Tuesday, 20 January 2009

An Interview with Patricia Wood (Lottery)

My author interview doesn't need much of an intro. She's been many things, but most important to us here, a writer. A debut author, if you will, that's done good. And has the awards and movie options to prove it, as well as a debut story that just doesn't let you go. May I present … Patricia Wood!! 
Hey, Pat! Everywhere I looked they were focusing on the money you received for your advance, the boat you live on, the fact your dad won the Lottery, and your ex's brother. That is already available information on the internet, so why don't we go into some untraveled waters for our little interview here? (No pun intended.) 

JKB: I know you said on another interview that originally someone tried to get you to change to third from first person. (I'm glad you held out) Was Perry always a First narrative?  


PW: It wasn’t so much they tried to get me to change, it was the fact they felt I was limiting myself – and the reader. In first POV, your character can’t know everything. You have to be more creative and figure out the intent of your vision and of how your book needs to be. I never agonized at all. I knew I wanted to tell the story using an unreliable narrator and have the perspective of a person who had a cognitive disability.


JKB: Which do you prefer, First or Third person?

PW: It has nothing to do with what I prefer. It has to do with how best the story needs to be told. I like the immediacy of first person. I LOVE to play with second person. For example, I loved the book And Then We Came to the End because it’s second person plural. How great is that? I enjoy experimenting and will write a story in first, change it to third and dabble in second. My next book is first person telling a story about another person which comes off as close third person. So many writers are hung up on a preferred POV. Anything done well can work.

JKB: I read that you whipped through that first draft in three months. How long did Lottery cook in your brain before you started? 


PW: That’s somewhat deceptive. I think of hours not months. As soon as I got the idea, I started writing. I was at a place in my PhD program where I was SUPPOSED to be working on my dissertation proposal. Instead, I worked 10 to 16 hours a day 7 days a week “on fire” with this first draft. I have no children at home- the boat is small- there were a lot of factors that allowed me the freedom to eat, sleep and live my novel. The first draft was generally the same story and I had no major revisions. I just worked on deepening the narrative. I did much editing with both my agent and then my editor at Putnam. Again, I sat down and immersed myself with each editorial letter. Not many writers have that luxury. My very first novel took 2 years as I was teaching at the same time. I used my excuse of wanting my PhD to try to become a novelist. I’m just very fortunate it worked out. I can’t emphasize enough that you must simply sit down and write. Nothing else. Write.


JKB: I have to be honest with you – Lottery is one of my favourite books that I've read in recent memory, although I can't put a finger on a particular reason. There are so many: the characters, the What if intrigue, Keith and Cherry, Perry and Cherry...the themes underneath it all…What, for you, makes a book compulsively readable and a favourite for years to come? 


PW: For me it’s the story and caring what happens to the characters. As a writer, you must get the reader to care. To want to turn each page. My desire is always to create a world in which my reader becomes lost. The more seductive that world is, the more the reader is loath to leave it.

When you near the end of a book? And feel disappointment that your literary journey is ending? That’s my goal. I want the reader to feel great satisfaction and yet disappointment the book ended. That will get them to re read your novel.


JKB: Better late than never, as they say. You started writing at 50, and Lottery is your fourth book. I know you had other ideas...what prevented you from writing during those years? Did you ever think to yourself, 'this is insanity', but kept on? How do you work through bouts of insecurity?--


PW: I always wrote, but my writing stayed hidden deep in my drawer. Outside of a few magazine articles and my high school journalism work, it never occurred to me it was possible for ME to be published. With the advent of computers, I was able to see I might be able to finish a manuscript. You might say I had all these ideas percolating for 50 years and when I finally sat down the write, both my life experiences and technology made it possible. While I wrote those first few novels I did occasionally say to my husband, “What if this is just a big giant waste of time, and it never goes anywhere?”

And he asked me if I was having fun, and I said yes, and then he said well, that was really the point wasn’t it?

I never had insecurity; I just knew being published was very unlikely to happen. After my first manuscript was finished (I thought lol!) that’s when I started to go to the Maui Writers Retreat and Conference and there I learned about the business side of publishing and the technical side of writing.


JKB: Do you feel the pressure has increased now, after Lottery's fantastic success? 


PW: Lottery has had much success and for that I am grateful. If there is pressure, it is from knowing I have readers waiting for my next book. I will still take my time. I’m always impressed with authors who have the discipline to have years between books. I do think it takes time to make a book the best it can be. People try to get you to rush and that is wearying. I told my agent I didn’t want to be “on contract” and sell a novel on just pages and a synopsis. That would paralyze me and I’m in awe of writers who can do that. I do think I now realize more fully that a book will not please everyone. That a book can have a wide appeal but still fall short in some reviewer’s or reader’s eyes. Although it’s difficult, a writer must accept that this is an integral part of literary art and bow down to it. This is why it’s most important to please yourself. To write for yourself. I kid around that I am my own demographic. And that is true.


JKB: Are you in a critique group? Do you find it helpful, if so?


PW: No and No. A writer has to be very careful especially in the beginning. I think workshops facilitated by an instructor (Like at the Maui Retreat) are the best. Especially for those starting out. There’s a tendency for critique groups to be really negative. Keeping in mind that every novel doesn’t appeal to everyone – it’s difficult to gather like-minded people together.

Feedback is important, but I think you have to decide what kind. Do you need more help technically with grammar and literary strategies? Then take college classes. Do you want to learn more about the structure of a novel? Then take specific workshops. There is so much offered online and through out the country. There are so many books on the subject it’s really possible to be self-taught as I am. Simply reading what you want to write is useful. I’ve had more good input from my beta readers for my various manuscripts- I don’t use writers – I have a group of readers that will read a later draft. All I ask them to do it mark when they put it down i.e. stop reading and mark when they have a w.t.f. (what the f***?) which usually means a lack of clarity in characterization or narrative.

Readers are more useful to me than writers. That being said, once a year I take my work to the Maui retreat and work on the technical aspect of writing.


JKB: I have my characters look everywhere, drives me nuts on second and third runthroughs. Others I know have favourite words they use over and over. Others favourite plots. But you? Do you have any little hangups? 


PW: I probably do but I don’t worry about them. If they are important they’ll be weeded out in the editing and it no one notices they were probably not that intrusive to begin with. 

I give myself permission to have lots of telling not showing, purple prose, and melodrama in my first few drafts. Like sculpting, I want to start out with too much rather than too little. That’s my own way of writing. To add and then subtract and then add again and subtract to try to get the exact combination I want.


JKB: How important has a mentor been for you during this crazy process you went through? I know you met a very valuable one through your horse lessons. (And BTW, Airborne is not your lesson horse, is he?)


PW: Airborne used to be my show horse and I do use him occasionally for lessons. For me mentors have come into my life at the proper moment. Paul Theroux lives here part of the year and we met through mutual friends. He has been extraordinarily kind and supportive and couldn’t be more pleased at the way things have turned out. Did he get me an agent? No. An editor? No. A publisher? No. He suggested books I might read, I read his work, and we talked of the process of writing. He asked if he might read something of mine, he offered, and I accepted. He was able to see I had a distinct voice and good stories to tell. I saw how hard working he was and that he writes every single day. He’s been a great role model.

Jackie Mitchard and I met at Maui and is another author who’s been hugely supportive. I worked with her for 2 workshops and then kept a connection. The same with Karen Joy Fowler who has also been amazingly helpful and is a fabulous teacher. By meeting these authors and working with them, taking advantage of both opportunity and of retreat workshops, I’ve been aided.


JKB: You've talked it up, and I've heard of the conference from many others, but what have you found most valuable with Maui writer's conference? 


PW: The Maui Writers Conference  is now in Honolulu (Waikiki) on the island of Oahu which is known by Hawaiians as “the gathering place” and that’s how I like to think of it. 

It has allowed me to network with other writers, authors, and publishing professionals. It’s allowed me to become more sophisticated about the business of writing. And it’s a way for me to keep learning. I don’t know of many retreats that you can work so closely and over that length of time with best selling authors. 

I had to make a decision that I was going to be serious about becoming a writer. Become serious about being an author. At some point, all writers have to make that decision. Maui made all the difference in how I went about writing, querying, and working with my editors.


JKB: What in particular have you learned for your writing that you've found valuable through your publishing process? 


PW: Where do I start? That it’s as simple and difficult as “Just sit down and write.”

If there is anything I’ve learned, it’s that. The mere fact that you read constantly and write constantly is so very important if this is what you want to do with your life. And it’s incredibly hard work.


JKB: What's a typical day in Pat Wood's life? And what breeds of horses own? ;)


PW: I get up at 5 am and go straight to the computer. I take care of business – many of my foreign publishers are just getting off for the day so I have an opportunity to connect with them. It’s seductive to stay online but I force myself to unplug my router and write. Once I’m in the groove, I keep working until late afternoon. If it’s a day that I ride then I leave around noon or 1 pm and go out to my horses. I have a Thoroughbred, Airborne, who’s 27+ and a part Dutch Warmblood young horse (he’s 6). I do dressage, jump and used to do combined training but haven’t shown now for a while. I’m content to just work and train them now.


JKB: And, finally, the boy catz wanted to know: how is Tooloose's Space Monkey Odyssey WIP coming along?


PW: Tooloose suffers for his art and the fact that his attention span is so short he can barely cross the room before getting distracted. Tooloose is a perfect example of someone who wants to be a published author, but doesn’t actually want to write. He would prefer I add him as co-author on my books. Or better yet, give him full credit.

JKB: Thanks, Pat, for allowing me to pick your brain! I understand you just finished your next WIP, correct? Wanna give a hint about what it's like?

PW: My next novel is a coming of age story about impossible dreams. I know that’s vague but I’m very superstitious about talking about my WIP’s before they are D and A’d (delivered and accepted)

Thank you for the opportunity to talk to other writers and thank you for interviewing me!

JKB: Thank YOU, Patricia!! I adore Lottery, and am seriously looking forward to reading your next book! (And, if you're interested in Tooloose's response, go check Patricia out at her blog.)


Kerri said...

Your interviews get better and better. I like her responses, very honest. And she's right, stop stressing and just write.

wood carving tools said...

I got many points from your interview.Thanks for sharing!

Stephen Parrish said...

I agree with Kerri. This interview rocks.

What I liked most about Lottery was Perry's role as unreliable narrator. I loved listening to his relatives talk about him as if he weren't there. He didn't filter or paraphrase their words, and the reader can't help wondering what he makes of them.

pseudosu said...

OOO perfect! Wed I'm getting a new book and it will be Lottery!

Thanks SO much for this interview. I didn't begin writing seriously until I was 40, and sometimes wonder if I started too late for anything to ever come of it. I've also questioned my failure to find a writing group I click with. Patricia's words have really encouraged me.

Terrific interview. Thanks Jen and of course Patricia!

JKB said...

Thanks guys - but it's all Pat here. She is a class act and Lottery really, truly deserves to be on every shelf.

It's that good.

ORION said...

Thanks so much for having me.
I really enjoyed your questions and I'm open to answering questions on my blog and through my email patricia@patriciawoodauthor.com
And yes, sometimes it is just a matter of realizing something is possible...
Much aloha
Patricia Wood

Heidi said...

Great interview! Of course, I love Patricia and Lottery, so I knew I'd like the interview, but it's great to get a more serious author side of Pat than in her blog, and to see some of her approach to writing.

I can't wait for her new book,and I am ready to go sit down for ten hours and write again!