Writing fiction is a playground for the mind. I experiment with the experiences and relationships that make my spine tingle to whittle them down to size. For instance, Mibby, the widow in my Garden Gates Series, puts on a brave front to run her garden design business and take care of her son, but she sleeps in her husband’s T-shirt and lies on his shoes to freshen his memory. Readers comment on the depth and honesty of my characters. That may be because I’m of an age where I’m no long trying to be Princess Evangelical. Instead, I strive to love as my Savior loves and to keep my relationship with Him fresh and vital—and then write my little heart out. All of this is to say that who I am and what I believe is on every page. This is not unique to me. A writer can’t help but reveal their soft underbellies. The narrator of my work in progress is a seventeen-year-old girl trying to pry herself from her mother’s iron grip. I’m having a blast letting her lead me through the story. For 4-6 hours a day, I’m seventeen again. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
This decade, the quirkiest thing was walking around the International Christian Retailer Show in bright gardening gear, florescent Crocs included, to hand out flower pens to promote In Every Flower. And because I didn’t want to do this alone, my friend Sharon Hinck dressed up in a cape a la Becky Miller to hand out her own swag. It’s always more fun to be quirky with a friend.
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I was fourteen. I’d moved sixty miles away to a foggy beach town. I spent my days writing homesick missives to my friends. One of the girl’s mother said I should be a writer. Who me? All I knew of writers was what I’d seen in the movies. Inspiration strikes like lightning, the author pounded a typewriter from sundown to sunrise, resulting in a fat manuscript neatly stacked on his desk. The idea stuck with me, so I was a journalism major in college—the first time around—and an English literature major the second time around. When professors kept saying I should give a writing career a chance, I still didn’t believe them. Finally, my advanced writing prof made submitting a piece for publication a class requirement. The picture book is still unpublished, but I received the loveliest rejection letter. I taught school for four years, all the while playing with plots and characters as I drove to and from school. My mother insisted I attend a Writing Great Fiction class by Lauraine Snelling when she came to town. Lauraine helped me organize all my ideas and gave me a place to put my first step on the long road to publication. Finally, I was a writer. This story took place over an undisclosed number of years.
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
My first choice in reading is a slice-of-life story, rich in language and honest to the core. I read Elizabeth Berg, Annie Dillard, Jan Karon, and Marilynn Robinson. I also love a well-crafted essays on life and faith. Anne Lamott, Barbara Kingsolver, and right now, I’m reading a book of essays on writing—imaging that!—by writers who have spoken at the Festival of Faith and Writing. The essayists have certainly challenged me to ratchet up the quality of my writing and my focus on Christ. I just finished reading Sharon Hinck’s The Restorer. What a marvelous, layered story she has created. I’m going to dip my toes into more fantasy because of this great read. And I love historical fiction. I could go on and on.
What other books have you written, whether published or not?
I’ve written a picture book about a spring-time hike up a desert canyon that is still in the drawer. My three published works are the Garden Gates Series, Like a Watered Garden (a Christy Finalist last year), Always Green, and In Every Flower. The main character is a youngish widow with a 13-year-old son. She’s a garden designer. She meets the most amazing characters by tending people’s gardens. Readers tell me they laugh and cry all the way through the series as I open up Mibby’s life and relationships for the world to see. One reviewer described my writing as “faith with its working clothes on.” My work in progress is The Queen of Sleepy Eye, a coming-of-age novel of a mother and daughter.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
Oh my, this is a tough one. I use the Marilyn Monroe method—I just put my lips together and say no...most of the time. I can’t resist lunch with friends, which is murder to my writing goals, so now we go out to breakfast. I don’t watch the news or much television at all. I play in the garden, go for long walks with my dog, cook and entertain with my husband, and read. Occasional travel is a must, even for a weekend. Since I work at home, getting away seems like the only true break.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
I keep a list of interesting names, rummage through phone books, and take notes of obituary names with a nice ring. I held a contest for my WIP. The winner is a character. I’ll also throw names of friends in the text.
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Please note that I am not singularly responsible for the way they turned out, but my sons are amazing men. It took a lot of macaroni and cheese to get them to manhood, but they’ve arrived. They’re smart, funny, independent and loving people. Also, my dog sits every time I tell her to.
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
A dog, definitely. They are who they are with no sense of self-consciousness. They bark when they’re excited, run when there’s something, anything, that needs chasing. They’re always dressed for the occasion with no worries about matching socks or the need to iron. Food appears magically in their bowls, and they never have to clean up after themselves. Yes, I’d prefer it if they’d shake paws upon meeting another dog, but nobody’s perfect.
What is your favorite food?
Anything with garlic or sour cream.
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
I hinted at this earlier. I thought writers put it down on paper perfectly the first time. A writers workshop changed all of that. I saw other people’s sloppy copies and the changes they worked and reworked. Also, reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott helped tremendously. Who knew there was someone more neurotic than me out there? My office is covered with little birds to remind me to just write one scene at a time. Phew, what a relief!
What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
Consider the road to publication a marathon, not a sprint. Figure out where you are as a writer. Are you an expert or a novice? Prepare yourself accordingly. This can’t happen in a vacuum. You need feedback from professors or other writers who are a bit further along on the journey. Surround yourself with people who will give you honest feedback about your writing and believe them. When you’ve written something marvelous, take it to a writers conference for professional critiquing and to strengthen your calling.
In Every Flower explores the not-so-rosy road of remarriage and the courage and commitment it takes to overcome the pitfalls, all while your sixteen-year-old son is trying his best to undo your world. Sounds depressing, but it’s not. Mibby has a quirky, straightforward approach to life. She leans heavily on Christ and the friends around her. You won’t find any villains in my books, only people with conflicting needs—just like life.
How can readers find you on the Internet?
Come see me and hear me at www.pattihillauthor.com. I’m running a comfort food recipe contest right now. Please fill my mailbox with your recipes, even if they include Spam.
Get ready for an onslaught, Patti. Thank you for spending this time with us.
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