Patricia Horvath is the author of the memoir All the Difference, forthcoming from Etruscan Press. Her stories and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals, including Confrontation, Shenandoah, The Massachusetts Review, The Los Angeles Review, and New Ohio Review. She is the recipient of Bellevue Literary Review’s, Goldenberg Prize in Fiction and New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowships in fiction and literary nonfiction. She teaches creative writing at Framingham State University in Massachusetts.
TBL Author Q&A Series: Patricia Horvath
This is one in a series of brief interviews with a diverse array of writers, editors, and other industry professionals. Check back over the coming months for more!
How would you say your writing career began? Was there a certain event, person, or creative impulse that guided you to forge your own literary path?
I can’t recall a time when I didn’t want to write, although it didn’t initially occur to me that writing could be a vocation. Growing up, I loved mythology, especially the Greek myths, their out and out weirdness. I also loved that there were powerful female deities, something I didn’t encounter anywhere else. When I got around to reading Little Women and how Jo March wanted to be a writer I thought, “Ah ha! That’s for me!” Later, as an adult, I was lucky in that I met people who helped me on that path.
What can you tell us about your creative process? Is there a daily routine that you follow?
I write early in the day, when my mind is fresh, closer to its dream state and before the events of the day have taken their toll. I write by hand and in the typing I begin a kind of loose editing that I then take through subsequent drafts. I write every day, even if it’s just jotting down thoughts and ideas in a journal, just to keep at the practice. That’s so important. Because I’m an academic I have the luxury of long periods of time to devote to writing and, conversely, times of the year when that’s much more difficult.
Your memoir, All the Difference, is due out next year. How would you evaluate your own experience with getting your work published? How has that shifted over time?
My book is coming out with Etruscan Press early in 2017. They’ve been delightful to work with, and I’m excited about having it appear in print. For me it made sense to work with an independent press given the nature of my book, which is ruminative and has to do with the relationship between disability and self-identity. When my agent was approaching commercial publishers we kept getting the same response: “It’s beautifully written, but we don’t’ think it will sell.” Of course that’s not the reason most writers write. If it sells, that’s great, but if I try to write with a market in mind, I don’t think the results would be too successful.
Your essay, “Patience,” was just published in the latest issue of The Massachusetts Review. In the essay, you tackle a very difficult subject matter with grace, insight, and even a bit of humor. Do you have a method or approach that enables you to write about something so heavy?
“Patience” is from a book-length collection of essays on the subject of caretaking; the essays are structured around the notion of the seven deadly sins/seven cardinal virtues. I organized it in this way as a means to get some distance from what is, for me, a vexed topic. That psychic distance allows me to keep sentimentality and self-pity at bay; as well, I can play with matching the tone of each essay to the mood suggested by the title. “Wrath,” for instance, is a kind of controlled rant and was a lot of fun to write.
Can you discuss the themes and topics that interest and inspire you most?
I write from what I term vexation and inquiry. Something is bothering me, and I have to try to figure it out, which I do through writing. Some of the things I’ve written about are disability and self-identity, caretaking, and the moral certitude that attaches to religious fundamentalism.
What/who are some of your greatest literary influences?
I write both fiction and nonfiction, and I’m interested in writers whose work in one genre informs their work in the other. John Edgar Wideman, for instance–the way he draws on his life in all of his work, asking complex questions, the great, propulsive energy of his sentences. The crystalline observations and wry humor of Virginia Woolf are hallmarks of her novels and her essays both. Lately I’ve been reading John Berger’s chronicle of French peasant life, “Into Their Labors.” Sentence by sentence they’re remarkable–lapidary–and, though fiction, the stories feel completely rooted in actual, quotidian life. You get the sense of a writer on whom nothing was lost.
What would you say is the most important element for crafting a personal essay?
Honesty. Ethically, one needs to be able to look at oneself with ruthless objectivity. This applies equally to other people you may be writing about, especially those people you may dislike. People are complicated, situations are complicated; it’s essential to try to address them in all their complexity. As Hemingway wrote, it’s important to know “truly what you really felt, rather than what you were supposed to feel.”
What can you tell us about your experiences as a creative writing professor?
When I’m teaching I tend to read with a heightened attention to craft–to how I will impart that to my students. I’m also aware of how what I read can be applied to a classroom situation. For instance, I recently came across a NY Times interview with Bob Mankoff, the cartoon editor of the New Yorker, who said the difference between an amateur and a professional is that the amateur likes everything s/he does. That made for a good discussion in my writing workshop, where some of the students were struggling with revision.
Is there a particular achievement or experience that has presented the most opportunity for your writing?
Personally, I find writing colonies to be very supportive environments. It’s so rare in life to be in a situation where people are dedicated to supporting one’s creativity–to be freed from all the things that can get in the way–shopping, cooking, the Internet, the phone… I’ve been lucky to spend time at Hedgebrook, The Millay Colony, and The Blue Mountain Center, all wonderful places.
What guidance might you give to writers who are just starting their careers?
Work hard. Develop a tough skin. Remember, “No” is a gateway to “yes.”
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