Patry Francis is a mother, a wife, a blogger. She is also the author of THE LIAR’S DIARY, due in bookstores this February. Her book has already received incredible praise from authors Tess Gerritsen and Jacquelyn Mitchard. And talk about a killer premise:
What would you do if your best friend was murdered – and your teenaged son was accused of the crime? How far would you go to protect him? How many lies would you tell? Would you dare to admit the darkest truths – even to yourself?
How does Patry balance it all? (And does she?) I asked her.
Since blogging and writing are things you do from home, how do you know when the work day ends?
When I first started writing, work meant only what Orhan Pamuk described in his recent Nobel Lecture. It meant you went into a room alone and spent long moments, hours, and years, trying to mine what you believed you had inside you. Frequently something no one believed in or cared about but you. It meant staring down your own self-doubt and weakness and fear every single day. It meant going 300 pages deep into a novel only to discover that 280 of them had taken you nowhere but the wrong direction–and then walking the hard road backward. And beginning again. It was the kind of work no one would undertake if they weren’t under the influence of some crazy compulsion.
Of course, it still means those things – and if a writer forgets that, she may find herself holding the world’s largest megaphone with absolutely nothing to say. But now writing also means blogging – which for me is pure play. It means networking, answering emails, promoting, being on fire with new ideas every single day.
So there’s the hard, lonely work of writing which ends when I meet my daily goal – usually three or four pages of new writing or a couple hours of revision. It doesn’t sound like much; but it takes pretty much the whole day. Some of my most important work is done when I’m lying in bed in the morning thinking, or hanging clothes on the line, or walking my dogs.
Some of it is done when I’m sleeping or despairing that I’ll never get it right or fixing another cup of tea and chastising myself for my laziness. But all the while, I’m navigating my way to the heart of the story.
Then there’s the play-work which doesn’t really end. I take “real life” breaks from it, but it’s still there. My computer is like a pot on the stove; something’s always simmering, and I’m always aware of it.
Do you have trouble clearing your head of characters and story ideas?
Once a genuine character arrives, they’re not going anywhere till they’re done with you. My characters become so real to me that sometimes I see them turning the corner when I walk down the street. I love them, get angry with of them, cut them out of the will, and never stop missing them when they’re gone. The only way my family can live with me when a character or several of them take over my life is to read the work and get acquainted with this particular band of hungry ghosts.
Trouble concentrating on work when the family is buzzing around you?
I do my best, most intense work when I have the house to myself, when I can pace up and down and talk to myself and then set down to do my daily pages without interruption. But I’m trying – and somewhat succeeding – to train myself to write in the midst of life. I’ve always been inspired by a story about Charles Dickens writing while simultaneoulsy entertaining guests, looking up to join the conversation then going back to his manuscript and writing a few lines.
I think we writers can get too precious and mystical about the conditions under which we work – only in a certain room at a precise temperature, at an exact hour of the day. Lately, I’ve challenged myself to produce even when my son’s playing his electric guitar, my daughter has three friends laughing in the next room, the phone’s ringing, and the dog’s begging for a walk. And surprisingly, I can often find a page or two right there in the midst of the noise and distraction.
Talk to me about guilt, about how the need to write and your love for your family bump into each other.
For most of my family life, I worked as a waitress four or five nights a week; and then I had to squeeze both writing and family time, and life into the hours that remained. I was often tired – and no matter what I did, I felt I was neglecting something else. Guilt was my own private rubber room; I bumped into it constantly.
Now that writing is my job, it’s much easier. When someone complains that I’m not paying enough attention to them or that we’re having leftovers for dinner again, I remind them that a year ago I wasn’t even home. (And then of course, I stop and pay attention.)
Tell me what you’ve learned about creating a balance between work and family, and what you still need to learn.
What I’ve learned:
Part of raising unselfish, empathetic human beings is to teach them to respect their parents’ work and their passion. It took me a long time, but I do demand that respect now – for their sake as well as for mine.
That, however doesn’t mean that family, real human beings, don’t take precedence over a bunch of demanding fictional characters. They always have, which may be why it’s taken me so long to get a first novel out there. There’s a wicker chair that sits beside my computer, and at least once a day someone shambles in while I’m working, plunks themselves down, and starts talking–about boyfriends, school, music, whatever’s on their mind. And no matter how engrossed I am in a scene, I put the computer on sleep and listen.
With any luck, my characters will keep following me around, challenging me to unravel their stories for years to come, but my children are young adults now; they won’t be slipping into the wicker chair for much longer. I’ve learned to savor the time.
What I still need to learn: In February, I will be coming out of my happy little writer’s cave, and spending a lot of time away from home as I promote the book. Since I’ve never traveled without my family before, that will begin a whole new balancing act. Yikes!
Anyone have any advice?
Patry Francis has published stories and poems in The Ontario Review, Tampa Review, Antioch Review, Colorado Review, The American Poetry Review, Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. She is a three time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and has been the recipient of a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council twice. Her novel, THE LIAR’S DIARY will be released from Dutton and Brilliance Audio in February, 2007. She has four children. And you can, and should, visit her fabulous blog, Simply Wait, as often as you can. All of you MySpace addicts can “friend” her right here.
Myfanwy CollinsDecember 13, 2006
I adore reading whatever Patry has to say–this interview being no exception. Thanks to both of you. Patry, I cannot wait to read your book.
Katrina DenzaDecember 13, 2006
Wonderful interview! Patry you are amazing! I’m looking forward to reading your book–it sounds just like something I’d love.
JulietDecember 13, 2006
Congratulations on the book, and much guilt-free success to you, Patry!
Ric MarionDecember 13, 2006
Great interview! I’ve been following Patry for a while now, maybe because I married a waitress. She has a wonderful voice and I’m waiting anxiously for her book to appear.
Tish CohenDecember 13, 2006
“My computer is like a pot on the stove; somethingâ€™s always simmering, and Iâ€™m always aware of it.”
Patry, you never fail to make me smile. I’d never have been brilliant enough to see it, but that describes my relationship with my computer exactly. Or maybe mine’s more like my hypothetical lover, since anything I put on the stove tends to bubble over and burn.
This past summer I met Patry for a drink in Hyannis. We wound up chatting for seven hours – much to our waitress’ displeasure. She’s every bit as delightful in person.
And if you haven’t pre-ordered The Liar’s Diary, you should do it now. It’s a beautiful, twisty-turny story that will shock you and stay with you a long time. I loved it.
Great interview, guys!
Susan HendersonDecember 13, 2006
Wow. You guys love Patry as much as I do! Patry, what you said about teaching your children to respect your passions is a great way to re-frame what has brought guilt to so many of us. I just wish I were as pleasant when my family sits in the wicker chair when I’m in the middle of writing.
KaytieDecember 13, 2006
Hey, are you the same writer-waitress who blogged about trashing your tired old waitress shoes? Or was that someone else?
Thanks for being here.
Regarding traveling without family–I’ve found (not by touring but by living far from family) that establishing a consistent time to call makes a huge difference. It’s something to look forward to on all sides. Maybe that’s not possible with book touring since you’ll have an erratic schedule, though…
Ellen MeisterDecember 13, 2006
Guilt was my own private rubber room; I bumped into it constantly.
I think I’m in love with Patry Francis.
Can’t wait to meet her characters and get to know them through her smart voice, wry observations and intense plot. So glad Liar’s Diary will be available in just two months!
patryDecember 13, 2006
Myf, Katrina, Ric, Tish, Susan, Ellen:
Jeez, how much do I owe you guys for saying all these wonderful things? Really makes me aware of and even more grateful for all the very real friendships I’ve made around the blogahood. I love you all.
The next time Tish and I get together for a seven hour chat in a bar, I want you all there.
To Juliet, a new friend: Thank you for your well wishes. Guilt free success sounds great, but I’m Irish. I’m probably a little bit in love with my own guilt.
Kaytie: Yep, that’s me. In fact, those waitress shoes are still hanging in my garden. Whenever I feel like complaining about the writing life, I just look out the window.
AurelioDecember 13, 2006
Another great interview, Susan.
Patry, I especially liked this comment of yours:
“I think we writers can get too precious and mystical about the conditions under which we work – only in a certain room at a precise temperature, at an exact hour of the day.”
Thanks for keeping it real.
Robin SlickDecember 13, 2006
Oh man, I adored this interview and your lines about guilt and family are fabulous. Yep, I’m a closet Patry fan, too, and also cannot wait for the book’s release.
And if Susan would enable us to post pics in comments, I cannot believe how similar our houses are. We both have exposed brick walls and peachy (kinda) colored paint on the others…beamed ceilings, and the same red tile floor.
By the way, I adore your book cover!
Robin SlickDecember 13, 2006
Susan, fix the damn edit button. I just used the word “adore” twice and I’m getting sick of being the village idiot here. Ha! (But at least I spelled it right)
Susan HendersonDecember 13, 2006
Hold everything! I was about to come here and comment, but what do I see?! Did someone here use the same verb only sentences away from each other?
(Robin, send me the photos and I’ll post them. You can ask Terry if he can undo the locks for photo posting, but I suspect he’s playing it safe so spammers – there’s like a billion a day that get caught in the filters – don’t have a field day.)
And I agree with all of you about your crushes on Patry and all her practical wisdom.
Sharon HurlbutDecember 14, 2006
What a wonderful interview!! Patry, I’ve been doing a lot of floundering between family and my passion for writing lately. Your words of wisdom have really brought things into focus for me. Thanks to you both for sharing your thoughts.
BethanyDecember 14, 2006
Writing with family tumbling around me? All. The. Time.
I made the decision to commit to my fiction writing soon after my son was born. When I was working from home full time WITH the little guy and no babysitter. In that kind of schedule–I had to write whenever I could. Even if it was during the 15 minutes I sat in the car before the baby erupted into tears for being tied down in a car seat.
Wonderful interview and great perspective on balancing life. 🙂 Can’t wait to read the book!
patryDecember 14, 2006
Aurelio: Thanks! Of course, I don’t always take my own advice. Just today, I spent about 15 valuable writing minutes trying to find exactly the right music to write by. By then, my coffee was cold so…well, you get the idea.
robin: I want to see photos of that house! AND you also have a musician son, too–so chances are our houses not only look alike, they sound alike, too.
As far as the repeat verbs, Susan can tell you how many “typos” I made. And besides, I rather liked the double “adores”. I was kind of hoping you were going to use it a third time.
PiaDecember 14, 2006
Hi Patry! What a great interview. Your book sounds fantastic. Does your family look at work in progress?
JulietDecember 14, 2006
Alas, the guilt. I must admit, I think that the minute we get pregnant, some extra guilt-chromosome kicks in. From that point forward, it ensures that we will be acutely aware of our lack patience, quality time, cookie baking skills and of how much better Suzy Goodmother is. And, of course, the certainty that every move we make will indeed screw up our children, causing them the need of much counseling in the future.
patryDecember 14, 2006
Sharon: I once read that Steven King only takes one day off from writing a year–Christmas. I don’t know if it’s true, but I doubt any mother could ever adhere to that schedule. For me, it’s cyclical; there are times when writing takes more than its share of my hours, and times when family demands totally eclipse it.
Bethany: Thank you! You are living my goal: “Writing in the midst of life”. Or as you say with the “family tumbling around you” (love that phrase).
Pia: My husband reads works all my works in progress, and offers lots of great suggestions–though I don’t always “appreciate” them at the moment. When I wrote The Liar’s Diary, several family members read along–like the serials of old. It proved to be great writing motivation because once they got absorbed in the plot, they hounded me to finish.
What about you?
LaurenBaratz-LogstedDecember 14, 2006
Thanks for this. I adore Patry Francis and can’t wait to read her book!
patryDecember 15, 2006
Thanks, Lauren. I hope you know the adoration is mutual!