Imagine working as a writer full time on your sailboat in Honolulu, Hawaii. Patricia Wood doesn’t have to use her imagination. She is living this dream. Her sailboat? A 48 foot ketch called Orion. This hasn’t always been the case. According to her blog other roles she’s occupied include: medical technologist, professional horsewoman, educator, diver, sailor, and PHD student. Her first novel, Lottery, was released by Putnam in 2007 (trade in 2008) and recently garnered her a placement on the shortlist for the Orange Prize for Fiction. She is married and has one son who lives in Washington State (the setting of her novel).
Moe: Looking back, did you choose the writing profession or did the profession choose you? When did you ‘know’ you were a writer?
Patricia Wood: I always have written. I wrote my first book at eight years of age. I always considered myself a writer even though I never finished any novels I started and only had a few articles published in horse magazines. When I went into the PhD program after I turned fifty I decided it was now or never and sat down and finished my novels. Once I started writing I didn’t stop. Lottery is my first published book but my fourth completed novel.
Moe: What inspires you?
Patricia Wood: Everything. My life experiences. People I meet. Things I’ve done. I have had a varied career from a horse trainer to a teacher. I’ve been in the Army, conducted shark research and helped crew a 39 ft sailboat from Hawaii to California across the Pacific Ocean.
All of these things will work into my novels at some point.
Moe: Every writer has a method to their writing. On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
Patricia Wood: When I’m not promoting Lottery I write in the salon of my sailboat early in the morning. During my first draft stage I write for hours at a time but editing and revising I am less fanatical.
Moe: How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read? Do you write right through or do you revise as you go along?
Patricia Wood: It depends. Ordinarily a first draft takes me three to six months and if I have no other obligations I send it to beta readers shortly after I’ve done several more passes — probably my fourth or fifth draft. I power through my first draft and then make regular editing and revising passes from the beginning. When I think I am close to completing my novel then I start in the middle and work to the end.
Moe: When you sit down to write is any thought given to the genre or type of readers?
Patricia Wood: I write for myself. I’m a story teller. I am my own demographic. My readers are like myself.
Moe: When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?
Patricia Wood: It depends on the story but the main plot I always know in advance before I start. I often write the first and last chapter at the same time.
Moe: What kind of research do you do before and during a new book? Do you visit the places you write about?
Patricia Wood: I make it a point to write what I know about. It creates authenticity. During my writing if I come to a part I am unsure about I do the research at that time. For example I had to talk with an attorney in Snohomish County in Washington State to get information on guardianship matters and disability issues.
Moe: Where do your characters come from? How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters?
Patricia Wood: My characters come from inside my head and I become them — they do not become me. I think subconsciously I use many things from people I know- a writer can’t help to do this.
Moe: Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Patricia Wood: I don’t believe in writers block. There are some times my writing goes slower because I get distracted – it’s very hard to write one book and promote another. I miss the uninterrupted blocks of time I had before I was published.
Moe: What do you hope readers gain, feel or experience when they read one of your books for the first time?
Patricia Wood: I hope they feel it’s a compelling story that they can’t put down and they are sucked into a world that they are loathe to leave — ultimately I hope they are so entranced by my novel that they recommend it to others and write online reviews.
Moe: Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?
Patricia Wood: There are no rules. There are no guarantees. No one can predict a best seller. It’s a business. Too many writers only think about the art but you have to learn the business and the procedures. You have to be willing to promote yourself. You have to keep writing in the face of rejection and to want to tell stories more than anything. Many people like the idea of being an author but do not enjoy writing.
Moe: What is your latest release about?
Patricia Wood: Lottery is about a mentally challenged man, Perry L. Crandall, who wins the Washington State Lottery and finds that he has more friends and family than he knows what to do with. It is about love and trust and what defines us as capable. It was pitched as “Forrest Gump wins Powerball” but it is really a parable of our times. I strove to create an authentic portrayal of a man who is termed slow. It is not a fantasy like Forrest Gump nor is my character a savant like Forrest.
Many things went into the inspiration for Lottery. My ex brother-in-law had Down Syndrome, my PhD work is in disability studies and my father won six million dollars in the Washington State Lottery. These all give my novel authenticity.
Moe: What kind of books do you like to read?
Patricia Wood: All kinds. I do not discriminate. I will read everything from fantasy to mystery to literary. In desperation I have been known to read the backs of breakfast cereal boxes.
Moe: When you’re not writing what do you do for fun?
Patricia Wood: I write more. Seriously, I dive, ride my horses, sail, travel, and read.
Moe: New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?
Patricia Wood: It seems trite to say “write” but that’s what I will say. Write every day. For me attending the Maui Writers Retreat and Conference (now held in Honolulu) was instrumental in helping me learn. Retreats where you can work in a group with an established writer are invaluable. I learned much about the business at the conference.
Moe: What is your favourite word?
Patricia Wood: Echt. To be true or genuine. It is Perry’s favorite word also.
My interview with Patricia Wood appeared on 6/23/2008 at Literary Fiction, BellaOnline.