Nod Ghosh

Novels, short fiction & poetry

interview with patrick pink

                                       Patrick Pink

                                       Patrick Pink

  • Patrick Pink lives and works in Auckland and is an avid flasher. His work was highly commended in the 2014 New Zealand National Flash Fiction Day competition and he is the winner of the Flash Frontier 2014 Summer Writing Award. His micro-story Rose-Tinted World on Winter-Licked Sheets was read on Radio New Zealand as part of the 2015 National Flash Fiction Day. Patrick has been published in a variety of on-line magazines and international anthologies, including Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction; Chelsea Station Magazine; Headland: Issue 2; Blue Fifth Review and the December 2015 issue of JONATHAN.  

 

  • N: How long have you been writing, and what drew you to put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard when you began?
  • P: I began writing around the age of nine on my Grandma’s old grey Underwood typewriter. The story was about a dog that helped win the American Revolution for Independence by carrying messages behind British lines. I remember I even illustrated it. From there, I became a bit obsessed with mysteries: Encyclopaedia Brown, Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, Ellery Queen and of course, any story written by Agatha Christie. I read everything she wrote and began writing short murder stories.
  • In high school, I discovered poetry. Most of what I attempted was dreadful but heartfelt: the usual teenage angst and the desire to be heard and loved. But reading poetry and trying to write poetry began my fascination with the rhythm and cadence of language, the emotional impact of the perfect image and the search to find the right word that can reveal what a character feels and what motivates those feelings. One of my favourite poems is Robert Frost’s The Death of The Hired Man. The three characters are Warren, Mary and the hired man, Silas, who returns to Warren and Mary’s farm because he views it as home. It speaks of family and the family we create, mercy, frailty and courage, redemption and belonging. These are themes that I return to time and again with my writing.  
  • N: Tell us a bit about your "day job", and whether it informs or detracts from your writing.
  • P: I’ve been a special education teacher for close to thirty years. Currently, I work alongside young people with blindness, low vision and Deaf Blindness and their whānau. Whereas the job can be full on (I do some of my writing and editing on the train to and from my work), it has also given me opportunities to explore other avenues around diversity, resiliency, grief and that wonderful Kiwi can-do attitude in my writing.
  • My writing always begins with people and their relationships with others. For me, that’s where all drama comes from: that connection, that interaction, that push/pull of living, knowing and loving the other. I usually get an opening line in my head and an image of a character and something that they are doing or saying. A main character in a story I've written and am currently editing is a teenager with Tourette’s syndrome nicknamed Tic. She along with her younger brother Mozzie and a teenage boy named Nit, whom both Tic and Mozzie like, search for treasure in a derelict house with a notorious history.  The opening image is of Tic and Mozzie jumping on a trampoline as Nit rides up on a horse and the adventure begins. The story isn’t about how she manages her Tourette’s but about the relationships between the three as they face discoveries and dangers from within and without.
  • Another story I’ve been working on looks at family, particularly those that we create. The characters are two cousins, one experiences bipolar disorder and the other is blind. Both the bipolar disorder and the blindness are facets of these characters that make them rich and hopefully real as they try to make a living and find love and deal with a crappy landlord and their overbearing aunty who raised them.  
  • N: You have lived in several different countries before you called New Zealand home. When you draw on memories for settings for stories, are they mainly from places where you lived earlier in life, or more from where you live now?
  • P: Both. I was born in Chicago, Illinois, grew up in rural northern Michigan and have lived in Texas and Germany. As I get older, I seem to draw more and more from my childhood in northern Michigan and my young adulthood in Texas. Michigan holds memories of snowdrifts and hair freezing after a shower and wood smoke, tapping maple trees, ice hockey on frozen lakes and tobogganing. As a kid, it seemed to always be either about to snow or had just finished snowing. It was fantastic. Currently, I’m writing a series of short vignettes that span forty years but all of the stories occur in winter.
  • Texas, on the other hand, is liquid sticky heat and live oaks and live music in Austin and two-stepping on a wooden dance floor at a gay cowboy bar and cheap Happy Hour margaritas made with Everclear, which is a grain spirit with a frighteningly high alcohol content, and some of the best TexMex ever. Texas was also where I met my partner, who is a New Zealander.
  • Creating characters and stories with a New Zealand context can be challenging. As an immigrant, it requires me to listen (without being pervy) to conversations on the train or in a grocery store and learn the rhythm and cadence, the slang, dialogue and mannerisms of people. Two of my bookmarks that I return to over and over are the Māori dictionary and the kiwi slang dictionary. I also trawl New Zealand news on-line to find interesting stories that hopefully has some resonance not only with me, but also with an audience who has unique particulars within similar experiences that I have not known. But despite those particulars, I try to explore the essence of the characters and the stories they tell, whether in America or New Zealand. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes, not. That’s where having others read your work helps.
  • N:  Looking back, can you think of a particular achievement in your writing career that stands out as being particularly poignant? How did you feel?
  • P: I have a few. The first is getting published in Flash Frontier and the community of fellow flashers I’ve met. (And no, no money passed hands to say that). Flash Frontier provided me with an opportunity to share my work with a wider audience for the first time. It also allowed me to fall in love with flash fiction, which to me links so perfectly with the imagery and emotion of poetry. It also challenges me as a writer as I try to create characters and their history and story in a very finite space and time.
  • Secondly, my experience with Sixpenny magazine has been a highlight. Unfortunately, the magazine is no longer, but has morphed into other creative forms, which are just as engaging. I was in the first issue of Sixpenny and had the privilege to also have my work illustrated. It’s quite an experience to have an artist take the images of these characters that have lived in your head and put them on paper. The story is called Dabble and Driftwood and is about the bizarre relationship between a ventriloquist and his dummy. The editors of Sixpenny were fantastic to work with and so supportive during the editing phase. It made me quite spoiled when it came to working alongside other editors who were not so. Also, Sixpenny was the first piece I actually got paid for, which blew my mind.
  • Last but far from least, I’m very proud of the short stories in JONATHAN by Sibling Rivalry Press. The journal has allowed me to write and share longer pieces than flash and explore characters that are in the LGBT community. 
  • N: How do you deal with rejection?
  • P: When I get the email from a publisher, there is this moment of ‘Do I open it’ or ‘Don’t I’. It often depends on how strong I feel at the time. If I thought the work was really good and if it’s not what they wanted, there’s the momentary WHY!? Time also plays a factor. If I sent out a story and it’s been months since I’ve heard from the publisher, there’s a distance that makes the acceptance or rejection not as powerful than when someone almost immediately writes, ‘Unfortunately, we are unable…’. That can sting for a while.
  • So, after the ‘ol rejection letter, I often return to the piece and review it and determine whether it needs tightening or whether it simply might not have met the criteria or the editor’s vision for that publication. The story may be just fine, but it may just not fit. There’s a piece I’ve sent out twice now. Each time there’s an ‘I’m sorry but…’ response. So, I read it, tweak it and then place it in the pile to send out again. It’s a good story. I know it will find a home somewhere and get read someday.
  • N: Your stories and Facebook posts show your interest and involvement within the LGBT community. How has your writing been shaped by your personal experiences?
  • P: Hugely. It’s a facet of me that influences my perspective just as my experiences growing up rurally, working alongside young people with diverse learning strengths and needs and immigrating to New Zealand have.
  • I came out during the mid ‘80’s in the United States. It was a time when HIV was seen as the gay plague and God’s retribution. People used to shout at Pride parades: ‘Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve’. It was still only a little over fifteen years since Stonewall and coming out as LGBT was an open act of defiance. People were bashed and murdered. Friends of mine were fired from their jobs for who they were. I had the word FAG gouged in the side of my car. It was a frightening time as it still is around many places in the world, but it was also an empowering time.
  • At that time, in stories, LGBT characters were hardly ever written in a positive light and most of the stories dealt with the struggle of their orientation and gender identity. Forget a main character that was simply living an ordinary life with the same highs and lows. We were tortured and tormented. There were no LGBT superheroes or space explorers or kickass spies who saved the world from a cabal of crazy megalomaniacs. There was an obvious under-representation or even blatant false representation of the community. Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City flipped all this for me. Here was a community of friends who created a family who were just trying to live and love in the late ‘70’s. Their orientations and gender identities were simply something that was a part of who they were but so were all of the other aspects that made them living, breathing characters that you wanted to know more about.
  • N: What are your writing goals for the next three years?
  • P: I really don’t know. I have accomplished more than I ever hoped with my writing. For the last two years, I’ve been so fortunate that I have had my work consistently published.
  • I’ve written a couple of novel-length pieces in the past, but am still drawn to short stories and flash fiction. I guess I will continue to write what I like to read and explore those themes that are still so strong inside me that need to come out. I continue to learn as a writer. It’s a never-ending process. I’m always striving, always searching for that singular image and perfect word.
  • N: What are you reading at the moment? Name some authors whose work you admire.
  • P: I usually have a novel, a book of poems and a book of short stories going at the same time. Presently, I’m reading Vestal McIntyre’s novel, Lake Overturn. The characters are heart-wrenchingly beautiful and I am reading it slowly because I don’t want their stories to end. This Way to the Acorns by Raymond Luczak is a stunning book of poetry. He’s from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and reading his work is as if he has reached inside my head and shared similar experiences that I had when growing up. I’m also re-reading some of Herman Melville’s short stories: Billy Budd, Bartleby the Scrivener… no need to say anymore.
  •  N: Finally, what tips would you give someone who's recently started writing? Name some pitfalls to avoid, invaluable resources etc.
  • P: Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Spend time everyday reading and writing. When reading, I not only get lost in the characters and story but there’s another part of me that sits off to the side and takes notes on what the writer is doing that makes their words and images resonate.
  • You can’t be a writer if you don’t write. Even when I think what I’ve put on the page is god-awful, it’s still something. When writing, I leave my internal editor at the door. There will be plenty of time to be ruthless later. But initially when the characters and their stories are developing, be kind and let the characters talk and act without censoring them. I never know where my characters are going to take me. I listen and write it all down.

 

  • N: Many thanks Patrick, it's very good to have the opportunity to interview someone whose flash fiction is so inspirational.

13.12.15