Helen Pattskyn [hbpattskyn]
What did you first read? How did you begin to write? Who were the first to read what you wrote?
I have a vivid memory of a story about a platypus... I was probably in kindergarten. :) I always have loved animal stories; I stuck with mostly those through elementary school. Somewhere in middle school, I discovered science fiction and fantasy--I mean, I'd always watched science fiction on television: Space 1999, original Trek (on reruns), original Battlestar Galactica (*not* on reruns... yes that dates me.) But I didn't start reading sf and fantasy until middle school. I read Diana Wynn Jones's _Dogsbody_ in the seventh grade. Another early discovery was Steven Brust, who is still one of my favorite authors.
The first story I wrote was in the second grade. It was part of a spelling assignment; it wasn't very good, but it was a lot of fun. Naturally, the first person to read it was my teacher. Mrs. Stockman encouraged us to be creative, for which I'm grateful.
In seventh grade, I had a fantastic creative writing teacher named Sharmon Good--and an awesome librarian, Arlene Green. They both, in their own ways, encouraged creativity and individuality.
What is your favorite genre? Can you provide a link to a site where we can read some of your work or learn something about it?
I still read science fiction and fantasy (mostly fantasy). I eagerly await each new book in the Jhergh series by Steven Brust, and although the Black Jewels trilogy is the only of Anne Bishop's I've really gotten into, I always site Bishop and Brust as my favorite authors.
What I write, however, is M/M erotic romance. My first novel _Heart's Home_ (Dreamspinner Press, Dec., 2011), has is a paranormal/historical, but I want to write contemporary novels as well. Like most writers, I've got tons of ideas spinning around in my head, it's just a matter of finding the time to get them out.
More information on my writing can be found on my website: helenpattskyn.com. I blog about life, sometimes give excerpts, I'm working on a section for free reads. You can find links to my artwork, fanfiction, and other projects as well.
What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
I don't think I have a "process". I get an idea for something and dash to my laptop to write it down before I forget!
Seriously, my morning starts with coffee, email, and then writing--assuming I don't have to run out the door to work. Most of my free time is spent writing or producing artwork of one kind or another. (In addition to being a writer, I'm an artist.)
What type of reading inspires you to write?
Anything well written.
Obviously, I love M/M romance and occasionally I tell my husband that I only bought that "stack" of books he notices on my Kindle for "research". I doubt he believes me ;-)
Like most writers, my ideas come from everywhere. Something I see. Something I read. Something on television. Just taking a walk can inspire me, because walking helps "clear the cobwebs" in my head.
What do you think are the basic ingredients of a story?
Strong, fully "living" characters.
Real conflict (internal and/or external).
Solid world building (even in contempoary settings).
I know the last one isn't usually a criteria listed, but if the words don't flow together on the page, it doesn't matter how good the rest of it is, nobody's going to want to read it.
What voice do you find most to your liking: first person or third person?
"Deep" third person.
I'm really not a huge fan of first person, although I don't let that stop me from reading something--in fact, Steven Brust's Jhergh books are first person.
For romance, however, I typically want to see both sides (or more than "both" if it's a menenge story). I've read a few that were either first person, or only gave us one character in the third person that were really good, but those are harder to pull off, IMHO.
What well known writers do you admire most?
Admire for what? I love Brust's work and he was gracious enough to answer a bit of fan mail I sent him. He also kindly read a bit of something one of my friends wrote, and gave them a few pointers--I admire that kind of grace. I've never contacted Ms. Bishop, so I don't know much about her.
I admire Oscar Wilde's spirit, and Edward Carpenter's honesty.
But for me admire a person, I need to admire more than a single talent.
If we want to talk about what people I admire, I admire Johnny Depp (and not just because he's gorgeous.) I admire his graciousness and humility, his overall good attitude toward his fans.
I *deeply* admire Edward James Olmos for everything he stands for. If I had to pick someone I'd like to be like when I grow up, it would definitely be him.
What is required for a character to be believable? How do you create yours?
Characters have to be like "real" people. They have to be three dimensional. They need to be flawed--but not insanely so. They have good days and bad days. They cannot be perfect; they can't all be beautiful with god-like bodies, six pack abs and pearly teeth. Every single person in the story doesn't need to have the perfect happy ending. (Yup, I'm harping on something I read, where even the secretary got her Prince Charming at the end. Heck, even the antagonist got his Prince Charming! How can you root for the creepy stalker?)
I rarely give my readers much information on my antogonists--mostly because I don't generally like to read about antagonists in others' stories--but even though they're the villians, they can't be cardboard cutouts. I may not necessarily want to *know* what their good points are, but nobody is 100% evil (or 100% good).
To make all of this work, characters need a full and complete back-story, even if the reader never sees it. In fact, much like an iceburgh, the reader should only see about 10% of a character's back-story. The writer, however needs to know the whole story in order to present the character as a fully formed being.
Are you equally good at telling stories orally?
I like to talk, if that's what you're asking!
Seriously... no. I can't make it up on the spot. I need time to plan, plan, plan, plot, revise, revise some more, get up at three in the morning, change a few words, add this, subtract that, move that paragrpah here...
What I can do is get up in front of a group of people and talk about something I've written. I'm not shy.
Deep down inside, who do you write for?
Deep down? I don't make any secret of it: I write for myself. If other people like it too, I'm thrilled. The fact that somebody wants to pay for something I wrote sent me straight over the moon!
I absolutely adore and am grateful to my fanfiction reader--in a way, I do write with some of them in mind, hoping they'll like it, because they gave me such encouragement to move forward with my work.
Of course I have some mindfulness about what has a ghost of a chance of selling and what doesn't, but that doesn't mean I won't write something niggling at the back of my brain.
Is writing a form of personal therapy? Are internal conflicts a creative force?
Absolutely, writing is therapy. Any good therapist will tell you to journal for just that reason.
At 42 I like to think I've resolved most of my personal interanal conflicts. I have a pretty good idea of who I am--and who I'm not. I have good days and bad days, just like everybody else. Sometimes my best writing happens on my bad days, because it's a great escape... other bad days I spend killing off my Sims 3 characters!
Does reader feed-back help you?
That's a double edged sword.
I got a huge amount of very helpful feedback from my fanfiction writers. I don't expect people who read my novel to be as kind. Bad reviews sting. Good reviews send you over the moon. In the end, everyone has the right to love or hate what you've done. If they can give me a solid reason why they hated it, it might influence a future project... or not. Some things I simply refuse to change.
(E.g., I've taken a couple of hits for a fanfic story I wrote; there's an element or two one small percentage of readers hasn't liked. I replied to the one woman in particular that while I appreciated her honesty and respected her opinion she could, politely, go suck eggs. Seriously. She had suggested I change this, that and the other thing. If she wanted to write her story, she was more than welcome to, but this was *my* story, thank you very much. I got an apology... and I apologized for telling her to go suck eggs, because it really wasn't my most professional moment.)
Do you participate in competitions? Have you received any awards?
No, I don't have the time. I was elated when some of my fanfic was nominated for the Children of Time awards, though.
Do you share rough drafts of your writings with someone whose opinion you trust?
Absolutely! I belong to an amazing critique group that meets in real life, twice a week. I have a good friend who is a writer and we share rough drafts and ideas all the time. I'm cultivating a couple of similar friendships with M/M writers, as well. (I'm the only romance writer in my critique group and recently had to explain what bdsm stood for.... sigh. They're so wonderful to put up with me!)
Do you believe you have already found "your voice" or is that something one is always searching for?
I think I've been writing long enough to have found my voice... for now. I expect that my voice will change and grow with me, because it's a part of who I am. I don't think I'll be this version of me forever... can you imagine? No, as we experience things we grow and we change. It's part of the human condition to be constantly evolving.
What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?
Seriously, I try to look at my week and set a reasonable word goal for the week, but that's about it. I do think it's important to spend some time writing every day. Life doesn't always allow for it, but it's a goal, and part of why I like to spend my mornings with coffee, email, and writing.
My usual weekly goal is around 5000 "good" words (i.e. not free writing or "word salad").
What do you surround yourself with in your work area in order to help your concentrate?
Let's see... directly in front of me is a religious shrine. To the right of that is my art table, currently covered in branches... don't ask. We won't talk about the closet... next to that are some more religions items, including my Shamanic shrine. Door--I keep that closed. Shelves with art supplies, research books, notes for various projects. More shelves, more art supplies, pictures of my grandmother, her second husband and two of her sisters. More shelves for finished art projects. My other art table, which is pretty much a mess, but has my sewing machine on it as well as my polymer clay supplies because I've been working in polymer clay for the last two weeks. And we're back to the table my lap resides on when I'm not typing. if the phrase organized chaos springs to mind, you're getting the picture.
The closed door and the right writing music are what help me focus when I write. Having my own room for general creative endevours helps to ensure general domestic tranquility--both mine and my husband's. He no longer steps on pins that have fallen on the floor and I no longer need to worry about kitty shaped footprints on my watercolor paintings.
Do you write on a computer? Do you print frequently? Do you correct on paper? What is your process?
Computer. I type much faster than I hand write. Typing is neater than writing, too (my penmanship is atrocious).
Occasionally, I do outline on paper, and I have a notebook for story ideas that I carry around with me at all times. Sometimes I do find outlining longhand is more helpful than staring at a blank computer screen.
I tried printing and correcting in red pen, but that meant I had to go back to the computer, find the misakes, fix them... it was a pain. Now I just do everything in Word. It makes my life much easier. If I really think I need to switch things up to spot my errors (sometimes that does help), I'll change the font.
My laptop, by the way, was the best investment I ever made as a writer. This baby goes with me wherever I go!
What sites do you frequent on-line to share experiences or information?
I belong to the Yahoo!group for my publisher and I maintain my own blog, that's it. I prefer to interface with other writers face to face, except when it comes to my friends who live out of state or out of country.
What has been your experience with publishers?
Limited... I only have one novel (so far). I love my publisher, though. Dreamspinner is amazing.
I'm also working on a non-fiction book for Clerisy Press--so far I'm just in the writing stage. They've been really great, too, but non-fiction is more cut and dried. My editor wants a word changed, he gets it changed, no questions, no arguements, he's the boss. The book is part of a series, so I knew going in that I wouldn't have any say over the cover, it will have the same cover as the rest of the series.
I have a far greater emotional investment in my fictional characters.
What are you working on now?
The non-fiction book (_Ghosthunting Michigan_).
The sequel to _Heart's Home_.
And I have another M/M romance with a strong bdsm/kink element that's very close to being done, so I've moved it from the back burner to the front burner because for a while, I was having a hard time focusing. I literally picked the project with the highest word count and said "you, you are what I'm working on!" I'm seriously hoping to have it done in the next couple of weeks, then it's a matter of revision and keeping my fingers crossed when I start sending it out.
I think it's important to have the next project lined up when you send something out, though.
I'm also working on ideas for promoting _Heart's Home_ -- part of that is going to be writing a couple of fanfiction pieces, to remind my fanfic readers that I still exist ;-)
What do you recommend I do with all those things I wrote years ago but have never been able to bring myself to show anyone?
The very worst thing that will happen is that someone won't like it. If that's the worst thing that ever happens to you in your life, you're doing good.
If *you* believe in your writing, drag it out, dust it off, polish up the writing and find the right place to submit it.
One of the guys in my critique group is positively brilliant. He submits literally as many as 300 short stories a year. He gets a dozen or so accepted. There are all kinds of reasons why stories and novels are rejected, and most of them have nothing to do with the quality of writing or the story idea. Rejection is just a part of this business.
If you're serious about writing, you've got to get over your fear of showing other people your work, because frankly, no matter who you are, somebody, somewhere is going to hate it.
And somebody else is going to love it. But you'll never find that someone if you don't make your work available to other people to read.
I also suggest cultivating a thick skin. Most people are fair, but there are a few who are nasty when it comes to reviews. Cherish every good review. Gracefully accept the critisism that is intelligent and thoughful--you might learn something from it. Ignore the jerks.
Detroit, MI, United States