Beginning today, you can never say we’ve never done anything for you. The below interview with recently published author Patrick Dacey (of We’ve Already Gone This Far, Holt // Macmillan) will inspire you to keep creating, persevere despite challenges (247 to be exact), and to believe in yourself and your craft.
I won’t waste any more words. Read the interview below and a sincere thanks to Patrick and his team at Holt for taking the time to chat with us.
How long did it take for you to write your debut novel?
The book is not really a novel, but a collection of stories about people living in the same town. I began the first story “Patriots” in 2008, and published a version of it around that time. Then I wrote a couple terrible novels, and some terrible short stories, and broke some plates, and some relationships, and lost a bit of my mind, before coming back to that original story, thinking, there’s something here, it’s funny, sad, and I can play around with the idea of America on the brink of disaster, at least, in this generation, but do it through the different characters in this town. By the time I figured it out, I’d say it was fall of 2013. So, two years to get the book right.
And the title, where did that come from?
I had that title for a while. It never quite worked with any full manuscript I put together. But once the collection was finished, it seemed to fit. These are people, like most of us, willing to risk something for a better life, whether that risk is smart, foolish, or criminal.
Any direct inspiration for the book- care to share?
I don’t believe much in inspiration. I try to stay open to the source, whatever that might be. So, experience, listening, travelling. And memory, thoughts, dreams. The thing is to be unfiltered when you’re writing, then go back and revise. That’s the only way I can get down something honest, and that I feel is worth reading. I did have a few friends who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq help me with the details for the final story, and for my upcoming novel.
I know this is a hard question, but would you go back and change anything in the novel? Perhaps add another story, or remove one? If so, what would you change and why?
I would probably change everything, and that’s why I wouldn’t change anything. At some point you’re done and you get the opportunity to put it out in the world, and you want the audience to enjoy it, and connect it to their lives, even more so study the text, as I do the books I love. Basically, it’s no longer mine, so I don’t get to change anything. But, sure, when I’m giving a reading, I might pass over a sentence I feel could be tweaked a bit. That’s my own obsessive-compulsive nature, though. I’m constantly reading my work, reading it aloud, revising.
What is your definition of success as an author?
Reading your own work and finding the same pleasure in it as you would in any other book. Of course, selling a lot of copies would be great, but so much goes into that, it becomes about something other than the writing, so that part will or won’t happen; some luck is involved.
What are you currently reading?
I’m usually reading three books at a time, a recently published novel, a collection of stories, and a novel or collection I’ve read before. Right now I’m reading Ryan Gattis’ All Involved, Joy Williams’ The Visiting Privilege, and rereading Joseph Heller’s Something Happened.
My favorite question- what is the best book you’ve ever read?
We’ve got a lot of writers hanging out on the Left Bank … any tips for aspiring writers and getting their first book published?
Be disciplined. Write every day. Be willing to go broke, lose people in your life, suffer, fall in love too easily-get away from whatever is considered a “literary scene”, live alone, write in silence, be a good person, talk to strangers, watch your neighbors dog and look at their stuff, take long unplanned trips, be open, be sincere, be honest. And probably a thousand other things.
And finally (if you care to share) how did you get your “big break”?
The break came at my lowest point, really. I had recently separated from my wife. My son had been born prematurely and for a while we were so on edge with whether or not he’d be okay (he is, and he’s the best thing that ever happened to me), we couldn’t sustain our relationship. I’d been dumped by two agents, had a novel rejected 247 times, and published just a handful of stories. I was staying in the upstairs room of an old woman’s house in Church Hill, in Richmond, Virginia. My living room was my kitchen. I was sleeping on a mattress she had thrown out, and I worked the graveyard shift at a homeless shelter and detox center. I was about to go for another graduate degree in rehab counseling, but this book started coming out of me, and I felt it was right, and I was willing to stay with it, and once it was finished, I looked up some new, younger agents who represented short story writers. Claire Anderson-Wheeler called me back. She said we probably wouldn’t make much money, but she wanted to represent me. We ended up doing much better than either of us thought, and because I had started a novel about a family in the same town as the collection takes place in, she was able to see a novel in the pages. So, we got a few offers, and I really loved what Sarah Bowlin at Holt had to say about my work, about our future together, and since I decided to go with Holt, it’s been a great experience. My novel, The Outer Cape, comes out next year, and I feel like I took so many risks with it, and Sarah was open to them all. Perhaps it was meant to happen like this, that I needed to be at my lowest point, about to give up, for the break to finally occur. That’s why I don’t really see the benefit of criticizing who gets published and who doesn’t, who gets too much attention and who doesn’t get enough. Some have a lot of connections, I guess, and that’s helpful, but it doesn’t mean you’ll get published. The break comes with talent, luck, and discipline.