Stephanie: I would like to introduce Author Pam Stucky, winner of the BRAG Medallion. Pam, congrats on winning the Medallion! What an honor! Please tell me about your book; Letters from Wishing Rock.
Pam: Thank you! I’m so delighted and honored. In self-publishing we don’t have the nod of approval one gets automatically by being one of the ‘chosen ones’. It’s so affirming to hear that someone else thinks my books are great, too!
Letters from Wishing Rock (a novel with recipes) (“LfWR”) is the first in the Wishing Rock series. (I just published the third and final book in the series in March 2013!) These books are about the happenings in the small made-up town of Wishing Rock, Washington, an island town where everyone lives in the same building. I was inspired by the format of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society to write my own books (this first series, anyway) in e-mail format. Letters amongst the characters and their friends and families chronicle the twists and turns of the characters’ daily lives. The first story mostly focuses on Ruby Parker, a 35-year-old woman who at the beginning of LfWR has just moved to Wishing Rock after having been dumped by her fiancé. She’s in need of healing and quickly finds herself surrounded by a community of quirky, funny, wise but fallible people. Other characters get to share the spotlight, too, though, with a full cast of what I hope are really likeable people opening up about their lives. When it’s all said and done, the Wishing Rock books really are about community, relationships, and happiness, and about making choices about how we live in our own lives and with the people around us. With lots of humor and recipes tossed in for good measure!
Stephanie: I’m intrigued with the premise for your story and I’ll be adding Letters from Wishing Rock to my reading list. Is there a character you relate to in anyway?
Pam: I relate to all of them in some way, I’d say. Said E.L. Doctorow, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” In some ways, all these characters are me; in other ways, none of them is me. I do believe, though, that to successfully write a character you have to be able to understand that every character, every person, is the protagonist in his or her own story. To each character, what he or she does has to make sense. In that sense, you have to somehow be able to relate to every character in order to make them believable.
Stephanie: What genre does it fall under?
Pam: Contemporary women’s fiction, with a bit of humor, travel, and cookbook tossed in! I see so many indie books that don’t quite fit into one pre-defined genre, and I suspect in some cases that’s why they ended up self-publishing. Traditional publishers don’t always know what to do with books that don’t fit one genre. We indies like to think outside the box!
Stephanie: Contemporary women’s fiction is really popular. Strong female characters is one of the things I like to look for in this genre. Would you ever consider writing in another genre?
Pam: Absolutely! I’ll be tackling travel humor this summer and fall. I have a YA mystery-adventure-sci-fi-fantasy in the wings, and I’m also working on a book of humorous essays. I know I’m not supposed to diverge so much − it dilutes my brand, yada yada yada − but I have too many paths I want to explore, too many ideas to be tied to just one genre. My brand is me, Pam Stucky, rather than romance or sci-fi or travel. I’m just writing what I want to write. Whether that will work out for me is yet to be seen!
Stephanie: What time period is it set in?
Pam: Modern day. The e-mails are dated, even. The first book opens on February 14, 2010.
Stephanie: Was there a particular scene you found a challenge to write?
Pam: Two things come to mind. First, there was a scene that actually ended up on the cutting room floor, but which I resurrected and put into book two (The Wishing Rock Theory of Life). One character, Alexandra, is talking, and I can’t say about what or I’ll give away a surprise. Anyway, her experience in some ways is closely based on some of my own, and I cried for a week as I wrote the scene. I cut it from the first book because it just didn’t fit with the plot at any point, but there was a place for it in the second book so I put it back in.
The second thing that comes to mind is the challenge of writing in e-mail format. Little did I realize when I embarked on this format how challenging it would be. I stretched the limits of credibility sometimes, but generally there needs to be a reason why someone who lives in the same building as someone else wouldn’t just walk down the hall to talk to them, rather than sending an e-mail. I resorted to travels, conferences, too-late-to-call, and all sorts of things to separate my characters and give them a reason to write each other!
Stephanie: That sounds like quite a task you had with that format style. I don’t know if I would have the patience! How do your characters’ voices come to you?
Pam: When I first started writing a book, long ago – a book that has never been finished or published – I got completely stuck in creating characters. I finally realized that’s because I was trying to create them completely from scratch, and I couldn’t visualize them, couldn’t get the feel for who they were. Now, I’ll often start with the idea of someone – not necessarily someone I know, even, or know well – and then when I imagine the character, I’ll just imagine what I think the real-life person might say or do, and it flows more easily. None of my characters is ‘based’ on anyone, but some are ‘inspired’ by someone. One of the main characters, for example, Ed Brooks, is inspired by someone I only met a couple of times but who had a strong personality that I loved and built on, extrapolated from. Another character, Jake Stewart, is externally very similar to a guy I met a couple times – everything from his looks to his age to his career choice – but I knew almost nothing about the original guy’s personality. Still, having even the slightest base on which to build a character helps. After three books with the same characters, they’re like real people to me themselves so it’s much easier.
On rare occasion, when I’ve sat and listened carefully, some characters just opened up and told me their life stories, like it was completely outside of me. That’s the coolest thing ever.
Stephanie: There have been times I have struggled to find my characters’ voices. I think as writers we have all been there one time or another. What compelled you to write this story?
Pam: Several things. As I said, Wishing Rock is a town in which everyone lives in the same building. That was inspired years ago when I worked at an environmental consulting company. One day, a wetlands scientist came back from a trip and told me about a town in Alaska (Whittier) where almost everyone in town lived in the same building. “You should write a short story about that,” he said. The idea percolated in my mind for a long time before I wrote the first book.
So that’s part of it. Another part is that I occasionally get tired of all those books that are filled with dread, rape, incest, failure, poverty, all the hard stuff. Obviously those are real parts of real life, but life is hard enough and I like to read books that help me escape. I wrote the books I wanted to read. They’re quick reads – I’m a slow reader and even I can get through half of one of my books in an evening. One reviewer described them as “light without being frivolous,” and I think that’s exactly what I was going for. There’s a lot of thinking in my books, but there’s a lot of fun and humor, too. As I say a few times in the series, what we focus on increases. I wanted my books to focus on the positive things in life and in the world.
Stephanie: That is refreshing to hear you say; you want your books to focus on the positive things in life and in the world. I believe we need more of that. People should remember that stories we read can really affect our outlook and too many times we get so wrapped up in the negative we lose sight to the many blessings we have. What is your writing process and what intrigues you most about it?
Pam: I completely agree, what we spend our time on becomes our lives. I mean, think about it! What else could happen? The things you put your energy into, that is, by definition, your life. I want my life and my focus and my world to be positive, as much as I can make them so. I don’t always succeed but that’s the goal.
What most intrigues me about the writing process is how many people and voices stand over my head while I’m writing. I’ve come to understand there’s no such thing as writer’s block; writer’s block is nothing more than letting the fear of judgment stop you. Learning to sit down and write has been the greatest part of learning to write. That’s all you have to do: just sit down and write. Stop letting: the fear of failure, the fear of what others will say, the fear of success, the fear of not knowing what you’re going to write, stop letting all those fears stop you. Just write.
When I’m in my best ‘zone’, I’ll spend the evening sort of plotting out what I’m going to write the next day, and then in the morning I’ll write it. That works best for me. It gives my brain the evening and night to work on the ideas, and by morning it often comes pretty easily. The hard work gets done at night, when I’m better able to focus, and in the morning I just get it done.
Note that I’m not always in my best zone. 🙂 But I’m definitely getting better. When I started, there would be days when I’d congratulate myself on writing 200 words. Now, most days where I’m writing with focus I can write at least 2,000 pretty easily.
I’d say the hardest part can be coming up with ideas. I’m not really the girl who was always making up stories growing up. It’s real life that fascinates me. This is part of why my next series is going to be travel-related humor, non-fiction (the “Pam on the Map” series, coming to you this fall!). Real-life tales of my travels and the people and adventures I encounter.
Stephanie: What is your favorite quote?
Pam: Do I have to have just one? I have so many! I like quotations that inspire me to dream and to believe.
Stephanie: Sure! Go right ahead! I would enjoy seeing them all.
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
“To love is to risk not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain. To try is to risk failure, but risk must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.”
“Love life, engage in it, give it all you’ve got. Love it with a passion, because life truly does give back, many times over, what you put into it.”
“Twenty years from now you’ll be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”
Stephanie: Fantastic quotes! I’ve booked marked all of them! Mark Twain’s quote is probably my favorite among them. Pam, it was a pleasure to interview you and thank you so much for chatting with me. I hope you will visit Layered Pages again in the near future!
In 2009, Pam Stucky decided she didn’t want to reach the end of her life wondering whether she could succeed at a career in writing. She quit her ‘real’ job to try writing a novel, figuring that if it didn’t work, at least she would have tried. Now, she is delighted to have completed this three-novel series and is excited at what’s next: long-form travel journalism filled with humor. Watch for these books in the fall of 2013. Pam lives near Seattle, where she is furiously and joyfully working on several writing projects at once. Visit Pam at www.pamstucky.com.
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Pam Stucky who is the author of, Letters from A Wishing Rock, one of our medallion honorees at www.bragmedallion.com. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Letters from a Wishing Rock merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.
Edited by Dawn Lamprecht