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Saturday, 12 March 2011

The Vacant Paradise explores the shallow world of money

The Vacant Paradise
by
Victoria Patterson


Set in the 1990s, Newport Beach, CA, This Vacant Paradise explores a world where money is god. A man’s worth is judged by the size of his boat, the make of his car. A woman’s value is assessed by the blank perfection of her quantifiable desirability: dress size, cup size, the whiteness of her teeth. Dependent on her family’s wealth, Esther, the novel’s 33-year-old heroine, decides to marry into the Newport elite when an unlikely candidate thwarts her plans.

In the tradition of Edith Wharton and Henry James, Victoria Patterson shines a keen and often wickedly humorous light on our very American obsessions with class, race, age, and the roles of men and women in the strive toward upward mobility. The novel traces Esther's journey from a beautiful, yet deeply insecure woman, trapped by the ticking clock of her own desirability, to an awakened, independent individual, embarking on an alternate, unglamorous, and indefinable course. This Vacant Paradise is an honest examination of the difficulties of breaking out of the rigid value system laid upon us by society and family.

“Patterson’s unflinching account of the seedy side of a real-life Xanadu is frightening, immersive, and wonderfully realized.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Victoria Patterson’s Newport Beach is a privileged world of wealth and heedless consumption that trails a wake of human damage. By giving us nuanced portraits of the sidelined, she somehow evokes the complex, glittering whole. Patterson is our generation’s heir to John O’Hara and Edith Wharton. And nobody else writes about female sexuality with such sensitivity and fearlessness. Several times, I had to put this book down just to catch my breath.” —Michelle Huneven, author of Jamesland and Round Rock


Victoria Patterson is also the author of the story collection Drift, a Story Prize and California Book Award finalist and Best Books of 2009 selection by The San Francisco Chronicle. Her work has appeared in various publications and journals, including the Los Angeles Times, Alaska Quarterly Review, and the Southern Review. She lives with her family in Southern California and teaches through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and as a Visiting Assistant Professor at UC Riverside. For more info, please visit: http://www.victoriapatterson.net/

Victoria is a open to reviews, interviews, guest blogs, and a giveaway of This Vacant Paradise. 

What inspired you to write your book?
My professor once called me, “The Edith Wharton of the O.C.” He said, “You should write a House of Mirth for Newport Beach.” I became consumed by the idea. I studied House of Mirth, re-reading it many times. I read biographies of Edith Wharton—her autobiography. I read everything by Edith Wharton and Henry James. Edith Wharton’s prose is so adept and sharp—so bitingly humorous and sad. I wanted to have that same leveling grasp. I wrote the novel over a four-year period.


What is it about?
This Vacant Paradise is literary fiction. The novel is about a beautiful woman named Esther Wilson who has been raised to land a rich husband. Her greatest asset is her beauty, but she’s getting older, and she wants to be with a man because she loves him. She gets in all kinds of trouble when she acts upon her principles.


Was there a character you struggled with?
I struggled with all of them! They all frustrated me. And even now that they’re in a book, they continue to frustrate me.


How many unpublished books do you have lurking under your bed?
I have two unpublished novels lurking in my closet. I don’t throw them away because I might extract little piece from them—I’m sort of cannibalistic that way. Same with my journals. There are nuggets in there—in the midst of all the blather.


How did you find your publisher?
When Jack Shoemaker at Counterpoint Press took my novel, I was incredibly happy and relieved. Not just because I’d sold the novel, but because I’d be a part of a press that had such an esteemed literary reputation and history. Jack works with writers for the long haul, not just dependant on sales figures. He might be the last one.


What's the best/worst part of being a writer?
The best part is being in the thick of writing. The worst part is not being in the thick of writing. And vice versa as well.


What is the most productive time of the day for you to write?
I write in the mornings, even though I’m not a morning person. Having children trained me to become a morning person, because that’s when they’re at school. Ideally, I write as soon as I’ve dropped them off at school until it’s time to pick them up in the afternoon.


Do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer
I’m a combination writer—both longhand and computer. I have a routine. I begin by journaling, usually for close to an hour. Then I move to the computer. But I take lots of notes in notebooks. So I usually have a bunch of notebooks filled up by the time I tackle a novel or a short story, and while I’m in the process of writing, I continue to fill up notebooks. There are stacks and stacks of journals and notebooks in my home.


What/who do you draw inspiration from?
I’m reading constantly, so writers constantly inspire me. But it’s unexpected where images and ideas, etc. come from. I wouldn’t be able to pin point it.


Do you set yourself goals when you sit down to write such as word count?
I don’t have a specific word count, but I’m disciplined. I try to write every day, no matter what. Even when my kids were very young and I was completely exhausted, I’d make sure to get ten-fifteen minutes in, so that I could tell myself that at least I’d written that day.


What are you working on now that you can talk about?
I’m working on short stories again!


How do/did you deal with rejection letters?
I save my rejection letters. I think of them as badges.


Do you have a critique partner?
I belong to a writers group with three women writers that I admire and respect. When I’m ready to share my work, they’re ready to critique it. 


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