|Teresa Patterson: Living the Fantasy|
Mystery writers make lousy detectives. Witness Arthur Conan Doyle's sad attempts to solve real crimes. And the only romance writer whose headline-grabbing personal life appeared to mirror her heroines' wound up accused of plagiarism.
But it is possible to live the life fantastic. Teresa Patterson -- Robert Jordan's co-writer on The World of Robert Jordan's the Wheel of Time, balloon sculptor and president of the Association of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists (ASFA) -- thrives on it. Recently, Patterson took time out of her preparations for the DragonCon art show to discuss the art of creating a Renaissance life in a late 20th century world.
Teresa Patterson: First, you need to understand two things. One is, my mother was a rocket scientist, and she was involved in more unusual aspects of thought long before it was something people did for fun.
My father was an engineer, and in school, he was one of the loonies who kept telling everyone that we were going to walk on the moon when to do so meant instant banishment from all the cool things. He was also a brilliant artist, although he became an architect as a hobby to deal with the art, because his dad said: "No, thou shall not be an artist; thou shall be an engineer."
So my parents were already were of that mind-set to begin with.
Second, fantasy stories and science fiction were part of our life from very early on. One of my first models was a model of all the different rockets and missiles that were then in construction. Mom would tell me which ones she had worked on and all that kind of stuff. So we started with model rocketry fairly young.
We were always into fantasy. The books that we collected were all the different legends from around the world. My first and favorite book -- as far as the ones that I've kept since I was a little girl -- was the story of Pegasus as written by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Although I didn't twig to the fact that it was Nathaniel Hawthorne until I was in college and picked up the book to use as a read-aloud book in one of my classes. Then I realized, Ohmigod, this is the same guy who did that dreaded Scarlet Letter.
Crescent Blues: When did you first get involved with medieval societies and the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA)?
Teresa Patterson: It started happening before college, but I'm not sure of the timing. My brother joined SCA, and a fellow who lived with us was a Knight in the society, and I had some other friends who joined. I didn't join for a long time, because they kept telling me: "Oh yes, it's so much fun, because you can go out wenching and play slave games and this and that and lots of drinking and partying!"
And I thought, "Well, that doesn't sound like any fun. Nevermind."
Then one day, they came and said: "Oh, there's an archery tournament." This I could get into. Where, when and how do I sign up?
So I threw together a costume -- which wasn't difficult -- got my trusty bow and some arrows and went to the archery tournament. And proceeded to tie for first place, right down to the final round, despite misunderstanding the rules for two of the events and screwing them up totally. In the final round, I let my guard down just a hair and missed just enough to let the other guy edge into the lead. I came in second.
Apparently, it was unheard of for somebody to show up out of the blue with a good costume, authentic bow, good archery skills, and nearly take the (SCA) Kingdom's lead archer by storm. The next thing I know, I have a Duchess and three Knights telling me, "You are going to join and show up more often, right?"
Crescent Blues: There's another thread that ties into both Pegasus and your love of times past: horses.
Teresa Patterson: The horse has always been a very strong symbol for me, ever since I was old enough to know what one was. As a matter of fact, working with horses is one of my favorite things, and I do it as a professional whenever I can. I've trained several Arabians up the level of Nationals. I've also trained hunter/jumpers.
When I was a kid I showed [horses] in the 4-H until I was too old, so they had to kick me out. I used to take horses that everyone laughed at, because they were not purebred or fancy, and win championships with them. That was a big deal for me, and I love riding jumpers, because it's as close to flying on a horse as you can get.
Crescent Blues: Did you ever consider making it a career?
Teresa Patterson: When I was young, I went up to Virginia to apprentice on a horse farm. I had a chance to stay and become a racehorse trainer. But at the time, Mother was very insistent that I come back and go to college, because college was the road to all great things. Part of me regrets that I didn't do it, because college, for me, was one of those big fizzles. It didn't lead to anything, in itself, and in my opinion, didn't do a whole lot to prepare me for anything.
I probably would've had a far different life. But my parents didn't want me to do it, because my aunt had done it. I thought my aunt was quite clever, brilliant and wonderful. My parents thought she was somewhat of a deadbeat. She was a horse person, but she had trouble dealing with people. I never had problems dealing with people; I just wanted to be with the horses.
Because I didn't do that, it has always been a struggle to keep horses in my life. At the moment, they're as close to being out of it as they have ever been. I find that very disappointing and hope I can get to the point where I can have horses back as a major point in my life, because I'm happiest when I can work horses during the day and write in the evening.
Crescent Blues: How did science fiction conventions and fandom enter into the mix?
Teresa Patterson: Conventions were kind of an accident. I didn't know about conventions until, I guess, about high school. We watched Star Trek -- my step-father was a really big Star Trek fan -- and we watched it and became addicted.
I had a boyfriend who took me to a regular Nostalgia-Con, and I got to see fantasy art and that sort of thing, and that was interesting. But it wasn't until there was an ad on television for a Star Trek convention… I called up all my friends and we went, "Did you see that? Did you see that?" We showed up and met all kinds of people with like interests. It was run by a fellow, now deceased, named Larry Herndon. His wife currently runs the Remember When Bookstore in North Dallas, which he started. Larry was instrumental in helping create Dallas fandom.
Crescent Blues: Are you a native of the Dallas/Fort Worth area?
Teresa Patterson: I was born in Colorado, but I've spent most of my life in Arlington, which is smack dab in between [Dallas and Fort Worth]. I went to school there. My family's there. Right now, I'm as close to Arlington as you can get and be in Fort Worth.
But for anyone in fandom you have to include the whole of Dallas as part of my home base. The way fandom is designed, everything happens in Dallas. Doesn't matter whether you live in Arlington, Fort Worth or where. As a matter of fact, when I learned to drive, to get to the cons, the first thing I had to learn how to drive on was Central Expressway. Fortunately, I had a car that would do zero to 70 in five seconds, so I didn't realize it was normally difficult to get on Central Expressway.
The irony is, I got tired of everything being in Dallas and wound up being one of the three people who created the Fort Worth branch of the SCA, which is now known as the Barony of Elfsea. People can tar and feather me later for that one. At the time we thought it was a really good idea.
Crescent Blues: This stuff is going through college with you, while you were pursuing a major in radio/television and studying voice and music on the side. From there, how do you get to balloons?
Teresa Patterson: My friend, Karen Bogan (who's also a writer) and I were looking for jobs. She was married, and my family was struggling. Mother owned her own business, she'd been recently divorced, and we needed more money if I was going to stay in college. So we signed up for a singing telegram company.
This company ended up being kind of a joke. They only hired women singers who looked sexy and could dress like Playboy Bunnies; and bellydancers. But it was great training, because you had to learn how to look really good and walk up to complete strangers and sing to them and hopefully knock their socks off.
Crescent Blues: Audition training.
Teresa Patterson: More than that. I always had trouble singing in front of people. But with singing telegrams, you've got to get out there and sing to this total stranger after the stress of trying to find wherever the heck he or she is, making sure you got the right person, and stay in character the whole time.
The company ended up being one of those deals where it became a question of whether we would quit or would the company go under. But at that point, one of my friends from fandom, who also happened to be in the SCA called. "I know you're working for that other company, but my boss, Leo Bary, needs singers. And he'll pay you really well…" "Really well," you understand, is a relative term.
I said, "But I already work for someone."
"That's all right," she said. "Leo won't tell them."
So I went up to meet with Leo, and he said, "The thing is, you have to give them balloons."
I had been screaming at the first company about forcing us to give people five little balloons on a stick. I thought that was just ridiculous. We're performers, damn it. What's with these balloons? But I said, "How many?"
Holy cow! How do we do this?