Southern Gothic Comes to Boston, September 25, 2016
Pat with Rosemary Porto, Sally Bellerose and Jim Carpenter at Poggenpohl Kitchen Design Studio
Reading with Peggy Kassees and Rhett DeVane at Black Dog on the Square, Tallahassee, FL, May 5, 2016. The photographs were taken by Bob O’Lary.
Interview: Pat Spears
Jane Member Pat Spears‘ new novel, It’s Not Like I Knew Her, is scheduled for release by Twisted Road Publications on August 15. A story of reconciliation and self-knowledge, the novel follows Jodie Taylor who, at 18, in 1956, she runs away from the abuse and isolation of her life in North Florida, and finds herself serving racists in a cafe in Selma, Alabama.
Where did the idea for It’s Not Like I Knew Her come from?
While It’s Not Like I Knew Her is not autobiographical, I am roughly the same age as my protagonist, Jodie Taylor. And although I experienced none of the childhood brutalities she suffered, I knew the emotional and psychological burden of maintaining constant vigilance after having been labeled “peculiar.” Early in the book, an incident with a neighbor girl results in Jodie being told by her mother, Jewel, “Lord, baby girl, it’s starting to look like you’re going to need to take up far less space in this world. Double up on them clever lies you’re so damn good at. That’s if you figure on staying alive.”
As a teenager, I sat many an evening on pilings, watching the sun withdraw beyond St. Joseph Bay, and tried desperately to imagine a future from nothing at all. Everywhere I dared to search there were no stories that promised me a place in the world. My deepest longings were condemned as insane. I shared Jodie Taylor’s anger and despair, and her fear of being discovered.
So much of LGBTQ history has remained only with us, and I want to share our stories with others who wish to understand our history more completely. The damage of silence; our fears of sharing our lives, thus denying our full humanity, separating ourselves from those we are sure can’t love us. The result, I believe, is something akin to abandonment of self or soul. Jodie remarks that she made of herself a ghost. I have felt this, and I believe many others have as well. To deny our true self is to deny our full humanity.
Has going through the process of publication changed your writing process?
No, my writing habits are much the same. I write best in the early hours of day, and when I am working on a new project,whether it’s a short fiction piece or a novel, I’m at my computer by six or six-thirty, my first cup of coffee in hand, and I work straight through for the next three to four hours. Longer if it isn’t one of my two weekly workout mornings.
My inclination is to hide in the comfort of my writing space, and spend all my time writing. But publishing requires that we make ourselves available, and I find that when I do get with readers, and other writers, I enjoy reading from my work and visiting about books.
Have you any suggestions on finding a publisher for fellow Janes?
I think it begins with writing your passion–the story, memoir, or novel you are driven to tell. Accept that when you have a first draft, and you think you are done, you are most likely only beginning the work that’s going to make your project competitive. Next is the crucial work of reading and revising your work, and I recommend reading it aloud. In my experience, it is through the revision process that I discover the story I truly meant to write. If you don’t already know a professional developmental editor you trust, research and talk with fellow authors who might help you identify one. Do not ask your sister-in-law or even a fellow writer. We make terrible editors. Most of us will want to take control of your story and write the one we imagine.
When your manuscript is as good as you can make it, and a copy editor has worked it over, then begin the process of identifying an agent, if you intend to submit to one of the large, mainstream publishers. If not, then research independent publishers, and find those who publish the type of book you’ve written and who are willing to look at work submitted without an agent.
What’s coming up on your horizon?
I will spend a portion of the summer and fall promoting the book, but I will also make time to continue writing. I am in the early, early, stage of playing with characters, language, and point of view based on nothing more than a line of dialogue that came to me in a dream –“it’s what I do, not who I am.” I’m imagining a homeless mother with two young daughters, the mother suffering from bipolar disorder. Part of her story is a belief that if she and her daughters can find a way to get to St. Marks, a wildlife refuge near where I live, to welcome migrating whooping cranes on their spring arrival, she will receive their special blessing and their shattered lives will be made straight again.