As Midsummer’s Eve approaches, it’s a fine time for focusing on tales of friendship and adventure that can transport us “beyond the fields we know.” I’ve just been reading one such, and I’m here to introduce you to its creator. Joining us for an exclusive interview is Patrick Doud, author of The Winnitok Tales, a young-adult fantasy series of which the first two volumes have been published by North Atlantic Books. The books thus far available are The Hunt for the Eye of Ogin (2010) and The Mornith War (2011). As a delighted reader, I can personally vouch for the outstanding work Patrick delivers. The following are my own words, which appear as an endorsement on the back cover of the second book:
- Volume One of THE WINNITOK TALES
The amazing cover art for the books is by August Hall, with book and cover design by Paula Morrison. Here’s Volume Two, just released:
Volume Two of THE WINNITOK TALES
There are also some links you should know about. Patrick’s blog can be found at www.patrickdoud.com. And there’s a special site for the series itself at www.winnitoktales.com. Also, you can watch video interviews with Patrick:
That was a recent one, upon the release of the second book. Here’s the earlier one, for his first book:
And now, on to our main event! Here is the interview that Patrick graciously agreed to do for us:
FSD: Your love of nature is quite apparent in your books. Do you feel that the natural world in some ways inspires the plots? Please tell us anything you’d like to about how nature influences you, the writer.
PD: There are quite visible ways the natural world becomes a part of the plot, like the poison ivy and the mountain laurel in Ogin, or the wild grapes growing in the pine grove in Mornith. Vegetable life, land forms, weather… all interest me, and all may have an effect on plot.
I like stories where plot and setting are inextricable, and the kinds of settings I tend to like best are wild or rural.
When I was a kid in Western New York, one way I endured many long car rides from Buffalo to Syracuse and back visiting family was by watching the woods and farms on either side of Interstate 90, imagining things happening in the places we passed. I still do that.
FSD: Have you ever spent the night in an actual swamp? After reading Ogin, I am convinced that you have!
PD: I’m glad to know that was convincing! But I’ve never actually spent a whole night in a swamp, not that I recall anyway. Sleeping in a tent in the woods when I was an adolescent, I did hear noises that terrified me. I’m sure that experience found its way into The Winnitok Tales.
FSD: Before you turned to fiction, your publishing career included some volumes of poetry: Girding the Ghost, The Man in Green, and Hickory Bardolino Poems. In your fiction, we readers get to “hear” poems and songs that your characters sing. But it’s not only that — poetry seems to enliven your work on a deeper level. Can you tell us something of how you view the relationship between fiction and poetry?
PD: That’s difficult. Each gives to the other and takes from the other, but it seems like poetry gets a lot more out of their relationship.
FSD: Do you have any particular methods for choosing the names of characters and places? Do they come easily to you?
PD: Sometimes a name finds me, but much more often I have to find it. My usual method is to make a list, usually variations on a proto-name, rejecting possibilities as I go.
FSD: I love to hear about writers’ work spaces and equipment. Do you have favorite places to write, and any favorite writing tools?
PD: My study is the main place. Desk, pc, books, reading chair, a couple of windows… I make use of them all regularly while working, and it’s not easy to move all those elements around or recreate them somewhere else.
Another favorite place to write is the woods near my house. It’s a good place to get ideas. I scribble on scratch paper in the palm of my hand, then transfer it all to composition books later.
One of my oldest and dearest tools is a battered Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, a gift from my parents when I graduated high school. For deeper queries I have the one volume, magnifying glass-required OED.
The writing place I remember most fondly: a very old trailer on the eastern shore of Otisco Lake, in Central New York. In the mid-nineties I would go there to write for several days at a time.The beauty and relative isolation of the place were both very good for work.
FSD: When you are working on a book, what is your writing schedule like?
PD: Ideally I start in the morning after breakfast and a little reading, and keep going until my mind is too tired to do good work. Often that’s not possible, of course, and I just have to write whenever I can.
FSD: Did you have to do any research or learn about something new in order to write The Winnitok Tales?
PD: At the beginning I spent time looking deeper than I had before into North America in the time before Europeans came here, and also in the time after they came but before they completely took over. William Bartram’s Travels, James Wilson’s The Earth Shall Weep, and William Cronon’s Changes in the Land were three very useful books. I remember getting a lot out of John Hanson Mitchell’s books Trespassing and CeremonialTime, and Tom Wessels’ Reading the Forested Landscape. It happened that Bernd Heinrich’s Mind of the Raven was published just after Booj first flew into the story. Ravens seem to shun the places where I’ve spent most of my life, so I relied on that book a lot.
FSD: One real strength that sets your books apart from so many fantasies is the original and beautifully-developed characters. They’re not copies of the Tolkien archetypes. How do you go about creating characters?
PD: Why, thank you! I don’t have any system or series of steps by which I create characters, at least not that I’m conscious of. For me, story is primary, character is secondary. If I follow the story, the characters fall into place; if the story proceeds as it should, the characters naturally do likewise. [FSD: I just have to insert this thought: Remember what Garth Nix said at World Fantasy? He said he discovers the characters as he writes the book — as he watches and listens while they react to what happens to them, as they strive to overcome the challenges thrown at them by the plot. I really liked that thought, because it’s the way I do it, too. And it’s contrary to what many writers say about how you have to get the characters all figured out in minute detail before you ever start writing.]
FSD: What draws you to fantasy as a genre?
PD: One appeal is the way fantasy worlds put our own world in perspective. Our imagined worlds are made from parts of the world we all live in, and in a funny way, they help us look at this world with unfamiliar eyes. To make a world equal to ours would require infinitely more imagination than any of us fantasists could ever hope to wield.
FSD: How is writing young-adult fiction different from writing for adults?
PD: Other than the obvious restriction — the story cannot go anywhere that most people would consider inappropriate for teenagers — I think very little is different.
FSD: What was the greatest challenge in writing The Winnitok Tales? Is it true what so many say about the second novel being harder to write than the first?
PD: One of the greatest challenges was deciding whether or not to write them at all. I’ve always loved fantasy, but for some years before beginning The Winnitok Tales I was part of a writing culture which either disdains genre fiction, or enjoys reading genre fiction but does not write it. I was very conscious that it would be an odd move — in my own eyes as well as everyone else’s.
As for the question of whether or not the second novel is harder: in my case it may have been easier. For one thing, Mornith is a continuation of the story begun in Ogin, so I had already had a foundation to build on.
FSD: Would you be willing to relate for us one of the best moments in your writing life so far?
PD: One of the best moments came when I was rewriting Ogin. I suddenly realized I had an essential part of Elwood’s story all wrong, and how to make it right. It was something I hadn’t even seen as a problem before. Revelation followed by a period of euphoria.
FSD: At what point do you let other people read a new manuscript?
PD: Usually once I have a sense that I’ve taken it as far as I can on my own.
FSD: To what extent do you plan or outline a book?
PD: For Mornith I wrote a summary of each chapter before I began the first draft. Writing Ogin, my approach was much less organized: the book began as a pile of notes. I will probably follow the chapter summary plan with the third.
FSD: What draws you to the novel over the short story?
PD: It’s not that I prefer one or the other; it’s just that up to now, stories coming my way have been long. I’m excited to see how short stories may contribute to the world of Ehm by dealing with times and places that are not Elwood’s.
FSD: For how much of your life has the world of Winnitok been in your imagination? How far back does it go?
PD: The very first image, the image of Elwood and Drallah meeting in the woods of Winnitok, came in 1999. So that’s about a quarter of my life so far.
FSD: Another thing you and I have in common is that you’re also a fantasy role-playing gamer. Tell us about gaming and writing. Has there been any crossover? (Have you developed ideas for a game campaign that you eventually used in your fiction, etc.?) Does your gaming background help you as a writer? Does it hinder you in any way?
PD: In the late 70’s and early 80’s, on either side of the age of twelve, there definitely was crossover between gaming and writing for me. I don’t remember taking anything specific from one sphere to place in the other, but I do recall filling notebooks with words and maps, with parts of other worlds; some of these were for play, some to read — but all were fantasy. I still draw on memories of those formative years when I write. If that era hinders my writing, I’m unaware of it.
FSD: I am really impressed with the way you handle violence in Ogin. It’s not cartoon violence. It has a psychological cost for the characters who are involved with it. Are violent action scenes hard to write?
PD: It is hard for me to write violence — to the point that I’m uneasy about having the word “war” in the title of my book. There’s a part of me that’s horrified by real violence, and another that’s entertained by imaginary violence. I see the difference between the two, but also their relation. I’m beginning to understand that the violence in The Winnitok Tales is, in part, me working through this problem.
FSD: Do you have any amusing rejection stories you’d care to tell us? (An editor once told me a story I’d sent him was “much ado about nothing.” Another told me to “learn standard punctuation.”)
PD: Unfortunately all my rejections to date have been standard, boring. (I wonder about the editor who told you to learn punctuation! Your punctuation is of course impeccable. Indeed, I’m counting on you here to make mine look good!) [FSD: Thank you, but I don’t deserve such kind words. I know my use of English (punctuation included) can be quirky. But the longer I’ve been writing, the more I’ve found this to be true: there are style books that will agree with you, and style books that will disagree, and both are respectable books. Editors and houses have their own styles (and prejudices), too. True story: I’ve had my “hooves” changed to “hoofs” by one excellent editor, then back to “hooves” again by another. I think the best course is not to lose sleep over it, but to strive always to communicate clearly and to be consistent — and the greater of these is to communicate. There were — what was it? — about four different spellings of the name “Shakespeare” recorded on different documents in the Bard’s lifetime . . . whoever he really was!]
FSD: What was the best writing advice you ever received?
PD: Among the best: a poet friend advised me to stop rewriting a poem I had already rewritten many times, and instead address whatever I was dissatisfied with in that poem with a new poem.
FSD: Do you listen to music while you write?
PD: Almost always. Usually symphonic music, without voices. When I’m deep in the work I’m not conscious of it at all.
FSD: Can you remember your earliest attempts at writing, probably when you were a child? What did you write about?
PD: The earliest completed story I can remember was for school. It was about a group of boys who build a raft, dress as pirates, and go out on the river looking for a rival group of boys who are doing the same thing.
FSD: What would you say is the reason you write? What do you hope to accomplish through your writing?
PD: Writing is an urge, a desire to make; like the drive to reproduce. My hope for what I write is that readers will find in it a place they like to go.
FSD: Patrick, thank you very much!
PD: Thank you, Fred! It’s been an honor and a pleasure.