If you ever have the chance to meet Patricia Bray in person, one of your first thoughts will be, “Wow, here is a woman with some energy.” Patricia Bray was a guest lecturer at the Odyssey Writing Workshop this year, which is where yours truly met her. With verve, humor, and enthusiasm, she offered an excellent discussion of Heroes and Sidekicks in fiction, how to do it, and how not to do it. In her Sword of Change series, the viewpoint character is the sidekick, not the main character of the story, which leads to some interesting storytelling dynamics and great opportunities for character building.
PB: Fifteen years ago I joined a critique group with the goal of writing a novel and becoming published. My first novel earned its share of polite rejection letters, but my second captured the attention of an agent who then went on to sell it to Kensington Zebra. I went on to write six Regency romances and one novella for Zebra before making the leap to epic fantasy with the Sword of Change series. To date I’ve published six fantasies with Bantam Spectra, and I’m currently working on two new projects.
TH: What is The Story of Patricia? Is it a novel? A short story? A regency romance?
PB: The Story of Patricia is written in code, scribbled on bar napkins and the backs of receipts. Fragments have been found being used as bookmarks, while the largest piece located to date was originally mistaken for a script memo from the X-Files.
TH: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you know?
PB: Ever since I realized that the books I loved to read were written by people, people who looked very much like me, I knew I wanted to be one of those people.
TH: How old were you when you realized that books were written by people and you wanted to be one of those?
PB: When I was in second grade, Oliver Butterworth, who was a well-known children’s author, visited our elementary school. Having read his books, I was surprised to realize that not only did he live in my town, but that I had walked by his house many times. Shortly thereafter I wrote and illustrated a story about a girl and her horse–it’s possible I still have it in the box of stuff I got after we sold off my mother’s house. Now there’s a scary thought.
TH: Every writer has things they would like to accomplish, e.g. first sale, next sale, first novel sale, first bestseller, etc. What accomplishment are you striving for right now?
PB: First movie deal with action figures 🙂
TH: Would you want that movie deal with action figures to be based on one of your Regency romances, your epic fantasy books, or something else?
PB: Any of the above, or perhaps for something yet to be published. Whatever the project, if Hollywood wants to pay me a fair price, I’d sell it to them. And then for the sake of my sanity I’d follow John Grisham’s advice and pay no attention to what happened next. If it turned out great, wonderful, if not, well then, it’s MST3K time at my place.
TH: Do you have any writing stuck away somewhere that will never see the light of day, but nevertheless helped you build your skill to publishable?
PB: My first full manuscript never sold, but it was a valuable learning experience. I know enough now that I could revise it to make it saleable but the story idea no longer appeals to me.
TH: What are some of the things that inspire you?
PB: Inspiration can strike at any time–a piece of music, a fragment of conversation, a walk by the shore on a stormy day. The best ideas start as tiny fragments that grow until they consume me.
TH: What about the writing process most appeals to you? What is the most fun?
PB: The two best parts are starting a book and finishing it. It’s the in between bits that are hard.
TH: What are some techniques you use to soldier through the difficult middle parts?
PB: I’m a goal oriented person, so I’ll set writing goals for myself, and use my friends to keep my honest. I’ll also change up my routine, so if I’m having difficulty writing at nights I’ll switch to writing in the mornings before work, or vice versa. Not all of the middle bits are hard, mind you, but there is always that point where you are convinced that you are never going to finish the story. The good part about being an experienced writer is that I recognize this syndrome and can remind myself that I’ve finished over a dozen novels, so I know how to do this.
TH: What are the most successful ways you have used to promote yourself and your work? Are there any promising marketing avenues that you might yet explore?
PB: I’m fairly low key as far as promotion–I have a website and blog, and I go to booksignings and science fiction conventions. I know other authors who do far more promotion, who are active on Myspace or Facebook, do podcasts, or post free short stories, but frankly I don’t have the time. In the end, I figure the best way to promote my work is to write another great book.
TH: Have your reached the point at which you realized that you had “made it” as a writer and author?
PB: As an author you’ve never made it–the goalposts keep getting moved. My original goal was to write and sell a book, but as soon as I’d done that I wanted to sell another. Then after I’d sold a few romances it was time to break into fantasy, and after that it was time to move into the fantasy mid-list. Each time your career takes a jump–a new sale, your first foreign deal, your first Locus bestseller, it’s a great feeling, but then it’s time to move on to the next thing.
TH: Would be fair to describe the life of an author as a path of stepping stones, with each stone representing a “change of goalposts”?
PB: That’s a great description, since the path may twist and turn as writers reinvent themselves and their careers.
TH: Some say that professional writers have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
PB: Writing is an artistic endeavor, while publishing is a business. I think it helps that I come from a corporate background, in that I’m able to understand the business realities of publishing and the importance of being able to separate yourself from your work. Branding yourself as a commodity has both pluses and minuses in that it can build reader loyalty, but it can also limit the writer’s ability to try new things.
TH: “Separating yourself from your work” is a big leap for beginning writers. Could you explain what you mean?
PB: As an example, sometimes you’ll hear a writer say “Agent Name just rejected me” when of course what really happened is that the agent has rejected their story. It’s an important difference–too many writers take rejection personally and immediately become defensive. You have to be able to put your ego aside, and use this as a learning opportunity. Sometimes what you learn is that you need to hone your craft, other times that you need to work on your marketing, to find the right fit between the project and an agent/publisher.
And sometimes rejection simply means that you can’t please everyone, and it’s time to move on.
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
PB: I’m a bit schizophrenic right now–my agent is shopping around a police procedural/fantasy blend, while I’m working on the start of a new epic fantasy series. I hope to have more news to share on these soon.
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your life as an author?
PB: There are so many, but one that stands out is when my brother called to say that he’d seen my first book on the shelves of his local bookstore. This is the moment that it became real for me, that my book was in bookstores all around the country and people who weren’t my friends and family were going to buy and read it.
TH: Is there anything else you would like to talk about that I haven’t mentioned?
PB: If you want to know more, check out my website www.patriciabray.com or my blog at pbray.livejournal.com.