Mystery Writing
An interview with
David Patneaude

  David Patneaude is the author of seven mystery and suspense novels for children that have been nominated for twenty-five state awards. He has visited hundreds of schools from coast to coast, teaching students while allowing them to enjoy themselves and see that writing can be fun. When he isn't writing, David likes to read, run, watch movies and plays, coach kids' sports, and enjoy the outdoors with his family in Woodinville, Washington.  

Q: What first got you interested in children's books?

DP: I think I've always been interested in children's books in one way or another. I remember being read to as a kid, being fascinated by the pictures in picture books, learning to read them myself, going to the library and finding out that I could check out as many books as I could carry, and walking home with a giant stack. I don't remember many of the birthday presents I received when I was young, but I do remember what my aunt and uncle gave me for my tenth birthday-two Hardy Boys adventures. I devoured them and many more in the months and years to come. With five younger brothers and sisters to read to, I stayed involved with kids' books, even as a teenager. When I became an adult and decided that I'd like to try writing, I remembered how much fun I had reading as a young person. I made up my mind to write for kids so that I could give them the same kind of enjoyment I experienced when I was young.


Q: When did you start writing children's books?

DP: I started writing my first children's book, Someone Was Watching, in 1989. It was published in 1993. Prior to that, I published several short stories in magazines.


Q: How many books have you written?

DP: I've published seven books so far, with another one, Deadly Drive, coming out in spring 2005. I'm also working on several others that are in various stages of development.


Q: Of all the books you've written, which is your favorite?

DP: I have a hard time choosing, but when pressed I usually settle on whichever book I've written most recently. Right now that would be Thin Wood Walls. However, I still have a big place in my heart for my first book, Someone Was Watching. It has remained in print for twelve years, maintained its popularity, and received numerous state awards. It was also published in Europe and made into both an audio tape and a movie.


Q: What tips do you have for aspiring writers?

DP: I've discovered several things that are important to the success of a writer. First, writing, like nearly everything else, improves with practice. So practice! Practice every day even if you think you don't have time. Everyone has fifteen minutes or half an hour. If you aren't working on a story, keep a journal, add to your list of story ideas, or just do a timed writing exercise in which you write what you're feeling or describe what you see. I wrote Someone Was Watching while sitting on the back of a bus every day for a year as I traveled to and from work. Another tip: READ. Read lots of stuff, especially the kinds of books you want to write. See what's being done now, what's popular, what's well reviewed, and what's winning awards. Don't rely on your memory of what was being published ten or twenty years ago. Read critically. Try to figure out what makes a book successful or unsuccessful, and see if you can match the good techniques and avoid the bad ones. Next tip: revise, revise, revise. Nobody gets it right the first time. When you're trying to impress a publisher, every word is important. Finally: don't give up. I've received a zillion rejection letters over the years. Often they were just telling me that my story hadn't gotten to the right place yet. The average PUBLISHED book gets rejected eight times before it's accepted. Someone Was Watching was turned down more times than that. Harry Potter was initially rejected. Lots of famous books struggled to get published. Editors are just people with opinions, and sometimes those opinions aren't right or at least might not be shared by the next editor who sees the manuscript. If you continue to like what you've written, if you've shown it to others (a critique group is a great help) and they like it, DON'T GIVE UP.


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