An interview with Philippa Stasiuk, author of The Wonderful Whippet of Winifred Weatherwax
Writer, rover, animal and plant lover, Philippa has lived in Zimbabwe, where she’s from, South Korea, Mexico, New York, and Copenhagen. She grew up with Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Bichon Frises, Dachshunds and mutts. She now lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with her husband, two daughters and three cats, who have banded together and forbidden the acquisition of dogs. The Wonderful Whippet of Winifred Weatherwax is her first novel.
Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external hard drive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?
Winifred Weatherwax is my first novel, but it has many abandoned drafts, mostly those experimenting with different perspectives. I started my story by telling it from the perspective of the dog –both first and close third-person. Eventually, I realized the dog perspective could (and does) work for novels, but not for a mystery – at least not mine.
Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?
When crafting a story, I refuse to be rushed. This book took me about seven years to write. Maybe with the next one, I can cut that time in half?
I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)?
Right now, I seem to only be able to write on my bed, or at a coffee shop with noise-silencing headphones on. My desk, for some reason, isn’t working. I generally sketch ideas (and plenty of doodles) in a notebook first before braving the blank page of the laptop.
Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?
My story has to do with conformation dog shows. I found some extremely kind dog handlers through the American Whippet Club who gave me feedback on the rules and regulations of the shows. I still missed things though. I’ve already gotten one irate letter from an offended reader stating that even though they could, dachshunds never go first in the group hound judging. My husband has provided invaluable feedback too. He’s an architect now, but he was a lit major and did his thesis on Herman Melville.
I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?
I love bookshops, and was lucky enough to hold a book launch party at Francie & Finch, this magical little bookstore in Lincoln, Nebraska. I struggle with e-books as well. I want to fold down corners and underline and stuff old photos and lists between the pages of my books.
I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?
I’ve always loved gothic mysteries – good mysteries of any kind really. “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier and “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman were revelations to me. And I love beautiful writing. “Persuasion” by Jane Austen is a favorite, “Day” by A.L. Kennedy and “Holes” by Louis Sachar. I just read “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders, which is like absolutely nothing I’ve ever read.
Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?
My day job is managing social media accounts so I feel pretty comfortable in that universe. I am, however, almost entirely focused on Facebook. I just don’t have time to do more. Twitter has never appealed to me as a medium so I’ve given up. I also created my own website for the book: https://www.winifredweatherwax.com/ because I like the idea of telling my own story.
Why did you choose Young Adult as your genre, and what makes it, as a genre, so special?
For young teens, discovering that they love being transported to another universe through words is so magical – at least it was for me. And I love the pride children take in telling you what their favorite books are. Because they’re realizing that their tastes are forming their own unique identity.
Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?
Writing, in any form, will always lead to better writing. I’ve freelanced articles, written for newspapers, and been a copy editor and content writer. In every one of those spaces, there’s an opportunity to learn. Generally, dialogue comes much easier for me than exposition.
Sometimes, bad things happen to good dogs. Winifred Weatherwax begins summer with a pedigreed puppy – a Whippet named Shumba with Best in Show written in his stars. But when Shumba starts winning, other hounds start disappearing. As more dogs vanish, Freddy and her new friend Eli team up to investigate a mystery that includes dishonest dog breeding, the colorful world of dog shows, a first crush, a nefarious villain, and chicanery more sinister than common dog theft. On her way, Winifred discovers the magical bond between humans and dogs.
Shipping info: The book ships in the US via Amazon, and anywhere in the world via the website.