An Exclusive Authorlink Interview with Patricia McArdle,
By Diane Slocum
American diplomat Angela Morgan has had a lackluster career since she was traumatized by the bomb blast in Beirut that killed her husband and unborn child. When she is sent to serve as the only woman in a remote British outpost in Afghanistan, she views it as a stepping stone to a plum assignment in London. It turns out to be much more in Patricia McArdles debut novel, Farishta. McArdles own service as a diplomat in Afghanistan gave her insights into the beauty and potential of the Afghan people which she reveals through Angelas eyes as Angela becomes their farishta in more than just her name.
During the year I spent in Afghanistan, I kept a detailed personal journal, something I have done for many years. |
AUTHORLINK: How did you decide to share what you know about Afghanistan in the form of a novel?
MCARDLE: During the year I spent in Afghanistan, I kept a detailed personal journal, something I have done for many years. When I came home and found myself emotionally overwhelmed by my experiences, I considered turning my notes into a factual account. In the end, I decided that I might be able to reach people who would never pick up a non-fiction tome about Americas longest war, if I could weave my impressions into a compelling work of fiction. One of my goals was to make readers understand the importance of promoting renewable energy in Afghanistan, but I needed to create characters who would speak on my behalf. This part turned out to be surprisingly easy, since my characters were quite enthusiastic about articulating my opinions in the course of their conversations.
. . . since I am a former U.S. Foreign Service Officer . . .I was required to have my entire manuscript reviewed for classified material . . |
AUTHORLINK: How do Angela's experiences in Afghanistan compare with your own?
MCARDLE: Although Angela is a completely fictional character, I did draw on my own experiences as well as those of other female diplomats and journalists to create her story. Unlike Angela, I willingly volunteered to serve there as political advisor to a British Army unit. Since Farishta is not autobiographical, I was free to invent characters and employ healthy doses of artistic license to build tension and create conflict in the plot. On the other hand, since I am a former U.S. Foreign Service Officer and I made references to events that took place while I was on assignment, I was required to have my entire manuscript reviewed for classified material by the Department of State and other agencies. Happily they didn't change or delete one word.
AUTHORLINK: One passion you do share with Angela is the solar cooking project. Talk about that.
MCARDLE: I had a solar cooking epiphany very similar to the one Angela experiences in Farishta. When I started building and testing solar cookers on the roof of our walled compound in Mazar-i-Sharif, I was amazed that on a cold but sunny day in the high steppes of Central Asia, I could boil a pot of water with a piece of foil-covered cardboard. The Afghan men in the mountain village where I first demonstrated my homemade solar cooker were equally amazed. Since returning to the U.S. more than five years ago, I have become deeply involved in the promotion of solar cooking and have traveled to many countries to demonstrate this remarkably simple technology. Much to my surprise, I have also managed to antagonize some officials in Washington D.C. who have accused me of being too aggressive in promoting solar cookers.
AUTHORLINK: Did you plan which incidents to use in the story or did they seem to fit in as you wrote?
MCARDLE: Using my journals, I created an initial chronology and plot outline for Angelas year in Afghanistan. When I began to write, however, I found that my characters often had other ideas about what was going to happen. They took me to places and created events which I had not anticipated in my initial outline.
AUTHORLINK: How did you feel about winning the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award? How has it helped you?
MCARDLE: When Farishta made it through the first round of judging from 5000 to1000 competitors in February 2010, I did a wild victory dance around my living room. I was astounded at my good fortune. When I was handed the Grand Prize five months later, it seemed like a dream. It still does. Ive lived all over the world and have had a lot of amazing experiences during my diplomatic, military and Peace Corps service, and I've been keeping journals for all those years. I hadn't considered writing a second novel when I finished Farishta — but since winning the Amazon award, I've decided to search my journals for more material and perhaps give it a shot.
The editing process took about six months. It was a terrific education for me.|
AUTHORLINK: Did you have to do many revisions after you won the award, before the book was published?
MCARDLE: The manuscript I submitted to the contest was almost 150,000 words. Sarah Stein, my wonderful editor at Riverhead Books, gently explained tome that we would have to do a lot of trimming to reduce Farishta from more than 500 pages to something more manageable in the mid-300s. She also asked me to add a prologue and to give greater emphasis to certain plot elements. The basic story remains unchanged and all of the characters are still there, but some chapters I really loved had to be left on the cutting room floor. The editing process took about six months. It was a terrific education for me and I am thrilled with the outcome.
If you can't find an agent or a publisher, enter your novel in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest.|
AUTHORLINK: What encouragement can you give to other would-be novelists?
MCARDLE: When you get writer's block don't give up. Keep writing even if you dont like what you're seeing on the page. The bad stuff may come in handy later. Read, read, read. Edit, edit, edit. Get plenty of sleep, exercise and eat healthy food. If you get sick, you won't be able to write. If you can't find an agent or a publisher, enter your novel in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest. Even if you don't win, youll learn so much from the judging process, and there's always a great community of aspiring writers in the chat room who support each other. Finally, have fun and never give up.
About Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.