Patrice Kindle interview by Lisa K. Winkler, December, 1998
To appreciate Patrice Kindle, just look at her gold charm bracelet that dangles delicately from her wrist. Purchased with her first check after her first book was published, the bracelet reveals much about the Young Adult writer's life and loves. There's a typewriter for writing. (she couldn't find a computer charm).; an owl for her first book, Owl in Love; and binoculars for her second, The Woman in the Wall. There's a saw reflecting her passion for renovating old houses and a boat reminiscent of her childhood on Lake George. And there's a monkey.
Kindle and her husband, Paul Roediger, are foster parents to two Capuchin monkeys, who are in training to become "Helping Hands" for quadriplegics. They've had the monkeys nearly nine years and are reasons, says Kindle, why she's a very slow, undisciplined writer. Kindle regaled her audience with stories, about the monkeys and herself, at Dr. M. Jerry Weiss' Adolescent in Literature class at Jersey City University this past December.
Caring for the monkeys keeps the 47-year old author quite confined to her 164 -year old Greek Revival house in a small town in rural, upstate New York -- a requirement she finds crucial to her life as a writer. The house has twin parlors, one for entertaining; the other for the monkeys and Kindle's office. She writes with one monkey on her shoulder and the other on her lap. Though she says they know how to depress a computer button, her books are not "ghost written by monkeys." Kindle loves the solitude and dramatic scenery of her location which enables her to concentrate on her writing. Her husband is a mechanical designer and travels a lot , leaving Kindle alone to write and tend to the monkeys. Just being able to combine their trip to Jersey City with an overnight in New York City to visit son Alex, a senior at the Pratt Institute, involved arranging monkey sitters.
Kindl's Writing Process
Kindle believes she's an anomaly among writers who can claim literary heritages as influencing their careers. She's from a long line of engineers and with the exception of a few creative great-aunts, no one was a writer. And Kindle is convinced her method, though it works for her, shouldn't be followed by anyone.
"I don't know how to write a novel. Other authors will have definite steps, create outlines and character sheets, or write a certain amount of pages a day. Writing a novel is like living a life. There are as many ways to do it as any other," she said. She warns not to write the way she does. "I sit down in front of my computer and write down anything that happens to come into my head. I keep doing that about 500 times until I get two thoughts that link up to each other. I don't know what's going on until about three-quarters the way through. This is incredibly stupid and painfully slow."
Yet, this tall and elegant author has written two young adult fantasies, and she's in the midst of a third. Without having literary influences in her life, she didn't realize writing posed a viable career path. She never finished college, worked as a secretary in New York City while trying to become an actor, ("I failed spectacularly," she quips.), and then worked for her father's engineering company where she met her husband. She says she wrote privately as a child but didn't begin writing seriously until several years ago.
Like many writers, Kindle says she's always been an avid reader. In school, she'd keep a book underneath the desk and read while the teacher's back was turned. But when she was caught, her parents forbade her to read novels for a month. At the end of her punishment, her parents bought her a large anthology of short stories and reading once again became a "seductive pleasure." She still has this book yet extols that more choices for young adult readers now exist than did in her childhood. She recited a long list of YA authors, from Avi to Zindel, that she finds enticing. She's proud and honored to be in the YA field. "I'm a writer who's found subjects and it's where I want to be." Her heroines are reflections of her that she's developed "as far as they can go and then stand alone as human beings", she says.
Owl in Love
Owl in Love is the story of a normal Shakespeare-quoting fourteen- year-old, Owl Tycho, who is a shape shifter. She changes into an owl , flies around every night catching mice and voles for food, and spies on her married science teacher, Mr. Lindstrom, who she's madly in love with. Her parents, though unable to transform, are witches and eccentric in their own ways. During one of her evening vigils, she notices an unkempt teenage boy lurking in the woods near Mr. Lindstrom's home and peering through his windows. On other nights, she sees a barn owl, like herself, only male, similarly scouting about. An intriguing story ensues. Owl befriends both the boy and the owl, (who are one and the same); enlists the aid of her friend, Dawn, in feeding and protecting the boy/owl, Houle; and abets in the reuniting of Houle, a.k.a. David, with his estranged parents. Kindle researched about owls, making her story convincing. Owl is a believable teenager who easily assumes her second identity and Owl in Love is a romantic fantasy written with wit and page-turning appeal. The book is dedicated to Kindle's husband and son and also to Kandy, one of the monkeys, "without whom this book would have been written in half the time." In creating Owl, Kindle touches on an aspect of adolescence she remembers. Teens are experimenting with a range of emotions. "It's an age when you try on masks of different personalities and can change your personality quite deliberately," she said.
The Woman in the Wall
After the success of Owl in Love, published in 1993, Kindle was hounded by total strangers seeking autographs and interviews at her bucolic country home. This perpetual invasion planted the idea for her second book, The Woman in the Wall, published in 1997. Desperately ,shy Anna disappears at seven years old into the walls of the rambling twenty-two room Victorian mansion she shares with her mother and two sisters. Faced with the threat of attending school, Anna creates living space within the walls of the house using her polished skills as a carpenter, plumber and seamstress. Her mother is angry initially and talks to Anna as is she was merely hiding behind the draperies. In time, the family seems to forget entirely about her. Yet Anna observes the family, particularly her older sister Andrea and her friends. And she continues to develop into a woman. Writes Kindle: "I'm not a monster at all; I'm a woman." At fourteen, someone mysteriously crams a folded piece of white paper into a crevice in the wall. This letter, from "F", changes Anna forever. She becomes a love-torn adolescent faced with revealing her identity and learning to rebuild her life outside her walls. "I will build myself a house out of my own flesh and bones where my frightened child-self can find shelter."
Is The Woman in the Wall autobiographical? is one of Kindle's most frequently asked questions by readers. Says Kindle: "I was a shy child. Everyone's a shy teenager; everyone has an excruciating adolescence." Anna comes of age by reconciling her life outside of her walls. Kindle's monkey, Susi, also provided inspiration for Anna. Susi used to hide underneath a blanket but learned to come out, Kindle explains.
Her third novel involves a "young woman on some sort of a quest" reveals Kindle. It is still without a title and a plot. Kindle says she's about half- way done. As readers, we can only anticipate a fantasy surely to scintillate and remind us of some facet of our adolescence. And hopefully, we'll see many more "book" charms on her bracelet.
Lisa Winkler is a language arts teacher at the Florence M. Guandineer School in Springfield, New Jersey.
Reference Citation: Winkler, Lisa K. (1999). "An Interview with Young Adult Author Patrice Kindl." The ALAN Review, Volume 26, Number 2.