Miami University Press Marketing Intern Leah Gaus interviews 2017 Novella Prize winner Patricia Grace King on her latest work, her writing process, and the importance of gratitude.
Having traversed many countries and lived in vastly different cities, Patricia Grace King fell in love with travel at an early age. Her prize-winning novella, Day of All Saints (Miami University Press, 2017), takes place in Guatemala, where Patricia lived for three years. While there, she worked as an accompanier of refugees with grassroots organization Witness for Peace during the civil war. She holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College and a PhD in English from Emory University. Hard at work on her forthcoming novel, King currently resides in Durham, England. For more, visit her website at www.patriciagraceking.com.
LG: How did you come up with the idea for Day of All Saints? Was it a sudden spark or a gradual process?
PGK: This was definitely a gradual process! I got the idea for the character of Martín, my protagonist, many years ago—in 2005, to be exact—when my husband and I had just moved back to the States from Guatemala. In Day of All Saints, Martín is a Guatemalan who has recently arrived in the States and who finds it strange on some levels. So the book began with my idea for Martín, with my wondering how different aspects of American life might seem to a newly arrived Guatemalan.
I carried Martín around with me for quite a while before I began writing about him. I worked on this novella from 2013 to 2016, with quite a few big breaks in between. Only gradually did I come up with his backstory, which has ended up being an important part of the book. And Martín’s grandmother—whose voice and POV take over for parts of the book—came to me quite a bit later, too.
LG: Did Day of All Saints always feel like it was meant to be a novella, or did you consider extending the book to novel-length?
PGK: I never considered extending it to novel length. Because it is a novella, Day of All Saints does end with some ambiguity, with some plot lines still unresolved. (In this aspect, I think the novella has more in common with the short story than with the novel.) Rather than ending with complete resolution across the board, Martín’s story ends with the resolution—or perhaps, the beginning of the resolution—of his one central problem or crisis.
By the novella’s end, the central force that has been driving Martín—the secret or buried past that he has not been able to confront—has finally come to the light. He can no longer deny it. While we don’t know exactly what he’ll do from this point onward, we do know that with the arrival of this new knowledge, Martín is and will be a changed man.
LG: What do you hope the novella will do for its readers, both in the current moment and the future?
PGK: I think stories at their best provide bridges for us into other lives, other worldviews, other cultures. That’s not their only function, of course; ideally, they should also entertain us, or move us with their beauty. But yes, in this current moment and in the foreseeable future, my hope for Day of All Saints is that it might increase or encourage compassion for the outsiders in our midst, wherever we are.
LG: You mentioned in one of your interviews that Day of All Saints is certainly a fish-out-of-water story. What draws you to writing this genre, and what is the importance of these kinds of stories?
PGK: Fish-out-of-water stories certainly do compel me, probably because I have spent large swathes of life being a fish out of water, myself. From living in Spain from ages 19 to 20, to my various stints of living in Guatemala, to my current residence in the UK, I’ve experienced some of the particular challenges and the particular thrills of living in cultures distinct from my own.
My optimistic belief is that human beings are fundamentally more similar than we are different, no matter our countries of origin; at the same time, I’m fascinated by the variety of beliefs and habits that grow out of our various contexts. And the interactions between people from two different cultures is always good fodder for stories, because of the ways we are both drawn to and sometimes confused by people we experience as Other.
LG: How do you see this novella relating to the current situation and political scene in America?
PGK: While I did not conceive of or write Day of All Saints during the current political context—in which the rights of immigrants to the U.S. are being so hotly contested—I am glad that the novella came out when it did. Perhaps now more than ever, we need to hear stories of outsiders. By imagining their realities for even a moment, I think we foster tolerance and empathy.
LG: In 200 Women by Geoff Blackwell and Ruth Hobday, you were asked to choose a single word that you most identify with. You chose ‘gratitude.’ What does this word mean to you? Do you see it relating to Day of All Saints?
PGK: On one hand, I chose “gratitude” for deeply personal reasons: for feeling so fortunate to have my health and my partner and my family and my work as a writer, for having all of these things at once. But gratitude also has to do with the idea of being present, of truly experiencing and valuing the moment you are in.
This concept is perhaps what keeps me returning to the writing desk every day. Even when it doesn’t feel like I’ve pushed the work forward very far (or at all!), I have been at my desk; I have engaged in the work. I’ve done my practice, as they say in yoga. So in this very broad respect, the idea of “gratitude” does link to Day of All Saints, or at least to the process of writing it.
LG: I saw on your Facebook page that you’re working with a literary agent now. Congrats! What are your hopes and what projects are you working on pitching?
PGK: I have just finished a novel, Outsider Art, and am working on the revisions my agent suggested to me recently. I also have a collection of short stories—one of which is an additional story about Martín—that should be finished by the end of this year.
LG: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received regarding writing?
PGK: It’s about the process, not the end results.