Exploring the Great Possible: 3 Questions for our new blog buddy, Dr. Kathryn Paterson
Colleen and I have been planning a major redesign and expansion of Boxing the Octopus, starting with the addition of a few new voices. Eventually, our team will include a wide range of industry perspectives, a variety of genres and POVs -- all of us up to our necks in writing, publishing, and selling books. It occurred to me that we should have a token newbie -- and how nice it would be if she had a fresh PhD from one of the most prestigious Creative Writing programs in the country! In her coming posts, Kathryn will be bringing a combination of serious writing chops, high wattage personality, and unjaded faith in the art and craft of writing.
Welcome, Kathryn! We're delighted to have you. First question: What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this? Didn't you know you were supposed to grow up and be something normal?
Ha ha ha. Normal is a relative word. But seriously, I have known I wanted to write ever since I was 5. I opened my closet door as I was telling a story to one of my stuffed animals, and heard a voice say "Write it down." I looked up, put my hand on my hip, and said "But I'm 5! I can't write yet!" But the voice didn't budge, and neither have I. I do struggle with it from time to time, though, because there are times I question whether or not I truly "love" writing. I guess writing is one of those passions that arouses all the emotions, everything from excitement to elation to anxiety to fear to out and out frustration and despair. And there is nothing better to me than to finish a piece of work and come back to it later, sometimes years later, and think "wow, that was actually pretty good." For instance, right now I'm recording a few pieces I wrote in my early twenties for a "voice only literature competition" and I actually think they are just as good as anything I'm writing now. It's exciting to go back to the person I was then and realize that among all that drivel, there were a few real gems. It's exciting and it gives me hope.
In a word, humility. I came to UH fresh out of the University of Cincinnati's playwriting program, where I had ended up doing very well in fiction. At U.C., I won several awards. Then I get to U of H and feel like I am the absolute worst writer in the room, and have my first professor come in a few weeks into the semester and say, very gruffly, "None of you are writing stories." That was a rude awakening, but ultimately very good.
Okay. You've got that PhD in your hot little hands (congratulations, by the way!) and you've got a solid manuscript to shop. What's the action plan?
"Hot little hands." Really, Joni? :) Actually, the plan right now is to get the manuscript even more solid. One of the things that came up during the discussion of the book in my dissertation defense was that while the main plot is working very well, there are a couple of subplots that need developing. And of course there are always tons and tons of other little things that you can do to polish a manuscript. Something that is hard for me is letting go of that level of perfection that we learn to have when writing short fiction. It is simply not possible, or at least I don't think it's possible, to have that same high level of quality consistently throughout a novel that people come to expect from a short story. A short story is more like a poem, where each word counts, and while I would love to have that in my novel too, I just don't know that it's possible, or at least it may not be possible yet for me.
After this third draft, though, I do plan to start sending out, and I can't tell you how nervous that makes me! So far two agents have asked for the full manuscript, by a complete and utter fluke, and I plan to send the book to one of those two first. If he says no, then it's back to the drawing board for me, most likely, because I didn't really feel a connection with the other agent. At that point, I will start querying and synopsizing and doing all the rest of the things all "normal" writers do. There's that word normal again, hmmm. Back to the beginning.