Welcome to the two hundred and thirty-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with fiction and non-fiction author Patricia Comroe Frank. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Patricia. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Patricia: When I was eight-years-old, I told my mother that “Someday, I want to have a book in the library with my name on it.” It was clear to me, from that early age, that I was to be a writer. My dream of book publication came true on October first of 2011. Books and libraries have been dear to me since I could read. Today, I support my local library by being active on the Friends of the Library board.
Morgen: I know a couple of library employees and they’re so reliant on volunteers and friends. It’s a shame that it’s such a battle to keep them going… in the UK anyway. What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Patricia: Falling Through Time, my new novel, is a post-apocalyptic futuristic utopian fantasy narrated by a distinctive female voice. I switch from fiction to non-fiction, and love it all. I’ve been published in a non-fiction anthology and a fiction anthology, and I’ve written lots of advertising copy, interviews, columns, and feature articles for consumer and business magazines. I’m very flexible, and oh-so-curious about people and our world.
Morgen: Very flexible – an editor’s dream, I’d say. What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Patricia: Love on a Harley is a collection of romance stories that all feature a Harley motorcycle in their plots. I wrote my submission as a lark, and at the insistence of my writing group, sent it in. My story, Teaching Love, was accepted and subsequently published. I’ve never ridden a Harley—yet. The bodice-ripping cover is slightly embarrassing, but also a giggle, truth told. Nobody’s Mother, a non-fiction anthology, features stories by women, who for one reason or another, have not had children. Published in Canada, I was one of two authors from the U.S. to appear in the collection. This was a thrill, and the first book with my writing to appear in a library.
For Nobody’s Mother, imagine, if you will, how my heart soared to have the Vancouver Sun newspaperreview of the book (by Rebecca Wigod, Vancouver Sun), lead off by quoting the first lines of my essay, then how my heart fell when the review continued:
“Now, here’s a good opener for a woman’s essay about her decision not to have children:
‘My birth canal has not birthed, my arms have not cradled a child and these breasts have not suckled. I am without progeny. How do I feel about that? Pretty good.’
Then, the review continues, “Does it matter that the author is Patricia Frank, someone whose name means nothing to me, someone who lives in North Carolina? Yes, I’m afraid so. While reading the 21 essays in Nobody’s Mother: Life Without Kids, an anthology edited by University of Victoria writing professor Lynne Van Luven, I gravitated toward the ones written by people I know, or know of…”
Well, pooh! I guess good writing matters not to that particular reviewer…
Feature stories I’ve written for magazines have been cover stories and that’s always a big ego-booster, having a cover byline.
Morgen: My goodness, what an experience. Just as well you don’t take any notice of what a reviewer says (and rightly so – how very narrow-minded of her, how would debut authors get anywhere if everyone thought like that… bah humbug). OK, move on Morgen. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Patricia: Since Falling Though Time is my debut novel and is self-published on Amazon’s Kindle, I’m just now feeling my way with “branding” myself. This is a grand new adventure and it’s a new world for me. Fascinating, and frankly, a bit daunting. And it appears to be hugely time-consuming. I worry about saving enough time and energy for writing new things.
Morgen: That’s the trouble I have although I’m only just going freelance so it remains to be seen how constructive I’ll be with my time. I’m hoping I will be but can see a timetable assisting (I’m very nerdy like that… maybe say a “routine” instead of timetable, although I create an Excel spreadsheet for each of my NaNoWriMo projects, so yes, very nerdy). So your books are available as eBooks, what was your experience of that process? And do you read them?
Patricia: My debut novel, Falling Through Time, has just been published on Amazon’s Kindle. The process was relatively painless and I’m loving being on there… I’m investigating POD possibilities, too.
Morgen: That does make sense; while you’re marketing one you can be marketing both. Do any of your books have dedications?
Patricia: Yes, Falling Through Time is dedicated to three village elders in my community who inspire me and give me courage. One taught me to be bold as she’s a world-wide adventurer; the second taught me to become involved in my community and that one individual can make a difference. The third, the eldest at 95, taught me to stay plugged into technology. She Skypes, watches Web cams, and stays in touch with her sailboat-cruising daughter by blogging.
Morgen: Wow. My mum’s 80 and doesn’t even have a mobile (and tuts at the amount of time my brother and I spend on ours when we visit). They sound amazing people.
Patricia: I just had to honor them. One of the characters, Sophia, in Falling Through Time, is patterned after one of the elders. The funny thing is, all three think they were the inspiration for Sophia—and I dare not reveal the identity of the real Sophia. One of the elders came to my book launch party dressed as Sophia. The other two elders were a bit miffed. Eek, I’m guilty of starting wise-woman elder jealousy tiff!
Morgen: Oh but it shows how inspirational a character can be… I’d love that (and be honoured). Who designed your book’s cover?
Patricia: My novel’s cover was designed by a friend’s son who is a professional graphic designer. The cover art was painted by my husband’s uncle and is precious to me. Different readers view her expression as either depressed, anguished, or pensive and thoughtful. Very interesting, these divergent readings of the portrait. What’s your opinion?
Morgen: I’d say pensive. Not depressed or anguished to me. There’s something behind her expression but it’s like she’s checking me out. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Patricia: I have a cover story for a magazine due in the next few weeks. That’s why I’m writing this interview instead… lol. Friends are urging me to start the sequel to Falling Through Time, but I’m not yet convinced. It’s a huge undertaking, a new novel, yes?
Morgen: It’s a shame NaNoWriMo has been and gone (November) or you could have done it for that (or at least 50,000 words of it). I’ve done NaNo four times (with another novel in between) and had previously always thought that a novel would take a year to write until I heard about NaNoWriMo and enjoyed it so much that I’ve been hooked since. I was previously a short story writer, and have gone back to being, and cheated with NaNo this year by writing three anthologies instead, still over the 50K mark. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Patricia: No, not daily, I write in spurts, but I do write lots of emails and blog postings almost daily. I’ve written 5,000 words in a day… rough words, I must add, but they sure did flow that day.
Morgen: It’s all too easy to be too hard on one’s writing but how do you edit a blank page? What is your opinion of writer’s block?
Patricia: I think we all have times when the well runs dry, sucks sand, and what we write is dry and uninspired. For those times, I tend to go walk on the beach or take the pooch for a walk in the woods. Nature restores me. For other times, it’s more writer’s procrastination, rather than block. Then I apply derriere firmly to chair seat and make myself get down to it.
Morgen: The best way. A question some authors dread, where do you get your inspiration from?
Patricia: For me, I believe inspiration comes from the deep well of our life experiences and the sum total of our knowledge and everything we’ve read and discussed. All this then gets mixed up in our meat-grinder sub-conscious mind and gets extruded onto the page. Or something like that.
Morgen: Absolutely like that. Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Patricia: I’m a runner. Sometimes a skipper. Never a plotter.
Morgen: Me neither – I love the way you put it. You mentioned Sophia earlier, do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
Patricia: Naming characters can be hard. I was stuck for a name for the evil character in Falling Through Time. My dentist helped me out by naming him “Clive” while I was sitting in the dentist chair having a crown procedure done. The whole office got in on conjuring possible names, but the dentist’s was voted the best. It was hilarious. I gave her credit in the acknowledgments. It pays to have a multi-talented dentist. The characters themselves seem to spring fully-fledged onto the monitor, but they’re all compendiums of someone I know.
Morgen: I have a very useful vet (who I happened to see, for my dog’s yearly booster, the day I needed a parrot disease!). Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
Patricia: Yes, I publish, edit and write the community-based e-pub http://vibrantvillage.com. Vibrant Village features some of my writing, as well as the work of others. V.V. is a work from the heart, done without advertising. But I’d welcome the right sponsor, someone community-minded like a neighborhood bank or whole foods market.
Morgen: Let’s hope they read this. Some writers like quiet, others the noise of a coffee shop etc. Do you listen to music or have noise around you when you write or do you need silence?
Patricia: I like the silence of just me and my keyboard and birds singing outside. Everything else is distracting—especially when I’m on roll. Jack London wrote in his study, in a separate wing of his home, with not one, but two doors insulating him from the outside world. I can understand that. The muse, when speaking, doesn’t like distractions… at least mine doesn’t.
Morgen: Mine neither, although I go for classical rather than vocal music so perhaps mine’s less strict. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Patricia: Find or form a supportive writing group that will honestly critique your work. I’ve found such groups invaluable, and doubt my new novel would have been completed without their support. They nagged me with love and an eagerness for the next chapter. And they kept my book honest by saying, “That doesn’t ring true,” or “Summer (the narrator) would never say that.”
Morgen: I run one and belong to two others and they’re great at being firm but fair (which is how I am in my podcast red pen sessions) – it’s the best way to learn what’s right and wrong about your writing. What do you like to read?
Patricia: I read so widely, fiction, non-fiction, classics, modern, experimental… even the writing on a box of cereal.
Morgen: Ding! Another cereal box. I almost have enough to start a supermarket (which would of course sponsor you!) and I thought, before I started these interviews in June, that I was the only one who reads anything in print.
Patricia: I still return to the classics, often to Dickens. His writing is powerful and moving. Has there ever been a better book opening than, “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times” from The Tale of Two Cities. It just draws one right in.
Morgen: This isn’t quite as eloquent but Iain Banks’ ‘It was the day my grandmother exploded’ (from ‘The Crow Road’) hooked me. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Patricia: Nature. I go to nature. I walk, I ride my bike, or I meet with friends for good food, a spot of wine and wild, silly laughter. Kayaking through quiet waters and feeling part of the water and sky feels just right when my mind is tied in knots.
Morgen: How lovely. I’m a water baby and yet I live 3 hours from the sea. That wasn’t good planning, was it? Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Patricia: Yes, I participate in several discussion forums. I love being plugged into a wider consciousness and hearing opinions and concerns from all over the world.
Morgen: Isn’t it great? I’ve met so many virtual friends online (from the likes of LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook). Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Patricia: IMHO, I think the world will always welcome a good storyteller. And e-publishing is lifting the barriers of traditional print publishing by allowing more new writers direct access to the reading public. This is a good thing. But I still love printed books and hope they’ll never vanish. I love going to my bookshelves and finding old friends there to cozy up with during a lonely night.
Morgen: I don’t think printed books will go, maybe less of them but for me certainly they serve two different purposes; print at home, electronic for travel – I think they should live side-by-side quite happily. If you could have your life over again, is there anything you’d have done differently (writing-related or otherwise)?
Patricia: I might have gone for degree in journalism or creative writing instead of a degree in English Lit. Those first two degrees might have been more useful in finding “real” jobs, but now I’m self-taught in both areas by reading books and taking workshops—and by doing.
Morgen: That’s the thing; “doing”. It’s all about practice – like playing the piano or drawing. We all start with chopsticks and stick men (I did anyway!). Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Patricia: Writers will always be my personal heroes. Anyone who completes a book to publication has stood the test of fire and we belong to a tribe. I live with my husband and ancient dog, Mr. Regal. I love animals and have been on easy terms with them all, including some that could have harmed me. Once, I came across a cougar while during a dawn hike in the Northern California hills. He ran away from me when I offered him my cheese sandwich—I suppose he figured I was nuts, but I was sure we could break bread together. He was so very beautiful, this wild cat.
Morgen: I’d love to have seen that. Thank you so much Patricia.
I then invited Patricia to include a self-contained excerpt of her writing and she said…
Do you love Thanksgiving as much as I do? It’s my favorite holiday. Once, feeling so full of love and gratitude, I wrote this poem that’s been a favorite in my community:
Thanks Giving Wishes
Give me these cinnamon-scented days
with their fall of golden light
and ginger leaves drifting down.
Grant me these velvet starry nights
while I nest and pull high the comforter.
Oh these Thanksgiving days
give me pause to think of you,
my spicy friends of all the seasons
we spiral dancers of moon and sun.
Pile on the gravy and the dressing
Pass me the sweet and the mashed.
Pies of pumpkin, apple and pecan,
Oh my! Fill my plate full and high.
For you who nourish all my days
I whisper words of gratitude
And especially now, when I feel
so stuffed with home-cooked love.
–Patricia Comroe Frank copyright 2011
Following our interview Patricia posted a very generous page on her blog about her experiences with mine.
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