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Interview with Patricia Briggs
Interview by Tina Morgan

 

Join Fiction Factor as we talk to Patricia Briggs, the bestselling author of the Mercy Thomspon series.

 

Fiction Factor: What are you working on now?

Patricia Briggs: I just finished copyedits for "Seeing Eye", a short story that will appear in St. Martin's Strange Brew, an anthology about witches.  I'm currently writing the next Alpha and Omega book, Hunting GroundAnd as soon as I finish that, it's back to Mercy in Silver Borne, which will be Samuel's book -- at last.  Also in the book, Mercy finds that returning a book she borrowed won't be as easy as it should.


FF: Will "Hunting Ground" cover the back story of what happened to Anna in Chicago prior to the events in "Cry Wolf"?

Patricia Briggs: No.  There is a story that does some of that -- "Alpha and Omega" in the Ace anthology, On the Prowl, tells how Anna and Charles meet.  The short story is also available by itself in an electronic format.  I'm not planning on going farther back and telling the story of how she became a werewolf (it's depression, for one -- and prequels are notoriously hard to get right, for another).
 

FF: Do you write your stories according to a pre-organized plotline?

Patricia Briggs: Sometimes <grin>.  Sometimes not.  I usually have an idea about the story when I start, some issues I want to cover, some scenes I think I'll put in -- but nothing too concrete.  I prefer to draw up characters, give them a problem or two-- and throw them all together and see what they do.  Of course, sometimes that means I throw away a lot of pages, but it makes the story more fun for me to work on -- and I hope less predictable.
 

FF: What was the best piece of advice you've received with respect to the art of writing? How did you implement it into your work?

Patricia Briggs: I've been given a lot of good advice over the years.  One that I found very useful was from Jerry Oltion who reminded me that a protagonist has to act.  Even if (especially if) there is nothing they can do.  They have to try to change things.  Passive characters are difficult to connect to.  There are some instances (Orwell's 1984) that they are useful -- but generally, protagonists should play an active part in the story.
 

FF: Have you ever suffered from writer's block and if so, how do you overcome it?

Patricia Briggs: There are a lot of variants of writer's block.  Infamous is the "middle doldrums" where all the characters have been introduced, the plot has been implemented -- and you have two hundred pages to get to the end.  Getting over that one is largely a matter of experience and it seldom bothers me anymore.  The most useful thing for dealing with it is to send the protagonist out to deal with the problem (Plot!) and fail or make the situation worse. There are other tricks, but a lot of them are personal -- or dependent on the book you're writing.  

A second type, which still plagues me, is when you know what you want to write, you sit down to work -- and end up staring at the blank screen.  The trick here is to figure out what's wrong.  Mark Ferrari (writer and artist) told me once that one of the problems is that people sit down to work -- when they should be sitting down to play.  The "work" side of your brain is the analytical part -- very useful in editing, but not so useful when writing the first few drafts.  It is the "play" side of you brain that knows how to tell stories.    Sometimes it's just that the well is dry and I need to read some good books or watch The Lord of the Rings movies again.  Sometimes I'm stuck because I'm trying to force a character to do something they wouldn't do -- or I've backed myself into a Plot Hole.

I've never suffered the famous Writer's Block -- where a writer is trapped, unable to write for months or years. If I had to guess, I'd say they were stuck because they felt that every word, every sentence had to be profound.   I guess I don't take myself that seriously.  If I am every profound, I assure you it is a total accident.  I like telling stories, I try to tell them the best way I am able to -- and I know I'm not Will Shakespeare or even Tolkien.  I'm okay with that.  As long as I get to keep writing, I'm happy.


FF: What inspires you to write? Has that changed since your career as a writer started?

Patricia Briggs: People fascinate me. Why they do what they do.  I like telling stories and building characters -- and I guess I'd do it if I never was published.  The real drive behind writing, for me, is that I want to see how the story ends, too.  And that hasn't changed.
 

FF: Many new writers feel that their publisher should do most of the promotional work for their books, but the hard truth is, that only happens for best selling authors. How has your publisher changed/increased promotion of your books since you hit the NYTimes bestseller list?

Patricia Briggs: Mostly, publishers exist on a very small profit margin.  They can't afford to promote a book that isn't going to sell like gangbusters -- and writers shouldn't want them to either.  You want your publisher to make a profit on your book so they buy the next book.   Too much publicity can hurt your career, too.  I know that sounds stupid, but it is true.   Writing is something you get better at.  There are the few writers whose first book is awesome by any standards -- but most of us are learning and our first books are  . . . well, they are the best we can write with the skills that we have.  If Ace had, for instance, taken my first book and put a big ad in the NYTimes, Publisher's Weekly, and Entertainment Weekly--  everyone who picked up Masques would shake their head and say -- what was Ace smoking?  Masques might have sold a lot more copies than it did (it could hardly have sold fewer) -- but no one would have picked up the second book.   It wasn't a bad book, I'm not embarrassed by it by any means -- but it wasn't Tolkien either.

I know a few authors who have had their careers damaged by the wrong kind of publicity.  Remember, readers are kinder to new authors whose book they "happen" to pick up because something caught their eye or because they spent a few minutes gleaning through the stacks than they are to "new stars" who are being promoted hard.  It is a good thing, for the most part, that big publicity waits until you have a few books under your belt.  

It can be frustrating, but publishers really want to sell as many copies of your book as you do.  Authors, editors and publishers are all on the same side -- and you have to trust your allies to know their jobs.

Ace started promoting my books more heavily with Moon Called (Mercy #1).  The cover was terrific and urban fantasy was practically the only bright spot in sf/fantasy publishing at the time, so we all knew it would sell better than my traditional fantasy.  I don't think any of us were prepared for how much better.   Blood Bound (Mercy #2)was the first book to make it to the NYTimes.  After it hit, Ace sent me on a "mini-tour" for Iron Kissed  (Portland and Seattle)-- and that book hit #1 on the NYTimes.  And so they sent me on a bigger tour for Bone Crossed.

FF: You did a lot of research on the feasibility of silver bullets, do you typically do a lot of research or do you rely on imagination?

Patricia Briggs: Yes :)  I tend to write about things I know and then broaden my horizons a bit.  The silver bullets were an exceptionally detailed research project because I was actually trying to make up for the fact that my research had been inadequate on just how tough casting silver bullets would be <grin> and I got caught out.  So I now know that Mercy can cast her silver bullets -- but it isn't the smartest/easiest way to do it.  Machining, for instance, would have been an easier way to go.  And silver shot is a much better weapon, and much, much easier to manufacture than a silver bullet.

I do believe that good fantasy has to have a hard core of reality in order for it to work.  I'm asking readers to believe in werewolves, vampires and fae -- I need to make sure the rest of the world is as real as I can make it right down to the copper fuses in Mercy's Vanagon.
 

FF: What was the best piece of advice you've received in regard to your writing career?

Patricia Briggs: Never criticize another author's book in public.  But better than that was something my old horseback riding teacher had up on her wall:  Be careful of the words you say, keep them soft and sweet.  You never know from day to day, which ones you have to eat.

Patricia, thank you so much for speaking to us.

 

 

 










   
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