I met Patricia Damery after reading her marvelous novel, Snakes. I wrote a review of the book (read it here), but that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to know the author behind the novel, so I asked if I could interview her (read our conversation here), to which she graciously agreed. We’ve been friends ever since, albeit virtual friends. Her protagonist in Snakes, Angela, was a woman I could identify with, for I went through many of the same trials as she. Patricia writes not only from the heart, but from the soul and spirit. Here is her take on what inspires her:
How Snakes Inspired Me to Write a Novel
Snakes, my first book-length project, was inspired 28 years ago by a huge, patterned serpent who appeared to me during a writing exercise in the very first meeting of my writing group, Thursday Night Writers. In the exercise we were to meet our inner critic and write a dialogue. I was shocked when this serpent appeared and even more so when she—for it was a she— said to me, “Just describe the patterns on my body.” That seemed easy enough, without too much ambition, for my inner critic was way too tied up in ambition.
The “patterns” were snake stories that I had heard growing up on a small farm in the Midwest, some of them my own experiences. They carried the energy of surprise, excitement and terror, and disgust that snakes often bring. My writing group loved the stories, reflecting what was lively and what needed to be developed; very much like the serpent of my vision, not critical, just encouraging me to describe what I saw.
We had among us a poet with quite a following, for these were the days in Sonoma County when poetry readings were attended like rock concerts. We did a reading in a local bookstore, riding in on her glory. The room was packed. I read my snake stories. It was like throwing a ball back and forth with the audience, my reading, their laughing, or gasping. This was inspiring too!—having an audience. I knew then I wanted to publish. Afterward several told me their own snake stories, which I also wrote down.
This is a novel! my writing group exclaimed. Yes, a plot was forming, one that wove the stories together. The challenges of my own life were inspiring me as well: my growing sons, the pain of separation from small farm life to diverse California, the ongoing snake dreams and experiences with which my psyche continued to be inundated. The Jungian analyst in me questioned: What are these stories really about? I read snake mythology, went to the herpetology department in the bowels of the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park of San Francisco, researching, searching for what was drawing me. Searching is inspiring.
Angela, my protagonist, became more and more real to me; she had a life of her own and this autonomy was also inspiring. I felt like a voyeur, what was she up to now?
The poet in Thursday Night Writers connected me with an agent who wanted to see Snakes immediately. This was the late 1980s and publishing was changing. Small houses were being bought up by larger ones, and this agent said the window of time to publish a novel was closing. She pushed. I wasn’t ready, but I let her read what I had.
Weaving together many snake stories, mythologies, and dreams into a coherent storyline with flashbacks is difficult and can easily lose the reader. The agent gave me very good feedback, however: not to worry about the standard formula for plot, but to realize this is a circular story, with its seasons, but as a circular story, all parts need to relate to the center.
This inspired me! So I set about rewriting, feeling for the elusive, unseen center. I read Christopher Alexander’s book, A Timeless Way of Building, during this time, and it gave me direction on how to proceed.
By the time I had rewritten Snakes, the agent was no longer representing novels. After a million rejections I found another agent who got more rejections. This is the non-inspirational part of writing! Snakes went on a shelf as my inspiration followed other paths: by the garbage I found on my daily walks (Goatsong, to be published Summer 2012). I entered a challenging certification program, presenting me with events I could never have thought up (inspiring Farming Soul: A Tale of Initiation, 2010).
Then one day, several years later, my office mate found a living snake in our office mailbox! Once again, I was inspired by snakes—this time to get Snakes in the mail!—the rest is history!
Patricia Damery’s novel Snakes was published in 2011 by Fisher King Press, making her a happy person! She has published numerous articles, a handful of poems, as well as a controversial account of her analytic training and simultaneous entry into Biodynamic farming: Farming Soul: A Tale of Initiation. Her second novel, Goatsong, is to be published in the summer of 2012. With Naomi Lowinsky she also co-edited an anthology, Marked by Fire: Stories of the Jungian Way, April 2012, stories of Jungian analysts’ and teachers’ inspirations for their life paths. She is a Jungian analyst and maintains two blogs: patriciadamery.com and harmsfarmlog.com.
NEXT WEEK: Author Melinda Clayton