Interview With Patricia Wiles, Part Two

In Part One, Patricia Wiles answered questions from A Motley Vision.  In this segment of the interview, Patricia fields questions from two admiring fans.  Saul, age 16, is interested in herpetology and is an aspiring writer himself.  Val, age 9, wants to be a naturalist when she grows up but has also begun writing stories.  Both kids enjoyed Patricia Wiles’s Kevin Kirk series tremendously and were excited to have an opportunity to ask her questions about her storylines, writing techniques, and … a few other things. 

Val: Most stories have evil people and/or creatures.  Your books have people who do evil actions.  What is it like for you to write about evil?

PW: In My Mom’s a Mortician, the scene where Chuck Stiller’s father beats him up was hard to write.  Just envisioning it broke my heart because there are children out there who do suffer in that way and I didn’t want to trivialize that by making it sound hokey.  The only way to write a scene like that is to make sure the reader comprehends the horror in it.  That made me uncomfortable.  I was concerned that some of that scene would get censored out — especially the part where Chuck has been beaten to the point he wets on himself.  I worried that the publisher would consider that too harsh for the market.  Thank goodness the publisher didn’t and they left the scene intact.  I feel that writing that scene with any lesser descriptions would have played down the seriousness of what was happening.

Early Morning Cemetery is all about false accusations.  And let’s face it — the world is full of people who for their own gain are willing to lie, manipulate, and ruin other people’s lives.  One of the GAs talked about this subject at a recent conference, to “beware the evil behind the smiling eyes.”  Children need to know this.  Fiction is a safe way for them to explore what can hapen if they encounter such dangers, and they can think for themselves about ways to get out of it.  For instance, think what Kevin could have done about Ruby.  Could he have reacted in a different way, perhaps when he first has his suspicions?  I’m not sure if he could have.

Val: In Early Morning Cemetery, is Reba based on a real person?

PW: No.  She’s one wicked number though, isn’t she?

Val: Why do The Kevin Kirk Chronicles take place at a funeral home?  Is there something special about a funeral home?

PW: People ask me this question more than any other.  When my husband was a bishop, he conducted and/or spoke at 18 funerals in six years.  We live in a small town, and he got to know the funeral directors here quite well.  He’s inquisitive and likes to ask people questions about their work.  After the funerals he’d ride in the hearse with the morticians and they’d talk about how to embalm bodies and other funeral home stuff.  So when I was trying to come up with a situation to write about, I thought, “What would happen if there was a boy who helped his parents with their funeral home business, and the school bully who’d been picking on him had a death in his family and they had the funeral there?  How would the boy react when, as part of his job, he had to comfort the bully?

Saul: Where did you get the inspiration for The Kevin Kirk Chronicles?

PW: For one of my sources of inspiration I’ll refer you to Val’s question about why the stories take place in a funeral home.  However, there are other sources of inspiration.  In the first two books of the series, fishing is an important element of the story.  A real friend of mine inspired this element.  His name, Herb Cox, is in the dedication of the first book.  Herb Conrad, Kevin’s fishing buddy, is the only character in the book that I based on a real person.  This is because Herb Cox used to take my son Aaron fishing all the time. (Herb also played “matchmaker” for me and my husband and helped my husband get amost every good job he’s ever had.) Aaron used to call Herb “the wise old man of the lake,” and these fishing trips had such a profound impact on him when he was young that I wanted the main character of my books to have that same experience.  I like the idea of young men being mentored by the older, wiser ones.  I know my son has been very blessed to have had many, many Melchizedek Priesthood holders take the time to teach him how to magnify the priesthood through home teaching, offering blessings, and other ordinances and activities.

Saul: I like your witty first person narration style.  Why did you choose first person over third person?

PW: This is an excellent question.  It just felt natural to speak in Kevin’s voice.  I don’t think it would have worked writing it in any other POV.  In a way it was as if Kevin was dictating the story and I wrote it down.  I’m glad you asked this because I hadn’t thought about this before.  I’m working on a paranormal YA novel with a female protagonist and I’m writing it in third person limited POV.  As I thought about how to answer your question I thought about this work in progress and how different the experience is.  I feel with this one I’m watching the action, but I know the protangonist’s thoughts and feelings — but not that she’s speaking to me directly as I feel with Kevin.

And no, I don’t have multiple personality disorder!

Saul: Where did you learn how to tell a story?

PW: I’m not sure!  I’ve tried using various outlining methods to “plot” my stories, but they always end up sounding contrived.  Somehow I manage to get into some kind of writing “flow” where the stories seem to evolve in a seemingly natural turn of events. I visualize them, almost like the stories are movies playing in my head.

Interestingly enought, I also dream in stories — knowing as I’m dreaming them that they are stories, or elements of stories.  I think that is so cool.  I am getting much better at writing them down when I wake up.

Val: I liked how Kevin recorded animal behavior.  Why did you have him do that?

PW: I think it shows Kevin’s meticulous nature and thoughtful (as in deep-thinking type) personality.  He’s somewhat of a loner, intelligent, and definitely not the most popular kid in school.  His journals are also a point of pride for him — something I play off of in Funeral Home Evenings.

Saul: Did you have fun writing the Kevin stories?

PW: Oh, yes.  The hardest part is getting the first full complete draft — a beginning, middle, and end.  The fun part is editing.  I love to edit.

Val: Why did you have Kevin adopt a kitten instead of a puppy?  Do you like cats?

PW: I am a major cat person.  I love cats!  If I lived alone I’d be one of those crazy cat ladies who has 80 cats in her house and buys 100 pound bags of Cat Chow at WalMart. Cats are so precious.  I have one and he makes me so happy, even when he bites my ankles.  His name is Bandit.  He is solid black with huge green eyes and was born without a tail.  My mom told me that if I lived in the 1600s I would have been burned at the stake by now for having a black cat in my house.  For some reason my parents call him a demon cat.  But I say he’s just misunderstood.

Saul: What sort of books do you read in your leisure time?

PW: I don’t have much leisure time right now. (Sigh.) I’m an early-morning seminary teacher, I work, I have a manuscript deadline approaching (the last book in the Kevin series), and I have another manuscript I’m working on in hopes I can get it published in the national market.

When I do have time, I read children’s books — partly to keep up with the market, but mostly because that’s what I enjoy most.  I just read Princess Academy. I also read a book I think you’d like — Samurai Shortstop, by Alan Gratz.  Alan is a great guy.  I know him through SCBWI.  He bought My Mom’s a Mortician when it first came out and brought it to our regional SCBWI conference and asked me to sign it.  He’s not LDS but he loved my book.  It was a big boost to me to know that he enjoyed it so much.  So when his book came out in May I made sure I got a signed copy.  It’s a riveting story and it can be kind of dark and violent.  But it is an incredible piece of work and I highly recommend it.

I rarely read adult fiction.  When I do, it has to be something that gets to me, like The Grapes of Wrath.  I like non-fiction a lot, though — something along the lines of Isaac’s Storm, maybe some biography or history.  It just depends on my mood. 

I believe it’s very important to read the scriptures daily, and I did a pretty good job of that over the summer when seminary wasn’t in session.  Of course, when you’re teaching, you have to read daily!

I’m embarrassed to say that the only LDS fiction I’ve read is one or two Jack Weyland books and David Woolley’s Pillar of Fire, which I loved.  I’ve not had any interest in The Work and the Glory series, and a lot of what’s in the LDS maket is romance or suspense, which doesn’t appeal to me.  I can appreciate the work and the talent it takes to write such stories and admire anyone who can do so but these types of stories don’t hold my interest.

By the way, there are no LDS bookstores where I live.  I didn’t see my books in a store until I went to Utah back in March for a book signing tour.  I’d had books on the market for three years and had never seen a single one in a store before.

Saul: Do you have any other books or book series planned?

PW: Well, I’d like to finish the last Kevin book and then write some other middle-grade or YA books for Covenant.  I’d also like to try writing text for a picture book for them.

I’m also hoping to branch out into a national market.  I want to do school visits, and I can’t do that right now with the LDS books I’ve written.  Since they are considered faith-based fiction, where I live I’m not allowed to talk about them in a public school setting (it’s the whole separation of church and state thing).  If I get a book published in the national market I can do school visits and talk about my writing.  Now that my oldest daughter is a school teacher, I’d love to do things like that to help her and her school.

These were great questions!  Thanks for asking.

Saul and Val: Thank you for agreeing to this interview! 

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