Interview: Valerie Patterson author of The Other Side of Blue

Valerie Patterson is going to be the author for whom I can say “I knew her when.” It is hard to believe that it has been almost ten years since our respective employers sent us to a leadership class where we met and spent two weeks learning and running along the banks of the Charles River. Even then, Val talked about writing for children “some day.” I was so tickled when I discovered Val is also a member of the DC-Kidlit Book Club and that she had published a book.  As you know from our review earlier this year, that day has come! Val’s debut novel The Other Side of Blue was published in late 2009. Please welcome Val Patterson to the Tub!

Valerie has an MFA in Children’s Literature from Hollins University (2008). While at Hollins, Val twice received the Shirley Henn Award for Creative Scholarship. She has also received a Work-in-Progress grant from the Society of Children’s Bookwriters and Illustrators (SCBWI). In addition to SCBWI, she is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, the Women’s National Book Association, and the Authors Guild. When she isn’t writing or teaching, Val practices law as a government attorney. She lives in the Washington, DC area with her husband.

RT: Welcome to the Reading Tub! I have been looking forward to talking with you about The Other Side of Blue and writing for so-o-o long. As I was reading all of Cyan’s information about art and jewelry making I kept thinking I need to ask Val about this – is she an artist and jeweler too? So, are you?

Val: Alas, no. Despite a desire, I have no real artistic ability, though I finally managed to draw a three-dimensional apple after taking an art class some years ago. I have made jewelry before–I share Cyan’s love of working with silver wire–but I consider myself a beginner. I’m a beginner knitter/crocheter, too, and sometimes I’ll buy a skein of yarn just to enjoy the color and texture, not necessarily to make anything with it. There isn’t enough time to do everything I’d like to do. So writing comes before other arts and crafts.

RT: In your interview with Tall Tales and Short Stories, you explained that you have always been drawn to the sea and that you worked on the novel during your MFA program at Hollins University. That got me wondering, what came first: Cyan or Curacao?

Val: Cyan came first but she is so tied to the setting of Curacao that I believe both came together at about the same time.

young adult fictionRT: At the close of The Other Side of Blue, Cyan comes to some realizations about herself and her relationship with her mother. If you could jump back into the story two summers later, what do you see for her/them?

Val: That’s a hard question. I sense greater comfort in each other’s presence. They are kinder to one another, though there is still some friction. It would be unrealistic to imagine anything else. Their respective approaches to art and how they relate to each other as artists won’t be easily resolved, either. Cyan will seek out other artists as mentors, though she will want her mother to be proud of her, whether she admits it or not.

RT: I hate to keep going back to that October interview, but it covers a lot of ground! In that discussion, you said that when you were younger, YA wasn’t as developed as it is now. Who are some of your favorite YA writers – and why?

Val: Laurie Halse Anderson is an amazing writer. I read Speak in one sitting and then I turned around and re-read it, trying to absorb it from a writer’s perspective. Wintergirls similarly drew me in with voice, and I followed it to the end, mesmerized. Jennifer Donnelly and Sara Zarr are two other authors whose books I seek out because of voice. M.T. Anderson is an author who shows amazing range and depth, and he is unafraid to explore paths others might not dare tread. Reading Sherman Alexie’s Diary of a Part-time Indian was like holding a beating heart in my hand. And Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games–she’s certainly shown the crossover potential of YA fiction!

RT: You’ve clearly got your pulse on the YA world and how it covers so much ground. Along that same line, you said you would rank YA fiction among the best fiction for adults “any day.” What do you think has been the catalyst (if you can call it that) for such a change?

Val: In some ways I believe that many of the “barriers” dividing childhood and adulthood have dissolved. For better or worse, children and teens are less sheltered than they once were (or at least that we believed they were). The world itself has become smaller, and communications devices link us together more rapidly than ever. At the same time, the emotions of growing and developing haven’t really changed. In some ways the pace of our lives make us feel more “other” than ever before, regardless of our chronological ages. Literature helps us bridge those spaces. Writers today seem more willing and able to tap into emotions that resonate with teen readers. As a result of great writing, children’s literature also is gaining respect in the academic world as worthy of serious study.

RT: Oh, I like that explanation. I hadn’t looked at it as the absence of transition from childhood to adulthood. Now, let’s take this one step further. If you were going to introduce Cyan to another book or book character – based on a book/story you’ve loved – what/who would that be (they don’t have to be from the same title)? What about Mayur?

young adult fictionVal: What a great question! I’d like Cyan to meet Troy Billings from K.L. Going’s Fat Kid Rules the World. Troy has far greater weight issues than Cyan but he also has a tremendous fear inside that he has to overcome to reach his potential as a musician. Cyan and Troy come from completely different worlds, but I think they’d see the kindred spirit in the other. I’d like to see Mayur face Katniss in The Hunger Games. I think he’d quickly realize she’d outmaneuver him.

RT: You have said that before gravitating completely to novels, you had written a picture book that was rejected because it was “too quiet.” What is it that makes a book “quiet” to you?

Val: A quiet novel depends heavily on internal emotions and nuanced change, with much less emphasis on external conflict. In a “too quiet” book the internal is just too much and perhaps the realization gained by the character is too small for a reader to be willing to travel on that long a journey. Perhaps those small but intense moments are best captured in poetry.

RT: Now that quiet books are coming back “in” would you consider trying to get it published or putting it on your website for download?

Val: I’d have to go back and really see the book – warts and all – and determine if I can revise it. I also find it is very difficult to recapture a voice from a long-ago project. Often, after returning to something that’s stale, I find the voice changes immediately when I try to revise, and I end up writing a different book.

RT: I understand you’ve taken time from your day job as a lawyer to teach courses at West Virginia University, yet you are very active in the DC-area writer’s community, AND have several works in progress. How do you balance it all/fence off some energy for your creative work?

Val: Balance? No such thing, I’m afraid. I often feel torn between teaching and writing, and I believe teaching takes more of my creative energy than lawyering. I feel guilty, too–if I’m writing, I feel I should be preparing for classes. Yet, there never seems to be a point where I feel “ready” for class, so that I can turn wholeheartedly to my writing. Recharging creatively can be hard when you’re pulled in many directions. I recently started an art journal – yes, despite my art challenges – for a future novel’s main character. It’s a place to glue in artwork or photos my character would enjoy or expect to see in her world. I also write character sketches in the book, or quotes and snatches of dialog. No pressure at this point for plotting in the journal, though I have ideas on how the story generally unfolds. This is noodling, if you will. Last week I took an intro calligraphy class – a way to feed my creativity.

RT: When we first met – and again in that October interview – you talked about your love of mysteries. Do you still love mysteries, and if so, what kind? When you need some time to just read, what are the books you go to first?

Val: Yes, I still love mysteries, from literary novels to cozies. I am especially fond of historical mysteries. If I just want to relax, I’ll grab a cozy or a funny middle grade novel and curl up on the couch. I’m already starting my stack for the winter break!

RT: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for interviewing me and for your review of The Other Side of Blue. I am so excited that after all these years after meeting in Boston at different stages of our lives, we both have ended up in children’s literature and loving it.

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