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Saturday, December 29, 2012

Author Interview: Patricia Vaccarino

Today I am pleased to present to you all the fortieth in a series of Author Interviews. Recently I sat down with the wind-swept, gardening, North-Westerner, Patricia Vaccarino, and our conversation went something like this:

Paul:  I like to start my interviews by asking if you have any writing rituals?
Patricia:  I have worked as a professional writer for so long and have to hit deadlines whether I feel like it or not, so I don’t really have any rituals. On any project, whether it’s an article or a book, I find that I am constantly scribbling notes, so when I turn on the computer, I already have a starting point, and I’m never facing a blank page.

Paul:  What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
Patricia:  I read constantly, both fiction and non-fiction, and usually have four or five books going at the same time. I have many favorite authors, so it is hard to only name a few, but here are three books that have made an impact on my life. As a child I was most influenced by W.H. Hudson who wrote “Green Mansions.” I think I fancied myself being able to live in the Amazon forest like Rima the beautiful bird woman. As a teenager, I was deeply moved by Victor Frankl’s rendition of surviving life in a concentration camp in his landmark book "Man’s Search for Meaning."  I think Frankl’s book gets at the heart of existential pain and how human beings have an infinite capacity to rise to a higher level that surpasses our limitations of what it means to be “human.” Later as a young woman, I was riveted by Morris West’s “The World is Made of Glass,” which tells the tale of Magda, a brilliant and accomplished women, who also happens to be a sociopath and in her youth murdered her best friend. She knows something is missing in her life and enlists the help of psychoanalyst Carl Jung to help her to develop a conscience. This tale is full of drama, sex and violence, and yet Morris West delivers the concept of the power of redemption with the mastery of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky or Zola. Morris West, who also wrote “The Shoes of a Fisherman,” is one of the most profound writers of the 20th century, and I feel that his work is largely undiscovered.

Paul:  If someone had the power to step into your creative mind what would they see?
Patricia:  When I was a child, I thought my mind was like the ocean. Vast and infinite in possibilities, my mind is calm and tranquil, or stormy: full of passion and capable of violent intensity. My mind is shimmering in the sun, forming rainbows through filtered light, or cold grey during the short days of winter. My mind is in a state of constant motion, making waves large and small and always favoring a distinct tidal pattern that is in harmony with the moon and commands power over the earth.

Paul:  What is a typical day for you? 
Patricia:  I start my work at 6am. If my workload is heavy, then I start my day about 5am. Many of my clients are on the east coast and I generally have calls scheduled as early as 6:30am. I have administrative work scheduled on my calendar for the entire year and add new projects for clients as they come up. Every day I write press materials, media pitches, blogs and posts to social media — this is the bulk of my work for clients. I spend a lot of time on the phone pitching press, talking to clients and managing my staff. Mid morning, every day, I take a ballet or Pilates class. I work every day until 6pm or 7pm.

Paul:  Do you have a favorite character in each of your series, aside from the lead? If so, which one and why? 
Patricia:  In One Small Murder, I have a special place in my heart for Babe O’Reilly, the priest in a wheelchair, who ministers to the homeless from her ministry in the Pike Street Market. Babe has been hurt badly in life and yet she has amazing compassion for humanity. I especially like the fact that she recognizes Liliana Sorrento as someone who has the courage to do things that other people cannot do.

Paul:  In all the years you’ve been publishing your work, what is the biggest mistake you made that you could share so others can avoid making it? 
Patricia:  My biggest mistake was spending any time at all dealing with literary agents. Over the years, I have had two agents and found they did little to get my books placed with publishers. I am delighted that the paradigm shift that has taken place in the publishing world has cut out the need for literary agents, and for that matter, traditional publishers. I think there is a renaissance in publishing. Anyone who wants to publish can do so without having to deal with gatekeepers such as agents and traditional publishers. The downside is that authors must do more promotion than ever to break through the clutter.

Paul:  How do you find the time to write?
Patricia:  I work seven days a week. I don’t find the time to write. I make the time to write. I write at the expense of doing other things that might be enjoyable. I can’t remember the last time I had Sunday brunch in a restaurant. I rarely go to movies unless there is something exceptional to see. I don’t have any other hobbies except for dance, gardening and cooking, and I write about all three of those things or incorporate those subjects into my writing. I don’t feel that I am sacrificing my potential enjoyment of other hobbies or pursuits. Writing is my passion and I am focused on this pursuit. It is not uncommon for me to turn out 10,000 words a week. This isn’t necessarily creative writing. Some of it is business writing for clients. The last article I wrote was called the “Wide World of Annuities.” I fit in my creative writing whenever I have an open slot during the day or on the weekend. I am constantly keeping notes in word documents. For example, I recently learned that the smoke shop in the Pike Street Market no longer carries Gitane cigarettes, which is what my main character “Liliana Sorrento” smoked in One Small Murder. She can’t get Gitane cigarettes in NYC either, so in the next book Two Dead Blondes, she decides to quit smoking rather than to smoke an inferior brand of cigarettes.

Paul:  What is one thing you hope I do not tell the readers?
Patricia:  It doesn’t matter what I say or what you say about me. At the end of the day, what matters most is what I have written. The words speak for me.

Paul:  Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Patricia:  Writing fiction is more challenging than writing non-fiction because I am creating a whole world that is not rooted in reality but must appear as though it is reality. The fact checking must be accurate in order to create a world that appears to be realistic. So I do both - I run with the ideas because they are the greatest source of strength in the creation of a story, but I also take the time to organize, plot and work with the structure of the book.

Paul:  Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Patricia:  I’ve been writing for the sheer love of it since I was a little kid. In grade school I was pulled aside by a nun who asked me, “Did you really write that or did you copy it from somewhere?”  I remember another teacher, Mrs. Chachkes, who also pulled me aside in the 4th grade but in this case it was to mentor me. She thought I had writing talent and she worked with me privately to develop it. I also remember a woman named Doris who was in my freshman college creative writing course. I always imagine that Doris-in-my-creative writing-class was actually Doris Lessing. Doris told me I had the writer’s radar. She said no matter what I did in life or what type of career I pursued I had the writer’s radar. The radar is a fine honed intuition that enables a writer to have a natural ear for dialogue and the ability to see all the other minute details in the world that other people do not see. Having this radar is what guides a writer to go beneath the surface and to find certain truths about the world that are not always readily apparent. I mention my early brushes with being told that I had talent because it is important to note that having writing talent is never enough. It is the time spent, day in and day out, that hones this talent. Writing becomes more fully-formed over time when writers put in the hard work, discipline and devotion to develop their craft. Writers who have worked hard to develop their craft know instinctively when a work is finished and when it is time to turn it over to a trusted editor.

Paul:  Do you have to do much research for your stories?
Patricia:  There is always significant research that is required for any piece of writing.

Paul:  What is your most recent book? Tell us a little about it
Patricia:  One Small Murder is the first in a new mystery series. Liliana Sorrento left New York City and moved to Seattle because her Sicilian Mafioso father would not make her his successor to the family business, even though she was the person best-suited for the job. In Seattle, she works as a Press Agent for the Governor. By night, she satiates her very Sicilian desire for power by engaging in her hobby as a professional dominatrix, where her client list reads like a who’s who of Seattle’s most prominent men. Her world is turned upside down when a rogue woman priest seeks her help to uncover the murders of a wave of young Hispanic boys who were in the Northwest illegally from Mexico. It soon becomes apparent that the killer may be one of Liliana’s clients, and that the maelstrom of sex and violence surrounding the murders leads to the highest echelons of state government, to Mexican drug cartels, and to connections all the way back to Liliana’s father in New York City. This tale is as gritty and relentless as the hard-driving Seattle rain and reveals the seamy, dark underside of this wholesome young city in a way that has never been shown before.

Meet Liliana Sorrento, who was raised with the instincts of an excellent business person and can kill as easily as she can save someone’s life. Although she is a natural born killer, she has a special place in her heart for the young, the honest, and the innocent. Meet Babe O’Reilly, a woman Episcopal Priest who is confined to a wheelchair and, from her chapel in the Pike Place Market, ministers to the hardcore homeless on the streets of Seattle. Babe swears like a truck driver and chain smokes hand-rolled cigarettes down to the nub, all the while maintaining the purity of a living Saint for our troubled times. Meet Attorney Henry Mancuso, a Calabrese Jew, who has a photographic memory, the finest legal mind in the state, and grows to become Liliana’s Consigliori. Meet Special Agent Lou Panek, who claims to be with the FBI, but disappears into the shadows whenever other law enforcement officials arrive on the scene. Together, these characters go down the road and live far beyond the tale of One Small Murder.

Paul:  What inspired you to write this book?
Patricia:  I had heard that Mario Puzo, author of the Godfather, modeled the character of Don Vito Corleone after his mother. I thought it would be wonderful to create a female heroine like Liliana Sorrento, who just happened to be a mafia don. I also thought it would be wonderful to create a character who is not bound by the usual conventions because she recognizes that quite often rules are made to benefit those who are in power and are inherently flawed or unfair to those who are not in power. Liliana has her own code of honor and abides to a highly developed sense of morality of her own making.

Paul:  Do you also write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories?
Patricia:  I wrote tons of poetry until my mid-twenties when I used to participate in the Castiglia writing poetry readings led by Professor Nelson Bentley at the University of Washington. The readings were always held in Kane Hall every Wednesday night and afterward everyone got together with Nelsen Bentley to eat pizza and drink beer. Through the years, a few of my poems were published in publications that no longer exist. Although I frequently write articles and long blog posts, I am not a fan of short stories and prefer reveling in the longer forms of both fiction and non-fiction.

Paul:  Do you have any pieces of work that will never see the light of day?
Patricia:  I have six feature film screenplays, two stage plays, and two novels that will never see the light of day.

Paul:  Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
Patricia:  I am not a fan of competitions and see them as money-making vehicles for organizations or individuals, which is why authors have to pay a fee to submit their work. I have entered my clients’ books into competitions because they wanted to have the accolades to get speaking engagements.

Paul:  How much marketing do you do for your published works or for your ‘brand’?
Patricia:  Marketing, PR and promotion is my day job. It is what I do for my clients. There are many ways to develop a strategy to promote one’s work, but the key is to keep in mind that brand building is a slow process. Brand building might seem like it is easy and as if it is a rapid-fire process because of the speed and instant nature of social media, but it takes a minimum of five years to build a brand. Authors need to keep in mind that brand building must be sustained over the long haul. I use my expertise to promote my writing, but I am also aware that brand building takes years of focus, hard work and discipline.

Paul:  What’s your favorite / least favorite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Patricia:  Funnily enough, what surprises me the most is whenever I write non-fiction, some people think I made stuff up, and whenever I write fiction, some people think what I have written is true.

Paul:  What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have any hobbies or party tricks?
Patricia:  I have a wonderful husband who reads everything that I write. I have three children who never read anything that I write. I love to build my business. And I love to cook, dance and garden, and take long walks even when it is raining and the wind is howling.

Paul: That was wonderful, Patricia. I wish you every success for the future.

About Patricia Vaccarino: Patricia Vaccarino is a working class kid from Yonkers, New York. After college, she traveled the country in a battered Chevy Impala to “See America” and landed in Seattle with only $300. She worked as a paralegal, and later went to law school. Her interest in law was rooted in her love for writing, so she began writing professionally--articles, copy, scripts, press releases, and was asked by Kaye Smith Productions (founded by businessman Lester Smith and Hollywood celebrity Danny Kaye), to do their Public Relations outreach—that was her start in PR. Later, she worked in PR across sectors, from government service to startup companies. After she established her own PR business, Xanthus Communications LLC, she launched a second entity PR for People® to serve people who need PR to build their professional brands. In her spare time, she writes books and articles, trains in ballet and enjoys gardening and cooking authentic Italian food.

Patricia's Website: PR For People
Patricia on Twitter: @prforpeople
Patricia on Facebook: Patricia Vaccarino
Patricia's latest book: One Small Murder (Amazon)

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