by Timothy Pike
“Writing is something I’ve always done for as long as I can remember,” says Patricia Elliott from her home in British Columbia, Canada. This prolific writer, who moonlights as a security guard and concierge at a nearby office building, is the author of several novels and novellas, as well as a number of short stories—including her first published book, a romance novel called Her Lover’s Face, that recently hit the top 200 in Amazon’s romantic suspense category.
But it all started with a quirky crew of comic book characters you may have heard of.
“I had my start, like most do, by writing fan fiction,” Patricia says. “I can still remember writing a story where I introduced the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Cats.”
From there, her writing got steadily more sophisticated. “I didn’t finish writing my first novel, though, until I was 26,” she says. “That’s when I started reading adult romance novels and decided, ‘Hey, I can do that,’ and so I did.”
At first, it was a painstaking process. “When I first started writing my novel, I wrote it on paper because I didn’t own a laptop at the time,” Patricia tells me, “and then when I got home from work, I’d transfer the story from paper to my home computer. Eventually, I bought a stone-age ThinkPad laptop and started writing at work on my break.”
Fortunately, Patricia’s writing process—working mostly by the seat of her pants rather than outlining—was well-suited to this haphazard writing schedule. “I’m a pantser,” she says. “I enjoy just letting the characters lead the way. Makes me feel more like a reader than a writer. Sometimes I will develop the characters prior to starting, but they often develop along the way.”
To avoid letting her characters lead her into a state of confusion, however, Patricia sticks to a system. “I keep notes anytime something new is revealed as I write,” she says, “in case I have to refer to it later.”
“I had my start by writing fan fiction,” Patricia says. “I can still remember writing a story where I introduced the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Cats.”
“I tend to start with a one-line premise,” Patricia says, “or a ‘what if’ question, and go from there.” Go from there, that is, if she can stay focused long enough on the task at hand. “I tend to have trouble getting into the writing zone initially,” she admits. “I can stare at a blank page for at least twenty minutes before the words start flowing. Mostly, it’s about not getting distracted.”
And usually, Patricia is able to avoid distraction—unless she finds any half-finished thoughts from the night before. “The worst is when I have an unfinished sentence from the last writing frenzy,” she says. “I hate leaving things unfinished, and if I can’t remember what I wanted to say, it kills me. I end up staring at it longer than I should, instead of deleting and writing something different.”
Patricia fondly recalls her formative years spent in Port Alberni, on nearby Vancouver Island. On the days when her mind wandered, or the words wouldn’t come—or she simply wanted to get away—Patricia had the perfect place to go.
“If I was struggling with anything, you’d always find me near a body of water,” Patricia says, telling me that one of the many trails she would hike near her home led to a river with a small waterfall. “It was one of my favorite places to hide and write,” she says. “There’s something about the water that brings peace to my soul.”
“Writing became my way to escape into other worlds,” she says. “Worlds where I could be anyone or anything, even a mermaid.”
In fact, “mermaiding” is one of Patricia’s favorite activities, especially since it allows her imagination to roam free and invent new worlds and fantastical stories. “I own a mermaid tail, which I love swimming in,” she says. “A future plan is actually to write a middle-grade mermaid series.”
As talented as Patricia is, sharing her writing with others has always proved to be one of her greatest difficulties. “Releasing my work into the world has been the biggest challenge,” she says. “When you write, it’s like giving birth. It’s your baby. When it’s hiding on my computer, I don’t have to worry about rejection or criticism.”
That’s why it seemed a cruel twist of fate when Patricia finally gathered the courage to venture out of her writing shell, and uploaded the first draft of Her Lover’s Face to an online critique group. Almost immediately, it was met with much more criticism than she had expected, and her confidence was shaken to the core. “The members brutally chopped it into itty bitty pieces,” she recalls. “Much of what was said broke my spirit. I heard it all, including, ‘Your premise doesn’t work. It’s not believable.'”
The shock and heartbreak of that experience threw Patricia off her stride. “I stopped writing for three months,” she tells me.
Fortunately, those who cared about her the most saw what was happening and stepped in to help. “A number of my writing friends rallied around me and gave me the courage to move forward,” Patricia recounts. “I decided to take another look at the critiques, and rewrote my story.”
Buoyed by the rewrite effort, Patricia took a deep breath and made a bold move: she approached a literary agent with her story. “I went to a writing conference and had the opportunity to pitch to one of the big five,” she says. “He liked the premise and allowed me to send my full manuscript to him.”
This big step forward placed Patricia firmly on cloud nine, but the exhilaration didn’t last long. “Sadly, he did ultimately reject it in the end, and that took the wind out of my sails,” she says. “That’s when I actually gave up writing for ten years.”
With that, Her Lover’s Face almost didn’t see the light of day again.
Then, Patricia made a discovery: a writing and reading platform her daughter was using. “I was just doing what every mother does, checking out what her kid is up to, and then ended up falling in love with the site myself,” Patricia says. “I pulled out my first novel, dusted it off for the first time in a decade and reread it. I was able to see why it had been rejected—it was still full of mistakes and inconsistencies.”
“I edited it some more and put it up for their readers, and to my surprise, it took off,” Patricia says. “They loved it. I was encouraged by some friends I made on that site to send it to another publisher, Black Velvet Seductions, and so I did. The owner loved my story and I signed my first ever writing contract.”
Suddenly, not only was Patricia back, she was at the top of her game. Her Lover’s Face was soaring up the Amazon charts, and two anthologies that featured her story had also hit the bestseller lists in their respective categories.
As her writing career roared back to life, Patricia found herself reflecting on her long hiatus from writing and drawing some valuable lessons. “It took a long time, but I finally learned that some will love your work and some won’t,” she says. “Not everyone has the same likes or dislikes, so what one might not like, another will.”
Suddenly, Patricia was back—and at the top of her game. Her Lover’s Face was soaring up the Amazon charts, and two anthologies that featured her story had also hit the bestseller lists.
“You put your heart and soul into your book,” Patricia says, “and when someone rejects it, it can hit you hard.”
Today, Patricia has several irons in the fire. “I’m currently working on my seventh novel, which happens to be book two of Her Lover’s Face,” she tells me. “It will hopefully follow Joanne into her happily ever after. I’m still working on a title for the story.”
“In order to move forward,” she explains, “I do need to edit my previous novels, so I plan to write in the morning and edit an old story in the afternoon.”
And then it’s on to a new medium altogether. “I have this idea for a television show that delves into the world of unseen physical and mental illnesses,” Patricia says. “After a few other ideas are finished, I hope to begin writing a script.”
In the meantime, Patricia has no plans to stop sharing her talent with the world. “My vision really is just to keep writing and sharing my stories with others,” she says. “I want to give people a place to escape so that they can forget about the challenges of everyday life just for a little while. Life can be difficult, and we all need that freedom to become someone else every now and then.”
For anyone just starting out as a novelist—or going through a rough time—Patricia has some words of advice: “Believe in your story and never give up. If you believe it,” she says, “you can achieve it.”
It’s advice that Patricia has lived first-hand. It’s simple, but she knows it’s also powerful enough to help any writer come back…even stronger than before.
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