How did you become a writer?
I began writing as a teenager in a series of plastic-covered “Dear Diaries,” which I kept hidden under my mattress. I’ve been journaling ever since. Many of the themes, events and characters in my fiction writing have been drawn from those decades of journal entries.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.)
Tony Hillerman was the University of New Mexico’s student newspaper advisor in the 1960s and early ’70s. He was also my instructor in a “Media and the Law” class at UNM. In 1971, just after The Blessing Way (the first in his series of Navajo mystery novels) was published, Tony encouraged all of us aspiring journalists to take at least one fiction writing course before we graduated. I did not become a journalist, but I did take Tony’s advice about fiction writing. My first published short story, “I Joined a Free Love Family,” written during that fiction course, appeared in a 1972 issue of Intimate Story.
James Michener’s Caravans, which I read and reread while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in a remote Paraguayan village from 1972-1974, sparked my lifelong obsession with Afghanistan. Thirty years later, I served for a year (2004-2005) in that war-torn country as a U.S. diplomat embedded with a British infantry unit. Although I had initially planned to write a non-fiction memoir about my year in Afghanistan, Michener’s Caravans inspired me to try writing a novel instead.
I’m a huge Jane Austen fan, which some reviewers of Farishta have noted and complained about. Graham Greene and Ernest Hemmingway have inspired me to write sparingly.
When and where do you write?
I write on my laptop at different times of the day and in many different places—at my desk, on my back porch, in bed, on trains, planes and boats. While writing Farishta, I occasionally switched to pencil and paper for days at a time. My characters would often do and say the most unexpected things when I wrote by hand.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently rewriting my non-fiction expose about efforts to impede the development and distribution of simple solar cooking devices for the world’s poor. I’m making notes for my next novel, which will include events and characters drawn from the journals I kept during my decades of military and diplomatic service overseas. I’m also working on a redraft of the screenplay adaptation of Farishta, which I wrote several years ago.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
Not really, although there are periods when I don’t write any fiction because I’m working on a non-fiction piece. I write in my journal every day no matter what.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
After you’ve finished a piece put it away and don’t look at it for a while. When you take it out and read it again, the inconsistencies, the gaps and the missed connections will jump right off the page.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Keep a journal, write what you know about and never give up.
Patricia McArdle retired with the rank of Senior Foreign Service Officer, from the U.S. Department of State in 2006 after a twenty-seven year career as an American diplomat. She also served for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer health educator in Paraguay and for three years as a U.S. Naval officer at a remote communications base in Sidi Yahia, Morocco. Her last overseas diplomatic posting was as the U.S. government's senior civilian representative in Northern Afghanistan, where she was based with a British infantry unit. Her 2011 New York Times op-ed, “Afghanistan’s Last Locavores,” called for the aggressive promotion of renewable energy technology in that war torn country. In 2010 McArdle won the Grand Prize for General Fiction in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest for her fictional war memoir Farishta, which also received the San Diego Book Award. Since retiring from government service, McArdle has become an expert in and advocate for the introduction of solar cooking technology in the developing world. She has served on the board of directors of Solar Cookers International (SCI) and Solar Household Energy and as the editor of the Solar Cooker Review. She is currently a member of SCI’s Global Advisory Council.