Chippewa Valley Book Fest Q&A: Molly Patterson

Eau Claire novelist among authors featured in Chippewa Valley Book Festival

photos by Andrea Paulseth

Molly Patterson
Molly Patterson

Among the highlights of the annual Chippewa Valley Book Festival is hearing from regional writers whose talents have attracted national attention. This year, that group includes Molly Patterson, a UW-Eau Claire professor and Pushcart Prize winner, whose debut novel, Rebellion, was published to acclaim last year by HarperCollins. As part of the lead-up to the festival, which runs Oct. 15-25, Volume One is publishing Q&As with some of the featured writers. Here’s what Patterson had to say about why she writes and what she’s reading.

Volume One: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Molly Patterson: I would tell my younger writing self to relax. A writer friend of mine used to say that I looked like I was bleeding from the forehead when I wrote. I would spend hours on a paragraph; I would rework and tweak the first page of a story for days, for weeks. Every sentence had to be right. Eventually, I learned that this is no way to write a novel. Rebellion is nearly 200,000 words in its final version, but I tossed two or three times that much along the way. I had to learn how to be more relaxed, to write and be OK with the fact that the sentences weren’t perfect but that I would revise later, and in all probability not even use what I was writing.

What do you hope readers learn from your book?

I don’t write to teach any lessons, per se, but I do think that all good fiction engenders empathy in its readers, so I hope that is the case with Rebellion. Really, I’d say empathy is either a prerequisite for, or a side effect of, reading. You put yourself in the position and perspective of a different person (a character, a narrator) and you have to see the world through their eyes. This is a transferable skill to life outside of reading, too.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I knew when I was young that I loved writing. As for “I want to be a writer,” well, I don’t remember when that came in. I now define a writer as someone who writes thoughtfully and consistently. I’d say I made that commitment shortly after graduating from undergrad.

What are you reading right now?

I’m currently reading a book called Home Cooking by a writer named Laurie Colwin. She was a writer in the 1980s whose novels I love. She took love and family seriously in her writing, but the novels were ultimately happy stories. Not trite stories, but happy. This book is nonfiction, and it is part recipe book, part memoir. I mourn the books she would have written if she hadn’t died young.

Molly Patterson will present “From Where I Stand: Point of View in Novel Writing” at 7pm Thursday, Oct. 25, at the Menomonie Public Library. For full details on this and other book festival events, visit cvbookfest.org.

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