I still remember first listening to Pamela Foster read Redneck Goddess
at the Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop. Let’s see. How can I best phrase how I felt, listening to her story? Have you ever felt tension and longing as you watched a performer, artist or athlete struggle through a performance? And then comes another performer, so completely competent that you are able to let down, relax and enjoy the show? Well, Pamela is that second performer, and that’s how I feel every time I hear or read something that she has written. She is a master of combining humor with elegant prose – thus the title of this interview, Hog Jowls and Caviar, taken straight from her book, Redneck Goddess,
released earlier this year and now available on Amazon
I hope you enjoy getting to know Pamela as much as I have. I know you’ll see some of the magic of her writing in her words below.
Q. What first influenced you to write?
As a kid, I lived mostly in my head. I used to stay up half the night, lying in bed, living life as a pioneer woman or as a cowgirl or–and this scenario crossed over into erotica as the estrogen kicked in–as the slave of a gladiator. When I was eleven I was diagnosed with scoliosis. What followed was three years of body casts, surgeries and about eight months in bed. This is when I began to write. The ability to create a world that I could drop into and disappear was honed during that time.
Q. In Redneck Goddess, you’ve created characters (Goo Goo, Julio, Aunt Ruth,) that readers will be completely drawn into, and places, (Noisy Creek) that live in our imaginations. What do you think is most important in a story: characters, sense of place or something else?
Well, first of all, thank you. Nothing makes an author happier than knowing a reader has fallen into the world she created. I think being your character, each character, as you write is critical. I’ve never acted, but I imagine it’s very similiar to what an actor does to get into a part.
Generally, I know what scene I want to write, what information I’m trying to convey to the reader. But, once the words start to flow from my fingertips to the screen, the characters themselves know what to do, how to react. Many times I’ll begin a chapter with one thing in mind, only to have a character balk at the words or actions I envisioned. I always listen to my characters. The process is similar to what preachers call ‘getting out of the way and letting the spirit flow through you.’ If the people in the story are not real, no matter what else you get right, no one is going to be inspired to keep reading. I see sense of place as part of the development of the characters, because the reader, and the writer, is seeing, smelling, touching, hearing, tasting the world through these characters. A grumpy, negative character is going to experience a day in the woods much differently than a joyful person. Every word has to match the mood and personality of the character living it.
I use the weather as a character in my books. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest in the fog and rain and wind, this is easy to see and to feel. I’ll fess up to the truth here. I did this automatically, with no thought whatsoever. But, once it was pointed out to me, I have honed the skill, employed the art more and, I think, better. The use of weather as a living-thing is in Redneck Goddess, but in Bigfoot Blues, it’s much more intense, much more an integral part of the book.
Having said all this, to me, voice is the most important quality of a book. It’s hard to define, but like they say about pornography, we all know it when we see it. Voice is the difference between the authentic and the fake. It’s partly a product of the writer being comfortable in their own words and partly about being honest.
Q.You have created such beautiful, “ah”-inspiring prose in much of your writing. How do you write? do you create a “shitty” first draft (in the words of Anne Lamott) or do you perfect as you go?
Actually, my first drafts are often longer, with more description, more detail and more mood setting than the final edited version of the book. This happens especially in the first few chapters, because I’m still dropping into the bodies of the characters. Still getting inside their heads and finding the experiences that make them who they are. Once I’ve gotten that solid, then there are really very few changes in the writing. Line editing. Misspelled words or, my nemesis – the incorrect use of dashes or hyphens.
Q. Any writing quirks you’d like to share? What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve gotten?
Quirks, huh? Well, let’s see. I know Jan, that you’ve talked and written about interviewing your characters and I’ve heard the beautiful results of those interviews. Ruth Burkett Weeks says the characters speak through her. I may be misquoting Ruth, but I think that’s the general idea and certainly the process works for Ruth. Her characters could not be more real.
For me, the characters live in a world and I simply step into that world. I don’t mean to get all supernatural here and I don’t necessarily mean other dimensions or parallel universes. Though I’m not ruling that out either.
The best piece of advice I’ve received. That’s tough. Velda Brotherton and Dusty Richards and everyone at the Northwest Arkansas Writers Workshop have helped me improve my writing. That’s a given. But I think the most beneficial thing ever said to me about my writing came from my husband. When I was lamenting, pissing and moaning about yet another rejection letter, he said simply, “If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else is gonna believe in you either.” For me, the writing is as easy as breathing and darn near as important for my survival. It’s the self-promotion and marketing and walking past fifty rejections to get to the one glorious acceptance — that’s the difficult part of being an author.
Q. If you could only write one more thing in your life, what would you write about?
Ah. A trick question.
The Buddha taught that we can never enter the same river twice. To me that means that everything changes. No two moments are the same. The creative river in my head holds thousands of possibilities. The choice of which one to focus on and spend months clarifiying, changes from day to day.
At the moment I’m concentrating on the sequel to Bigfoot Blues, tentatively titled Loony Ticks. Once that’s completed, I’ll dip back into the creative river and see what hits me in the head and gets my attention.
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