Friday, July 26, 2013

Guest Post Author Pat Dobie

How/why did you start to write?

I wrote a super-long poem in Grade 6 and thought it was excellent! But I wrote only for school assignments—essays, stories, poems, etc.—until I was in my twenties.

How did you become an author?

Well, when I was 24 I entered a writing contest, for reasons I still don’t remember. And I won it! First prize was publication and $200. It was the 3-Day Novel contest, which is still around. I recommend the contest, if you can type fast. It’s a trial by fire.

What was your first published piece?

That would be, to the best of my memory, Pawn To Queen (the 3-Day novel).

Where was it published?

It was published in Vancouver by Arsenal Pulp Press who, at the time, ran the contest.

How long ago?

That was in approximately 1500 AD. Haha! Kidding. I think it was 1988.

What did you do before embarking on your writing career? Was it an asset to your writing? How?

I was a UBC student when I first got published (majoring in History and Psychology). But after I graduated I somehow ended up in the conference and trade show industry. I kept writing, and I’ve written a novel every 4 years since then (give or take).

However, when I sent my finished manuscripts to a publishing house (this was back when you could still do that), and got a letter back asking for revision, I honestly did not know how to begin. So I started a new novel, instead. And this cycle continued for, I’m embarrassed to say, 20 years. After the first two, I stopped sending them out. Although I FELT like I was revising, I really didn’t understand how to rip a novel apart and put it back together better.

My work as a project manager for international conferences and trade shows was definitely an asset to my writing because I learned how to manage my time, and how to think strategically (which is great for plotting). I also wrote hundreds of proposals, and that taught me how to revise. I would write a 70-page proposal and feel no qualms about ripping it apart if sections didn’t work. I enjoyed the conference work and it involved a lot of travel, which I love, but when I had children I had to retire from it. So I worked part-time for a while, then I went back to school and got an MFA in Writing. And, funnily enough, my program advisor said that I am the most ruthless and tireless reviser he’s met (of my own writing). So there we go. I ended up learning what I needed to know.

What inspires you?

Images usually inspire me, like for the historical novel I just finished, it started with an image of a man on a train, who sees everything in a sinister light. For the novel I’m writing now, it was an image of a young man smoking a cigarette in a Vancouver back alley, in the pouring rain. I also have an image for the next one, of a young girl, but I won’t tell you what she’s doing—it’s a secret!

Please share one of your successful author platform building technique

I don’t have a platform. I have, like, a piece of plywood lying flat on the grass. Actually, I do have a website but it’s not for my writing, it’s for a club I’m in.

But I’ll tell you what I like to find from authors I admire: 1. A web site that they update once in a while, ESPECIALLY if it has book reviews, or good advice, 2. Interviews on line (either print or audio), 3. How-to articles online or in industry magazines like Poets & Writers, 4. Live readings or talks. I am not a big fan of social media and so it doesn’t matter to me if an author has a Facebook site, or if they tweet.

Parting words

Here is a quote from Michael Cunningham, who wrote The Hours:
“I think a certain fearlessness in the face of your own ineptitude is a useful tool.”

I can add, that the thing I like about writing is that it gives you a very satisfying life. It’s a way to challenge yourself, to use all of your abilities, and to live in a kind of meditative state when you’re thinking about your characters or plots, or noticing the world around you (for description). It’s also great because to be a good writer, you have to read, read, read—something I’ve loved since I was four years old and first figured out that the black marks in my nursery rhyme book said something about the pictures. 

Here is where I did my MFA. It’s an excellent program. I did think about applying to UBC, which is closer to home, but they asked for work in two genres, and I really only write fiction (long and short). So I applied to 3 low-residency programs in the US and got into this one. Atlantic Monthly rated it one of the top 5 low-residency programs in the US, and it’s the best thing I ever did, education-wise.