Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Interview with Patricia Hickman

Today, as promised, we have an interview with Patty Hickman about her newest release, Painted Dresses, and her writing life in general. Go here to see the post on Painted Dresses.

How did you get started writing, and where has that journey taken you that you may not have expected starting out?
Author Gilbert Morris invited me into a writer’s critique group back in 1992. We met weekly and Gilbert critiqued our manuscripts. It was an invaluable experience. I was published one year later with Bethany House.

How do you balance family life with writing?
My youngest is now going off to college, so it’s getting easier. But when I was writing my first novel, my husband came home with three displaced children for us to care for in addition to our own three. I had to get up at three in the morning and write until daybreak when it was time to get the kids up for school. They ranged in age from eighteen months old to eleven years old. An au pair moved in with us to help out, but still, it was very stressful. I learned that if I want to do something badly enough, I’ll make time to do it.

How does your walk with the Lord affect your writing? And how do you balance time with the Lord with your writing schedule?
My husband is a pastor, so you would think I would be saturated in Bible study. But I had to discipline myself to study the Bible and study it correctly. I joined a year long Bible study recommended by my friend Francine Rivers. After a year of application I could study on my own. That also helped me to study in preparation for a teaching platform.

But the temptation is to take what you learn and slap it onto the plot of a novel. A novel is a different vehicle for story and requires an exacting and also subtle application. The faith message comes through naturally and often in a surprising way. Just think about how you are surprised when someone tells you that they’ve noticed that you are a religious person and they want to ask your advice about a problem. You’re surprised because it was such a natural occurrence; if you had forced it, you might have blown it. I have to trust that God is both Super and Natural. So the application to story comes through a trust in Him to show me where he wants a truth applied.

Since my blog is geared to writers who want to improve their self-editing, could you briefly take us through your process of writing a novel—from conception to revision?
Haha! I’m laughing at the thought of me doing anything briefly:
• The concept comes over time; sure, sometimes a note scribbled on a napkin, but often through a story I hear from real life. I turn it over and over in my mind until I realize one day that it’s a viable amount of story that can translate into a sizable fictive piece.
• I’ve written every book a little differently. But in order to speed up the process, I have to allow the story to flow onto the page in short scenes. They are not finished because I have to get at least twenty-five or more chapters full of scenes to know what the story is really about. Then I go back to the beginning; things I didn’t know about the character are starting to be revealed. I know her better and we’re becoming comfortable in our dialogue—yes, I talk to my central character. I ask her questions in the morning, often scribbling my questions down on notes. Then the scenes I write that day will provide a piece of the answer to the questions I asked her that morning.
• I allow for the mysterious to arise. That means that I know at the start that many things I’m searching to unearth in the central character’s life are an unknown variable. That gives me permission to play with the story clay. Like a sculptor who feels that the artwork is telling the artist what it’s supposed to be, I sense that same awe very often as this mysterious clay takes on story form. I might be on the eighth revision before that one little element is revealed that I’ve searched to understand. So while the reader is discovering it in a matter of seconds, it took many, many drafts for me to find that mysterious part that either speaks to the story as a whole or reveals a character’s hidden motivation.
• When a novel is finished, I’ve amassed a mountain of notes and research. The notes from Painted Dresses fills six legal size manila envelopes and two legal file folders.

What kinds of things do you have to revise once your editor gets done with your manuscript?
It’s pretty clean when I turn it in. But I’m always hungry for the substantive edit, that’s the edit that covers the main ideas and themes in the story. The editor and I will discuss these elements and why they work or don’t work. We’re looking for a seamless story, no authorial intrusion or places that cause the reader to have to go back and re-read the text because it flows well. If we’ve done our job right, then the reader should say things like, “I couldn’t put it down.”

Would you tell us a little about your future projects?
My next novel takes place in the Outer Banks in a little town called Oriental. That’s a real town name. I love this town because it’s populated by imaginative people. Artists live in Oriental and they paint enormous dragon’s eggs in very fanciful ways and then place them around town in giant nests with signs that say “Natural Nesting Grounds For Oriental Dragons.” Living in North Carolina means I don’t have to go far to find the exotic.

In this story, a wealthy socialite from Lake Norman (my nesting ground) is about to move out to her second home in Oriental to escape a loveless marriage. But just as she’s about to leave, her philandering husband walks in and tells her that he is sick. He has a terminal illness. Now she has to take care of the husband she was about to leave. To make it worse, he wants her to move him to their beach house in Oriental where he can convalesce. Then their three grown children, spouses, and grandchildren converge on them with all of their sundry problems. So her plan to take off for that summer to find herself is invaded by the very people she sought to escape. The situation creates a great setting for calamity and all kinds of great havoc and also for redemption and love.

Finally, would you discuss Painted Dresses? The research, the idea, and the scope of the project?
Painted Dresses is described as a “Thelma and Louise” type of plot. Gaylen Syler-Boatwright has come home to Boiling Waters, North Carolina, to bury her father. Gaylen’s marriage is falling apart but she’s not forthcoming about why, at least not to her meddlesome relatives. But her adult sister Delia shoots a woman who is the sister of a drug dealer. Gaylen has very cleverly and artfully avoided crisis-addicted Delia and her problems by moving out of their hometown. Now she’s suddenly helping Delia run away from the man who seeks to kill her. Gaylen and Delia hide out in their dead aunt’s mountain cottage. While there, the sisters discover an odd collection of painted dresses. Aunt Amity had collected them over the years, dipping the dresses in paint and fastening them to canvas. Each painted dress is bequeathed to the woman who first owned the dress. So Gaylen decides that they have to deliver the dresses house-to-house. But as they continue to run from the drug dealer and deliver these dresses, each stopping-off point provides them with a bit more information about their painted over pasts. So the sister’s road trip becomes a metaphor for Gaylen’s internal landscape.

I live in North Carolina and visit the Outer Banks for research. The blending of the old South with the new commerce that has changed the culture is now called the New South. It’s this New South that creates the backdrop for Gaylen’s story.

I was already writing Painted Dresses at the same time that I was on my own journey to understand the pain in my family and the things covered over by my parents. At first I had trouble separating Gaylen’s story from mine. That slowed down progress. I had to separate my story from Gaylen’s in order to allow it to take on this heightened story concept: the story of two sister’s on the road and on the run, journeying to find out the truth about the family secrets covered over by their mother.

Then, after a time of spiritual recovery, I developed a platform message called “Stranger Than Fiction” that we’re currently publicizing to women’s conferences and broadcast media. The truth is that nothing is as strangely wonderful as God’s grace, and how he makes it available to us in extravagant measure. Just when I thought that I was at the end of madness with no sane place to go, God once again provided stability.

Thank you so much, Patty! We appreciate your time and the opportunity to spotlight your work.
My pleasure, Marjorie. You may visit my website which is under construction, http://www.patriciahickman.com; but if you visit my blog at Words to Go, you can find out many things, where I’ll be next, and also watch me on YouTube! Thank you for inviting me!

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