An interview with Patrick Canning, author of The Colonel and the Bee
Patrick Canning was born in Wisconsin, grew up in Illinois, and now lives in California with his dog, Hank. He is primarily focused on turning coffee into words, words into money, money back into coffee.
I’m not going to be reviewing your newest novel, but from your other published novels, is there one that is your own personal favourite?
The only other novel I have is called Cryptofauna so I’d that takes the prize. It’s a dark comedy set in the 1980’s, so drastically different than the whimsical Victorian Age world of The Colonel and the Bee. The genres are so different, I can’t imagine there will be too many reads of both (other than my Mom of course).
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 harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?
Cryptofauna (mentioned above) was my first foray into novel writing. It was pretty ugly at first but the revision/publication process was so long that it was able to morph into something I’m proud of today. But even if a writer has to relegate that first book to the drawer/hard drive, the good news is you can always take another crack at it later, or, more likely, just harvest the best stuff out of it for your other works. Some projects do die and go nowhere, but, manuscripts keep on giving, even in the afterlife (in addition to all you learned by writing it).
Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?
I’m trying to close the gap between the best ideation of a story and how it eventually ends up on paper. It’s very frustrating when something is amazing in your head, but you can’t communicate it well enough to match the initial vision. I think craft helps minimize that particular disparity, and while certain pockets of creativity are maddeningly impervious to time invested, craft is something that can be learned and improved with effort.
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?
I definitely let ideas percolate for a few years but there are always a few percolating at once, so hopefully my output ends up being closer to one of those novel a year people. I think the time required for each project is dropping as I become more comfortable with writing, but I think you can only push the delivery schedule so much before quality suffers. Time away from a project, after a first draft for instance, is massively valuable to retain some objectivity, so streamlining is only useful to a point.
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)?
I rotate through a cycle of maybe 10 coffee shops. I always work in Word. I’ve messed with Scrivener for more complex stories with lots of characters and world building, but I think simplicity is best, so usually it’s just Word. I’ve heard great things about pen and paper, especially for first drafts, but haven’t tried it yet. I’ve been typing so long now my handwriting is basically doctor-prescription-pad bad but some people swear by the analog method. In any case, it seems like most of the pros can write whenever, wherever, however, so I try to keep the qualifications at a minimum. Semantic procrastination costumes pretty easily as “essential” routine.
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?
Right now my beta-readers are family and friends. The trick is to be polite and grateful (they’re eating undercooked dough after all). I make sure the document is readable (a simple spell check should be the minimum decorum) and I always try to keep in mind this is a great deal of time for someone to spend on a project that isn’t at its best. I sought out my first editor freelance and had one assigned by my indie-press for the second book. There are many fantastic editors out there, it’s mostly just finding someone that understands your style of writing/the style of that particular book. Then trust that they’re usually right and be professional.
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’m with you on the great smell of books (especially books from like the 70’s and 80’s, they all have a decade-specific musk). Aside from that, I don’t care too much about format. I love paper books, but I have a e-reader that always surprises me with its readability whenever I come back to it. They’re great for vacations when lugging an omnibus in your carry-on is spinally inadvisable. I’m fully on board with audiobooks too. I live in LA, meaning lots of time in traffic. Audiobooks make it bearable.
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 actually wouldn’t say I have a favorite genre. If something sounds interesting or comes highly recommended, I’ll pretty much check it out no matter what. I love going into books (and movies) knowing as little as possible. So as soon as the minimum level of interest is reached, I jump in, because additional information might serve only to spoil plot or unfairly raise expectations.
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?
The only social media I have for my books is Instagram. It’s still mostly a personal account (meaning an abundance of pictures of my dog) but hopefully I’ll have more and more book-related content. I like the idea of theoretically connecting directly with (theoretical) fans someday, but it’s not a huge factor in my career these days. Promotion of my work so far has come through book review bloggers! Those mysteriously benevolent people willing to read unknown authors. Twitter is probably the most popular for authors, but it seems like one of the more toxic social media ecosystems to me (and that’s saying something), so I’ve avoided it thus far.
Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next?
I’m always mortified when I tell someone a story and they say “You already told me this.” If you do 20 interviews about 1 book, you’re inevitably going to cover a lot of the same ground, but I always try to at the very least phrase it differently. I may eventually be forced into pig Latin, but I say death before repetition. Death before repetition.