Sunday, July 15, 2012

Interview: Patrick Blackburn

Patrick Blackburn, author of Cupid Missed, was nice enough to agree to do a little blog interview. This is my first interview and his response was so interesting that I'm not going to edit it and splice it in with my questions. I'll just give you the whole chunk.

My questions:
OK, So I promise not to do the annoying thing where I ask which things in the book are fiction and which are from your actual life (ie: did you really have sex with a french girl on a train?) Nope, don't give me specifics. That's part of the beauty of it- not knowing.
But can you ballpark the percent? 50/50, 80/20? Is that an annoying question too? Are you fielding this kind of question a lot?
Can you speak to negotiating your relationship with the woman who serves as inspiration for Kate? How did she react? And what are your thoughts generally about the ethics of using real people in fiction?
Did you wrestle with the idea of becoming vulnerable by revealing so much of yourself in the book? Yes, it's fiction, but I imagine the people who know you really well can recognize you in it. And readers may make assumptions about you as if they know you. Does this make you uncomfortable?
 His answers:
Your questions are funny. You sound like, “Tell me. Wait! Don’t tell me! No Tell Me. No…” I’m often asked about what’s true, and my basic rule is that if you want to know, I’ll tell you. I’ve had a ton of people ask me about the sex scene on the train. It’s the second most asked-about scene (#1 is far and away the oxycontin scene). Since you have expressed an interest in not knowing, I will refrain from going further on this subject.

Having said that, it’s kind of difficult to ballpark the percent without some explanation, but that very explanation may tell you more than you want to hear. I’ll answer it this way: About 80% of “Cupid Missed” is true and happened to me. However, a portion of that 80% is a little misleading—some things happened to me at another time in my life and they were injected into the book to fit the timeline. I’ll give you an example that I don’t think violates your request of not knowing. The scene in Amsterdam when Matthew wanders into the sex show absolutely happened exactly as written—only ten years ago when I traveled to Holland with a friend of mine. And the friend was with me—I wasn’t alone.

I struggled with how to categorize “Cupid Missed” for a long time. I really wanted it to be a memoir, but I knew I wouldn’t be truthful if I did that. We all saw what happened to James Frey when he got caught, uh, stretching the truth. He taught every non-fiction writer a valuable lesson—either it is ALL true, or it’s fiction. Judges tell jurors that if a witness is caught in a lie, then it is acceptable (even expected) to consider all the testimony a lie. I feel the same way with a memoir. I thought about calling it a “fictionalized memoir,” but found myself explaining the term more than I wanted. Finally, I came to grips with the fact that I had a novel on my hands, It just had a lot of true stuff in it.

The question about vulnerability is a good one. I really struggled with that—both for me and for the “ex” in question. First, me: I’ve always been pretty open, but still had to give it some serious thought. Do I want the “true” events really known by everyone? Do I want the fictional scenes to be attributed to me? The latter is actually what I struggled with the most (Hmm…is that revealing too much?).

Readers are going to make assumptions about every writer who publishes a book. I’ll give you an example: Gillian Flynn’s new #1 bestseller, “Gone Girl,” is an extremely harsh and unsettling story of a marriage gone bad. The sex is graphic and brutal, the language biting and raw. I found myself looking at the author pic several times while reading and thinking, “This cute, innocent-looking, professional woman is writing this?” My first book (unpublished) is a mystery about someone who preys on children. I did a lot of research and uncovered a lot of dark stuff (some stuff I wish I hadn’t found). I worried a ton more about what people thought about me with that book than with “Cupid Missed,” which is kind of funny considering how much truth is my current book. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I think any time an author puts his or her work out there, they have to deal with the knowledge that people are going to make some assumptions about you that they may not have made had they not read your book.
 About the ex: Three years ago, she read an early draft and really hated it. I mean, she was pissed. She claimed she stopped reading after Chapter 10 (which to this day I find hard to believe. Come on, if someone wrote a story about you, could you stop reading?) Granted, it was a different book three years ago. I didn’t have the benefit of time, so some of the scenes were raw and, well, pretty mean. Only a handful of people know who the real Kate is, and they aren’t going to “out” her.
About a month before “Cupid Missed” was published, I contacted her and let her know it was coming out. She was fine with it and offered her congratulations. Time heals all. And I really think readers will see a little of themselves in both the main characters. We aren’t all victim, and we aren’t all antagonist, either. My goal was for the reader to understand what happened and why it impacted me the way that it did, but not to totally hate Kate. Sure, she made some mistakes in the relationships, but come on, who hasn’t?

The real “Kate” even joked that she would come to one of the book signings, which would make for a really interesting Q&A. I’m sure she won’t be there, but I think the comment shows that time has given her the space she needs to be okay with our story being out there.


  1. has anyone ever seen the films before sunrise and before sunset? there's a scene in the beginning of the second movie where ethan hawke is answering these kinds of questions and he says something to the effect of "to tell you the answer would be to take the piss out of the whole thing." that's what this makes me think of.

  2. I love that you mentioned Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. They are two of my all-time favorite movies -- especially the first. Before Sunrise is absolutely brilliant -- one of the best screenplays ever written in my opinion.

  3. Patrick & Katie,

    Loved the interview. Thank you.