CS: What made you decide to write A Girl from the Hill? Where did you get the inspiration or determination to write it?
Patricia: A Girl from the Hill began simply as an attempt to write something for people to read. I attended one of Lisa Tener’s Meet Your Muse workshops at All that Matters in Wakefield and became totally inspired by her message and her method of reaching inside and finding your story. I have always wanted to write fiction so non-fiction never really occurred to me as an option. Then my Muse led me to write about my mother, her story of growing up and how she overcame many obstacles.
CS: Did you have a clear outline of the book before you began writing or was it more organic, stemming from memories as you wrote?
Patricia: My book is a group of essays, along with recipes, childhood stories and rhymes. I began by doing some organic brainstorming about the things I wanted to share, and then as those thoughts began to develop I created an informal outline. The more I wrote the more detailed the outline became. Finally, I got to the point where I didn’t need the outline, but used it to create my table of contents.
CS: Your book includes some very interesting features that I don’t think I’ve often seen in memoirs, such as your mother’s recipes, nursery rhymes, bedtime stories, and specific references to areas of Rhode Island. How did you decide to include these features? What affect do you think they have on a reader’s experience?
Patricia: The book includes the highlights of my mother’s life and my image of her, what I remember, as well as what she revealed to me. I wanted this book to be more than just a ‘here’s what happened,” and wanted to create a holistic picture of my mother’s life. Her Christmas cookie trays were her specialty for years and I have very fond memories of watching, helping and tasting so I felt they deserved tribute. The bedtime stories and rhymes were a huge piece of my childhood, and my mother’s childhood so I really just wanted to pass those down to the next generation, my nieces and nephews, their children and of course my daughter as well. And Rhode Island is such a unique place, and Italian Americans play a huge role in its cultural development to this day.
CS: A Girl from the Hill deals with some difficult and personal subject matter that both you and your mother experienced. Did this affect your writing process, knowing that others would be reading of these matters? Did you have ways of reaching out for support during the writing process? Was the writing itself a kind of support?
Patricia: There were days and sometimes weeks where I simply could not write. I had to walk away from it because of the pain it caused me. But my mother was amazingly brave in her recollections and her allowing me to write about such personal topics. I am so proud of her because it makes the book such a special tribute, and I know it has helped other people who have had similar experiences. I just feel I was the medium between her and the written page, but I felt her pain and it has had a permanent effect on me, for the better.
CS: What advice do you have for writers on writing about difficult personal matters?
Patricia: Dialogue with someone about it is helpful. If it’s your own personal story, I recommend talking with someone you trust about what you want to say, as it may help you form the story you want to tell versus just the emotional release that you are looking for. Take your time, walk away and come back until you can read it objectively, as a reader would. It’s not easy, but I thought of it as a tribute when it came to my mother, so that helped.
CS: How do you think the relationship between the reader and author differs with a memoir, as opposed to another genre, such as a fiction or self-help book? Do you feel that a more personal work creates a closer relationship with the reader? Did you find yourself having to distance the reader at all because of the personal nature of a memoir or did you find yourself being very open in writing?
Patricia: I love memoirs and biographies and autobiographies. Understanding someone’s story, how they think, what motivates them, has always been fascinating for me. I think a memoir can be a self-help book depending on the life events and struggles, the obstacles overcome. I am always looking for the internal look inside the person, or the character, and that’s what keeps me interested and engaged. I think with A Girl from the Hill, you can’t help but know my mother, and me, on a very personal level. I really did feel like I was telling her story and our story and it was a cleansing, liberating experience. But I didn’t want to put either of us under a microscope, so to speak, so I tried to preserve my mother’s dignity throughout her stories. The feedback I have received has been that the reader feels they know us both very well. A friend of mine put it nicely, he said that he felt like he had just sat down and had a nice conversation with me and my mother. That’s what I was aiming for.
CS: Why did you decide to write a memoir and include the experiences of your whole family as well as your own, rather than a biography of your mother or some other genre of book? What effect do you think the memoir form has on the reader?
Patricia: I think the memoir is personal, revealing and has the most powerful impact on the reader. It’s a step inside someone’s heart and mind. Plus, most of this book includes her memories. Not always absolutely factual, and not for use as a historical document, it’s her perceptions as a child and an adult and what she understood to be the truth at particular times in her life. Biographies have to be much more precise, and can be a little distancing to the reader depending on the approach.
CS: How did you determine what voice or narrative style to use in the book? Did you experiment with different styles or voices to find the best fit or did it come naturally? Do you find that it is similar to your own voice or is it more of an authorial voice?
Patricia: It’s my voice usually, which made it easy. But I had to make sure it wasn’t too informal while being conversational at the same time. It was my first impulse to write this way so I didn’t have to think about it much.
CS: Did you find that the writing process for writing a memoir was different than writing, say, a short story? If so, how?
Patricia: The process is very different because with non-fiction you know what the story is already. You know the characters and you know the plot and it’s just a matter of telling it in an interesting way. With fiction you have to create it all, and in a very detailed manner. Both require a lot of planning and research, but you have to create an actual world and universe with fiction that doesn’t exist. I am working on a fiction book now, and it’s much more challenging from a creative standpoint.
CS: What are some of the steps you took to get A Girl From the Hill published? How did you choose this method of publishing?
Patricia: Self- publishing worked for me because it is a relatively quick process compared to traditional publishing. My mother just turned 89 this past July and I wanted to get this done quickly so that she could enjoy it, come with me to book readings, etc., while she is in relatively good health. It’s also a short book which helps, because although I had lots of copy editing help, the responsibility lay with me to put a perfectly copy-edited book together. I cannot imagine being responsible for copy editing a 300 page book myself! So from a self-publishing perspective, the work was manageable.
CS: What do you think worked well with this method of publishing as opposed to other methods? What do you think didn’t work as well?
Patricia: I enjoyed every aspect of self-publishing. I felt I had total control, but just enough help to get the book to look and sound exactly the way I wanted.
CS: There are a lot of choices writers must make about who to work with on their book, such as publishers, agents, editors, etc. Did you find that having a more personal book affected your decisions on who to work with? If so, how? Did you find it difficult to share your memoir with these more objective readers?
Patricia: I chose Balboa Press because they are a division of Hay House, one of the biggest self-help and spirituality publishers on the planet. Their corporate demeanor is positive, encouraging, and patient, and I thrived in that kind of environment. As far as the editing and copy-editing, my friend Lisa Barnstein is a writer in corporate communications and a really bright person. We are good friends, and I felt she would be fair and not tell me just what I wanted to hear. My mother in law, Judy Mitchell, is an English professor at Rhode Island College and was an obvious choice to do the final editing and copy-editing as she is extremely detail oriented. I was very lucky to have them both available to help me and I trusted them both with the intimate details I revealed.
CS: Did you encounter any roadblocks during the writing and publishing processes? How did you overcome these? What advice do you have for readers encountering similar roadblocks?
Patricia: The only roadblock I experienced was after the book was published. There were a few family members who got very upset with some of the portrayals of my mother’s family. These are my mother’s memories and I state that at the beginning of the book, but if I had to do it again, I would get a written release from anyone mentioned. That caused me a lot of grief after the fact and upset my mother, and that was just very unfortunate.
CS: What advice do you have for writers on choosing who they work with, particularly if they are writing something with personal or difficult subject matters?
Patricia: I would highly recommend Balboa Press, as they specialize in these types of books. But it’s important, in my opinion, to talk with someone who has already written and published. I attended seminars, classes and sought out some local authors to get their feedback before I got started.
CS: How can our readers reach you?
Twitter: @pattytmitch or Email me.
You can order A Girl from the Hill on the following websites: Balboa Press,
Patricia Mitchell’s lifelong love of writing and desire to capture the story of her mother’s life prompted her to embark on her first professional writing project—A Girl from the Hill. She holds degrees in mass media and communication, English literature and creative writing. This work expresses her interest in Italian-American culture as well as the relationship between mothers and daughters. Patricia Mitchell lives in Smithfield, Rhode Island, with her husband, daughter and beagle.
Patricia Mitchell will be at the Smithfield Barnes and Noble on Wednesday, October 23rd for a local author books signing event.
She will be at Marion J. Mohr Library in Johnston on Tuesday November 19th for a book reading and signing event during their Italian American week series.