Since I've never had Patricia on my "Not a Blog" before, (remember, I won't call this a blog because I'm too undisciplined to consider one), I thought I should have her as a guest during her blog tour. Mine is an "unofficial" stop. I'm happy to share her new, sexy cover for ITATI, as well as let you get to know her a little. I'm not one that really likes to gush, but I have to say Patricia is one of the most down-to-earth, kind, and generous people I know. I'm so excited to have her.
1. One of the things that impressed me most about Is This All There Is? was its honesty. I know that parts of the story are based on your own experiences while others are purely fictional, but when you decided to publish, did you worry about the reaction it would receive from readers? Did you ever worry readers would assume the entire story was autobiographical and you would likely receive a tongue-lashing from some?
First of all, thank you for your kind words about Is This All There Is? and for being so supportive of the book and of me. It’s an honor to have you host me on your site – being the huge Shelly Hickman fan that I am!
I was very fearful about the reaction from readers. A story about a woman who is married with kids being tempted by a younger man is pretty taboo. I did also worry that people might mistakenly assume that the book was entirely autobiographical, which is why I chose to use a pen name. My main character, Beth, is based on me in a number of ways, but we’re also quite different.
To my surprise, the vast majority of readers have responded with great empathy and compassion for Beth. It has honestly changed my perspective about how forgiving people can be when they understand the bigger picture of what someone is going through. As cliché as it might sound, these situations are complicated. I did my best not to vilify anyone and to shed light on the pain that everyone involved goes through.
2. Both women and men go through what Beth experienced, feeling unappreciated by a spouse, maybe experiencing a loss of identity to family and/or a job, resulting in discontent and a belief that there is something more out there. Why do you think women tend to go through this, it seems, in their twenties or thirties, while it’s stereotypical for men to go through it during mid-life? Or do you even agree that this is the case? Why do you think it’s so common?
What a great question. I do think it’s true, for many people. I could be wrong, but one guess is that women put more pressure on themselves to do it all at a younger age than men. I know for me, I wanted to be married, have at least one child, be established in a career, and own a home by the time I was 30. A lot of men seem okay with having at least some of that a little later. But for both men and women, once you supposedly “have it all,” there can be this overwhelming feeling of disappointment. Caring for kids, keeping a relationship strong and passionate, building a career – these can be wonderful, yet they are exhausting and often don’t live up to our expectations. So I did do all the things I set out to do before I was 30, but then I was left wondering what was left to strive for, and also questioning why all those accomplishments didn’t bring me the nirvana I had anticipated.
3. What have you found to be the hardest thing about being married? About being a parent?
For me, the hardest thing about being married is finding the balance between being your own person and staying connected to your partner. In entertainment, we usually see the honeymoon period of relationships, when a couple can’t get enough of each other and the passion is at its peak. Ten or twenty years down the road things are very different. I like to quote John Gray, who uses the metaphor of a gas tank. He says we need to be able to fill our own tanks to about 90%. Then our partner can top us off with that last 10%, making life more enjoyable. That makes sense to me. But I think many of us need to do a lot more to fill that 90% ourselves and we unfortunately expect way too much from a partner.
Being a parent… we’ve talked about this before, and you are a great mentor for me on the subject. I agree with you that the hardest thing is seeing your child suffer in any way. And I realize my children have had very easy lives and haven’t had to go through anything truly difficult. But still, when one of them is hurting, it just destroys me. I can’t focus on what I have to do, I constantly dwell on how I might help them, obsessively research the issue online, bug my husband about it, seek advice from friends, and on and on. Intellectually, I know that learning to face their challenges themselves will make them stronger. But as a mother (not to mention a sappy, sentimental, people-pleaser), there’s nothing more counterintuitive to me. Similar to my response on marriage, I suppose finding the balance between providing a safe, loving home and nudging our children out into the world to make their own way is the biggest challenge. I struggle with it every day.
4. What do you think are some measures married couples can take to avoid some of the bad decisions Beth made, aside from the typical recommendation of having a regular “date night” to stay connected?
I don’t think couples necessarily need to share every single thought or feeling with one another. I’m a fan of talking with girlfriends and family members and having a circle of supportive people in our lives. However, when one partner feels unhappy, unfulfilled, sad, etc., it’s important to express that somehow and ask for help. It can be easy to blame a partner or a relationship for the problem, when really there’s an individual issue that should be addressed or need that’s not being met. I’m also willing to admit that couples therapy as well as individual therapy has been immensely helpful in my life. It’s difficult to let go of your denial and admit to what you truly think, feel, and want, so why not seek the help of a qualified, trained professional? But aside from all that serious stuff: laugh, play games, dance, exercise, swim, sing – have fun together!
5. You and your husband have been married for a long time. Tell us about how you met. Was it an immediate attraction or was it a friendship that grew into something more?
For anyone who has read Is This All There Is?, you can basically go back to the story of how Beth and Rick met to answer this question. I know, how uncreative of me! But it was a secret ode to my sweet husband. We met at a fraternity party when we were in college. It was during the summer after my third year and his first. Yes, I was a mini-cougar. I had recently sworn off fraternity guys but after much begging, a sorority sister convinced me to go to the party with her that night. At least I kept my promise to myself not to drink a drop of alcohol. Somehow a bunch of us ended up back at my sorority house and my now husband pulled out a little paperback called The Book of Questions. We all took turns answering “What would you do if…” questions. His answers were so perfect. He would make all the right choices, always tell the truth, save the world, and so on. I wondered if it was an act. But it worked – I was instantly smitten. When he politely asked me for my phone number at the end of the evening, I was beside myself with excitement. And twenty-four years later, I can say without a doubt, it was no act. He’s the real thing – as solid, ethical, and kind-hearted as they come. Oh, and as to the attraction part of the question… I was totally hot for him the moment I laid eyes on him and he says the same was true for him. We skipped the friendship thing.
6. You use a pen name because you were concerned the subject matter of Is This All There Is? might impact your career as a professor. However, you’ve now been considering using your real name for your next novel and plan to merge Patricia Mann with your true identity. Do you regret using the pen name?
While I do feel it limited what I could do to promote the book, overall I don’t regret it. I can’t imagine how I ever would have published this particular story without the pen name. It was safe and allowed me to get a feel for what it’s like to be an author – the good and bad parts. The biggest fears I had never came true, so I think I’m ready to put the real me out there as an author now – especially since I won’t be writing any more books about professors having affairs with students!
7. Some people say they always knew they wanted to go into their current profession and never considered anything else. Is that the way you felt about teaching? Or did you ever have different ideas about what you wanted to do?
Yes and no. Yes, because when I was a little girl, I would beg my friends to play school with me and I always had to be the teacher. I loved the idea of it from a very early age. No, because there were a million other things I wanted to do as well: be a ballerina, an actress, a writer, a politician… I better stop there because it’s an endless list. I’m too all over the place to be the kind of person who only wants to do one thing. That’s why I also have a consulting business, write books, and come up with new ideas for what I want to be when I grow up regularly.
8. You’re currently working on something with your mother, which I understand has kind of a “Grey’s Anatomy” feel to it. Tell us a little about it.
I’m honestly having so much fun working on the new book with my mom. Yes, a literary version of Grey’s Anatomy is the best way I can describe it at this point. My mom has been a nurse for well over 30 years and her stories are riveting. Some are miraculous, some are heartbreaking, and each has an inherent lesson about the value of life and the importance of relationships. So the book will include fast-paced medical drama along with a steamy romance between our main character – a nurse, and a hot ER doctor, who seems to be avoiding commitment. Not sure if he’ll come around or if someone else might enter the picture. I think she’ll let us know when the time comes.
9. What kind of themes, if any, would you like to focus on in your future works?
I think you and I are interested in many of the same themes – compassion, love, understanding, spirituality, relationships, parenting, friendship. I’m also fascinated the sexual side of people, maybe because it’s not often talked about openly. I like to dig beneath the surface of things and find out what people truly think, feel, and desire.
Thanks for these great interview questions, Shelly! You really got me thinking – and I love that!