Do you have questions for #bestselling author Patrick Wensink? #writing

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 right away.

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.

  1. At what age did you start writing fiction? What prompted you?
Fake Fruit Factory Patrick Wensink
Fake Fruit Factory: Patrick Wensink

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 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.

  1. 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.”
  2. 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. 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: Bestselling author, teacher and Improv Comedian
Patrick Wensink: Bestselling author, teacher and Improv Comedian

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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Add Yours
  1. Indywrites

    Reblogged this on simmiharshita and commented:
    A bucket load of sane, sound advice. Especially in this month of #NovelWriting #NaMoWriMo

    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.

  2. Damyanti Biswas

    I would like to thank Patrick for the wonderful interview and for responding to comments. He has chosen Inderpreet Kaur Uppal (Indywrites) as the winner. Thank you Inderpreet, and everyone who commented here–this girl is Very grateful.

  3. syeda2write

    I happened to read it today and I would say that it really is an inspiring one. Made me look at rejection with a new perspective. I hope to face them as Patrick has advised. 🙂

  4. suryabhanu

    Thanks for the post. This is one of the places where one goes back enlightened. ..A bit.
    I would like to have some feedback on the following from Patrick
    How does one overcome the frustration of not being read or read enough.
    Is going for e publishing a good option from the perspective of the time, budget and access to publishers.


    • Patrick Wensink

      Sorry this took so long to get back to you. Tough question. I cannot speak for the industry as a whole, but I do not personally think e-publishing is a solution. The reason being, you might not work as hard on a manuscript to really get it as strong as possible if you have the option at any point to pull the trigger and be “done” with it.

      I think one of the biggest advantages to rejection and the traditional model of publishing is two-fold. One, professional editors are usually very smart folks who can take your best work and find ways to make it even better. Two, those rejections force you to keep tweaking and working and refining your voice and style and help you become a stronger writer.


    Thanks for sharing the interview, really enjoyed the post. You know that fear of rejection is a tough one to get over, but like he said. One way it may work out and be great, the other…you’re your own biggest fan 🙂

  6. Kathy Combs (@KathyCombs16)

    I founds your answers extremely helpful and inspiring. I think I have recently moved out of the honeymoon period and am finally in the mode to really edit what I write effectively and analyze what I think is good, and strip what I think is bad from the piece. It is definitely a process, but i think I am finally ready to embrace the process, which I think can only help my writing improve. Thank you for your insight. You are inspiring!

  7. macjam47

    I enjoyed reading this, particularly his answer to your question, ” Could you give any basic Improv tips that writers can use to generate stories?”

  8. alexandrastarbuck

    This is an awesome interview and extremely positive and helpful! Now I need to start racking up my rejections! And thank you Damyanti for stopping by my blog and liking my post! 🙂

  9. Denise Covey

    Hi Damyanti and Patrick.
    What a refreshing attitude Patrick. Characters agreeing. Will have to play with that! Lovely to read about someone who is into editing.
    Thank you.
    Denise 🙂

  10. Indywrites

    The part about living exiting is perfect.! Many times an exit has totally changed my post and made it better. I have been feeling the frustration of writing as Patrick has said and now I see it in a whole new light. Thank you.
    Patrick, how long will I need to channel this frustration till I find my writing groove is the question that worries me…what if i am struck with bad writing and even editing can’t save it?

    • Patrick Wensink

      Wow. Tough to say. That’s like asking how long it will take to fall in love! I can only speak for myself, so I don’t know how long it takes for others. All I know is that I really believed in what I was doing was (1) good and (2) could always be better. So I kept submitting and kept refining my work and took pleasure in it getting better even when nobody noticed.

      Eventually, by combination of luck and preparation, people began to notice. An online journal short story here. An article published there. I think that’s the point. When someone “Gets” what you are doing that pain starts to go away. Now, the hard part is aligning yourself with those people. That’s where it takes a lot of rejection until you find one another.

      It will happen if you stick with it. I am living proof. I have no special education or gift. I am just a hard worker who likes writing.

      • Indywrites

        Thank you Patrick, I will keep writing and finding my groove. Thank you for choosing me for the book. Had a laptop crash so could not check back earlier. You reply along with the book win is a double surprise and definitely a message to ‘keep writing.’

  11. lcbennettstern

    Thank you so much for this interview. I would like to share the two improv tips for writers that Patrick offered here on my author’s facebook page. May I have his permission?

  12. Shirley Muir

    well, I can certainly relate to the advice to ‘get rejected as much as possible’. I think I will make the Guinness Book of Records for rejections. Thanks so much. Perhaps I am not alone with my rejections…

  13. Dr Meg Sorick

    As a self published and unknown author, I’d like to ask: If I was to start sending out query letters again, how would I address my self published status? Have I blown my chances a t finding an agent? And how many query letters do you send before saying enough is enough? Thanks so much for taking questions! And thanks Damyanti for sharing!

    • Patrick Wensink

      Hi Meg! Great question. My advice is NEVER STOP SENDING QUERIES. Just keep researching agents/publishers that might handle the kind of work you do. They are out there, it just takes the stars aligning to meet each other. But it happens with patience.

      I don’t think you are ruined being self published. There isn’t as big a stigma with it today as there used to be. Especially if you can provide sales numbers in a query letter. If your book sold well totally include that because it tells the agent you have an audience. That grabs attention.

      Good luck!