Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Author Interview - Patti Sherlock
My author interview this month is with fellow Idaho author and Western Writers of America member, Patti Sherlock. Patti is the award-winning author of three novels for young people and three adult nonfiction books. Her many awards include the Merial Human-Animal Bond Award from the Dog Writers Association of America, Main Student Book Award, Rhode Island Young Reader's Choice, Lone Star Commended Young Adult Book, and was among Pennsylvania's Top Forty Best Books.
Patti's latest release with St. Martin's Press (April 2010) is a memoir entitled A Dog for All Seasons. It chronicles the years on Patti's sheep farm with her steadfast and brilliant companion, Border collie Duncan. Patti says on her website, "I've been fortunate that during most of my adult life I've lived in the country, where I shared life with a variety of animals." Patti still lives on a small farm, but no longer raises sheep, goats, chickens, and children. Her menagerie is pared down to three dogs and two cats.
A Dog for All Seasons is a memoir. What particular challenges did you encounter? What inspired you to write this particular story?
I rewrote A Dog for All Seasons more times than any book I've worked on. At one point, I complained to my St. Martin's editor that fiction ought to be harder because you make it up, but I hadn't struggled with novels as I did with A Dog for All Seasons. She said, in her opinion, memoir is the hardest genre to get right.
I got the idea to do a book about my Border collie, Duncan, when I was working in Las Vegas on a technical editing contract. I walked Duncan at 5 or so in the morning, and people stopped to meet him and ask about him. When I'd mention that he used to be my helper on a sheep farm, people got excited about meeting an actual working dog. At home in Idaho, herding dogs are everywhere; it had never occurred to me a working dog would be so interesting to nonrural people.
You've been promoting your book with a unique book tour. Can you tell us a little about it?
This summer, I took my tent and two of my dogs (one was too elderly to go) and hit the road, visiting independent book stores. The shakedown cruise in Utah didn't go too well, (I think the I-15 corridor sees too many writers) and I almost abandoned the idea. But I went on to Western Idaho, Colorado, and parts of Montana. I ran out of summer before getting to Oregon, and hope to do that leg if the weather holds.
Resort towns were particularly hospitable, and a couple of book stores even scheduled spontaneous events. Independent stores are struggling, as you know, from competition with the Internet and chain stores, but many of them retain the cordiality and customer service they've been known for.
In addition to making contacts, I got to fall in love with the beautiful Rockies all over again.
What or whom influenced you to become a writer?
I fall into the stereotype of the person who took refuge in writing as a young child because of lonely or difficult circumstances. My animals, and my neighbors' animals, meant a lot to me in childhood, and I wrote stories about and to them. I suppose it's natural that all but one of my books have been about animals.
What, to you, is the hardest part of the writing life?
I'm tempted to say rejection. I'd like to reach a point in my career when editors warmly accept whatever I send. Lots of luck, right?
Having an idea, getting consumed by it, researching it, and then putting down the story is exciting and satisfying. When you send it out and an editor says, “We don't find this sort of book does well for us,” or “Rewrite the boy character, and make him into a girl,” the disappointment is huge. What carries you through months or even years of work is the conviction that you've come up with a grand idea. If it takes a while to find an editor who agrees, that's tough.
But financial uncertainty ranks up there, too. It's worked out that I've always had enough of what I needed since I've been supporting myself with writing, but despite that, I manage to fret and worry.
What advice can you give to other writers?
Whenever I hear big-name, A-list writers speak, I'm impressed that most have this in common. Perseverance. For all of us who love writing, I think perseverance comes in as more important than talent.
Do you have something new in the works?
The agent who sold A Dog for All Seasons doesn't want to represent youth books, so I'm trying to find a agent who does. It's time-consuming. I'll be glad to get this behind me and go back to writing. I have another dog story in mind.
Is there anything else you'd like to share with us about the writing life, or about A Dog for All Seasons?
We writers tend to gripe about rejections, the market, distributors, Kindles and Nooks, and the decline in reading. But as a group, I think we're the happiest folks around. I can't think of a job that offers its practitioners such diverse experience. When you factor in that you just might say something that resonates with someone else, or (could it be?) even shed light on an issue, well, what could be better than that?
If you'd like to read more about Patti and her work please check out her blogspot, Waggin' Trails--On the Road, and her website.
Title: A Dog for All Seasons: A Memoir
Author: Patti Sherlock
Hardcover Edition: $24.99 (Amazon $16.49)
Kindle Edition: $11.99
Publisher: St. Martin's Press