Demi: Your first novel Winged Victory is set in the Cold War era on Martha’s Vineyard. What inspired you to set the work in that time period?
Mary Pat: I wrote the original draft of Winged Victory in 1983. It was June and I had just given birth to my second child. I got up every morning and wrote at 5AM until the family awoke. Each night I worked out the next chapter as I sat in a dark nursery nursing my daughter.
I worked on drafts on and off for the next thirty years. I’ve always been a newspaper reader, and I’ve always clipped interesting stories. I think the original plot hook came from an incident on Martha’s Vineyard where my family has a home. A Russian fishing trawler lost a box of fishing labels that landed on our beach. From there the idea hatched: what if the Russians were up to something nefarious?
The prologue really has little to do with the rest of the story but I had an interesting clipping about the Russian-American Siberian Trout Unlimited organization and weaved it into the story. I studied Swahili in college as a linguistics major so I had to show off with a bit of Swahili which evolved into the main character’s motivation.
At the time there was no internet or Google and I researched from the local library where they kindly sent for articles from the United Nations and other places. It’s probably a good thing as I wouldn’t want to be researching how to put a bomb on a missile today.
Through the drafts I settled on 1994 after the Soviet Union collapsed. The ending didn’t develop until 2012. I didn’t intend to write a sequel, and perhaps it’s not, but I can’t let go of my Russian dissident and have been busy clipping articles about the current state of Russian-American relations. I don’t seem to have ready access to the muse that led me through my first novel, so I am trying to plot out this novel before I begin to write. I don’t think I can spend thirty years on this one, but it will take a few years and that’s okay with me.
Demi: At almost the same time as Winged Victory’s release, you launched a children’s picture book. How was that creative process different than the novel?
Mary Pat: As I went through the arduous process of fact checking and rewriting, I needed an escape from the genre. My grandson has been my muse and he dressed as a wolf for Halloween when he was two. I decided, thanks to Demi’s wonderful video course on How to Write a Children’s Story, I was ready for cut and paste. I mapped out the story, found an awesome illustrator, Vicki Friedman, and truly enjoyed the process of writing the children’s book.
Curiously, years ago I had gone to a psychic who told me I would be a children’s book author. I dismissed the idea.
I don’t think there’s anything harder to write than a good children’s story and children are the most demanding of audiences. Just ask my grandson who, when I asked him at age four if we could read my book You Want to Be WHAT for Halloween, he replied, “I’d rather not. I don’t think it’s very interesting.” I’ll have to get back to him for an interview. He did, however, give me the idea for my next children’s book Can You Taste the Light when he stuck a flashlight in his mouth. Ideas are all around us if we look and listen. And clip.
Demi: Do you have any suggestions for people who say they have “writer’s block”?
Mary Pat: The best advice for writer’s block is from Robert Gottlieb, editor at the New Yorker and Knopf, who said, “If you can’t write, just type.” And from Demi Stevens who says, “Write for 15 minutes a day.” It works. You say you can’t write and you give it fifteen minutes of typing… and before you know it, hours have passed and you’re on your way.
Demi: Rumor has it you have a love/hate relationship with your computer. Can you give other writers who might be fighting ‘Against The Machine’ one inspiring nugget you discovered?
Mary Pat: I have a difficult time with computers. My server is not so good and usually erases anything I write on it after a few lines, or freezes. I have a computer that is not attached to the internet and that is where I happily write. Nothing is lost. I have been told many authors do write like that, however, obviously it limits my ability to communicate with other writers.
Follow Mary on Facebook and Amazon: www.facebook.com/marypat.houghgreene,