Friday, February 19, 2010

Ask an Author - Pat Hughes

Pat Hughes is the writer of several children's books and the YA novel, Open Ice.

In Open Ice, hockey is Nick's life. As a teen, were there any sports that you really enjoyed?
When I was a kid, I loved to play baseball and football with my brother and his friends. I never played on organized teams because in those benighted times, girls weren’t allowed to play on boys’ teams such as Little League, school teams, etc. Maybe there were some girls’ teams; if so I was unaware of them, and uninterested in playing with only girls anyway. When I was about 13, my mother took me aside one day and said it was time I stopped playing football with the boys. There ended my athletic career.

If you were in Nick's parents' shoes, would you have made the same decisions they did?
I think it’s impossible to say what we would do in any situation we’ve never been in. Of course, we all want to believe we would make the “right” decision, but I feel that until you are actually IN the situation, you just don’t know how you would react. That’s why, in Open Ice, I had the “donut scene,” where Nick’s mom vacillates over her decision, indicating to Nick that his dad and the neurologist overruled her. I think that’s a scene most parents can identify with. You can never underestimate the power of a nagging teenager to make you change your mind! And faced with a child’s intense attachment to a sport, I could see a well-intentioned parent wavering in his/her resolve. There are always similar pressures in life - whether from a child, a friend, a spouse, or the culture at large.

How long did it take you to write Open Ice?
The story itself didn’t take very long - maybe a couple of months. It’s always the rewriting, the research & the editing that get you.

What research did you do for Open Ice?
I did a great deal of hockey research, because it’s not a sport I knew a whole lot about before I started the book. I would go to high school hockey games and stand behind the goals to watch the players - they’d skate so close to where I was standing, I could see their intense expressions, and feel them slam into the boards right in front of me. That gave me a much better sense of the feel of being a player than I would have had by just observing from the bleachers. I also researched concussion and head injuries. What’s ironic is that, after my first two historical novels - “Guerrilla Season” and “The Breaker Boys” - I thought it would be so much easier to write about the era in which I’m living. That turned out to be not so true. Another problem with writing in the present day is that there’s a lot more people alive who are going to catch you if you get something wrong.

Do you have another YA novel in the works? If so, what can you tell us?
Yes, it’s another historical novel, set in Connecticut and New York during the American Revolution. The working title is “The First Five Fourths,” the publisher is Viking/Penguin, and it’s due to come out next year. To my mind, it’s a “contemporary historical novel.” One mistake that I think is often made in historical novels for kids - especially true the farther back in history the novel takes place - is that authors tend to present the kids of the past as being perfectly well behaved and noble. I call it the Johnny Tremain Syndrome, and I think it’s, understandably, a turnoff to young readers. In “The First Five Fourths” I start with the premise - born out by my research - that kids back then were, fundamentally, not much different from kids today. My main character, Jake, actually has similarities to Nick in “Open Ice”: at heart a good kid, but he has his issues and his flaws. Throw into the mix the Revolution literally at his doorstep, and some very intense things coming out of that, and I think it’s a book young people will really enjoy.

What do you love about writing?
I love the part where an idea springs up in my head, and then I get to water and grow it in my imagination over days, weeks, months - building the plot, the characters, the themes, the dialogue. I love when I finally get to bring that vision to life, sitting in my breakfast room with a spiral-bound notebook, writing in longhand.

Do you have any advice for teens?
Here’s what I tell my own two teenage sons: Always live your life as though there’s a camera on you. I think it’s both spiritual and practical advice. The camera can be the eye of God, or kharma, or whatever higher power you believe in - or it can be an actual camera, catching you in the act of something you might not want to see on youtube – or in a courtroom.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
I want to thank you for having me on your blog. Those of us who are working writers – not J.K. Rowling or the “Twilight” woman, not on the radar screen of award-bestowing organizations such as the ALA – rely on being “found” by people who are just looking for a good book. I have an enormous amount of respect for readers who do just that: seek and find the books that you would enjoy, instead of reading only the mega-sellers that are mega-marketed to you. I’m even more grateful to the people who not only find me, but also email me, leave nice Amazon reviews, and put me on their Web sites and/or blogs.

For more information on Pat Hughes or her works, visit her website. I definitely recommend checking out her books, especially since she is relatively unknown.


  1. I remember Open ice! That was a good book-nice interview...

  2. Great interview! Open Ice sounds great. :)

  3. Open Ice is a really good book it's my second time reading the book.When i read the book it feels like I can relate to the book and the main character.