5 Minutes, 5 Questions With… Patty Friedmann, author of No Takebacks

JoeyPinkney.com Exclusive Interview
5 Minutes, 5 Questions With…
Patty Friedmann, author of No Takebacks
(Tiny Satchel Press)

What is my book about? A young boy who grapples with an abusive father. What is my book really about? It’s really about racism and anti-Semitism and child abuse and family dysfunction and teen pregnancy and personal choice.

Otto Fisher is a 13-year-old adopted child whose father never wanted him—and now doesn’t like him very much. His father doesn’t like anyone but people like himself very much: white, Christian, academic types.

When his father beats up his mother, who is a Jewish artist, Otto has to grapple with his feelings about losing the only father he ever has known. It may be that his father’s new landlady, a smart black businesswoman, is his only salvation.

Joey Pinkney: Where did you get the inspiration to write No Takebacks?

Patty Friedmann: My books are all character-driven; to hell with plot! I fall in love with a character, and her or his story surely will follow. In the case of No Takebacks, my editor sent me inside of my head to find someone I could love for the duration of the writing of a book, and there sat my son when he was 13. Yes, he was adopted. Yes, he had ADHD, just like Otto in the book. Yes, he grappled with a lot of Otto’s issues.

How far am I willing to go in drawing the line between fiction and memory? Not very far. After all, Otto is the victim of a terrible father, and I would be a fool to touch on whether I draw on reality for that. This is a litigious world.

JP: What sets No Takebacks apart from other books in the same genre?

PF: No Takebacks was written at the request of the publisher of an exclusive little press that deals in YA (young adult) fiction with a focus on urban issues. So despite having a very large audience of adult readers, this novel also is written in the vein of young adult fiction. All that means is that in some small measure I avoid ambiguity.

If it is going to be read by a young teen, then it needs a certain emotional accessibility. And that is where its similarity to its genre ends. YA fiction these days panders a lot to the horror-slash-fantasy obsession of teens, something I don’t “get” at all. When most YA fiction chooses instead to deal with “issues,” it seems awfully cloying to me.

I prefer to think that because my work is character-driven, it is all about voice, more in the vein of Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mickingbird. I write literary fiction. I like to think this book is literary, even if it does deal with contemporary issues.

JP: As an author, what are the keys to your success that led to No Takebacks getting out to the public?

PF: I definitely rely big-time on longevity! Name recognition is just about all that works for me, and it took a long time to get it. Of course, if I’d known how valuable a name would be, I’d have thought more carefully before saying to myself, “Self, you need to hang onto the name you had in high school so everybody who thought you’d amount to nothing will see you in print and go, Aw, rats.”

That aside, I’ve slowly built up a network of connections in both the publishing world and the media. That means that when I have a new book, media are receptive to news releases about my work, and publishers take me seriously. Anthology editors call me and ask for contributions.

Theoretically, it also would mean that I would have a network of writer friends who would clue me in when they have leads on opportunities. But I happen to live in a peculiar small town—New Orleans—where writers act strangely to one another, and love relationships often turn to hate. I guess my answer reflects my “advanced” age, since it’s all about people. If I were younger, I’d hold forth on the internet. But, hey, I know Joey Pinkney!

JP: As an author, what is your writing process? How long did it take you to start and finish No Takebacks?

PF: “Writing process” is sort of an oxymoron, don’t you think? It sort of implies that there’s method in the madness. That it’s not a sloppy, throw-the-paint-at-the-canvas experience.

The gestation of No Takebacks is sort of an extreme example of how my books come into existence. I was poked at by my editor. I came up with the character. The beginning of his story began to flow. And when I got up the first morning, after my chores I sat down at the computer and wrote for an hour. It was as if I was channeling a narrative that already existed. Then I went on with my otherwise useless life.

My subconscious was working the story. And like on subsequent days, if fragments of the narrative that followed came into my head, I meandered into the room with the desktop and tacked them on. That was the way the book was written, and I’m astonished to admit it took four weeks.

I was in a fever dream. Most of my novels take six months. But this book had a lot of autobiographical underpinnings, and it rang true emotionally, and I probably could have written it in three days if I abused Schedule I substances. I did zero revisions, and the only changes by the publisher were line edits, and very few of those. Remarkable what a catharsis can do.

JP: What’s next for Patty Friedmann?

PF: For the past four books, I always have said that what is next for me is the rocking chair with the grandchildren dancing around me. But let’s face it, grandchildren get boring after half an hour. And invariably another book comes out in spite of me.

Right now, I’m making baby steps to put a new novel “out there.” It’s the first post-Katrina adult literary novel that I’m daring to sell for print. It’s titled An Organized Panic. The title taken from a quote, “What is religion really but an organized panic about death?” Looks like a hard sell? Probably is. But I haven’t learned a lot of lessons. And one is that there are ways to make writing painless.



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