Go to Homepage   Patricia McLinn: the Lure of the West

 

Patricia McLinn believes that books happen when characters try to change the set course of their lives. To a certain extent, the same may be said about her transition from newspaper writer and editor to romance novelist. Of course, spending weeks chipping away at multiple layers of wallpaper and paint did play a big role in her personal change. 

Crescent Blues talked to McLinn about the transitions in her life, her love for the American west and the novels that are making her a writer to watch. 

Crescent Blues: Although you're an Illinois native living in northern Virginia, most of your novels are set in the West. What makes Wyoming such an attractive setting for romance? 

Patricia McLinn: Writing about Wyoming came as a surprise to me. My first five books were set in areas I knew from personal experience or long-standing family connections -- southern Wisconsin; Gloucester, Mass., Chicago, Washington, D.C.  

Then, a free airline ticket and a whim took me to Sheridan, Wyo, I'd never felt any particular affinity with the west before that -- my interest in history centered on the Colonial and Revolutionary War eras. But for reasons I still can't fully explain, Wyoming and Montana grabbed my imagination on that trip.

I had a story idea about a woman choosing a ranch in Wyoming as the stage for trying to make over herself and her life, and that became my first romance set in Wyoming, Not a Family Man. Since then I've been back four times and set four more Special Editions -- along with the upcoming Children of the Far Hills series -- and my first historical in that area.

The West -- and Wyoming's Big Horn Mountains in particular -- has become almost a recurring character for me. One of the lures of Wyoming as a setting is the "Big Sky" (borrowing neighboring Montana's motto). There is a sense there of being exposed to the sky, and scoured by the wind that reveals a character's skeleton.  

I've noticed a tendency in my western books to have one of the lead characters be an outsider or newcomer and the other being a native. I like letting these people see this spectacular setting through each other's eyes, and in doing so seeing each other more clearly. 

Crescent Blues: How much do you find yourself influenced by the classic western archetypes, such as the cowboy loner? How much do you find yourself "playing against" these types? 

Patricia McLinn: The short answer is I don't really know. Certainly the archetypes are rattling around in my subconscious from Shane and High Noon to Bonanza and The Big Valley. But I've also become friends with a number of Wyoming residents and have spent some time on several ranches (as well as doing a whole lot of nonfiction reading about the area's past and present), and no one could miss the individuality of the people there.  

One thing I have noticed about many people I've met out there is a tendency to be comfortable with who and what they are. If they match any archetype it's because the archetype fit them, not because they conformed themselves to an archetype! 

To be true to that region, even if a character touches elements of an archetype, he or she must be an individual. 

Crescent Blues: What is your strategy for getting the accent and patterns of speech right? 

Patricia McLinn: A background in journalism has helped train my ear for rhythms and expressions -- I just wish my memory was better. [Grins] In addition to trips to the area, reading and research phone calls, I have a "ranching consultant" -- a friend I talk to regularly and frequently ask about phrases and wording.  

Crescent Blues: What qualities appeal to you most in a hero or heroine? 

Patricia McLinn: I like to deal with heroes and heroines who have great strengths such as self-reliance, honesty, reliability, loyalty, etc., that can lead to blind-spots or can be taken too far. I can't think of any of my characters who have made 180-degree changes in core characteristics during a book. Instead, they generally edge closer to a balanced position by book's end. 

Specific qualities? That's harder -- self-deprecating humor, perhaps. A measure of common sense. A strong personal code of ethics/morality. Another quality almost all my heroes and heroines share is a failure to see themselves as clearly (or think of themselves as highly) as others do. 

Crescent Blues: Has there ever been a supporting character you wish you could've developed more? 

Patricia McLinn: Absolutely. I have stories in mind for quite a few secondary characters. I'd like to do the story of Boone's sister from the Bardville, Wyo., series; Paul's sister from A Prelude to a Wedding, Cahill's brother Kiernan from A New World, as well as Eleanor's cousin from that book. 

Crescent Blues: How does reader input affect the development of a series or its characters? 

Patricia McLinn: First, without reader interest, there would be no series. [Grins.] Reader interest certainly helped turn my "Wedding Duet" -- A Prelude to a Wedding and Wedding Party -- into a "Wedding Trilogy" with the addition of Grady's Wedding. And I've had readers ask for the stories of several characters who have appeared in other books. I'd love to follow up on those suggestions, but the editors have the final say.  

Crescent Blues: How long does it usually take between the time you submit a completed manuscript and the time the printed book hits the bookstore shelves? 

Patricia McLinn: About a year. 

Crescent Blues: Are you ever tempted to "do over" a character from a book you've been reading in order to "do it right?" 

Patricia McLinn: Most often, characters start talking in my head as themselves right from the start. I discover more and more of their secrets in the writing process, but each character has an individuality from that first moment. I don't think I could take someone else's character and try to make that character over. The only experience I've had at all like that was with a movie, which struck me as not having the right story for the character. I started writing something with the intention of giving that character the right story for him -- and then discovered neither the character or the story was exactly as I'd envisioned.  

Crescent Blues: What's your method for composing a novel? Do you follow any of the standard plotting and characterization strategies?  

Patricia McLinn: Once, after I described to a writing class how I write, the teacher looked at her students and said, "Don't even consider doing it that way." As you might guess from that, I do… 

Patricia McLinn - continued