Lizbeth Meredith interviews Elise Patkotak on Coming into the City

In 1972, young and suddenly-single New Yorker
Elise Patkotak packed her parrot and her parcels and fled to Barrow, Alaska.
The next three decades in Barrow became the stuff of Parallel Logic. Now a
columnist for the Anchorage Daily News, Patkotak describes her reintegration
into urban life in Coming into the City.     
It’s hard to top a memoir about decades spent
in Barrow. Tell us about your second book, Coming into the City. Does it begin
exactly where Parallel Logic left off?
No, it’s not exactly chronological… though it
is a little bit. It is definitely centered on my first ten years in the city
after three decades in the Bush but there is some wandering in the chapters.
Chalk it up to the product of an old and wandering mind.

What was the most challenging part of this book
to write?
Just doing it.
I find that when I sit down at my desk to start
writing, I can come up with about a dozen things I should do first before
starting, so that when I do start it my desk and mind will be clear. In
reality, this means by the time I screw around long enough, I can justify it as
being too late in the day to really get into a long project and then I just
start playing Words with Friends.
This book was finally written when I went back
East to my sister’s house, brought my laptop, my full sized keyboard and my
regular mouse and plugged everything in, threatened all my relatives to leave
me alone during the day and finally got it done… in between, of course, Words with
Friends. The hardest pieces I wrote in the book were about
abuse in the villages. Having lived there so long, I was very conscious that I
didn’t want to hurt the people I loved with what I wrote but I had to write the
truth. In the end, it did hurt some people that I would write the things I did about
Native women being abused because Native men were not standing up for them.
There have been great changes in the publishing
industry since the release of Parallel Logic. How has that changed your strategy
for marketing for Coming in to the City?
I decided to publish this second book myself
since my first publishers and I parted company a few years back. Sometimes it’s
just easier to do it yourself. As for a marketing strategy, in some ways that
really hasn’t changed a lot. You market your book at available media sites.
This means what’s left of the print world as well as the web. I also do book
signings all over the state, advertise on my own website, and plug it at the
end of my weekly column. One of the things I’ve learned to accept is that there
are two kinds of writers who publish, regional and national. If you are
regional, you have to pray your region has a strong book publishing industry or
learn how to do it yourself.
It looks as though you’ve led a life
embracing change, moving from New Jersey
to Barrow, and then making the switch back to urban life in Anchorage.
How has your writing been affected by your many adaptations?  And how much of your success adapting do you
attribute to your writing?
Given a choice, I would be a sedentary hermit.
I realized this early in life and knew I would have to push myself to not
retreat very early on into a very cautious lifestyle. My writing has always
been a part of that conscious choice in that I use my writing to try and make
sense out of the changes and the new and different things these changes bring
to my life. If I write about an experience, I often find I write something I
didn’t even realize I had been thinking.
Writing forces me to stay outside myself when
my tendency is to want to retreat. By writing about the move, I can make myself
laugh at some of my more absurd impulses and put things into perspective. It
helps me keep my sanity.
How do you handle the self-consciousness that
comes with writing about others in your life? 
At what point in the process do you let them know the content they’re
included in?
I try very hard to never include others in my
life in my writing in a way that would identify them unless I’ve spoken to them
first and they’ve agreed. The fact that my life is public does not mean that
the lives of my friends and family also have to be public. We all have our own
level of comfort with that. When I started writing columns, I knew I’d be
giving up some privacy. My friends and family did not sign up for that ride. So
I either don’t use their names, or I contact them ahead of any publication in
which their name is used and let them know. If they object, I’ll usually change
it to a more generic and less identifiable character in whatever I’m writing. I
find that most don’t mind because they know I would never be deliberately mean
or cruel to them in what I said. And, quite frankly, I am grateful for that
since it is very hard to do the kind of writing I do without referencing the
people around me.
What are your top three tips for memoir writers
who plan a journey towards publication?
Do it for yourself first, and others second.
That makes it more real since you don’t have to bullshit yourself.
Given that there is no guarantee ever of
publication, make sure the journey itself is fun and full of satisfaction.
If all else fails, self-publish. Dickens did
and it didn’t turn out badly for him at all.

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