Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in In Bloomington, Indiana, which is where I was raised and attended school. I went to college at Indiana University in Bloomington, where I earned a degree in Studio Arts (with a concentration on illustration).
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
When I was twelve, I wanted to be an artist and an illustrator. I was always drawing in my notebooks when I was supposed to be studying Algebra. I illustrated all the books and stories I loved as kid including fairy tales and stories about princesses.
You can see some of my drawings here
As it happens, I also drew a lot of scenes from the Myth of Persephone. I loved the idea of Hades, the King of gods, falling so deeply in love with Persephone, the daughter of the Goddess of the seasons, that he abducted her and took her down to the Underworld. That’s why I’m really excited to have a book coming out in April that is a retelling of the myth that captivated me years ago.
When I was eighteen, I wanted to be a writer. I always loved writing, and I thought about studying Creative Writing at Indiana University. But I met a random guy at a party I went to in high school who told me not to study creative writing because in his opinion studying creative writing as a major sucks the love of writing out of you (he was a creative writing major, so he said he would know). I did not want the love of writing sucked out of me, so I followed his advice (however, I did take a few creative writing workshops at IU and I enjoyed them very much). Instead, I had the love of art sucked out of me by majoring in art. Years later I met that guy from the party again in New York City where I moved after college to be an illustrator, and we got married.
At age 30, I had published my first book called Where Roses Grow Wild (under the name Patricia Cabot) so I wanted to write more books. And I did! I still feel so lucky to be able to do what I love everyday.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
When I was eighteen I believed strongly that writing comes from inspiration. I thought you just got a good idea and wrote it down and – voila! – you were a writer. But the more wrote, the more I know now that writing is also really hard work. You have to do it even when you’re not inspired. In fact, inspiration is really rare, and if writers only worked when we had it, we’d all starve to death.
When I was a kid, I read far too many books for me to mention that effected me. Some of what I read included a lot of fantasy, such as Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series and the Lloyd Alexander Prydain Chronicles. I really loved some classics, too, like A Wrinkle in Time, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Lorna Doone, and the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. And I am a big fan of Mary Stewart, especially Nine Coaches Waiting, Madame, Will You Talk? and Thornyhold. I would say those books had a big influence on me and still do.
I know this probably doesn’t count as art, but I think it should: I really loved STAR WARS comic books. I don’t like it when people dismiss graphic art and illustration as not art. As an illustrator, I know what a profound influence drawings can have on people. I studied art history, so I certainly have favorite classical artists, too, like Ingres and Manet. But to me, it always goes back to STAR WARS (the original, NOT the ones with Jar Jar Binks).
I am more a narrative, visual person than a music person, so it’s better not to ask me about music.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
Sometimes you have a story to tell that can only be told in that narrative format. It can’t be drawn or filmed, only written, and it needs to be novel length. A friend described it as a shark biting you, and it won’t let go until the story is written down. It’s pretty much like that.
In my new novel, Abandon, coming out in May, Pierce is a heroine unlike all my others. She’s been through a lot, even though she’s only seventeen. She’s already died (and been revived), but she can never forget what she saw during the short time she was dead — and of course no one believes her.
Now she’s got to face life after death. But she soon learns it’s not as easy to start over as she had hoped, especially since the mysterious stranger that she met while she was dead — John Hayden — won’t seem to let her.
Pierce thinks she knows who John is and what he wants . . . and it isn’t something she’s ready to give him.
But she’s still drawn to him in a way she can’t understand.
And that might be what scares her most of all.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope they fall in love with the characters, flaws and all!
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Oh, whoa. I admire way too many authors to list here. I hesitate to list my favorites because I know I’ll leave someone important out! I love mysteries of all kinds, chick-lit, memoirs, fantasies . . . and I also love to read blogs and magazines of virtually every kind there is. I also read YA! I think anyone who’s written a book—or even an article—is amazing. I know how hard writing is.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I want to keep giving my awesome readers books that they want to read. If I can do that, then I will be happy.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Really, it is the same advice I have been giving them for years, but it hasn’t changed much:
–The best piece of writing advice I ever got is to try to keep quiet, listen only, and let other people to do the talking. You’ll be surprised how much this will improve your writing skills (and how many people will think you’re a really sage person, when all you’re basically doing is spying on them).
–If you are blocked on a story, there is probably something wrong with it. Take a few days off and put the story on a back burner for a while. Eventually, it will come to you.
–Read-and write-all the time. Never stop sending out your stuff. Don’t wait for a response after sending a story out…start a new story right away, and then send that one out! If you are constantly writing and sending stuff out (don’t forget to live your life, too, while you are doing this) eventually someone will bite!
–Write the kinds of stories you like to read. If you don’t love what you’re writing, no one else will, either.
Good luck, and keep writing! If I can do it, so can you!
Meg, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.