Monday, September 10, 2018

Pam McGaffin Author Interview

Photo Content from Pam McGaffin

Pam McGaffin is an award-winning former journalist who returned to her original passion of writing fiction after a long career in newspapers and public relations. Her short stories have appeared in online literary journals, and her articles and essays have been featured in newspapers and magazines. She and her family live in Seattle. This is her first novel.

Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: SparkPress (August 14, 2018)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1943006814
ISBN-13: 978-1943006816


“If you're looking to add a heartwarming read to your Summer #TBR pile, The Leaving Year will be your go-to read.” ―PopSugar

"A charming, emotional story about family, fishing, and self-discovery.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“An atmospheric and richly layered coming-of-age novel with a protagonist to root for and a page-turning mystery. Family secrets, first love, a quest for truth, and a character who heals and expands her worldview through a journey to Alaska; what more can you ask for? I loved this thoughtful and uplifting story.” ―Kristin Bartley Lenz, award-winning author of The Art of Holding On and Letting Go

“Ida Petrovich, wise and brave beyond her years, takes us on an incredible journey as she seeks the truth about her father’s disappearance. Rich in period details of the 1960’s, and set against the spectacular backdrop of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, The Leaving Year, is a lovely story of youth, sorrow, and personal growth. Truly a Young Adult must-read.” ―Anne Leigh Parrish, author of The Amendment

"In Pam McGaffin’s exceptional debut, emotion bubbles right below the surface and weaves an addictive tale of mystery and forgiveness as Ida’s search for a missing father takes her on a remarkable journey to find herself." ―Jan Von Schleh, author of But Not Forever

"Pam McGaffin weaves a heartbreaking tale of loss and finding your way back. This coming-of-age tale is not to be missed." ―Lish McBride, award-winning author of the Necromancer and Firebug young-adult books

"The Leaving Year takes the reader to a time and a place that is not only singular, but beautifully familiar. Author Pam McGaffin has written a powerful story of loss and its unknowns, rife with grief and confusion, and weaves it into an empowering journey of self-discovery and promise." ―Emily Russin, writer and editor

“Pam McGaffin has crafted a coming-of-age novel that starts and ends in the fishing communities of Puget Sound, but whose landscape of imagination is really Alaska. The grandeur of the land and largeness of spirit that shapes our image of the forty-ninth state is echoed in the families that fight and feel their way through this story of caring, loss, and the price of self-awareness.” ―Steve Lindbeck, former CEO of Alaska Public Media and director of the Alaska Humanities Forum

What inspired you to pen your first novel?
Turning 50. I kid you not. While I’ve wanted to write books since childhood, it took my 30th high school reunion to spur me to actually do it. I told myself that I would write a novel before the next reunion, and I just made it. My 40th is Sept. 15. I plan on attending – to celebrate my achievement and get motivated to write Book 2. I hope to finish that book in a fraction of the time it took to write the first.

Tell us your latest news.
I’ll be signing books during the Friday Art Walk Nov. 2 at Watermark Book Co. in Anacortes, WA, the town that inspired “Annisport” in The Leaving Year. I’m also doing a reading Sunday, December 2, at 4 p.m., at Village Books in Bellingham, WA. If you’re anywhere near, please drop by to say, “hello.” (For updates, please go to my website and click on the “News/Events” tab.)

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
I have many influential whos and whats, but the authors and books that immediately come to mind are Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins, my favorite book growing up; pretty much anything by Anne Tyler (currently reading her latest, Clock Dance, and loving it); Margaret Atwood (for her razor-sharp observations on life); Alice Munro and William Trevor (ditto); and Richard Adams (Watership Down and The Plague Dogs), because I’m a sucker for books narrated by animals. In terms of YA, I loved Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles, Meg Rosoff’s What I Was, Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Mark Zusak’s The Book Thief, and E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars. I tend to favor fiction to non-fiction, and realistic, character-driven novels, but I’m open to anything that’s well-written and makes me feel.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I want them to be so fully immersed in the story that they’re not thinking about anything else, like what they should have for dinner or Damn, I forgot to pick up toothpaste! I want them to be rooting for my protagonist, Ida Petrovich, and wondering what happens next.

Did you learn anything from writing THE LEAVING YEAR: A NOVEL and what was it?
I learned that writing a novel is hard work when you don’t know what you’re doing. I hope that my second book will be easier because I’m aware of some of the pitfalls. For example, wordsmithing and editing on a first, or even second draft is usually wasted time and effort. You need to have a good handle on the whole story before you begin picking at the parts.

For those who are unfamiliar with Ida, how would you introduce her?
Here is my good friend, Ida Petrovich, whose search for the truth about her missing father led her to appreciate what she still has.

What chapter did you enjoy writing the most?
Every chapter gave me fits. None were easy. But I had great fun describing how gross and physically taxing it is to work in a salmon cannery – the blood and guts, the smell, the monotony, the noise, the cold, slippery, slimy . . . See? I get carried away. Some of my best lines came in the Alaska chapters, as when Ida’s roommate, Jody, says to her, “Welcome to Can-a-lot.”

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I would love to introduce Ida to Karana, the protagonist in Island of the Blue Dolphins. Karana is a native girl who’s left alone on an island off the coast of California in 1830s. To survive, she has to learn how to make a shelter, build a canoe, spear fish, and make peace with the wild dogs that killed her brother. I think Karana and Ida could trade stories about overcoming fear, loneliness and the barriers and limitations imposed on them by others. Karana, being a girl, is acutely aware that she’s learning male skills she’s not supposed to learn. In Ida’s case, the barrier is her mother’s wall of secrecy. I think these two girls would have a lot to say to each other about finding their brave, true selves.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Hearing from readers that my book made them cry -- in a good way. Writing multiple drafts of my novel numbed me to my story’s impact – In fact, I got really tired of it -- so I’ve been heartened and a little stunned by the strong response to the novel. There’s no better reward for an author than to know their story resonated with readers.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Self-doubt, Solitaire and Words with Friends – in that order. There were dark days during the writing process when I thought I was wasting my time, that no one would read, let alone like, my book, that I was delusional to think that I could finish a novel and get it published. When I don’t want to face something, like possible failure, I’ll procrastinate. Online Solitaire and Words with Friends were my go-to diversions. I rationalized that the latter wasn’t so bad because it was warming up my brain with word play, but I really should have been writing instead of trying to get triple-word scores.

Do you remember your favorite teacher?
Yes! Ellen McComb (E.M.) Smith, my high school English teacher. She had her students keep journals, which she actually read. I know this because she made margin notes with her trademark purple pen. She loved to point out clich├ęs and generalizations as well as examples of deeper thinking, which she’d note with an “ah.” I wish I could thank her for all that she taught me about writing, but, sadly, she has passed on.

First concert?
Okay, this is really going to date me, but I think it was Three Dog Night.

What do you think is the single best decision you've made in your life so far?
That’s easy. In 2011, I quit my day job to write a novel. Everyone tells you that you shouldn’t quit your day job, but I needed that singular focus to get it done.

Most horrifying dream you have ever had?
As a former newspaper reporter, my anxiety dreams often involve deadlines. Usually I’m frantically searching for a desk or a working computer where I can write my story, but there are no vacant desks and the only tool available to me is a manual typewriter with stiff letter keys and a worn-out ink ribbon. Once I dreamed that my editors moved my desk out to the parking lot. Journalism nightmares are the worst.

If you could go back in time to one point in your life, where would you go?
I’m actually enjoying the present, but if I had to choose, I would say my early 20s, when I was a student at the University of Washington, or maybe a day in my senior year of high school when I didn’t have a big test. I liked school, obviously, but I didn’t fully appreciate the privilege of getting a good liberal arts education until later in life.

Have you ever stood up for someone you hardly knew?
Yes, many times.

  • It starts with a mysterious disappearance 
  • That leaves a young girl reeling 
  • You can’t help but root for Ida 
  • As she searches for the truth about her father 
  • Negotiates a prickly relationship with her mother 
  • Falls in love with a Filipino boy 
  • Befriends an Native Alaskan girl 
  • While working the “slime line” at an Alaska salmon cannery 
  • And discovers how strong she really is 
  • Bringing her family together against the backdrop of the turbulent late 1960s 
"When you suddenly lose someone you love, all that love doesn't know where to go so it drifts around, homeless. It may even change shape, turning to fear and anger, before settling into that hole that never goes away."

I wrote a series of letters from Ida’s mother, Christine, to her missing, presumed drowned husband, Steve. I sprinkled these letters throughout the novel to show the mother’s point-of-view as well as provide a glimpse into her and Steve’s relationship.

A developmental editor said they bogged down what was essentially Ida’s story so I cut them out.

Time wasted? I don’t think so. Writing from Christine’s POV helped me understand her better. She was by far the hardest character to get right because she’s Ida’s antagonist through much of the book, but she’s also ultimately sympathetic. Her emotions are complicated and conflicting. She’s basically a mess.

Anyway, here’s one of her letters:

Dear Steve,

This feels very strange. Macabre, in fact. There’s a word Ida would love. Macabre. I must remember it, even though I can’t seem to hold anything in my head right now, which I guess isn’t unusual when you’ve just lost a husband. I prefer that word “lost.” It’s open-ended, but accurate. When you were still missing, the man from the Coast Guard was careful to use qualifiers – may, possibly, some -- but I knew the search wouldn't be successful. I knew I wouldn't see you again.

Yet I can’t accept your death either. I can’t accept that your body, which I used to know as well as my own, has been lost to those frigid waters and the creatures in it. Without a body, without a wreck, without so much as piece debris to confirm it, your drowning is just a best guess. Denying it is easier than imagining it, which is horrible. I get short of breath and my heart starts racing, as if I’m the one going under.

My nights are restless, and my days are like a waking dream. I keep expecting you to show up and make a joke about how silly I am to give myself nightmares. But that doesn’t happen. The bed on your side is as neat and cold as the night before, and my body is once again flooded with an ache that never goes away, even in sleep.

Which is why I’m doing this, writing stuff down. Janet suggested it. She said writing will help me sort things out. She didn’t say to write you a letter. That was my idea, because of all the things we never discussed. You always think you have time.

So forgive me, this belated accounting. It’s too late for us, but not for Ida. She’s hurting – we both are – but I can’t take care of her until I take care of myself. And I’m a pretty hopeless case right now. All I seem capable of is busy work. Cleaning distracts me from my circular thoughts. I tell you, the house has never looked so good . . . and lifeless. Ida and I drift around each other like a couple of zombies.

What I’m trying to say is, I can’t be the good mother right now. I can’t be strong and tell her everything will be alright, because I don’t believe it myself. I’m scared, Steve. Scared and angry – angry at myself for never saying my piece. And angry at you for being so weak. The truth is, I don’t know whether to mourn you or curse you. . .

A coming-of-age YA novel about the daughter of a Pacific Northwest fisherman, whose presumed drowning in 1967 has her searching for answers, including whether or not he’s really dead.

As the Summer of Love comes to an end, 15-year-old Ida Petrovich waits for a father who never comes home. While commercial fishing in Alaska, he is lost at sea, but with no body and no wreckage, Ida and her mother are forced to accept a “presumed” death that tests their already strained relationship. While still in shock over the loss of her father, Ida overhears an adult conversation that shatters everything she thought she knew about him. This prompts her to set out on a search for the truth that takes her from her Washington State hometown to Southeast Alaska, where she works at a salmon cannery, develops love for a Filipino classmate, and befriends a Native Alaskan girl. In this wild, rugged place, she also begins to understand the physical and emotional bonds that took her father north and why he kept them secret—a journey of discovery that ultimately brings her family together and helps them heal. Insightful and heartfelt, The Leaving Year is a tale of love and loyalty, family and friendship, and the stories we tell ourselves in our search for meaning.

You can purchase The Leaving Year: A Novel at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you PAM MCGAFFIN for making this giveaway possible.
3 Winners will receive a Signed Copy of THE LEAVING YEAR: A NOVEL by Pam McGaffin. 
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1 comment:

  1. Playing croquet with my grandma and having her bump my ball, then send it to the woods. She was unbeatable at this game. Also she loved playing piano and played for silent movies (before my time).