I was waiting for newspaper features writer Patricia McFall in a Japanese restaurant in Pasadena, California. I was scheduled to be interviewed for an article in my hometown newspaper, the Pasadena Star-News. Through the window I saw a PT Cruiser park alongside the curb. Cool car–first sign that this would be a good interview. Out emerged a tall redhead. She rushed into the restaurant, sat down with me, and the conversation began.
As my blogmate Pari Noskin Taichert wrote last month, many interviewers don’t even read the books of their subjects, but that was not the case with Patricia. Insightful questions and then when the story finally came out in the tabloid U-Section of the San Gabriel Newspapers (Pasadena Star-News, San Gabriel Tribune, and Whittier Daily News), I was so impressed with how well the article was written. And if that wasn’t enough, a few months later the Long Beach Press-Telegram picked up Patricia’s story for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May 2005, making it the cover story for the U-Section and even placing a teaser above the masthead on the front page. What more could a fledgling author even dream of?
While many of us are familiar with the reviewers and writers for larger metropolitan newspapers, I thought it would be helpful to profile a writer for suburban newspapers in Southern California. (For more information regarding the holdings of the parent company, Media News Group, Inc., see this website.) Without further ado, here is Patricia McFall.
How would you describe yourself professionally? Freelancer? Stringer? Writing coach? All of the above? How many publications do you write for and can you describe the "U Section"–how many newspapers share content for that?
I’m a freelance writer and editor. I also teach fiction and coach writers privately. I’ve published one suspense novel, a half-dozen short stories of which three are mystery, and many non-fiction features, book reviews, and a regular style column. I’ve also been editing an online academic journal for the California State University system. Formerly, I ran the Programs for Writers at Cal State Fullerton extension for three years, where it was so much fun to set up classes taught by mystery stars like Elizabeth George and T. Jefferson Parker.
For three years, I wrote regularly for the lifestyle sections of the San Gabriel Valley Newspaper Group, which includes three dailies: the Pasadena Star-News, the Whittier Daily News, and the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. That group is in turn part of the larger Los Angeles Newspaper Group, which has other papers in the San Fernando Valley (Los Angeles Daily News) Long Beach (Press-Telegram) and three in the Inland Empire. Some of those occasionally pick up my pieces. I’ve eased off some of the newspaper work recently to have more time to write fiction, but I’m still involved in reviewing books and profiling local authors.
How many author profiles/book reviews do you estimate that you do a year? And how many of those are related to mysteries?
Of those, a dozen were about authors, but only one was on a mystery writer and one mystery-related—if you call Anne Rice that. She was a great interview, and author profiles are among my favorites because writers are almost always articulate, smart, and interesting.
I’ve also reviewed half a dozen mystery or suspense novels and a non-fiction book by a mystery author.
Describe your involvement with the mystery genre. I believe that you participated in some mystery conventions in the past. Which ones?
I attended Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime in the ‘90s, where I enjoyed being on and going to panels, and I did a presentation on Dashiell Hammett, where I got to interview Joe Gores and William Nolan. Conventions offer writers such a wonderful chance to connect with other writers, since we’re all readers and fans too. I remember stalking Ross Thomas and, realizing that he was about to leave the convention, running up to him to get his signature on my MWA card because I didn’t have any of his books on me. On an airport shuttle bus, I told Lawrence Block I knew who he was. He grinned and replied, "More than I can say most days." Wonderful and funny.
I’m lucky to count some terrific mystery/suspense authors as friends, including Barbara Seranella, Taylor Smith, and the late Patricia Guiver, who was my first student to be published. I never would have met any of them had I not been in the mystery world.
Conventions also offer the chance to learn a lot about publishing and to make good contacts, though I don’t advise a frontal-attack pitch to agents or editors trying to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee alone. Get business cards and use them, that kind of thing.
The workshops related to writers’ conventions—not just mystery gatherings—can be very worthwhile, and I’ve enjoyed teaching short-term classes for some of them.
How do you get ideas for your reviews/columns? Does your editor assign them to you? Do you want ARCs/galleys sent directly to you? If so, where should authors send them?
My editor used to be a student in my mystery-writing class, so it’s been a wonderful role reversal and collaboration since I wasn’t trained in journalism. She’s a great mentor and spoiled me rotten, letting me cherry-pick assignments. Most of my style topics were my own suggestions—like how to get a bra that fits, or how to spot quality workmanship in ready-to-wear clothes. Others were seasonal, but she usually let me put my consumerist spin on, say, the wedding dress industry or movie stars’ unfortunate fashion choices.
I usually get review copies of books from my editor, very seldom galleys, but I’d love to see new mysteries from legitimate publishers. I’m pretty finicky and am not very interested in e-books or self-published/POD books. Maybe I’ve read too many unpublished manuscripts in my time, including for my old agent. Meaning no disrespect, but in an earlier era, many self-published books would either have been rewritten or remained in a drawer. Of course, there are notable exceptions, as in the case of African American authors who self-published fantastic books because big publishers were ignoring them. I’m sure that agents and publishers can be blind to other stunning new talent, so please don’t send me hate mail for having that opinion!
For my purposes, an author has to live in Southern California, preferably in the San Gabriel Valley, for me to do a profile or review. Anyone wanting to send me a book, please email me first at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What tips would you suggest for authors who want to explore getting placement in the San Gabriel Newspapers/Long Beach Press-Telegram, etc.?
If you think reviewers are busy, wait until you meet a features editor! I’d say a good old press release is the most appropriate way to make contact. Be sure to approach a paper where you live or where your books are set, as a local angle is essential. It’s best not to bother an editor otherwise. I expect some people prefer paper releases and some electronic, so you could do worse than to send both. Newspaper websites often have a staff directory so you can send it to a specific person.
Have you won any awards for writing? If so, which ones?
Well, sort of. I never entered any contests, and my fiction portfolio is pitifully thin. However, my novel, NIGHT BUTTERFLY, was chosen by the L.A. Times as a year’s best-ten crime novel, and my piece on the history of velvet has been nominated for a best-column newspaper award. The Boston Globe said my first short story was worth the price of the paperback anthology it appeared in; does that count?
Thank you, Patricia! Patricia said that she’ll be checking in a few times today, so if you have a question or comment, fire away. She might have an answer for you.
Now who will be the subject of next month’s profile? You’ll just have to tune in and see.
WEDNESDAY’S WORD: kawaii (SUMMER OF THE BIG BACHI, page 213)
Spend even a couple of hours in a store with any Japanese female from junior high age to young adulthood and you’ll undoubtedly hear the screech, "ka-WA-eeeeeee." Kawaii means cute. Just think Hello Kitty, Kero-kero-pi, etc., and you get the picture. There’s a lot of theories of why kawaii prevails in Japan.
Even the military gets a kawaii makeover with this billboard for the Self-Defense Forces. (Photo courtesy of The Hokkaido Crow.)