Please help me welcome Patrick Canning as today’s Wednesday’s Guest. He’s the author of Hawthorn Woods, which I reviewed last Sunday, as well as The Colonel And The Bee, which I reviewed here in August 2018.
Patrick answered a few questions about his latest book, writing, and what he does when he isn’t writing. So, without further ado…
Q. This book is vastly different from The Colonel and the Bee, yet it does have a cast of interesting, and somewhat unusual, characters. How did you pick the people to be in the story and why? Do you have a favorite?
A. For me, the characters usually develop in tandem with the story/plot. Sometimes I’ll have to introduce one because the story demands it, or conversely, one might just show up and the story has to adjust to them. With this book being a mystery, I think it had to have an alluring cast of suspects who the reader is never quite on firm ground with. Some seem good and turn out to be bad, some seem bad turn and out to be good, and some are exactly who they appear to be throughout. I usually like side characters the best, but here I have to go with the main character, Francine. I like it when someone is out of their element and outmatched in a number of ways, but pushes forward anyway. I think Francine fits that bill, and I’m always rooting for her.
Q. Is the character of Francine based on a real person?
A. No. It’s a little tough to chart exactly how characters come about. Pieces of them definitely come from myself and people I know, but never in any direct way. Ideally the character just becomes their own person somewhat early in the writing process, and I just instinctually know what they would and wouldn’t do, without any second-hand reference to real life.
Q. What prompted you to explore the emotional and mental issues she has?
A.The short answer is my own personal experience. I’m lucky in that my situation has never been as extreme as Francine’s, but I wanted to write about moving on from loss and reacting to mental health challenges. Unsuccessful relationships feel so personal and unique, and in a way they are, but it’s also one of those things you can read about and say “Oh, a lot of people have felt this same thing,” and it can help put the pain in perspective. Without giving too much away, Francine’s challenges regarding her mental health come pretty late in the story, so her response to them is somewhat brief. But I still think it’s an appropriate reaction that someone in a similar position might benefit from reading about.
Q. What truth do you want readers to come away with after reading your book?
A. On a surface level I hope they enjoy the mystery and the turns in the story. If we’re talking truth on a deeper level, I’d say the importance of knowing and trusting one’s self. For me, that’s the main crux of Francine’s journey. She once depended on her instincts, then had reason to doubt them, and had to earn back her own trust.
Q. What’s your family’s favorite story to tell on you?
A. No shortage of embarrassing childhood stories but one that comes up often is the BLT story. We were having sandwiches for dinner in the backyard, and I hated both tomatoes and spiders, so when I saw a daddy long legs, I used my tomato to squash it. Then I put my tomato back on the plate and didn’t notice my dad put it on his own BLT and ate it. For the record, I now tolerate tomatoes and spiders.
Oh my gosh. I may never eat a BLT again without checking for spiders first.
Q. What is the hardest thing about writing?
A. Getting the book in front of people. The creative process has its own trials to be sure, but standing out in a crowded field of entertainment choices continues to be a challenge.
Amen to that.
Q. What do you do for fun?
A.Hike with my dog or watch Parks and Rec for the hundredth time. I’m getting back into tennis after some time off, and I’m always looking for new recipes to try. Also in quarantine, I’ve been playing a lot of Age of Empires 2 with my friends online. It’s a computer game from the 90’s that is still awesome, twenty-something years later.
Q. Do you have a pet?
A. I have a four-year-old Australian Shepard-mix named Hank. Best dog ever.
I had an Aussie mix once, and she was an amazing dog. Something special about the breed.
Q. What is the most interesting job you ever had?
A. I used to work construction when I was in high school and we did a lot of things like house demolitions. Lots of hard work, but it was always fun to put a sledge hammer through a wall or watch a backhoe take down a chimney. Houses seem like such permanent things so it was always weird to see a place with so much meaning and history go back to being an empty patch of dirt in a couple of hours.
Thanks to Patrick for spending some time with us today. I hope you enjoyed the interview and will check out his books. If you have a question for him, don’t hesitate to ask in a comment.
PATRICK CANNING is the author of three novels, including Cryptofauna (2018), The Colonel and the Bee (2018), and his latest, Hawthorn Woods (2020). When he isn’t writing, he enjoys playing beach volleyball, following space exploration, and losing at bar trivia. Patrick lives in Los Angeles with his dog Hank, who some consider to be the greatest dog of all time. He is currently working on a new book. You can find book reviews (and dog pictures) on his Instagram: @catpanning, and more of his work at patrickcanningbooks.com