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Thursday 4 April 2024

Interview: Jill Amadio in Conversation with Patricia Dunn

Patricia Dunn, who writes under the pen name T.M. Dunn, recently debuted her first psychological thriller, Her Father’s Daughter.
She is both a fiction and a non-fiction author, a writing coach, and a popular moderator at writers’ conferences.
Dunn’s non-fiction includes ‘
Last Stop on the 6’, and ‘Rebels By Accident’.
She served as Senior Director of the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College. She teaches a creative writing workshops and is co-host of the Westport, Connecticut’s podcast, ‘Go Ahead, Write Something’.’
 Dunn lives in Stamford, CT.

Jill:         What is your background and when did you begin writing books?
Patricia:   I grew up in the Bronx (a borough of New York City) and went to college in Manhattan. I travelled a good bit after living in Los Angeles, Nicaragua, Jordon, and Egypt. I was a social justice activist which brought me to Nicaragua during the early years of the revolution, and to Palestine, West Bank and Gaza. In third grade my teacher picked my poem, “Christmas” for the P.S.71 yearbook. That was when I first consciously wanted to grow up and be a writer. I wrote a lot in my younger years and did a good deal of journalism. In the summer before the second year of my MFA program I started writing a novel. I got a call from the administration informing me that the class I was registered for was going to be a novel class only. I had been writing short stories before then. When they asked ‘Are you writing a novel?’  I blurted out ‘YES!’ I wanted to study with the author Linsey Abrams, who was known to be a fantastic instructor. She lived up to her reputation, and that was the beginning of my writing books. It was many years later before my first book was published. Helping me get there was my co-teaching a novel writing workshop with author Jimin Han, and the support of my writers’ group, now going on 21 years, and actually writing that first novel.

Jill:         What genre did you teach at Sarah Lawrence?
Patricia: I taught fiction and nonfiction, generative workshops, to advanced novel and memoir workshops. I taught workshops for middle and high school students, undergraduate, and graduate students, as well as the adult student population, the most inspiring to me and my writing. These students found the time to take my workshop, for no credit, because of their dedication to learning and writing their stories. 

Jill:          What is your publishing history – agent, publisher?
Patricia:   I will make this answer as concise as possible—I queried over a hundred agents and editors, without quite knowing how to write a good query. I went to conferences, organized publishing conferences, talked to everyone I could who was in the publishing business… Let’s say, I was rejected a ton, leaned on my writers’ group to keep me going. Eventually, I found an agent and when we parted ways, found another agent, she retired, and after self-publishing my first book, met my current agent, who is the best, and a wonderful person, and she sold the self-published book to a publisher, giving it another life. Since that book I’ve published two more and written several others that I put to the side. In summary, I’ve experienced the publishing world from the traditional and nontraditional, small and larger presses, with and without an agent…My point, if you want to get published, you will. It takes tenacity, a heck of a lot of work, a lot of support from other writers who get it, you and your work, and many deep breaths, some shouting into the night, tears, and you can do it.

Jill:          You write both fiction and non-fiction. Which is more fun?
Patricia: They both are equally fun, and sometimes not-fun-at-all, but what I have recently come to realize is that the best part about writing is the actual writing. When I’m writing I’m happy, most of the time.

Jill:          How do you switch your mind/mood from one genre to the other?
Patricia: I don’t think about it. Any genre, fiction or nonfiction, requires you to establish the voice and apply the principals of the craft…well developed characters, a theme, plot, the right balance between scene and narration…the list goes on and on. Whatever the genre is, I have to make myself sit down and start typing and after that first draft, which holds all the secrets and answers, I go back and revise,
revise, revise…Did I mention revision?

Jill:         What inspired you to write a psychological thriller?
Patricia: I didn’t choose it, it chose me. I didn’t know I was writing a psychological thriller until I had been writing for months, or actually transcribing the story this man was telling me. Every book I’ve written always starts with a prompt. I don’t have a story in mind. I just write to the prompt for the given time, which is usually ten minutes. My book, Her Father’s Daughter, was no different. One of my great friends and members of my writing group gave the prompt, which I can’t remember, and after the ten minutes was up, I shared my response with the group and there was this strong voice wanting to tell his story. After that, every time I sat down to write he would continue his story and I would type it into my laptop. It sounds a little strange to some, but characters really do lead you if you let them. I was halfway through the first draft of his story before he revealed he was a serial killer. That’s how I started writing a psychological thriller. Now that I have, I plan on sticking with this genre, for a while anyway. I love it.

Jill:          Were your murderer and victim difficult to create? 
The murderer/father came easily. Writing the daughter was difficult. Originally, there were two daughters and the book had three points of view, but I worked with an incredible editor before the book was even shopped. I could see from his feedback that I needed to cut one of the daughters. Ironically, the daughter I cut was more interesting to me than the one I kept. That’s probably because she had her own story to tell. That’s what I’m working on now.

Jill:         Why did you choose your setting? 
My father would share a lot of his stories about the places he exterminated and the people who lived there. I even went with him on some of his stops. I was always fascinated by his Park Avenue  (New York)
buildings. The people who lived in them, their worlds, frames of reference that were so different from my world and I found so much of it humorous. You’d meet someone who was a photographer and risk their lives in places at war to get that ‘shot’. A mouse had them sitting on their kitchen tables with their knees pulled in to their chests, rocking back in forth out of fear. I always knew I would use this setting I just didn’t know when or how until I was writing
Her Father’s Daughter.

Jill:         What is the most difficult part of writing your fiction?
Sitting down and writing and not getting lost in the research. Fiction writers have to do as much research, sometimes more than, nonfiction writers. We can’t assume because we lived or even grew up in a place, that it is still the way we remember it.

 Jill:         Greatest pitfalls and challenges? 
Getting past the start of a story I love, and imagine for it so many possibilities, to the point where I’m in the story and committed to writing it, and I making time to do it is the hardest part for me.

Jill:         How long did it take you to write your thriller?     
From start to finish, three years. For many this sounds like a long time, but the second book I published took over twenty years from its start to its pub date.

Jill:         Your best marketing tip? Social media/podcasts/webinars?
Everything works and doesn’t work. Finding someone that can help you with this if you don’t know a lot about it is key. If you can afford a person that can help you with PR and Marketing, especially social media, then hire someone. Check the person out and see what they’ve done before and who else they work with. If this isn’t in your budget, and it’s all on you, try and schedule time for this work. Maybe an hour a day or every other day. Then when time is up, get up and walk away, go back to writing or talking to your plants. This part of the publishing process can suck up all your time and energy if you let it. I know this from experience. Of course, the more you know about social media and marketing the better, but you don’t have to know it all. If you’re not already a member of organizations like Sisters-in-Crime, national and your local chapter, if there’s one, join now. The help other thriller and mystery writers will give you is priceless.

Jill:         Are you a pantster or outliner? 
I used to say a pantster but now I realize that I’m a little bit of both. I start without an outline. I usually just have a voice in my head that wants to say something and then it dictates and I type. After I have a very, very, very rough draft, I outline everything I have and then I figure out what’s working and what’s not working, and what is the story I’m telling and what do I need to do to tell the story I want to tell. This method is called the
reverse outline. You outline after you have a full very rough draft.

Jill:          Has your personal background provided you with your characters and plot? 
The summer I went through puberty the Son of Sam, 45-caliber killer, David Berkowitz, killed my good friend’s cousin around the corner from where I lived. At the time the phrase ‘serial killer’ wasn’t even used, or defined. This did get me fascinated with serial killers, as I got older, I read, watched, and with podcasts listened to everything fictional or nonfictional I could find about serial killers. It was amazing to me that no matter how hard society, law enforcement agencies to academic institutions tried to come up with the profile of what turned someone into a serial killer, nature versus nurture, there would be someone who would come along and fit the definition of a serial killer, three murders in three different locations, and breaks the theory. When I started writing in the father’s point of view, I didn’t know that he was a serial killer or a father. I just started dictating this voice in my head telling me the story of the love of his life and how he lost her. After it became evident that he was a serial killer, I added the actor and exterminating elements. My father was an exterminator, and a stage father to my brother who was a child actor. Serial killer, actor, exterminator, stage father were the big items from my personal background that had a direct impact on the characters and plot of Her Father’s Daughter.

Jill:          Has your life changed since publishing your thriller? 
I think every book I write changes me, my life, my perspective on my life.  One of my friends and former students, Elise Hart Kipness, whose phenomenal debut thriller LIGHTS OUT, and Tessa Wegert, author of the Dana Merchant series, one of my favorite thriller series out there, encouraged me to join the Sisters in Crime Connecticut chapter. Everyone in this community has been unbelievably supportive. The irony is that all these folks who write about murder and other crimes are the nicest people I’ve ever met.

Jill:         Do any of your hobbies inspire your writing? 
Patricia: After Covid I got into gardening and house plants. People who know me from before usually think I’m joking about this. I’ve never been a person who cared about plants. I killed several cacti and that’s not easy to do. Covid time was a strange and uncertain time and I immersed myself in gardening and indoor plants. This past summer because so much time was spent on promoting my thrille, I didn’t plant my garden, but I’ve kept up my house plants and have added to them. I used to think caring for these plants, obsessing over them at times, distracted me from my writing, but then I realized it was helping me. Something about taking a break from the computer and watering or pruning or using my plant app to check the health of one of my darlings, gets me to take a break and move around. When I return to the page my perspective is usually clearer. 

Jill:          You are a writing coach – what do you teach, and where? 
I work with writers one on one. Some of my clients have full manuscripts and others just have an idea for a story. I also teach classes. Right now, I’m primarily teaching with the Key To The Castle Workshop I am one of the four founders of the organization and we started by taking writers and artists to Cetara, Italy, a small fishing village on the Amalfi Coast, for a weeklong writers’ workshop, and part of the experience is also painting. We understand how participating in visual arts, specifically painting, helps writers access a part of themselves that will feed their work.

We still do this this trip. Our next one is in October. We also do other writing retreats. We recently did a long weekend retreat in the Catskills. We will be doing a visual artist and yoga retreat in Vietri, a tow on the Amalfi coast that is famous for its pottery and the artists who create it. We offer writing workshops online and in person. I will be teaching a workshop that starts mid-February and goes to mid-November. It’s called Ten to the End, and in this ten-month program writers will finish their books and have them ready to submit to agents and/or editors. If your readers want more information, they can go to our website,

Jill:          What is your writing routine and process? 
After I finally get tired of hearing myself moan about all the reasons I’m not writing, I make myself sit down and write. It’s been difficult for several reasons to write over the past two months. One of my dear
writing group friends told me to sit down and write three new pages and send them to her. I did this and now I’m writing every day again.

Jill:         Tips for debut writers? 
You may not love writing all the time, sometimes you may hate it, but there’s something inside you that tells you that you have no choice. You must write your story/s. You don’t have to do it alone. Find other
writers who not only get your work but get you. I’m not talking about the traditional workshop model. I’m talking about more of a writer’s support group. Yes, you can share work, but you also share experiences and you remind each other why you need to keep writing. If you don’t know where to find your people, check out the local library, take a class in-person or online. Just know that you’re not alone. There are many of us out here and we need you as much as you need us.

Jill:         What’s next for you? 
Patricia: I’m at work on my next thriller. There’s no serial killer in this one, not that I know of, but it’s a story where family secrets are involved and where two truths make a lie and a lie leads you to the truth. Excuse me if I sound cryptic but I don’t want to commit to anything too specific until at least I’ve finished the first  rough draft.

Jill Amadio hails from Cornwall, U.K, like the character in her crime series, Jill was a reporter in Spain, Colombia,  Thailand, and the U.S. She is a true crime author, ghosted a thriller, writes a column for Mystery People ezine, and freelances for
My Cornwall magazine.

She lives in Connecticut USA.  Her most recent book is
In Terror's Deadly Clasp,
published 16 July 2021.

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