Patrice Hannon holds a Ph.D. from Rutgers University and a B.A. from Saint Peter’s College, both in English. Patrice is the author of Black Tom: A Novel of Sabotage in New York Harbor, Dear Jane Austen: A Heroine’s Guide to Life and Love, and 101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen. She taught English full-time at Rutgers University, Vassar College, and Stockton University. A Jersey City native, she now lives in New York. Recently, Patrice read from and discussed Black Tom in the historic Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal at Liberty State Park in Jersey City. Patrice can be contacted through her website, patricehannon.com.
Marina Raydun: Have you read anything that made you feel differently about fiction?
Patrice Hannon: That question is broad enough to be taken in any number of ways. What comes to mind is how my reading when I was in the graduate English program at Rutgers—literary criticism and theory as well as primary texts—changed my experience of literature. Even if I don’t literally have a pen in my hand, taking notes as I read in preparation for a class or an essay, I read as a teacher, critic, and writer. I’m very much aware of style, of the ways a writer is achieving effects at every level.
MR: If you had to do something differently as a child or a teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would you do?
PH: Although I know I could be a better writer, I’m not sure there’s anything I could have done differently as a child to make that happen. As is the case with so many writers, I read voraciously when I was young. I memorized poems. I also wrote poetry and stories under the influence of those models. I believe (as do many) that aspiring writers should immerse themselves in great literature. Although heaven knows not everything I read was great—I read comic books too—I experienced again and again the thrilling pleasure of some of the most beautiful and powerful language, the most captivating stories, ever written. Reading was the source of my desire and, to a great extent, my ability to be a writer.
MR: What is the most difficult part about your artistic process?
PH: The first draft! I often start a scene or chapter or book without a clear plan for how all the pieces will fall together. The whole only takes shape as I write, so I have to keep making that leap of faith and start writing without necessarily knowing what will develop—how the plot will unfold, what the characters will do. The fear is that nothing will develop, but fortunately that is almost never the case.
MR: How did publishing your first book change your writing process?
PH: Publishing my first book did change my writing process for the next book but I don’t know that it’s made any permanent changes. After my first book, Dear Jane Austen, was published, I was approached by Paula Munier, an editor at Adams Media, and asked to write 101 Things You Didn’t Know about Jane Austen. I started working under a tight deadline on a book that required a lot of research and I knew the only way I would make the deadline was to give myself a daily word quota. The pressure to meet these self-imposed quotas was intense and I would sometimes go for days without leaving my apartment or getting much sleep. I also didn’t have the luxury of endless revision. With my next book, a still-unpublished novel, I returned to writing at a less manic pace.
MR: Is there a thing you’ve written that makes you cringe now?
PH: Not a whole book (thank goodness) but yes, I see things here and there in all my books that I would change if I could. I won’t be specific, though, since I don’t want to point out my lapses to readers who might have missed them.
MR: What’s the best and worst book review you’ve ever received?
PH: I’m happy to say I’ve received many wonderful reviews in newspapers, on blogs, on Amazon, and in other places. I applaud the excellent judgment shown by the wise authors of such brilliant commentary on my work. It would be hard to single out one of those reviews as the best. Naturally, a few bad reviews stand out in my mind.
Although 101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen was generally well received, one Amazon reviewer was disappointed by the misleading title and pointed out that my book did not, in fact, contain 101 entirely new, hitherto unknown facts about Jane Austen. (My book was part of the 101 Things You Didn’t Know About _____ series, in which I suspect all the titles are similarly deficient.)
Another reviewer highly praised the content of the book but took off two stars because she didn’t like its physical dimensions (more or less square) or the fact that there were no illustrations.
The Books Editor of one newspaper trashed Dear Jane Austen on principle (there were too many books about Jane Austen published that year) while admitting he hadn’t read it and wouldn’t bother to. I in turn was so offended by his savaging of a book he refused even to open that I called him at the paper and left a voicemail message. He called back and we talked, eventually making peace. He acknowledged that it was in fact possible to create a good book that took as its starting point the work of another author.
MR: What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
PH: To name just a few: to the grave of William Butler Yeats in Drumcliffe Churchyard, County Sligo, “Joyce’s Tower” in Sandycove, and Mulligan’s pub, also in Dublin. Staying with Dublin, to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, where Jonathan Swift was dean and where he is buried. I adore Dickens so The Dickens Museum in London was a must (along with, of course, Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey). On a trip to Rome I visited the house where Keats died (The Keats-Shelley House). Ten years ago I was invited to attend the Jane Austen’s Regency World Awards dinner, organized by the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. 101 Things You Didn’t Know About Jane Austen had been nominated for an award. (It won!) While in Bath I visited many places associated with Jane Austen and her novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. On the same trip I spent three days in Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast, a seaside resort Jane Austen had visited, also the setting of a key scene in Persuasion. I absolutely loved Lyme, particularly the romantic seawall known as the Cobb, famous not only for its role in Persuasion but also in John Fowles’s novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman. There are many more places, particularly in London, Dublin, and of course New York City, where I live.
MR: Is there a book that people might be surprised to learn you love?
PH: People who don’t know me might be surprised to learn that I’m a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings. It was my favorite book when I was a teenager but I hadn’t reread it for many years when I learned of the planned film adaptation. I read it again at that time to see if, after studying and teaching the greatest literature I would still love and admire this work of fantasy from my youth. I certainly did! I was inspired to write an essay about Tolkien’s masterpiece [read it here: https://dc.swosu.edu/mythlore/vol24/iss2/4/].
MR: Is there an illicit book you had to sneak growing up?
PH: I can’t think of one.
MR: What are you currently reading?
PH: I just started reading The Green Man by Kingsley Amis. I picked up a copy at a used book sale decades ago. Last year I finally read Lucky Jim and thought it was one of the funniest novels I’d ever read so when I spotted The Green Man in my bookcase last week I thought I’d give it a go. I’m enjoying it very much.