Please welcome fellow Kindle Scout winner Chris Patchell as today's guest author. She describes herself as smart, witty, curious, creative, and poised. She says her writing is dark, complex, tense, suspenseful, and gripping. Here are her eight choice questions, and I think, choice answers:
Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?
Bar none, my favorite place to write is outside on my deck. I love to hear the wind in the trees, smell the freshly cut grass, feel the sun (when it’s sunny). Being outside awakens my imagination. Not to mention the fact that it’s at least twenty feet away from the hundreds of distractions that can effectively chew up my writing time faster than my dog devours her favorite chewy toy—like laundry, television, my cell phone, oh and hey, the kitchen could use some cleaning. We won’t even talk about the disaster that is our kitchen floor. Sigh. So much writing. So little time. Of course, living in the Seattle area, writing outside only works for four to five months in the year. For some odd reason, my laptop doesn’t like the rain, so from October to May, I’m an INDOOR writer.
What makes a great short story?
GAWD, I wish I could write a short story! God knows, I’ve tried, but every single short story I’ve ever written has ended up sounding more like chapter one of a book. If I could write a short story, I’d say that it would need a few engaging characters (not too many), some snappy dialog, and a compelling problem that can be resolved in significantly fewer words than I’m capable of writing (like 110,000 less). One of my favorite short stories is called "A Piece of Steak." Written by Jack London. It’s a story about an older boxer trying to win a match and make enough money to keep his family afloat.
What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?
Hell yes! I’m absolutely useless before my second cup of coffee. I don’t even work out until I’ve had at least some caffeine. That said, my most productive time of the day to write is between 11 AM and 4 PM. I’m not a morning person, and quite honestly, I’m dead asleep on the couch by 10 PM, which is kind of a problem for someone who has a full-time day job. So how do I do it? I spend the majority of my lunch hours hunched over my laptop furiously writing, and working outside of my peak productive hours to crank out chapters at a blistering pace.
Last summer, my husband and the kids went on an epic road trip east, and left me at home with my laptop and our neurotic dog. I spent a full, glorious week of vacation time uninterrupted, writing outside on the deck and producing 5,000 words a day. Having that kind of time to focus was amazing!
Name three not well-known authors you would recommend and tell us what you like about their writing.
I discovered Anne Emery, a Canadian writer, when I read her novel, Sign of the Cross. It was a great story with unique, well-drawn characters. Monte Collins is a wise-cracking lawyer who is given the impossible job of defending his surly and secretive client, Father Brennan Burke on a murder charge. As the story evolves, Emery does a nice job of humanizing the cleric, showing many sides of his complex character. I’m a sucker for anti-heroes.
From the very first chapter, I was hooked on The Murder Bag. Tony Parsons weaves complex plot with the unique voice of a London police detective, Max Wolfe. Max is a tarnished hero—still carrying the wounds from a broken relationship, you see his vulnerable side in trying to navigate the complex world of parenthood on his own, while tracking down a violent killer. I love broken heroes, and Parsons does a great job with his.
When I read The Dead Room by Robert Ellis, I was struck by the novel’s stunning imagery. Teddy Mack is a lawyer forced to defend a man of diminished capacity against some shockingly depraved crimes. Ellis does a fantastic job writing memorable secondary characters and throwing in enough twists to keep you guessing until the end.
What themes do you regularly employ in your writing?
I’m obsessed with the theme of identity. I’m fascinated by the how and whys of people who hide behind masks, showing the world a false version of themselves. I also love writing about the theme of justice and blurring the ethical boundary between right and wrong for my characters, especially the law enforcement kind who have a lot to lose if they step over the line. I grew up watching characters like Dirty Harry Callahan, who do the right things in morally questionable ways.
What is the most challenging area for you as a writer? What are you doing to address the issue?
As a writer, I struggle most with getting emotion out onto the page in deep, authentic ways. My husband jokes that I’m an anti-girl in this respect. I’m blessed (or cursed), with a calm, rational demeanor, which makes me great in a crisis, but is kind of a curse as a writer. It takes me longer to work out the emotional arcs in my stories and find interesting and effective ways to portray emotions. I knew I’d had a breakthrough though when I finished my latest book, In the Dark. I was reading one of the final scenes to my writing group when I saw them passing around the box of tissues!
Knowing this continues to be an area growth for me, I’m always on the look out for other authors who do this well. I’ll often re-read scenes to figure out how the writer made me feel the character’s emotions. Sometimes when I’m stuck I will think about a situation in my own life where I’ve felt the emotion I’m trying to convey. I’ll even write about the situation, focusing in on my own emotions at the time. Panic. Sadness. Joy. Digging into my own experiences in a deeper way helps me translate those emotions into a scene that brings them to life.
I met with a book club in California last month over Skype. One of their members asked me about what experiences I’d had in my life that allowed me to capture the panic and intensity of the first scene in my book, Deadly Lies, so accurately. It was the start of a great conversation. As a writer, there is nothing more gratifying than having someone else connect with your work.
What motivates you to write?
I can’t not write (great double negative, eh?). I have so many story ideas rolling around inside my head that I would literally burst like an over inflated balloon if I didn’t write them down. Seriously, I’ll be driving to work in the morning and I’ll be struck by some idea—an image (often my best scenes are image oriented), or a line of dialog, or the resolution to a plot problem and I’ll have to capture it before it slips away. I actually keep a digital voice recorder in my car for just such moments. The creative energy I get from writing spills over into everything else I do.
Writing makes me happy, and I’m a big believer that we all need to do those things in our lives that make us happy, whether it’s running marathons, playing music, writing scary stories, or doing math. I’ve heard it said that there are some people who really love math, although I’m quite sure I’ve never experienced this phenomenon myself.
Name three writers from whom you have drawn inspiration and tell us why.
Stephen King because he’s great at writing richly-drawn, small town characters. Big Jim Rennie is one of my favorite bad guys of all time, the epitome of a small-town despot. Annie Wilkes from Misery is the kind of fan we all hope as writers, to never meet. King’s characters are unforgettable. I’ll never look at a clown the same way after Pennywise from his horror classic, It.
Blake Crouch because he writes action and emotion really well. My husband stumbled upon the Wayward Pines series long before it was made into a television show, and once I started reading the first book, I couldn’t put it down. When I’ve burned through everything else on my Kindle and Audible list, I go back and re-read these novels.
George R.R. Martin is a genius at weaving deep intricate plot lines with memorable characters. I came to the series late, which is good, because I tore through all of these books in a matter of months! The first three are brilliant. Each character’s point of view, motivations, and goals are unique and clear. As a writer, I’ve learned a lot by reading his stories.
What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?
Never rent space in your head to an asshole.
While I was working on my first book, I hit a particularly low point in my writing journey. I had formed a small critique group comprised of a few students from my class. It started out well, but as the weeks went on, I found that one of the people in the group wrote particularly nasty critiques of my work. Sitting in a coffee shop one rainy day, I realized that I was avoiding rewriting a chapter because I didn’t want to read the critique he’d written. It made me feel like the worst writer in the world. Like a failure.
I’d come to a crossroads, and as I sat there staring out at the rain, I thought a lot about failing and quitting. I forced myself to examine what it meant to be a failure. Did it mean that not everyone would like my work? Did it mean not getting an agent or a publishing deal? Sitting in the coffee shop that day, I decided that for me, failure meant none of those things. Failure meant quitting. As long as I didn’t quit writing, I wasn’t a failure. So I kept going. And while it hasn’t always been easy—there have been disappointments and setbacks along the way, I’ve learned an amazing amount about myself, and my craft—things I never would have learned if I’d let someone else’s feedback stop me from doing what I loved to do.
Writing has been and continues to be enormously fulfilling.
For more information about Chris and her writing check out her website http://chrispatchell.com/
Here’s a brief blurb for In the Dark to whet your appetite.
Marissa Rooney stands in her daughter’s empty dorm room, a half-used vial of insulin clutched in her trembling hand. Brooke has been missing for days. Her roommate hasn’t seen her since that night in the bar. And if Marissa has Brooke’s insulin, it means that Brooke does not.
But Marissa isn’t alone in her terror. A phantom from her past is lurking in the shadows, waiting in the night, and holding her family captive…
In the dark.