Six impossible things


How can I reach you via email?

My email address is

Will you ever write a fifth Enchanted Forest Book?

I do hope to write a fifth book one day, but I have a number of other book contracts to fulfill first. So I am afraid it will be several years, at least, before I write another “Enchanted Forest” book.

Do you have any advice for young people who want to become writers?

First, write every day, whether you feel like it or not, even if it’s only a little bit — a paragraph or a sentence. Most people find that if they wait to be “inspired,” they never actually get anything finished. It’s not always an easy thing to do — in fact, most of us find it very difficult. But if you are going to be a writer, you have to learn how to make yourself write, because nobody else is going to do that for you. It’s not like school or a job, where you have a teacher or a boss standing over you expecting things done by Friday or you flunk or get fired.

And you learn to write by writing, just as you would learn to play the piano by practicing a lot. Most people don’t like hearing this, but writing is work, and it takes skill and practice, just like any other art. Also, no job is 100% fun, and writing is no exception. Every writer has things they don’t enjoy writing; for me, it’s transitions and “council scenes;” for one of my good friends, it’s action; for another, it’s detail and description. But it’s practically impossible to write a really good interesting novel that’s nothing but dialog, or nothing but action, or that doesn’t have any transitions or descriptions. You have to make yourself do the parts that aren’t fun, and do them as well as you can, because no one else is going to do them for you.

Second, get really good at the boring technical bits: learn how to type, to spell, to write a grammatical sentence in your sleep. This is terribly important, though a surprising number of people seem to think they can ignore it. Also, remember that if you are going to be a writer, you are going to be a self-employed businessperson. Learn about things like keeping good records and watching your finances and figuring out financial statements. I’ve saved myself several thousand dollars over the years because I checked the math on my royalty statements and did some simple comparisons with previous statements.

Third, read a lot — and not just the kind of thing you love and want to write, but a little of everything. As a reader, you can love fantasy or science fiction and not want to write anything else, but as a writer, you need to know what else is out there and how it works… and reading, say, Westerns or mysteries or historical fiction may very well give you ideas for things you can do in your fantasy or science fiction — ideas you wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere.

Finally, have a life. It is hard to make anything in a book sound interesting if you aren’t really interested in anything in real life. It doesn’t matter what you decide to do, as long as you try a few different things and find something that you really enjoy. It could be cooking, or being in the school band, or scuba diving, or building your own computer, or gardening. Or cats. The more you do, the more you will have to bring to your fiction. (This is one of the reasons so many writers’ biographies have such an odd list of things they did before becoming writers: “He worked in a biological research lab for a year, and then he spent two years at sea as crew on an oil tanker, and then he worked in Alaska taking photos for a travel magazine, and then he became an insurance adjuster, before turning to writing….”)

Oh, and keep in mind that there is no one way to go about writing something. There are as many different ways of writing as there are writers; one of my dear friends outlines everything, another just starts with a blank page. I know authors who start at the end of a book and work backwards, or the middle and work outwards on either side, or who jump around from Chapter 4 to Chapter 10 to Chapter 7-8 and so on. It doesn’t matter what method you use to get the words onto the page; what matters is that they are all there, in the right places, by the time you are finished.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I never particularly wanted to “be a writer.” I just wanted to write and tell stories. So I did. I didn’t expect to make a living at it; that part just sort of happened. It certainly wasn’t because of any planning I did.

Is Morwen a lot like you?

Every character a writer does is sort of like them somehow. I don’t think of myself as being much like Morwen, though. My cats boss me around a lot, and she wouldn’t let hers get away with that!

Do you have any children?

No, but I do have two cats. (Although if you asked the cats, they’d say they have me.)

Is it a good idea to be in a critique group?

It depends on the writer. A group can be a good place to talk about things — how it feels to be starting out, how much work writing can be — and how exciting it can be to finish a story that works, send it off to an editor, and make one’s very first sale. Also, no two people write the exact same way. Being around a group of other writers will usually provide more than one way to handle any writing problem. A good writers group will encourage you to keep trying things until you find a way of writing that works for you.

Some writers, though, can’t show their work to other people until it’s finished without spoiling it or losing the desire to write. Those people, obviously, should not be in a critique group, because it will just be frustrating.

What is your favorite book that you have written?

Authors tend to read a lot, so I don’t have one favorite book — I have dozens, and the answer changes every day. Among the authors I enjoy reading are Terry Pratchett, Diana Wynne Jones, Dorothy Sayers, and J. R. R. Tolkien. As for my own work, asking an author which of her books she likes best is like asking a Mom which of her kids she likes best, but I’ll give it a shot. I usually like best whichever book I have just finished writing, because it’s such a relief to have finished it at last! Right now, that’s Thirteenth Child.

Which of your characters is your favorite?

I like all my characters; I wouldn’t write about them if I didn’t. I can’t pick a particular favorite character, any more than I can pick a favorite one of my books.

What is your favorite topic to write about?

Fantasy, obviously. I tried to write a non-fantasy novel a number of years ago, but there were wizards in it by the time I got to the end of the first chapter.

How do you know if what you write is good?

Authors are notoriously bad judges of their own work, especially when it’s fresh. Either you think it’s great when it’s terrible, or you think it’s terrible when it’s really great. The thing is to remember that you have to get it down on paper before you can fix it. First drafts are not required to be good enough to publish; that’s what revisions are for. And it’s never the book in your head… but sometimes it turns out to be a better one.

What are your hobbies?

For hobbies, I like gardening, handcrafts, and of course, reading, but I don’t have as much time for any of them as I’d like.

How long does it take you to write a book?

It takes me about a year, on the average, to write a book. The one I wrote fastest took six months; the one that took longest took me several years. It depends on the book — on how hard it is, not on how long it is. Yes, some are harder than others to write. I don’t always know, when I’m starting one, which kind it is going to be.

Where do you get your ideas?

Ideas are the easy part of writing; they’re everywhere. It’s just a matter of asking, “what if…?” The hard part is getting the ideas down on paper, and that has a lot more to do with determination than inspiration. Writing is like what Thomas Edison said about inventing thing: “90% perspiration and 10% inspiration.” Any writer will tell you the same thing.

Do you like writing/being a writer?

I do enjoy it, but writing is a job like anything else, and there are parts that aren’t as much fun that I still have to do. Writing is like what Thomas Edison said about inventing thing: “90% perspiration and 10% inspiration.” Any writer will tell you the same thing.

Why isn't there a map of the Enchanted Forest? Will there ever be a map?

I am afraid I can’t enclose a map in any future editions of the “Enchanted Forest” books, because it would be out of date as soon as the book was printed. If you read carefully, in Talking to Dragons, Telemain has to use a magic map to show Daystar and Shiara where to go, because bits of the Enchanted Forest are always moving around. That’s why it’s so difficult to find things in it, even when you know they’re there.

What will happen to my favorite characters in the next book/story?

I have no idea. I don’t really know until I actually write it. Even if I have an outline, the characters frequently do things I didn’t expect that makes the story go very differently.

Will you write any more Star Wars books?

I loved doing the three novelizations, and the Star Wars people were great to work with, but at the moment, I don’t have any plans to write more Star Wars books.

Will you ever get your books made into movies?

I have no idea. Authors don’t get much say in which books do or don’t get made into movies, and so far nobody has bought the rights.

Where do you get the names for your characters?

Mostly I make them up. Some of them are typos for real names or words; “Willin” in Searching for Dragons was a typo for “William” that I made writing a letter to a friend. I thought it looked interesting, so I saved it and used it in a book. Some of the names are real names that I got out of the telephone book.

What were your nicknames?

I have only had the sort of boring nicknames that are usually given to the name Patricia: Pat, Patty, and so on.

Where can I get your books?

If your local bookstore can’t special order them, you can try mail-order from one of the specialty stores, like Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore, 2864 Chicago Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55407, (612) 824-6347. Uncle Hugo’s gets a lot of used books in, and they will look for things for you if you ask them. They also have autographed copies of my books.

Would you be my pen pal?

I am afraid it is not possible for me to be your pen pal. I get about fifty letters a month already, not counting e-mail; if I agreed to be a pen pal to everyone who wrote, I wouldn’t have time to write any more books.

Do you have pets? What kind?

Currently I have two cats. I’ve never had any kind of pets except fish, turtles, and cats, although my sister had a monkey when we were young.

How do you pronounce your name?

My name is pronounced REE-dee.

Are your characters based on real people?

The only real people I’ve ever put in my books were historical characters, like the Duke of Wellington in the Kate and Cecy books and two of Morwen’s cats (Fiddlesticks was my cat Merlin and Jasmine was my cat Brisen).

How do you pronounce your characters' names?

You can pronounce the names however you want; I pronounce Cimorene SIM-oh-reen, Kazul as Kah-ZOOL, Mendanbar as MEN-den-bar, Shiara as Shee-ARE-ah, Telemain as TELL-eh-mane. If you are still confused, the books are all available on audio tape, and they checked to make sure the names were right, so if you get the tapes from your library and listen to them, you’ll know all of them.

What books would you recommend?

For YA/children’s, I like pretty much anything by Diana Wynne Jones, Tamora Pierce, Patricia McKillip, Bruce Coville, Jane Yolen, and Robin McKinley. For adults…Dorothy Sayers, Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen, Lois Bujold, Robert Heinlein, J.R.R.Tolkien, Patrick O’Brian, and Terry Pratchett.

What books on how to write would you recommend?

There are quite a lot of good books about writing, which can give you a lot more help in a lot more detail than I can really go into here. A good general one is Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block; if you want to know more about the whole publishing industry and the process of selling a book and getting it into print, I recommend Who Does What and Why in Book Publishing by Clarkson N. Potter; and The Writer’s Guide to Creating a Science Fiction Universe, by George Ochoa and Jeffrey Osier, is a really excellent overview and reference that goes into some of the scientific considerations that you need to pay attention to if you are seriously going to write SF ( like star magnitudes and which ones are likely to have human-habitable planets and designing future cultures and aliens and so on). If you are interested in writing children’s books, I recommend you check your library for a book called Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books for Publication by Amos and Subbed. It’s an excellent how-to explanation.

Would you like some suggestions for a plot for your next book?

There are three problems with getting plot suggestions from other people. The first is that ideas are the easy part of writing; finding the time and energy to get them down on paper is the hard part. I have plenty of ideas already. Which brings me to the second problem: the ideas that excite you, the ones you think would make a terrific book, are not necessarily the same ideas that excite me. And if a writer isn’t excited about an idea, she generally doesn’t turn out a terrific book, even if the idea is terrific. And the third problem with my using your suggestions is that, theoretically, you could sue me if I did, and that tends to make publishers nervous, which makes it hard to sell a book. So thank you, but no.

Did you like to read when you were young?

Oh, yes. I walked over to the library at least twice a week, and was allowed to take out six books each time.
Questions regarding foreign rights, film/tv subrights, and other business matters should be directed to Pat’s agent Ginger Clark, Curtis-Brown, Ltd., 10 Astor Place, 3rd Floor New York, NY 10003,