing business (writing blurbs for paperbacks) before receiving her M.F.A. at Iowa. She also spent two years in Madison, Wisconsin, on a writing fellowship; published stories in The New Yorker, Ploughshares and other magazines; and received an O. Henry Award, a James Michener award and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. A 1994 story collection, Mendocino and Other Stories, was well-received and is being brought back into print in January 2003.
Since her first novel's publication, Packer's publicity schedule has kept her busy, but as the mother of two children, she's already adept at juggling writing with other demands. "The hard thing for me is to say no to people," she said in an interview in The Australian Women's Weekly. "Asking me to help in the classroom. Or friends saying, 'Let's have lunch.' It's hard to say, 'No, I’m not going to do that, I need to write.' But somehow I balance it all, I put it all together in a way that works. I fit in what I can. Some weeks there's no writing and some weeks are full of writing."
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The Dive From Clausen's Pier went through nine drafts during the ten years Packer spent writing it. The biggest change came about halfway through the writing process, when she switched from a third-person narrator to first-person.
In an interview on her publisher's Web site, Packer mentioned that the story of Clausen's Pier was "loosely autobiographical," based in part on her childhood experiences after her father was paralyzed due to a stroke. Another autobiographical element: Packer, like her protagonist Carrie, enjoys sewing.
Packer grew up in California, where she currently lives with her husband, an architect, and their two children. Her brother, George Packer, is also a writer of fiction and non-fiction books.
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