Beverly Patt is a debut author with two books coming out within the next year: Haven, and Best Friends Forever: a WWII Scrapbook. We’re thrilled that she was able to answer our questions, and we’re equally thrilled to be able to share them with you.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Actually, no. My best classes in school were math and science! Go figure. I did love to write but never received much positive feedback until college, where I had to write an autobiography for a Psych class. After that, several friends commented how much they loved my letters because they could hear my voice in them. Those two experiences made me think I may have some writing talent after all!
When did you start writing?
Other than the self-indulgent, moody, nobody-understands-me teenager type of poetry? Well, that would be about 18 years ago, after the birth of my first child. I took a correspondence course, believe it or not, on writing for children through the Institute of Children’s Literature. Their advertisements are hokey but the classes are very rich. I learned a lot about the craft of writing and the business of writing as well.
If you weren’t a writer, what your job be?
I was a special education teacher so if I had to go back to work, I could teach. However, I used to think I’d enjoy being an emergency room nurse! I’m okay with blood and I like fast paced, exciting work. Now that I’m older, though, that sounds too exhausting!
What advice would you give to young writers?
Besides the typical ‘read everything in the genre you’re interested in and even some you’re not’ I guess I’d tell young writers not to be snobs. By that, I recall myself as a new writer thinking, “I don’t want to write for magazines”(insert sneer here), “I only want to write books!” Well, yeah. And guess what? So do about a bajillion other people, which is one of the reasons so many publishing houses are closing their doors to un-agented work. Because EVERYONE thinks they can write a children’s book!
One assignment in the ICL class I took was to write a 500-word nonfiction article and then study the market and name three possible places to submit it. I did the assignment, probably rolling my eyes the whole time. After critiquing it, my teacher urged me to submit my article for real, which I did. And guess what? It was rejected! That was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. I was shocked. And humbled. And motivated to sell that sucker! I did finally sell it and I went on to write about 75 more magazine stories and articles. I learned a ton in writing for magazines and I’m sure I would not be the writer I am today had I not. It was a very strong foundation.
What is the hardest part of writing a book?
For me, it’s plot, or actually, revising plot. I tend to get a little dramatic in my first draft and throw in lots of curves – “Ooo! I’ll do THIS! And then I’ll do THAT!” It can kind of read like a really bad soap opera. So, in revising I try to tame the drama without getting boring or convoluted. This is where a few trusted critique partners who don’t pull punches are worth their weight in chocolate.
Can you tell us a little bit about the plots of your upcoming books?
Ooo! Can I change my last answer? Summarizing plots of my books is the hardest part of writing a book!!
Ok, here goes nothing:
HAVEN (Blooming Tree Press, Fall 2009) 14-year-old Rudy Morris would love nothing more than to own an ATV to help him escape his claustrophobic family once in a while. Ward-of-the-state Latonya would be happy to merely have a family to escape from. And Stark? Well, he just likes to fix stuff. All three have secrets. All three have dreams. And all three have ideas about race, family and friendship that get put to the test. Toss one beat-up, forgotten ATV into the mix and you’ve got a runaway plan that may be headed for disaster. Or even worse–success.
BEST FRIENDS FOREVER: A WWII SCRAPBOOK (Marshall Cavendish, Spring 2010) After WWII begins, best friends Louise Kessler and Dottie Masuoka are separated, Dottie moving to a Japanese Internment camp, and Louise remaining home in their native Seattle. Louise decides to keep a scrapbook for her friend, to document all that went on in her absence. She includes the letters and sketches Dottie sends from Camp Harmony, which tell a very different experience of the same war. Both girls grapple with prejudice, culture and the true meaning of friendship. Artwork includes 1940s memorabilia, photos, sketches, letters – think “Amelia’s Notebook” series with a more serious and historical twist.
Do you base any of your plots on happenings from your own childhood?
Not so far, no.
If not, what inspired you to write them?
HAVEN came out of a time in my young adult life where my husband and I became licensed foster parents but then were denied several needy children because we were white and they were Black or Hispanic. It made me very sad and angry. This is what happens to Latonya in HAVEN. She’s tired of waiting around for an available Black family so she decides to take charge of her life and run away from her endless string of group homes. She enlists Rudy to help her, tempting him with the promise of his own ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) if he agrees.
BEST FRIENDS FOREVER started with a memory from my mother’s childhood, actually. She was a little girl in California when the owners of the local dry cleaners just vanished one day. Much later, my mother realized this family, who also happened to be Japanese, had been sent to the internment camps because of the war.
I had never been taught in school about the internment camps and thought it was something every child should know. The more I learned in my research, the more interested and incensed I became. In the book, the photo of Louise is actually my mom and the book is dedicated to her memory.
Do you have any ideas for new books right now?
Well…can you keep a secret? Ha. I’m revising a novel that deals with the fine line between cultural superstitions and religion and how one Thai girl deals with it. I also have a magical short story I wrote years ago I’ve been thinking about dusting off and rewriting as a novel. And I always have a handful of humorous picture book manuscripts I keep trying to perfect.
Did you like to read when you were a kid?
Love, love, loved it. I read everywhere, all the time, even while brushing my teeth. My love of reading and books is really why I started writing. As a teacher, I would read to my class and I’m not sure who enjoyed it more! Many of my students came from very deprived and sometimes depraved circumstances. I liked to give them the gift of escaping into a story and imagining better outcomes for their own lives.
What kind of books?
I loved stories where something magical happened, like Half Magic or A Wrinkle in Time. I was also a nut about Nancy Drew Mysteries. There was a shop in town I’d visit frequently just to drool over the rows of yellow-and-blue-spined books spanning their shelves.
Who is your favorite author or book?
Impossible question to answer! As a child, my favorite book was Me and Caleb, winner of the 1962 Charles W. Follett Award for Best Children’s literature. I’ve also read it as an adult and, unlike many books I’ve ‘revisited’ this was just as funny and sweet and heart wrenching as I remembered.
A few books I have enjoyed most recently are The Willoughbys (hysterical!) Postcards from Nowhere (sweetly powerful!) and Savvy (captivating and imaginative!). I also study books like Bridge to Terabithia to try to pinpoint how the author got us to care so deeply about their characters.
What are your hobbies when you aren’t writing?
I took up tennis just this past summer and I’m possessed! I also like to knit, plant flowers (though I’m not too great on the watering part;) and to plan vacations for my family. I’m also nuts about making soup from scratch. I’m about 1/5 of the way through The New England Soup Factory Cookbook and still going strong. I highly recommend the recipe for Roasted Tomato and Rice Soup!
Thanks again to Beverly Patt! Visit Beverly Patt and other debut authors at www.classof2k9.com
Read about their paths to publication on their blog, enter contests to win free mg and ya novels, download some book-related recipes or even snag a few reader’s guides for your book club!