interview/ Eliot Pattison

1. Good day Eliot and thanks for participating in our interview. How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?

At a very early age I was an avid reader, a ravenous consumer of almost any genre. By the time I was in college I often found myself thinking of alternative endings to the books I was reading- that really began to nurture my fiction muse. After fifteen years of writing non-fiction books I decided to give voice to that muse and was lucky enough to win an Edgar for my first mystery.

What keeps me going as a writer is the bond between reader and writer, the need to be able to speak meaningfully, on every page, to those who invest time in reading my books. In doing so I seek to explore themes and messages that are neglected elsewhere, voices and peoples which have been lost in the rush of globalization and the revision and dilution of our history.

2. How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

Currently I am working now on my tenth novel, having written six in my Inspector Shan series, two in my Bone Rattler series and my latest, Ashes of the Earth.

You have to be zealously invested in your current project if it is going to be effective-so I would have to say my favorite is always the book I am writing now.

3. Is your work improvisational or do you have a set plan?

Improvisational, to an extreme. I have a lot of trouble with editors asking for detailed plot summaries before I commence a book, because when I start all I have is a clear view of my characters, the opening scene and the closing scene. Everything else flows after I begin. I find that when I have a clear vision of my characters the sequence of chapters really finds a natural flow-they very much help me to develop the plot.

4. Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

I have been a globetrotter for much of my life, roaming around every continent but the frozen one, and in doing so I have invested a lot of time in interacting with, and learning about, people in out of the way places. Many of my characters and themes are inspired by these interactions. I also have a deep interest in Tibet and the Silk Road region and for many years have been seeking out little known histories of that region and of colonial North America. I also collect colonial-era newspapers, and get a thrill out of picking one up and learning some 18th century "news."

5. What's the most difficult thing for about being a writer?

Keeping focused in the chronically unfocused world we live in.

6. What is your work schedule like when you're writing?

I do almost all my writing after sunset, usually writing for two or three hours a night.

7. How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing?

I have no doubt that growing up in a rural environment, close to nature, and later becoming a habitual world traveler has influenced my writing, including what I want to write about. I would like to think that eclectic background has enriched my perspective.

8. Can you share a little of your current work Ashes of the Earth with us?

A lot of my readers are astounded when they discover that Ashes is set in a post-apocalyptic world, but it does share many elements with my prior books. I write about people, and peoples, who have been abandoned by their governments and societies, who have lost the underpinnings of formal justice and social norms. In Ashes my characters have lost their entire world. The book explores what that means in a psychological and societal sense, and the mystery plot enables me to also probe what "crime" means when there are effectively no criminal laws.

9. In fiction as well as in non-fiction, writers often take liberties with their material to tell a good story or make a point. But how much is too much?

When a novelist links his tale to political, social, or historical events, he has a responsibility to make sure his treatment is anchored securely to fact. Obviously there can be speculative fiction where the reader understands the story is based on an alternative reality, but otherwise the context and background needs to ring true. I take great pains to make sure my depiction of the Tibetans' treatment by the Chinese is factually based, just as I have conducted extensive research to assure my presentations of 18th century America, including tribal culture, are accurate. Since my new book is set in an alternative future I have more leeway in creating a new society with its own alternative history.

These are serious responsibilities. A good book teaches readers about their world, and the lessons begin to feel false when important background elements have been misrepresented. As a reader there have been books I have set aside because the writer has painted too freely on the background canvas.

10. What in your opinion makes a good novel?

As I mentioned, I feel a good book always teaches the reader-about the world, about historical events, about the human condition. To me, some of the highest praise I have received is from readers who say they have learned more Tibet from one my Shan novels than any number of non-fiction books.

11. Do you feel that writers, regardless of genre, owe something to readers, if not, why not, if so why and what would that be?

Today's media treats us as if we are all immensely shallow creatures caught in an epidemic of chronic attention deficit disorder. For both reader and writer, a good book provides the opportunity to reject that syndrome, to delve more deeply, to explore the rich intellectual texture of the human condition. A good writer should embrace that challenge and in every volume seek to provide that opportunity to readers.

12. Do you hear from readers much? What kinds of things do they say?

My books are in twenty languages. I hear from readers all over the planet, with much to say about topics ranging from modern Buddhism to ancient Chinese poetry, the plight of Tibetans and Native Americans, and the emotional roller coaster readers experience in my books. It is a great motivator to know that so many, in so many countries, are still thinking about my books after they set them down.

13. Where can our readers find out more about you and your books and what are your upcoming projects?

My website,, provides a wealth of information about my books. Now that Ashes of the Earth has been released I have picked up the pen to write another Shan novel.

14. Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?

As a mystery set in a post-apocalyptic America, my new book Ashes of the Earth has confused those who want to assign it to a genre. Labels offered up for it include literary mystery, speculative fiction, futuristic thriller, steampunk, science fiction, and even historical mystery. I enjoy busting genres. I encourage readers to pick it and form their own opinion.

Thanks once again and good luck with all your future endeavors.










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