Twilight Times Special Feature

 

Author Interview
with Pat Fredeman

 

Interviewer: Lida Quillen

1. Lida: "Does your creativity express itself in ways other than writing?"

Pat: It does if I have time, but between working and writing, I often have little time to spare. I also take care of three places and a half-dozen animals. Every once in a while, when the urge becomes undeniable, I do an oil painting or some drawings.

2. Lida: "Do you feel you were creative, even as a child?"

Pat: As a child, I never thought about being creative. I played the piano. I drew and spent some interesting moments trying to understand and render perspective. I discovered Leonard da Vinci's self-portrait; that became an icon that stood for the realm of art and resonated with its wonders. I spent as much time as possible in the woods that surrounded our house on three sides and learned to hear "other voices." A childhood friend and I created sets, made up dialogue, and acted out plays with paper dolls.

I never thought of being a writer, but I wrote my first poem at age seven. It consisted of 4 or 5 rhyming stanzas and was dedicated to my dog, Pepper Duke. At a wedding I attended at age 4 or 5, I was observed by the father of the bride. He wrote a poem about me and for me, a rather lengthy one, and mailed it back later to be given to me. He was from out of town, so I thought of writers as being people from other places. I thought of writing as something that other people did. As for childhood goals, I wanted to go to college.

I had books and read frequently. In grade school, I discovered Shakespeare from books used by my uncle in high school. I thought that was the most beautiful stuff I had ever encountered, not that I understood it, but the flow of the language and the imagery were exquisite and powerful. I kept asking myself, "Where did he see that? Where did he hear that?" Christina Rossetti was another writer I discovered in the set of Books of Knowledge presented to me by my father one Christmas. I was charmed by her poetry, especially "Goblin Market."

About school, I was ambivalent. I attended two years of private kindergarten. When these sessions were completed, I headed back to the woods. One summer day, my mother informed me I would be starting school in the fall. I was speechless. School? I had done school. I was through with school. For the rest of the summer, I mulled over the proposition.

When the fateful day drew nigh, I appeared in the middle of the living room before my parents with an announcement: I would be attending no more school. I was serious. My mother was frantic. My father was amused. His attitude mystified me. What did he know about this school business that I did not know? He made a proposal: Go to school the first day and see how I liked it. Give it a try. If I didn't like it, then I could quit. I puzzled over this proposal. It seemed reasonable and workable. I went. In one way or another, I have been "in school" ever since.

3. Lida: "Could you share with us the story behind the story? In other words, how did your writing life lead up to your first novel?"

Pat: All of my life, from childhood on, I have loved literature. Off and on, I found myself writing about something that struck me vividly to the core or in trying to make sense of something. I had an urge or need to mold or shape. As years passed, I discovered I had written quite a bit as I pursued various academic degrees and taught to earn a living. I found poetry to be the most penetrating, the most challenging, the most enlightening, the most satisfying for my kind of person. Prose required a more external landscape. I learned to write poetry from reading it and teaching it. No one encouraged me to write, quite the contrary.

When I lived and taught in Washington State, I met a group of people who lived on the creative edge. With one of these persons, I would end up having lengthy conversations, running to 6 hours or more. The conversations ended with our both sitting down, trying wildly to put down on paper the vast territory we had covered. My first prose piece, a fairy tale novelette, was inspired by this person. When I submitted it to Harper Collins' Charlotte Zolotow Books, I was not given acceptance, but I was given a good critique and was asked to show them more of my work. However, I was very busy earning a living at teaching, which is a demanding profession, and did not have time to put their good advice to good use.

I joined the Norman, OK, branch of the National League of American Pen Women, an organization for writers, artists, and musicians. I took a writing course, but it was mostly loosely structured chat sessions. However, I started writing a novel, which I completed in spare moments. In writing it, I realized I could write an extended fictional work but I did not know certain techniques.

One day I heard of Jack Bickham, who was director of the School of Professional Writing at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, OK. He had a prickly reputation, and some people hesitated to take his courses. Upon investigating, I realized he was the best. He was a professional. He knew so-called literary literature, popular literature, and commercial literature. He knew how to write and he knew how to teach what he knew; he was a rara avis.

When I respect someone, I don't always care whether or not I like him or her. But I liked him. When he took my novel to read, I awaited in trepidation and expected a ruthless dissection. Certainly, he told me in what he saw it lacking, but he suggested ways to "fix" it and invited me to a an independent study tutorial. I went. I learned. When he said that I wrote like "blue blazes," I didn't believe him. When he pronounced my revisions "splendid," I didn't believe him. But I persevered, and I am glad. His intelligent guidance was priceless. He helped me to bridge the gap between critical awareness and writing performance. That experience was the turning point in my writing life.

4. Lida: "How did you prepare for the creation of your first novel? How much research was necessary?"

Pat: Not much research was necessary. The setting is a university campus, and both main characters are involved in university life and work. Having been both a student and a professor at several universities, I am very familiar with the intricacies and practices of university life. Certain aspects of the novel, such as poetry readings, allusions to and imitations of writers past and present, French and Latin expressions, I already more or less knew but rechecked some of them anyway. The locale is southwestern Arkansas, where I grew up, so I had a feeling for the area and also knew many things about it. However, I did quite a bit of research on topography, highways, distances, crops, climatology, architecture, specific buildings, and so on.

5. Lida: "What kind of reactions do people have to your writing?"

Pat: Reactions range from hostile or condescending dismissiveness to precious praise. Funny thing about that, I can remember the praise better than the hostility. Examples: "your beautiful prose," "your gorgeous poem," "wonderful style," "you're a natural story teller," "great dialogue," "splendid," and so on. Relatives? Some sneer about this stuff that isn't real work. Some are excited to know about it.

I remember one reaction, probably negative, as being, "Oh, heavy, heavy." Another curious response was a long discourse about what he/she could have written, if he/she had done so. I wonder if painters or sculptors ever receive this kind of reaction. A third reaction was my automatically being regarded as "anti-establishment" (courtesy of Academe's leaders and followers).

6. Lida: "Do you find anything difficult in the writing process, and if so what?"

Pat: Getting started and once started, stopping. I may come away from a writing session at 4:00 in the morning quite exhausted. Also, I have difficulty remembering the names of minor characters after being away from the text for a while. I have difficulty conforming to formulas and stereotypical genre demands (which all sound alike to me).

Also, I have difficulty in finding areas and subjects in which I can be deeply engaged and interested. If I can't do that, I write off the top of my head and dislike what I write.

I develop headaches when I think about the people at the business end of writing who don't know much about writing, or other things, but arrogantly assume they do. For example, a friend, who has published several novels, had a ms. returned to her by an editor with a note written beside my friend's reference to the Nazi invasion of Poland in World War II: "This didn't happen in World War II. This was World War I. Check your facts." Thus wrote this particular editor.

These editors say they want "brilliant" mss. Whom do they think they're kidding? They want something easy to market and something that will sell big. Herman Melville's first two novels (Typee and Omoo) sold exceedingly well. They are simply told, plain adventure stories. Moby Dick is a "brilliant" work with an exciting style and an exciting story. It was a commercial failure. These editors expect first novels to be "brilliant"? They can try to pretend that this is the norm, that they know the meaning of "brilliant," and that they value the "brilliant," but they should not be allowed to get away with this nonsense. "Brilliant" novels do not spring forth fully grown and fully armed like Minerva from the brain of Jupiter.

7. Lida: "Do you currently have any writing projects?"

Pat: I have just finished another novel set in Victoria, British Columbia, and in Bellingham, Washington, in 1963 -1964. It attempts to reflect the breeding ground necessary for the creative spirit to live. It is social commentary, romance, suspense. Most of my work has a social comment to make, but I think this may be a no-no. For years, editors and publishers have relied on certain types of genre fiction, from which they wish to exclude something called "Voice." Now they are calling for works with "a distinctive voice."

Really? All of this time they have been doing their bit to contribute to a bad American habit of wanting everyone to think and talk like everyone else. In mainstream fiction, a certain style is favored: the very active style (action verbs, active voice, no adverbs, few adjectives) and tough, hard hitting characters and action. This is a good style, but it is not the only style. I thought this was supposed to be a society that values individualism. Do you suppose that is not so?

Pico Iyer points out that a language that relies on periods and neglects the nuances of commas and semicolons may have a "jackboot rhythm." It may never capture the discrete and thoughful inflections of "sweet river music."

There are many different styles, just as there are many different voices. If people do not think, if they do not feel, if they have no point of view, if they have no world view, they will not have a distinctive voice.

Currently I am working on a fantasy with a mischievous dragon as protagonist.

Poems happen all the time. Four poems have come to me almost whole and complete, except for one word in one of them that took months to "fix." Three of them came as I was waking from sleep. One came as I was walking away from the seashore at Lagoon, British Columbia. It was just dusk and the landscape was mellow with retreating light and restfulness. I was walking up a hill and could sense the melting identities of the land and sea. These times have always been puzzling but precious. 8. Lida: "Is there anything else you would like to add?"

I am so happy to have known and to know people who are still individuals. Often dismayed but always undeterred, they go about their lives enjoying the impulses and results of their individual creative muse.

I wish to express appreciation to Lida Quillen, another rara avis.

Pat Fredeman

 

[Editor's note: ...and thank you Pat, for a terrific author interview.]

 


Author Bio

Pat Fredeman has published numerous poems and some short, non-fiction pieces in various literary journals and magazines. She has done editorial work, given poetry readings, taught university literature and creative writing courses, and conducted community workshop courses for the regional branch of the National League of American Pen Women, of which she is a member. She has degrees from the University of British Columbia (M.A.) and the University of Oklahoma (B.A.[Phi Beta Kappa], Ph.D.[magna cum laude], Dissertation: Ben Jonson.

Ms. Fredeman's Christian Romance Paradise Regained is available from Gemini Books. Pat has recently completed a contemporary romance and a fantasy novelette and she tells us she is currently working on another novel.

 
 
Read several poems from Pat

"Doors",
"Space Without Doors",
"The Connoisseur",
"Imagine"
"On the Authenticity of the Cat"
"Pumpkin"

 


 

 
 
 

Copyright © 2000 Lida E. Quillen. All rights reserved.
 
This page last updated 4-24-00.

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