Friday, September 25, 2009

Interview: Ripley Patton

This Friday, we've got short story/flash fiction writer Ripley Patton. With almost 20 shorts published, she has a lot of helpful insight into this area.

1) What made you go for short stories and how long have you been writing seriously? Did you ever consider writing novels?

Ever since I could write, I have. For me writing is a necessary process in making sense of the world and my own inner landscape. I write to find meaning and, where none can be found, to create it. However, I started pursuing writing as a serious career in 2005. Stories came to me, and I wrote them down in as many words as it took to tell them. I had no real designs as far as length. If they were short, it was because they wanted to be. That being said, I have always loved short forms of both poetry and prose. There is something about capturing the precise and poignant moment; about creating the most lasting impression in the fewest words that I find wholly gratifying. I do periodically try to manifest a novel, mostly after having been asked again when I am going to write a novel. Conversely, I don't know that I have ever heard a novelist asked when they are going to start writing short stories. To date, all my attempts at novel writing have resulted in more short stories. I think if I wanted to force the issue, I could, but I doubt I'd be proud of the results

2) How do you go about finding markets for your stories? Do you start with one in mind, or look once the story is finished? If both, which do you think is the more successful method?

I write the stories that come to me, the things that inspire and interest me and clamor in my head to be told. There is a quote attributed to the Aborigines of Australia that says, "The big stories are always hunting the right person to tell them." I believe that and I tend to think of stories as gifts, rather than commodities. I always write and fall in love with my stories first. The marketing comes afterwards, and it is a matter of finding the right home for each beloved story, rather than trying to fashion a story to fit a particular kind of home

The question of success is an interesting one. I am notoriously awful at writing to a theme or to preset parameters, because for me the process of writing is much more organic than mechanical. Writing for a specific market isn't particularly successful for me because I end up with a story I'm not that passionate about. I wrote it for someone else, rather than myself, and as a result, it isn't that good.

However, when I write for myself, to tell myself the story I want to know the ending to, and then look for a market, I have great success in placing it. Initially, it may take more effort to find a market that fits, but the results are almost always a sale. I consider writing what I want and selling it much more successful than writing what someone else wants and selling it. And yes, I still feel that way even when I get paid less for not writing whatever is the trend in the more popular markets

3) Where do you get your inspiration from?

It might be easier to answer "Where don't I get my inspiration from?" I have more ideas tucked away in notebooks than I could write in ten lifetimes. It is a rare day that passes without giving me some idea for a story. However, some of my favorite sources for inspiration are my kids, life experiences, nature, fairy tales, ancient mythology, reading, travel, and my dreams

Dreams are an especially lucrative mode of inspiration for me. Many of my short stories were written after just waking up from vivid dreams. Off the top of my head, "A Speck in the Universe," "The Moth Collector's Daughter, "Sheep Women and Dog Boys," and "The Bus to Nostalgia" were all inspired by dreams. Stories born out of dreams often fall into the category of magical realism, which is a genre I very much like to read and write. Dreams work in archetypes and symbolism, just as storytelling does. Joseph Campbell wrote that "Dreams are private myths. Myths are public dreams."

4) Tell us a little bit about why you like writing about magical, mythical themes.

I think of myth and magic as the hieroglyphics of the human psyche. They are a special language that circumvents conscious thought and goes straight to the subconscious. Non-fiction uses the medium of information. It tells us what we need to know. Science fiction primarily uses the medium of physics and mathematics. It tells us how things work, or could work. Horror taps into the darker imagery of the psychology, telling us what we should fear. Fantasy, magic and myth, however, tap into the spiritual potential of the human life. Their medium is symbolism, truth made manifest in word pictures, and they tell us what things mean on a deep, internal level. I have always been a meaning-maker. I have always been someone who strives to make sense of everything and perhaps that is where my life as a storyteller first began. Life doesn't always make sense, but story must. And so I write stories, and the world comes right again.

5) Is it hard for you to keep the stories short?

No. In fact, lately I've been writing and publishing quite a bit of flash fiction, which has helped me learn to better hone and edit my longer works. I haven't yet written any twitter fiction, but there are some great new markets for it out there, and I hope to try my hand at it soon

There are those who argue that short stories and short forms are a dying breed, but I would disagree. I think with the popularity of reading over the internet, shorter forms, which are easier on screen-weary eyes and appealing to a fast-paced electronic culture, are probably more in demand than ever. I am also repeatedly told that no one can make a living writing short stories. I suppose that depends on how you define "a living." It is generally very difficult to become wealthy writing poetry, or painting, or dancing, or even writing novels, for that matter. Thank goodness artists for centuries have been ignoring that brutal fact and creating what fulfills them anyway.

Bio: Ripley Patton is an American writer of speculative fiction happily living on the South Island of New Zealand. She writes fiction because truth has always fascinated her more than fact. You can get a glimpse into her mind and writing at .

This interview was brought to you by GapYearGirl123


Anonymous said...

This is a great interview! I love reading about writers and their inspirations.

Anonymous said...

Nice one Ripley. Although to me science fiction also went through a phase where it was primarily about sociology.

Anonymous said...

Great interview!

Annie K on September 28, 2009 at 12:09 AM said...

Thanks for publishing a great interview! Ripley's answers are inspiring and informative, and I've had the pleasure of reading some of her short stories.

gapyeargirl123 on September 28, 2009 at 10:02 AM said...

Thanks for all the comments guys, it's great to know you like reading the interviews.

S.P. Miskowski on September 29, 2009 at 3:00 AM said...

Thanks for this interview. I'm a fan of Ripley Patton's work, so it's interesting to read her views on the writing life.

morva shepley on October 1, 2009 at 12:53 AM said...

Cool interview.

Anonymous said...

Thanks all of you for reading the interview and commenting so positively on it. I was afraid I had come across as "stuffy writer girl"- one of my alter egoes:)

Niverian on October 14, 2009 at 6:39 AM said...

This is an excellent interview. I, too, am a fan of Ripley's work and I agree with her assertion that short-form fiction is far more "web friendly." I think the short story has a long life ahead of it as we plummet headlong into the information age...or whatever the heck we're calling it this week. ;-)

Emily Cross on October 14, 2009 at 10:00 AM said...

Thank you so much for a brilliant interview.

I love how the novel vs. short at the beginning of this interview. I think its important to note that some of the best story tellers, are short story writers (e.g. Raymond Carver, Ray Bradbury). I found this interview to be really inspiring, as i'm trying to focus on short story writing!

Thank you!

Lynne Jamneck on October 14, 2009 at 9:41 PM said...

I heard a rumor once that all ideas migrate from Schenectady.

Great interview, Ripley. Love the idea of 'myth and magic as the hieroglyphics of the human psyche'. Makes a lot of sense.

Eric L Williams on October 16, 2009 at 1:44 AM said...

Great interview Ripley,

I really enjoyed the section of the interview asking "why you like writing about magical, mythical themes". I think artists are allot like shamans, we dip in and out of the spirit world gathering inspiration from the other side of reality. Only a real artist like Ripley could could give an answer so spot on.

BTW: I haven't forgotten about doing that cover for you.

Lynne Jamneck on October 16, 2009 at 1:48 AM said...

There's the shaman again...

Anonymous said...

Lynne, I swear I didn't coach Eric on the shaman thing. We hadn't talked about it at all. Eric is an amazing visual artist who does a lot of Spec Fic covers and illustrations (plus gaming work) so I think we can fairly broaden our "writers as shamans" definition to all types of artists.

Eric, I'm trying to be patient about the cover:)

Lynne Jamneck on October 16, 2009 at 3:04 AM said...

You're right - Eric - your artwork is really fantastic. Wish I could get someone with your talent to do illustrations for my novel

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