Today I’m pleased to welcome fellow Santa Cruz author Sylvia Patience. Sylvia is also a poet and has published four middle grade novels, including Toto’s Tale and True Chronicle of Oz, in which Toto tells his version of what happened in the beloved story The Wizard of Oz.
Linda Covella: When and why did you decide to become a writer?
Sylvia Patience: I never really “decided.” I began to write poetry as a child and short fiction in college. But I didn’t begin writing middle grade novels until around 2004. I’ve always loved reading in that genre and had been in a critique group for my poems together with other poets and novelists. I got an inspiration for what I thought was going to be a short story but became my first middle grade novel. After that I was hooked. I enjoy it.
LC: What is your writing process: where do you write, how often do you write, are you a full-time or part-time writer, do you outline or do you plot as you go, etc.?
SP: At first, I wrote with pen and paper. Now I write on the computer. My process is pretty informal. I don’t outline. I have an idea in my head for the book and how the story will progress. I usually resolve plot issues when my mind is unfocused. When I’m swimming, taking a walk, or lying in bed after waking up in the morning.
I usually write or revise some most days, but I’m not a full-time writer and I don’t have a schedule.
LC: Where do you find your inspiration for your stories? Do you draw from your own experiences?
SP: My inspiration for stories has come from a variety of sources: a certain piece of furniture, my dog, people I met while travelling. I wrote one story based on a popular Russian folk tale character. Mostly I write about people whose experiences or situations are very different from mine, but at a deeper level everything comes from my own experience.
LC: Who is one of your favorite characters from your story(ies), one that you enjoyed creating and writing about, and why?
SP: I adopted my dog Toto from the local shelter eleven years ago. He looks like the character in the Wizard of Oz and was my inspiration for writing Toto’s version of the classic. He turned out to be a spunky, independent pup who, unbeknownst to L. Frank Baum (who wrote the original book), played a major role in the adventures.
LC: Writing the adventures of The Wizard of Oz from Toto’s perspective is such a darling and creative premise.
Do you incorporate (or inadvertently find) any of your own personality traits into your characters?
SP: Definitely. Most of my protagonists are girls and most tend to have a lot of my personality traits.
LC: Do you find your stories are more plot driven or character driven? Please explain.
SP: I don’t think I can say one or the other. Some of my stories start with a character or characters, but others start with a plot idea. Either way, I feel both are essential and intertwined.
LC: Did you read much as a child?
SP: My parents read to me and my brothers when we were young and instilled in me a love of reading that has lasted all my life. I read to my children and grandchildren.
LC: How important do you think reading is for writers?
SP: You have to read a lot in order to write. Reading develops vocabulary and understanding of story and character development. You need to know very well the genre in which you write. Reading is an immersion course in writing.
LC: “Reading is an immersion course in writing.” Such an insightful line worth repeating!
Who are some of your favorite authors and/or books? What draws you to them?
SP: Laura Resau, Ursula Le Guin, Gary Schmidt, JRR Tolkien, and Ann Patchett are some of my many favorite authors.
Favorite books include: All the Light We Cannot See (Doerr), Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy (Schmidt), The Secret Life of Bees (Kidd), Red Glass (Resau). The list goes on and on. I’m more of a reader than a writer. I just checked my history at the Santa Cruz Public Library System. Over the past four years I’ve checked out 464 books. This includes reading for research on my books.
LC: And if I’m not mistaken, that calculates out to reading approximately two books per week. Impressive! I also loved All the Light We Cannot See and The Secret Life of Bees.
Anything new in the works?
SP: I’m currently rewriting one of my books in the form of a graphic novel script. This is completely new to me. I thought it would be fun to try and this book lends itself to that form.
LC: Interesting; good for you for trying something new.
Bonus question! Do you have anything you’d like to add?
If you’d like to read Toto’s Tale and True Chronicle of Oz, you’ll find it at Bookshop Santa Cruz, online at Amazon, and in the Santa Cruz Public Library.
LC: Thank you, Sylvia. It was fun learning more about you and your writing!
Sylvia Bortin Patience is a long time Santa Cruz resident, mother, grandmother, nurse, and midwife. She began writing poetry as a child, inspired by her mother’s poems. She’s written professional journal articles and short fairy tales. She currently focuses on writing middle grade novels, for eight to twelve-year-olds. She loves playing with words, imagining stories, and expressing herself through writing. Her middle grade retelling of the Wizard of Oz from Toto’s point of view, Toto’s Tale and True Chronicle of Oz, was published in 2015. She has four other books in the works, including a border crossing story, The Weaver’s Daughter.
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I really enjoyed this interview. What a delightful premise — telling the Oz story through Toto’s eyes. And how cute Toto is! I likened deeply relate to Sylvia’s writing process — very natural and reliable. Best of luck on her new graphic novel.
Thanks Elizabeth. Good luck on your books and your travels, Sylvia