Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Interview with Patrick Dilloway Author of Where You Belong

So Patrick, you are a fellow Michigander, I love talking to other Michigan writers. Please introduce yourself, tell us a little about you.

First of all, thanks for having me on. I really appreciate it. As for talking about me, there’s not much to say. In my bio I talk about all the things I’m NOT doing because it’s far more interesting than what I am doing. Mostly I was born and raised in central Michigan, got an accounting degree to pay the bills, and moved to Detroit. I spend most of time working and writing. Are you asleep yet? Writing is really my only real hobby, or at least the only one I spend much time doing. If I had the equipment and time I’d love to travel and take pictures. At home I have a lot of framed shots from places I’ve been like Maine, New Mexico, and the Grand Canyon. The good thing about writing of course is that you can do it pretty much anywhere so long as you have a utensil.

How did you get started in writing and is this your first published novel?

If you want to get technical, “Where You Belong” is probably my thirtieth novel. I’ve been writing novels since I was twelve, though most of those are better off never seeing the light of day. This one is the first one I’ve ever published, though. What really inspired it is two things. First, after reading “The Cider House Rules” by John Irving about seven years ago I decided to myself I really wanted to do something like that. I tried a couple of times, but I couldn’t get it right. When Prop 8 in California and other similar amendments came about, it put the focus on gay marriage. In listening to some of the arguments against it like, “If you let gays marry then people will start marrying their siblings!” I started to get annoyed. I found that was an issue where I really had something I wanted to say. So using “The Cider House Rules” as sort of a template, I focused on creating a story that would deal with the issue of gay marriage without preaching at the reader.

What is "Where You Belong" about, how would you describe the book? I have read that is compared to the styles of John Irving and Saul Bellows, Great American Novel writers.

The story is about a man who finds love with a set of twins—one of each gender. More than that, it’s about his search over nearly thirty-five years to find where he fits in with the world. I compare it to John Irving’s “World According to Garp” not just because the title characters in each have a strange name and are writers, but because I think like Mr. Irving’s work, my story is a blend of drama and comedy with a social message. At the same time, I compared it to Mr. Bellows’s “The Adventures of Augie March” in that both have that great American spirit of pressing forward against all obstacles in the hope of finding something better. That’s the spirit that allowed the pioneers to settle America and I think it lives on today in people like Augie March or Frost Devereaux who continue to seek out a better life even when they run into terrible obstacles like losing a loved one.

What did you hope to accomplish by writing "Where You Belong"? What is your message?

As the title suggests, the book is really about finding your place in this world—Where You Belong. Maybe you’re a man and find you belong with a woman. Or maybe you find you belong with another man. The important thing is what you and your significant other feel in your hearts, not how your genitals line up. I hope we can someday get to the point where a story like Frost’s wouldn’t be all that shocking.

Tell us a little about your protaganist, Frost Devereaux is a unique name for a character, how did you come up with the name?

This is a pretty silly story. The story I worked on before Where You Belong I was having a little fun and I gave all my main characters names that started with the letter ‘E.’ So when I was coming up with names for what became Where You Belong, I thought it would be fun to have names that start with ‘F’ since that comes next. I was looking online at male names beginning with the letter ‘F’ and I thought of the name ‘Frost’ even though it wasn’t listed. As for his last name, I suppose I always liked ‘Devereaux’ ever since I first heard it on one of my mom’s soap operas growing up. And there was also a Boyd Devereaux who played for the Detroit Red Wings about seven years ago. (I think he’s with the Maple Leafs now.) How he gets the name is cribbed a little from the aforementioned “World According to Garp” only instead of a nurse giving him the name the name is derived from the nurse who saves his mother—and him—by delivering him.

As for his friends Frankie and Frank, I wanted a name that could be used as both male and female. My grandmother was named Frances and I saw Francis listed as a male name when I was looking up ‘F’ names, so it made sense. People have said it’s confusing, but I resisted changing it because it really says something about their father that he essentially gives them the same name because he had planned to use the name ‘Francis’ and didn’t want to alter his plans. It’s still not as confusing as George Foreman naming all his sons ‘George.’

What has inspired you to write?

Anything can inspire my ideas. A name, a title, a character, or a basic premise. Basically how the story developed was it occurred to me one day: what if there was a guy so terrible at marriage that he couldn’t make it work with either sex? That’s how it all started. From there I just expanded on this idea that some marriages are just not going to work not because of the genitals of those involved, but because they aren’t compatible for each other spiritually. To me, that’s what’s most important in any marriage.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

My overall favorite has to be the aforementioned John Irving. I’ve read all of his novels, his book of short stories, and even his dull autobiography. I’ve already mentioned my love of “The Cider House Rules,” which is followed closely by “The World According to Garp.” Some of my other favorites are Michael Chabon, whose vocabulary I would kill for; Richard Russo because of his great depictions of small town life; John Updike, whose descriptions could make even the worst story into poetry; Kurt Vonnegut, who could tackle horrible subjects while still making you laugh; and Terry Pratchett, who is just a great storyteller.

Do you write fulltime or do you still have a "day job"?

No, I still have a day job. Though with the way the economy is going—especially in Michigan—who knows how much longer that will be?

What is your writing schedule, do you commit to a certain amount of hours working or words written per day?

When I was writing “Where You Belong” I typically on Monday-Thursday spent about three hours writing in the local library. On Saturdays I would write from 10am-11pm (taking breaks for lunch/dinner) at the libraries and the local Starbucks (or similar establishment) after the libraries closed. It may seem grueling, but I usually took Fridays and Sundays off so I could stay rested. The worst part was subsisting on ham sandwiches on weekdays. After a while you really start to crave a little home cooking. Right now I’ve scaled that back so that I don’t write much on the weekdays, saving my energy for Fridays and Saturdays. If you stop by a coffeehouse in the Detroit area and see someone lurking in the back with a laptop it might be me.

Is there anything else you would like to add? Perhaps give us a blurb or excerpt from "Where You Belong".


Orphaned at an early age, the closest people in Frost Devereaux's life are the free-spirited Frankie Maguire and her conniving twin brother Frank. Over the years Frost's life takes him from the lush fields of the Mideast to the burning heat of the desert to the sparkling promise of Manhattan. His heart, though, never strays far from the two people who have meant the most to him. Ultimately, Frost must decide where—and with whom—he belongs.


I wake up again and the hand is gone, but I’m not alone. I sense a figure lurking in the shadows, hovering there like a ghost. I think at first it’s my mother; unable to speak I revert back to babyhood and whimper in what I hope is a reassuring fashion. The figure, caught, shuffles forward and I see it’s not my mother—it’s my father.

“Hey, kid,” he says. “How you feeling?”

This is a stupid question as I’m in a hospital bed, surrounded by machines with my face wrapped in bandages. He hesitates before taking the seat next to my bed. For what could be a minute or an hour he sits there, staring at me as he searches for something to say.

“It’s too bad about your mother,” he says.

Though not quite four, I understand this means something terrible has happened. I whimper again, this time mournfully. This rattles my father; he twitches uncomfortably in the chair. He doesn’t want to be there and I don’t want him there; I want Mommy. My father was only the man who lived in our barn.

His hand reaches out to touch my forehead, but his skin is sweaty and warm, not the cool, soothing presence of my other visitor’s. I try to move my head to shake it away only to find I can’t. “I’m not going to hurt you, kid,” he says. His hand moves across my forehead to the bandages. He peels these back gently and then leans close to me so that he can see what lies underneath. Whatever it is causes him to quickly pull his hand back, letting the bandages fall into place again.

“Oh shit,” he whispers into the darkness. I’m too young to know the meaning of this expression. Still, from his tone of voice I gather something’s wrong and whimper again. “It’s all right, kid,” he says, trying to sound cheerful. I know he’s lying. I know things aren’t going to be all right. Not ever again.

My father pats my left hand with his. “Hang in there, kid,” he says. He backs away until the shadows swallow him again. He pauses for a moment before making a decision. The door clicks shut. I wait a moment for him to come back, but he doesn’t. Not ever again.

To read the first chapter you can go to the official book website: http://www.whoisfrostdevereaux.com and you can get a lot more information on the story, characters, and the story behind the story.

Thanks so much for the interview, Patrick.

Thanks so much for having me.


A. F. Stewart said...

Interesting insight on how you named your characters.