Saturday, June 13, 2015

Patricia Abbott: CONCRETE ANGEL and more: The blog tour continues

Patricia Abbott, or Patti as she usually goes by, is not a natural self-promoter, but that doesn't keep her from being a busy writer, with over 150 short stories published in various magazines and anthologies since she began to get serious about writing about twenty years ago; she's published a poetry chapbook (Next to the Serengeti Ballroom) and three books of fiction before her highly-praised current offer, the novel Concrete Angel (Polis Books); her previous titles include the anthology (co-edited with Steve Weddle) Discount Noir (2010),  the short story collection Monkey Justice (2011),  and the novel-in-linked-stories Home Invasion (2013). The new book has as a starting point something of an inversion of the situation of James M. Cain's classic Mildred Abbott's novel, it's the daughter who is striving to make better life for herself and her challenging, even sociopathic, mother.

Abbott's husband is Philip Abbott, a professor at Wayne State University, who has published 11 books so far; their son is Joshua Abbott, a Macomb County, MI assistant prosecuting attorney, and their daughter is Megan Abbott, who has published eight books, most recently the novel The Fever.  Winner of the Derringer Award for her short story "My Hero," Patti is also a very active blogger, the host of the "Friday's Forgotten Books" weekly roundelay, and usually a participant in my "Tuesday's Overlooked A/V" weekly lists as well. Her next novel, Shot in Detroit, is nearing completion now.

The brief interview below is a stop on her "blog tour" to support the publication of Concrete Angel; previous interviews can and should be seen at the following links:

Kirkus Reviews

Dana King: Twenty Questions 
Gerald So: Concrete Angel chat
Bill Crider: Being a Late Bloomer
George Kelley: Patti Abbott's Bookshelves 
Charlie Stella: 3 writers who've influenced me...
J. Kingston Pierce: "Mommie Direst" (a reference to the character in Concrete Angel)
Ron Earl Phillips: Patti Abbott and Rob Hart: A Conversation
Ed Gorman: Pro-File 
Women of Mystery: Setting 
Elizabeth Spann Craig: Working My Way Toward the Novel 
Sergio Angelini: Why I Wrote Concrete Angel 
B. V. Lawson: R&R: Philadelphia Then 
Megan Abbott: Interrogation 
Deborah Diesen: Michiganding 
Marshal Zeringue: Page 69 Test 
Prashant Trikannad: 2 Questions
Patricia Abbott: Five Favorite Novels About Mothers and Daughters

I suspected I might be adding to this list, and I have been...Patricia Abbott and Bryon Quertermous spoke and signed copies of their new books at the Mysterious Bookshop at 58 Warren St, New York, NY, this coming Thursday, 18 June 2015 beginning at 6:30p.  --Todd Mason

TM: You've mentioned in previous interviews that you were not raised in a particularly literary household, though your mother

read "Ellery Queen"'s novels. But you were drawn to the neighborhood bookmobile at a young age, and became a regular patron of the Free Library of Philadelphia branch when it opened in your neighborhood. Was there a particular librarian or teacher who nudged you in that direction, or was particularly helpful in finding the kind of literature you wanted to read? Or, for that matter, were you encouraged as a youngster to write? You've mentioned you initially were only interested in books that were about girls very much like yourself...when did you branch out in your reading? 

Patricia Abbott: To answer the last question first, I am not sure I ever did branch out as much as I ought to. There are still many classic books in fantasy, science fiction, and similar areas that go unread. I should certainly read more non-fiction. Only my book group has led me to books like The Boys in the Boat, Unbroken, poetry collections, a few biographies, essays by various writers. My inclination is to read crime stories and straight fiction. Back to your first question: When the first library was build in my neighborhood, I began to go even more often [than to the bookmobile]. The children's' room was unbelievable to me after the bookmobile. I met my first African-American woman there--the children's librarian [this being the highly segregated Philadelphia of the 1950s]. Her name was Mrs. Robinson and she held books for me she thought I would like and also tried to broaden my interests. She was not so successful with "nudging" me, but she was willing to talk about what I had read. And if it was Cherry Ames, Army Nurse or a Trixie Belden or whatever, she was probably happy I was reading at all. Now that makes it sound like I came from a neighborhood of illiterates. But, in fact, the kids at my school were avid readers. I was the one with narrow interests. I didn't even read fairy tales or mythology books, for Pete's sake. As to writing influences, in sixth grade I had a fairly awful, in many respects, teacher. But she did have us write all the time and perform little plays. My math skills suffered but she may have introduced me to that possibility. It just took me a very long time to come back to it. 

I gather you were usually a good student and not Too much a troublemaker, but from early on you describe yourself as leaning into extreme inquisitiveness about how others lived, enough to gain a reputation for such in your neighborhood even as a preschooler (often the mark of a writer), and, by your teens, at least a brief period of "bad girl" rebellion. Did your reading have any influence on this? When did you start reading crime fiction on a regular basis? Did you prefer other kinds of fiction? 

At about fourteen, I became what they used to call "boy crazy." That led me in some wrong directions. My reading probably slowed down during this period but it never stopped. It was too much a part of me. And actually in that period, I read all of Sinclair Lewis, John O'Hara [whose work was crime-fiction-adjacent], Thomas Hardy, Pearl Buck, Leon Uris, [CF writer...before Rosemary's BabyIra Levin, Edna Ferber, etc. I didn't read crime fiction at all until I was 19, newly married and at the shore in Ocean City, N.J. Phil and I found a trove of Agatha Christie books at a used bookstore and bought them all for very little. And my vacation turned into binge-reading her. After that, my reading was equally divided between crime and straight fiction.

Have you been a lifelong movie buff? How has that informed your fiction? Have you ever written plays or other forms beyond prose fiction? (I'm amused that poetry editors were encouraging you to look at some of your poems, at least, as outlines for short stories, when you don't usually like to outline your work.) 

Yes. I think there has hardly ever been a week in my life when I didn't go out to the movies. And I have been known to do three [in a week or less]. I don't watch them at home very often. I need the dark, the smell of popcorn and licorice, the sticky floor beneath my feet to really get into a movie. At home, I am likely to read while I watch a movie and the experience is very disappointing. My first movie theater was the Renel Theater on Ogontz Avenue in Philly. I was allowed to walk there (maybe a mile) with my girlfriends from a very young age (perhaps 8). The only time this obsessive movie-going abated was the five years before my kids were in school. Once they were there all day, we went to the movies in the afternoon. So I am weak on movies between 1970-77. I think it does impact on my fiction a bit. I always imagine what movies the characters might watch. And I think the subject matter of French movies, domestic life, really influenced me. Especially [those of] Claude Chabrol and Eric Rohmer. I don't however picture the stories as if they are movies. It's the words I write for, not the images. 

As your fourth book, though (arguably) first novel and first bound and printed publication (in trade paperback format), how are you enjoying the fruits of your labor so far? You've just begun a speaking tour in support of the book, has it been what you've expected? Do you feel that with several books to each of your credit, that you, your husband and your daughter might be putting unfair pressure on your son to publish at book length? 

I am only doing two events. It is just too costly to go to a bookstore where I know no one, and would have to pay hotel and air flight. I have been to book talks like that...where there is an audience of ten people and three buy the book. Instead I am relying on the world of blogs to help me. And my friends have been very kind indeed. 

My son could write an amazing book I am sure. He has had some of the most horrific cases...but he likes to put them behind him. Marcia Clark, on the other hand, seems to be able to draw on her experiences. 

Abbott in conversation at the Book Beat, in Michigan.

My talk in Michigan was surprisingly delightful. I looked out on the faces--I knew just about everyone in the room (see what I mean about going to a place you don't have friends)--and felt embraced. I would like to say I am "over the moon" as someone suggested to me yesterday, but I view anything good as a harbinger of bad things to come. So I am not really enjoying having a book I can hold as a younger writer might. It's just not in my makeup. Instead I worry about not selling any copies and making Jason Pinter (the publisher of Polis) regret taking me on.

You're in the process of finishing your second traditional novel's you know what else you'd like to try, in terms of fiction or related goals?  A novel of historical fiction, horror, contemporary mimetic fiction--all of which you've written repeatedly in shorter forms? Something else again? 

I would love, above all, to write a ghost story, but I doubt I could sustain the mood for 300 pages. I think I have an idea for a possible third novel--using one of my stories as an outline. See? That poetry editor taught me well.


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Todd, thanks for a very inspiring interview with Patti. She is so modest about her literary achievements. A family of published writers, well almost, and I really liked that.

Todd Mason said...

It's a nice shelf for Abbott books, a nice case for the periodicals they've contributed to, in at least one household, I'd bet...thank you, Prashant.