The myth weaver
Edith Pattou's publishing career began with two well-received, middle-grade fantasy novels, and then she stumbled into the success of “Mrs. Spitzer's Garden.” “I loved my daughter's kindergarten teacher,” she says, “and I started writing her a card on her birthday, and it turned into a story.” Pattou shared the tale with her editor, “who fell in love” and paired her words with whimsical illustrations by Tricia Tusa. The second edition of “Mrs. Spitzer's Garden” landed on the 2007New York Times'best-seller list.
A favorite childhood fairy tale, “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” inspired her fourth book, “East.” As a shy child, Pattou had loved the story's brave heroine Rose: “She was everything I wanted to be. She does all these amazing things. She rides on the back of a polar bear and the wind … and I was afraid of roller coasters.”
To research “East,” Pattou traveled to the Norwegian fjords, studied polar bears and learned so much about weaving that one fan later insisted she must be a weaver herself. The novel earned numerous awards, including a 2004 Ohioana Book Award and a spot on the “100 Best of the Best Young Adult Books for the 21st Century” list from the Young Adult Library Services Association.
After “East,” she says, “I had a fallow period. … Then about eight years ago, I had this epiphany and followed that sage advice of Jane Yolen and other writers: ‘Get your butt in the chair for a certain number of hours a day.'” Within six months, she completed a contemporary young adult novel, “Ghosting.”
During this period, she also started receiving letters from 20-somethings who had read “East” as young teens. They told her that “East” had been their favorite book—they read it every year, traveled with it and took it with them to college. Several fervent fans had tattoos of the compass rose, a recurrent symbol in the book.
“My thought was, this is awesome,” says Pattou. And then, as the letters continued to arrive, “I became undone. Some were heartbreaking, and I realized that some of these women had been through hard times, and somehow ‘East' had helped them.” The letter-writers begged for a sequel, but Pattou saw the book as a standalone, neatly tied up at the end with Rose's marriage and children.
Then she revisited “East,” and, “I got this real thunderbolt—what if the Troll Queen hadn't actually died? She would be really, really angry and want revenge.” She also backtracked Rose to her early 20s: “She's still a bit of a wild child … still taking risks but determined to get through them and back to her baby and husband.” The resulting novel, entitled “West,” was released in October 2018.
Fans also ask whether “East” has any chance of becoming a movie. An independent filmmaker has pursued the possibility, but Pattou knows how complicated such ventures can be. Still, “I've always said, ‘If they ever make a movie of ‘East,' I'm going to get a compass rose tattoo,'” she says. “So, we shall see.”