Author Patricia Wood shines light on Maui Writers Conference

Author Patricia Wood always considered herself a writer while sailing the Pacific, while teaching horseback riding lessons, even during her stint as a high school teacher.

“When I turned 50 I thought, if I’m going to call myself a writer, I really should write something,” she said.

By 52 she’d written two novels and had a drawer overflowing with rejection letters.

“At no time did I think these people were right,” she said matter-of-factly. “I’m the kind of person who when confronted with a 50 foot pile of manure thinks there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere.”

Today Wood is 55 and attributes the success of her third novel, “Lottery,” to her attendance at the Maui Writers Retreat and Conference. “Lottery” is her first published work.

Her debut novel is on the Washington Post Book World best fiction of 2007 list and was short listed for the 2008 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction in the United Kingdom. The actress Sarah Michelle Gellar has optioned film rights and her novel is now sold in 18 different countries. “Lottery” is the story of 31-year-old Perry, a man with an IQ of 76 who wins $12 million in the Washington State Lottery.

“At 52 I went to the Maui Writers Retreat with a first draft of my first novel,” she said. “Your first novel is your tuition in time. The first year I attended I was beyond nave. I left Maui realizing I wasn’t ready to be published.”

Wood used her experience at the conference as a sort of creative GPS system.

“It’s a matter of mapping out your own path,” she said. “You can learn all the technical tools, but you have got to be a good story teller. All the technical things I learned at Maui.”

The Maui Writers Conference, which is in Honolulu for the first time in its 16 year existence, occurs over Labor Day weekend annually. The four-day conference is a trove of publishing professionals presenting seminars on the industry. The week preceding the conference is a six-day retreat where writing professionals teach workshops.

Wood admits to her fantasy of wanting other writers to be wowed by her eloquent prose. But having attended the retreat for the past four years, she now knows that she attends in order to discover what is not working in a story.

“You write one novel and you write the next one,” she said. “Just by virtue of the writing, you get better.”

But that’s not all. The daily 2,000-word goal she set for herself is just the start. Wood attends the Maui retreat for honest feedback on her writing. The retreat is where she does the hard work, but also reaps the benefit of collaboration with other writers.

“You work in small groups of eight to 12 writers,” she said. “It’s being with other beginning writers that really allowed me to have a connection.”

Wood knows she has a gift for story telling but doesn’t consider herself a prodigy. She attributes her success to being a good listener, a diligent student and persevering.

“Maui offers the resources the tools,” she said “It’s not about getting a contract. It has to do with improving yourself as a writer and understanding the business of publishing. A compelling premise and good writing that is what will get you published.”

Every conference is an opportunity to get inside the heads of publishing professionals. Wood said that the rigor of writing and revising happens at the retreat and the conference afterwards is where she can relax a little.

“While attending the conference, talk to editors,” she advises. “Ask editors to explain the business. What are the things I need to do? What are you looking for?”

Wood said it’s about understanding how things are done.

“You wouldn’t walk into a hospital and presume to get a nursing job because you watch doctor shows,” she said.

Today Wood participates in 80 book clubs worldwide from the Netherlands to Canada. High schools all over Oahu read “Lottery.”

“I go to high schools to talk to students about writing as part of the Celebrate Reading Program,’” she said. “A teacher will choose my book and then I go in for Q&A. Art is circular you can’t do art in a vacuum.”

Wood still attends the retreat.

“People ask me, You’re published, why do you go to the retreat?’ and I tell them you never stop working on your writing. The one thing about Maui is it doesn’t stop after the conference. If you’re serious about your writing career, you should consider going you’ll waste more time and money by not acting.”

Wood isn’t one to accept excuses.

“I’m a testament. If you want to do something, age doesn’t matter, where you live is not a requirement. Write one book. Then write another and another. Go to conferences and retreats and never stop. (The Maui Writers Conference) is a way to get the tools and what you do with them is what you do with them.”

Maui Writers Retreat runs from Aug. 22 to Aug. 28. The conference is Aug. 29 to Sept. 1. Ala Moana Hotel is hosting the conference. To register, go to mauiwriters.com

Pam Woolway, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681, ext. 257 or pwoolway@kauaipubco.com

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