As part of my ongoing guest post series in this blog, we recently heard from award-winning author Patrick Holland, who spoke at length about the writing life. Today, it is with great pleasure that I welcome Patrick Wensink, bestselling author, with four books and many articles in several reputed journals. His recent book Fake Fruit Factory is as moving as it is funny. If you’re looking for a darkly comic yet poignant book that is full of intriguing and hilarious twists and turns, I would recommend picking this one up.
Patrick will be stopping by to answer questions and respond to comments, so please feel free to ask questions related to Fake Fruit Factory, to his writing and editing process, the writing advice he’s given based on Improv, and anything else writing/reading-related.
- What started you on your journey as a bestselling author?
I was 24 years-old-when I started writing fiction. I was a freelance rock critic for many years before that. Then, two important things happened. I was fired from my job as a marketing assistant at a children’s museum. During my unemployment I watched Chuck Palahniuk read. Before that I thought fiction was Hemingway and Dostoevsky, which didn’t speak to me then. Chuck was raw and exciting in a way that connected instantly. I sat down and spent the rest of my unemployed six months writing a terrible novel, but I loved it.
2. What are your preoccupations as a writer?
Death. Especially with Fake Fruit Factory. Death on a human level, for sure. But also the death of small towns in America, which have essentially outlived their usefulness.
3.You have a truly gifted comic voice. What makes good comedy—a good comic short story, novel, or play?
Thank you! It’s hard to say what makes a good comic voice. That’s what makes it so hard and I’m a guy who has taught several humor writing classes! I would say the key is to understand what you find funny or ironic or weird and having the confidence to put that on paper, but more importantly to put it down in a way that communicates the joke to readers.
4. You teach a very insightful class with Litreactor.com about writing fiction using the principles of Improv Comedy. Could you give any basic Improv tips that writers can use to generate stories?
Yes! I just did, actually.
- Have your characters avoid asking questions. Instead have them speak in declarative statements. Instead of saying, “What happened to your face?” Have a character make a statement, “Your face looks horrible. I knew going to the bar was a bad idea.”
- Have characters agree. It’s an easy trap (and a realistic one) to have characters disagree. We tend to think that causes drama. But actually it stalls a plot. Have characters agree and suddenly your plot goes to unexpected territory.
5. As a bestselling author, what pointers would you give a writer starting out?
Get rejected as much as possible. I recently had a student who was afraid to submit a short story to a contest because he was scared of the rejection. I told him either your story gets accepted and you feel great or it gets rejected and you start building this callus against rejection. I did the math for him and realized I have been rejected over 1,000 times by contests, magazines, editors, publishers, agents, MFA programs and more.
You get used to it and just continue forward, and assume it’s their loss. Not yours.
So my best advice is get rejected a lot and love all the bad writing you produce! I try and tell writing students who are frustrated that that frustration is a good thing. It means you are over the honeymoon period of writing. Now you are in the difficult day-to-day part of the marriage. That’s good. That’s progress!
I think Dorothy Parker said, “I do not enjoy the act of writing, but I enjoy having written.” There’s the reward for all your hard work!
6. For writers querying an agent: what should they look for, in your opinion, and what should they be wary of?
Be professional. As much as everyone wants this to be all about the art, you need to be professional when approaching agents. They love books, obviously, but they also feed their kids from selling books and it’s a business for them. Be courteous, be professional, research an agent to make sure they represent your kind of work and always be familiar with their roster of artists.
7. Tell us about your latest book: Fake Fruit Factory. What inspired you to write the book?
Let’s say “guilt.” I grew up in a small town in Ohio very similar to Dyson, OH in the book. And much like that town my hometown is kind of falling on hard times. Where it was once an independent community with its own grocer, dentist, doctor, clothing store, lumber yard, pharmacy, hardware, etc it now has a lot of vacant buildings and FOR SALE signs in the yards because larger cities are unintentionally clobbering small towns.
I saw this and felt guilty, as a guy who moved from that small town to a bigger city. I wanted to explore small towns and what makes them tick and ask the question: why are they still here and will they survive? Also, I wanted to write about a satellite crashing, desperate attempts at tourism and mummies.
8. What is your drafting process like? Tell us a bit about the process behind Fake Fruit Factory. Is there an interesting anecdote related to the book?
The most interesting anecdote would be that it was five years in the making. I write first drafts very quickly and full of passion. Then I look back and gag myself because it’s all so ugly. Let’s say I wrote the first draft in two months…I then spent the next four years and ten months editing, cutting and adding to the story.
I love putting a manuscript in the drawer for several months, pulling it back out and marking it to shreds with red ink. Whenever I find a bad section of my work, I love it, because it’s a chance to make the book better.
I think a lot of writers dread the editing process, but I think it’s something to be savored. Nobody is perfect the first time around. I think a writer’s real job is in being critical of yourself and knowing how to improve what you’ve already done. It’s also a stamina game. It’s exhausting going over and over and over your own work. I did at least 20 drafts of Fake Fruit Factory before I got it right. Maybe more.
Patrick Wensink is the bestselling author of Broken Piano for President. The book’s viral popularity led him to appearances in New York Times, NPR’s Weekend Edition, Forbes and others. The New Yorker once wrote one entire sentence about him. After which he had a heart attack. He is the author of four other books, including Fake Fruit Factory. His articles appear in the New York Times, Esquire, Men’s Health, Salon, Oxford American and others. HarperCollins will publish his first children’s book, GORILLAS A-GO-GO, in 2016.
Have Questions for Patrick Wensink? Would you like to read Fake Fruit Factory?
Patrick’s publisher Curbside Splendor Publishing will send a free copy of the book to one of the bloggers commenting below, so let’s have at it in the comments!
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