Patti Wigington is a busy woman. Somehow in between writing novels and nonfiction, writing online content about Pagan and Wicca religions, raising a family and going to school, she finds time to be just awesome. Patti Wigington’s followers know not only how funny she is, but also how easy it is to read her work. She’s got a book coming out in December, The Good Witch’s Daily Spellbook.
I have had the good fortune of being a colleague of Patti Wigington through our work at About.com. I’m a fan of historical romance novels, and because she has written a few, I asked her questions about her inspirations, her writing process, and what she thinks of trends in books.
Interview with Patti Wigington
Let’s start with a little background. What led you into writing?
There are two very concrete and definitive things that got me into writing. The first one, which is a little easier to talk about, is that when I was a kid we lived in a small town with a very nice but very small library. I had pretty much read everything in the children’s section by the time I was about nine, so my parents encouraged me to read things from the adult fiction area – Sherlock Holmes, Tolkien, Agatha Christie, and so on – but as much as I loved those books, none of the characters were my age. So I started writing my own stories to fill the void.
The other reason I started writing is because up until I finished high school, I was painfully shy. I was a gifted kid who was socially awkward and kind of plain, and I just didn’t fit in anywhere. You know Ally Sheedy’s character in The Breakfast Club? That’s high school me. I did some really stupid shit as a teenager, acted out, that sort of thing, so writing was a way for me to be creative and explore without being reckless and dumb.
Where do you find inspiration? Dreams, real life, other stories?
You know, it’s weird; inspiration comes in the most unlikely places. Usually a little spark will lead to something bigger if I just chew on it for a bit. When I wrote Scar Tissue, which is a zombie time-travel story, it started with a single scene that was inspired simply by Sharon Stone’s leather-and-duster outfit in The Quick and the Dead, which is a movie that’s so over the top I can’t help but love it. That scene ended up being half of the first chapter of Scar Tissue, and it spiraled from there.
Other times, I’ll find inspiration in really strange ways – someone will say something, and a single sentence will prompt an entire story eventually. That’s sort of what happened with MacFarlane’s Ridge, which was my first full-length book. There was a line in an episode of Highlander, believe it or not, which stuck with me, and I was able to put it together with these characters I’d been carrying around with me for years.
Sometimes the characters themselves drive the inspiration. I’ve been working on a Regency-era mystery off and on for about three years, and it all started with this one character – I knew I wanted to center a story around her, but took a while to figure out what her actual story was.
Take me through a little of your writing process. How long do you stew on something? Do you crank it all out in one stream, or do you leave and come back to something?
I tend to write in fits and spurts, and I wish I could say I actually had a process, because it sounds very writerly. I’m sure people like George R.R. Martin and Stephen King have a process. Unfortunately, my writing method is kind of like a bag of cats – there’s a lot going on, it’s a bit manic, and I’m never quite sure what’s going to happen next. That said, I do tend to write my first drafts in a very linear fashion – I start at the beginning, work through the middle, and if I don’t get bored, I get all the way to the end.
I’ll stew on an idea for a while, honestly. I’d been pondering the concept of MacFarlane’s Ridge for a good five years before I finally sat down and wrote it. Usually, once I get started, I’ll bang it all out over the course of six months or so. The biggest problem I have is that I’m a fact junkie, so if I have to do research on something I can find myself going down this informational rabbit hole. I start out trying to find out how long it takes a body to be digested by an alligator, and two weeks later I’m really excited because I know all about the indigenous marsh animals of coastal South Carolina, but I haven’t written a single word.
Once I’ve got the first draft done, I walk away from it. I’ll put it aside for six months, maybe even a year, to give myself some time and distance. I’ve found that when I finally type the end for the first time, I’m convinced that I’ve just completed the best thing I’ve ever done, but then when I go back to it later on I can be more critical, and rip it to shreds for round two.
You have several books published. Which novel is your favorite, and why? (If you had to choose…)
Ooohh. That’s a tough one. I’d have to say of the ones I’ve published, Call of the Clan
is actually my favorite, and it’s because I just had so much fun writing it. I’m a huge genealogy buff, and I’ve traced my own family tree in Scotland back to around 1720 or thereabouts, and that was sort of what inspired Call of the Clan. I also love it because the main character, Brynne, is a bit of a self-centered asshole when the story begins, but she evolves into a likeable person as things progress, as she finds herself, and learns about her father’s family, and the concept of honor and kinship. The other aspect of Call of the Clan that I loved was the hopping back and forth between the past and the present – there were actually a lot of other scenes that took place in the 1700s, which I dumped in favor of tightening up the story a bit, but writing about Brynne’s ancestors, Dugald and Lachlan, was really satisfying for me.
Right now it seems like the paranormal romance is waning, but historical romance (which has always been popular) is coming back. Do you see other trends? Is there a trend that you love/hate?
I’m sure I’m going to get a lot of flack for this but I hate vampire romance with the hatred of a thousand hatey suns. I just can’t find it romantic or sexy or appealing. That doesn’t mean other people shouldn’t read it, it’s just that this particular genre is my personal kryptonite. It’s funny, because people assume that because I’m Pagan I must love paranormals, but I just really can’t get into them. I’ve tried and failed miserably.
I kind of love that we’re seeing a return of historical romance. It’s always been popular, but what we’re seeing now is a shift away from the shrinking delicate virgin and the rapey alpha male hero, and into strong female characters that are empowered. [Editor’s note: Yes, and I love it.] They’re sex-positive, and the male leads are masculine without being jerks. And I think the reason we’re seeing that is because readers are demanding more. If you read any of the Regency romances by Eva Leigh (who is Zoe Archer) or Tessa Dare, they’re full of brainy, sassy women who like sex and refuse to be slut-shamed. It’s refreshing, honestly.
Diana Gabaldon, author of Outlander, has said that some of her readers have told her that they wished her sex scenes weren’t so graphic. I’ve read much more graphic sex scenes in books. How do you feel about sex scenes in fiction, and how they should be written?
This actually made me laugh because I was just having a conversation about Outlander the tv show – which is pretty sexy stuff – versus Outlander the books. I don’t think that the sex scenes in the books are explicit at all, but I know some people think they’re way too vivid. I think Diana Gabaldon actually writes some of the most erotic stuff out there, but it’s because she invests so much into the emotional component of Jamie and Claire’s relationship. These two people are so into each other, and it’s just so hot.
I think the key to a good sex scene is that it needs to be a good sex scene. There are plenty of sex scenes out there that are just awful. I think the romance genre became a bit of a joke for a while because writers were using phrases like “molten love cave” and “throbbing manhood” and “proud nipples,” and it just got ridiculous. If you can’t write a good sex scene – I mean the kind where it’s so erotic that readers need a cold shower afterwards – then just leave it out, and let the characters get busy off-screen. I’d rather read “and then he carried her off to bed” than something that makes me think the author was uncomfortable writing it, or using their thesaurus to find new ways to say “erect.”
What books are your favorites? What type of fiction are you drawn to?
I like a wide range of stuff – right now I’m reading a lot of academic stuff because I’m in school, so textbooks have a prominent place on my nightstand, which isn’t nearly as sexy as it sounds. But when I’m reading fiction, I love historicals, like Philippa Gregory or Conn Iggulden. I like a good mystery – Harlan Coben or Louise Penny or Jamie Mason are usually floating around my e-reader. I’m also a huge fan of nineteenth-century English literature, so on a pretty regular basis I’m re-reading things like Middlemarch or anything by Jane Austen.
I also love to read non-fiction, especially when the author is a good storyteller. That way it’s a bit less like a lecture with facts and dates, and you get to know the actual people that you’re reading about. I just finished In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick, and I’m working my way through Rachel Lee Rubin’s Well Met: Renaissance Faires and the American Counterculture, which is a fascinating look at the evolution of the modern Ren Fest and how it began as kind of this hippie thing in California.
You have also published nonfiction books and you’re the About.com Expert to Pagan / Wiccan religions. What aspect of helping people with their religion do you like the most?
I’m really fortunate and blessed to have gotten the gig with About.com. I’ve been doing it since 2007, but I’ve been practicing as a Pagan for nearly three decades. I’ve had the privilege of meeting so many amazing people through this work, and being able to learn from them, and take that knowledge and share it with others.
I get messages all the time from people thanking me for showing them that they’re not alone. They might be the only Pagan or Wiccan or witch in their neighborhood, but there’s a huge community of people out there, and they can be part of it. There’s a sense of tribe, if you know what I mean, like all these people who felt like they didn’t belong have finally found something to part of, and it’s been an honor to help others along their journey. It’s kind of the best gig in the world.
What are some of your other interests?
I love to be outside – hiking, camping, putzing around in my garden, you name it. I also dig genealogy research – I’ve been doing it since my late teens – and I keep finding new relatives. I just uncovered a third cousin that lives about half an hour from me, which is weird but it happens a lot. Genealogy is like a jigsaw puzzle, only you start in the middle and work your way outwards, and then at some point you realize you don’t have a photo of what the puzzle is supposed to look like, and it doesn’t have any edges.
I love to do anything that allows me to be creative – full contact recipe experimentation is high on my list, but I also like to make stuff. I’m a big fan of turning thrift store finds into new and somewhat ridiculous things.
And I know this probably sounds really corny, but I love to hang out with my kids. I’ve got a 23-year old and a pair of high school sophomores, and they’re the most hilarious people I know. They’ve turned out remarkably well adjusted, all things considered, and I actually like being around them because they make me laugh.
If there’s something I haven’t asked you, but you want to address, what is it?
Super exciting news: I’ve signed a deal with Sterling Publishing! The tentative title is The Good Witch’s Daily Spellbook, and it will be a full year’s worth of simple spells designed for beginners – no fluff and no bull, just magic. It’s slated for a December 2016 release, so I’m working hard to get it completed. I think people are really going to love it, because the concept is awesome, and it’s going to be practical and fun at the same time.