Saturday, November 19, 2011

Razored Zen Interview: Patti Abbott

My most recent guest on Razored Zen Interview is Patricia (Patti) Abbott. Patti has had her short stories appear in a number of anthologies, and around the web. Recently, a substantial collection of her tales has appeared from Snubnose Press called Monkey Justice. Patti’s stories are known for capturing the essence of people’s humanity even within worlds of darkness. And so, I present Patti Abbott. (RZ represents Razored Zen and PAB is Patti.)

RZ: Tell us a little about yourself outside of writing. Hometown. Family. Job. That sort of thing.

PAB: I grew up in a lower middle class neighborhood in Philadelphia and moved to Detroit, Michigan at 22 when my husband, Phil, finished his Ph.D. and got a teaching job in political science at Wayne State University. As my children grew, I finished my degree, eventually taking a job at Wayne State writing newsletters, catalogs, web material, and brochures for the next twenty years.

My degree is in history and I didn’t start to write until I took a poetry writing workshop in the late nineties. Having access to a university probably allowed this to happen.

RZ: What made you want to write? Is it a desire that’s always been with you? Or was there some particular event or book that ignited the fire?

PAB: I have always wanted to write but lacked the confidence to try for years. My parents were the sort of people that discouraged ambition because they didn’t want to see me get hurt if I failed. They had very limited goals for themselves and for me. Better to be a secretary or work for the phone company (which I did for years) than try something so grandiose.

But some success in the poetry workshop convinced me I had some ability. Next, I won a chapbook contest and then switched to writing stories. My poems were really stories in verse so I was able to use them as blueprints for my first stories. I took four writing workshops with the wonderful Chris Leland and his encouragement made me begin to submit stories in the late 1990s. My stories were always dark, but the first dozen or so were basically literary. Sidebar: my mother changed her mind about my writing as she grew older and was very supportive of these ambitions, realizing she hadn’t encouraged me enough earlier.

RZ: Writers always get asked about their influences. Consider this that question.

PAB: I greatly admire the short stories of Alice Munro (the early ones in particular), Raymond Carver, Bobbie Ann Mason, Flannery O’Connor, John Cheever, Mary Lavin, William Trevor, Lorrie Moore, Eudora Welty and Charles Baxter. If I were to talk about my influences as far as crime goes, I would say Patricia Highsmith, Margaret Millar and Ruth Rendell, especially her non-Wexford work. That’s the tone I strive for at least. I like short stories that have a great voice, an unusual point of view. I am not as interested in plot. Complex plots are difficult to pull off in 4000 words so just as well.

RZ: Patti, I know this is a hard question to ask a writer, but tell us about your favorite story in Monkey Justice, and why it’s your favorite.

PAB: I think my favorite story in MONKEY JUSTICE is “Raising the Dead.” It’s the story of a female photographer who comes up with the unusual, if slightly repulsive, idea of taking pictures of dead men. I like the fact that she’s a difficult woman and relate to her need to find a way to express herself. To find a way to succeed artistically. I like that the story is set in Detroit and is gritty. There are no pretty moments in the story or the book. No noble acts. She does a rather shocking thing at the end of the story. It’s not something most people can understand, but I felt it was consistent with who she was. And perhaps who I am. That’s why I tried to turn it into a novel. The novel is able to develop her, her relationship with several men, and with the city more fully.

RZ: Writing can be hard work. What motivates you to keep going? What inspires you?

PAB: Age motivates me. The idea that time is running out and I have to cram as much as possible into every day. There have always been reasons why I didn’t have enough time to write before this year, but all of them are gone now and there is nothing to do but to sit down in front of the screen and write. I am inspired by my husband who will write anytime he has ten minutes to spare. He is my greatest inspiration and my greatest supporter. He has never once suggested I put my writing aside to do something for him. I wish I could say the same.

RZ: What are you working on currently? And what’s next for you?

PAB: I have promised my writing group to spend more time in trying to place the two novels. Twice I tried to find an agent but gave up after less than a dozen queries. Again I am up against my cursed fear of failure. Better not to try than fail. Better to let the novels wither on my hard drive until someone carts me and the computer off.

I am also working on about half a dozen stories and have about that many coming out over the next few months. I also should say here that I take my blog very seriously, especially the attention we pay to forgotten books. I also like to promote other writers whenever I can. These are hard times. I don’t have to support myself through my writing and am miserable for those who do.

RZ: Besides Monkey Justice, what other work is available from you right now, and where can readers find it? Is there a place online where folks could go to learn more about you and your work?

PAB: My website has links to most of my stories still online. ( I also have stories in the print journals DAMN NEAR DEAD 2, NEEDLE, CRIMEFACTORY: FIRST EDITION, BEAT TO A PULP: ROUND ONE and TWO, DEADLY TREATS, and D*CKED. And one in the new Ed Gorman anthology. Ed has included my stories in three of his anthologies and I am very grateful to him.

Patti, thanks so much for visiting Razored Zen.



Prashant C. Trikannad said...

"Age motivates me. The idea that time is running out and I have to cram as much as possible into every day" — Patti put that very well and I couldn't agree more with her. Her views were frank and refreshing. Thanks, Charles. I enjoy reading about writers and their experiences of writing, especially under pressure. It's like going to a writers workshop without actually going to one.

Deka Black said...

Parents discouraging ambition... How many careers could've been smashed by that?

sage said...

It's nice to see someone who overcomes early discouragements of parents and becomes successful later in life. Thanks for the interview.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Patti, hope you can overcome that doubt and find a publisher or agent for your novels.

Charles Gramlich said...

Prashant, I like running these reviews. I like the same things.

Deka, parents are human too, I guess. They have their own doubts and fears. And often they rub off on their kids.

Sage, thanks. I'm glad you enjoyed.

Alex, she's talented enough. I'm sure we'll see some novels from her.

ivan said...

I like Ms. Abbott's choice of short stories.
And good on her for producing "Monkey Justice", which I will have to read.

As for age, I am finally old, but thank God for the mania of writing, writing, writing (drinking and carousing)? in my youth. There was at least that investment,which only now, thirty years later is starting to pay off.

Truckers park their rigs. They walk over to me, "Hey, you're the guy who wrote that book about Newmarket."

It was almost worth it!

Oscar Case said...

Nice interview, thanks for doing it.

Chris said...

Patti is one of my favorites, and her Monkey Justice collection is fantastic. You won't spend a better $3 or whatever it costs for the e-book, and it's a real shame it isn't available for those of us who want copies on the shelf.

"Raising the Dead" happens to be my favorite story in the collection as well.

Thanks for interviewing her, Charles. It was a nice thing to read first thing in the morning.

Charles Gramlich said...

Ivan, it's always nice to be recognized, even when you're sober.

Oscar, glad you enjoyed.

Chris,I have the collection on my Kindle but haven't started reading it yet. I have read a number of her stories though and enjoyed them.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Go Patti. Go Patti.

Travis Erwin said...

As a long time reader of Patti's blog I knew some of this but still gleaned some new facts about one of my favorite bloggers.

Charles Gramlich said...

Terrie, amen!

Travis Erwin, I did too.

Cloudia said...

thanks, Charles

Aloha from Honolulu

Comfort Spiral

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Charles Gramlich said...

Cloudia, thanks for visiting.

Anonymous said...

Charles - Thanks for hosting Patti, one of my favourite author/bloggers!

Patti - I'm so glad you took that step forward from your poetry workshop. Your stories really are well-written and absorbing and I especially like your character development. I think it's interesting, too, that you have such varied influences. Folks, do try Monkey Justice if you haven't!

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks for the visits. And so kind of Charles to provide his wonderful blog as a forum.

Charles Gramlich said...

Margot, I'm glad you dropped by.

Patti, there will probably be more visits today.

Randy Johnson said...

Good interview. I really enjoyed the collection, some new to me. She's around so much, I;m not surprised i missed a few. I can get lax sometimes checking my favorite blogs.

David Cranmer said...

What a top interview. Two of my favorite writers and friends.

Charles Gramlich said...

Randy, I know what you mean.

David, thanks, man.

laughingwolf said...

thx patti, and charles... always good to know what makes other writers 'tick' :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Laughingwolf, yes, it's endlessly fascinating to me.

Steve Malley said...

I flat-out LOVE the title MONKEY JUSTICE! Just... love it!!

I can't wait to read it! :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Steve Malley, yeah, I wish I'd come up with that one.

the walking man said...

Don't know when I'll get to it but I purchased it because I do like Patti's stories.

Richard Prosch said...

Wow, good Q&A guys - very inspiring! Patti, I really admire your list of authors. Top notch stuff I haven't read enough of, especially Flannery O’Connor.

Charles Gramlich said...

Mark, I hope to have more reading time over Christmas break.

Richard, yes, her reading is far more wide ranging than mine.