Q&A With the Not-So-Mysterious Patricia Crisafulli

Want to feel better about yourself and your writing journey? Read what cozy mystery author Patricia Crisafulli has to say about the writer’s journey–while learning a bit more about her in this Q&A.

Q: What sparked you to become a writer? How did your literary journey begin?

I have always loved storytelling, starting at a very young age. I can remember being four- and five-years-old and telling myself stories, especially when I couldn’t sleep in the middle of the night. At the ripe old age of seven, I wrote my first story (four sentences long). By the time I was 12, I decided to write for a living–and never changed my mind. 

It’s been a lifelong journey: from journalism, freelance writing, nonfiction books, publishing short stories (which led to a couple of awards) and, finally–after getting a master’s in fine arts (MFA) degree from Northwestern University–I reached my goal of becoming a novelist. 

In 2022, my Ohnita Harbor Mystery Series launched from Woodhall Press with my first mystery, The Secrets of Ohnita Harbor, followed by the second in 2023, The Secrets of Still Waters Chasm. And the third is in the works! 

Q: What’s the earliest thing you remember writing?

That short story I mentioned at age seven? Well, it was based on (of all things) the song “Georgie Girl.” I loved it and my hometown radio must have played it a lot. (Hey there, Georgie Girl. Going down the street so fancy free …) 

I decided I would write about the life of Georgie Girl–a swooping, sweeping epic. And, yes, that ended up being four sentences. 

Q: Have you ever struggled to write something, or are there certain genres or forms of writing you just don’t like or feel confident in?

To write is to struggle! 

I don’t mean in a cold garret with a candle and rats gnawing at the woodwork. 

Over many years of writing, I’ve struggled with self-doubt, inner demons (who are you to think you can write a book…?), craft elements (that pesky point of view … flashback vs. back story), pacing…  These struggles have been guideposts, showing me what I needed to learn. 

Q: Conversely, are there certain genres or forms of writing you excel at or are drawn to?

I love character-driven fiction. That includes literary fiction, which I explore mostly in short stories (see my website: www.FaithHopeandFiction.com). 

In addition, the types of mysteries I write–with a small town, “accidental hero” protagonist–are also character-driven. They’re not thrillers; they’re loosely categorized as “cozies.”  

What I love about this type of mystery is the journey of the protagonist to confront her fears and limitations and overcome herself, as part of solving the mystery and confronting the antagonist. 

Q: How do you deal with writer’s block and/or the urge to do anything else but sit down and write?

These polar opposites co-exist for most of us: the desire to immerse ourselves in writing…and writers’ block. (I’ve written about it here: https://sixtyandme.com/writers-block-bumps/) 

My “perfect day” is getting up early on a Saturday morning (5:30 a.m.), feeding the cats, making my first cup of tea, and starting to write. I love nothing more than having six or seven hours to “write myself out.” And many times that’s exactly what I experience. 

But then there are days when distractions set in. I get discombobulated in my own mind. Suddenly, it feels really important to change the batteries in the electric candles on the shelf. 

Whether it’s procrastination, distractions, or full-on writer’s block, the solution for me is to return to process: am I writing, editing, or rewriting? What is the one thing I need to work on in that moment? Am I sketching out a new scene? Adding description to an existing scene? By breaking it down into just the next thing to do, I can regain my focus and keep myself from getting overwhelmed. 

Q: What’s the biggest literary project you’ve ever taken on and what did you learn from it?

I love long-form fiction and I’ve written 300-plus pages many times. My first two mysteries are both 80,000 words (and the next one is coming in around that mark). So the first thing I learned was: wow, I really can stick with and complete something long. 

Over the years, I learned many other lessons, such as pacing, deciding on (and being consistent with) point of view, when to use dialogue and when to summarize, and a host of other craft elements.

Q: What are some books or authors that have significantly influenced your work?

In my genre, I love Louise Penny, and my favorite of her many books is The Great Reckoning

I also love Ann Patchett (Tom Lake), Richard Power (The Overstory), Bonnie Garmus (Lessons in Chemistry), and so many others

Q: How do you keep yourself motivated and inspired as a literary professional?

I love to write—pure and simple. It is my passion and purpose.

Q: Can you share an example of how your experience shapes the way you teach?

I’ve had both good and not-so-good experiences that shape the way I teach. 

The good experiences came largely from my five-year MFA program at Northwestern, where workshops were sometimes tough (we got honest feedback), but also empowering! I was invested in my peers’ progress as writers and felt they were invested in mine. 

The not-so-good experiences are the workshops I took in my younger days, in which I felt intimidated to the point of amping up my self-doubts or in which writing felt like something “someone else” had the privilege of doing.

Q: What is your philosophy towards teaching literature or writing?

My teaching philosophy is all about empowering writers at all levels and helping them claim their right to write. We’re all works in progress. 

Q: How do you describe your teaching style?

Collaborative, engaging, empowering, and fun. I’m there to bring out the best in others—not to showcase myself.

Q: What do you believe is the key to fostering a creative and inclusive classroom environment?

Respect, respect, respect!

I think this comes from sharing and agreeing to the “rules of the road”—whether that’s for discussing our project or giving feedback. On sharing, it’s my job as the facilitator to make sure that everyone has time (so no filibusters and soliloquies!). On feedback, I provide guidelines on leading with the positive: What did the writer do a good job with?  Then when we give some constructive feedback, we’re specific: such as where we have a question, saw an inconsistency, etc. 

Q: Can you share an example of a teaching moment that was particularly rewarding for you?

At a writers’ workshop I taught on inspirational essays, a woman who sat in the back said nothing the entire class. But when it came time for people to share what they wrote in class, she raised her hand and read a deeply revealing account from her childhood of the day her father killed himself. She later told me she had never written about that before or even spoke about it with most people. But that workshop made her feel safe to write her truth and speak it.

Q: What can people expect if they decide to participate in your class?

The key word is participate! We’ll do exercises, share thoughts, read small excerpts, and engage with others. 

Q: Who are you trying to connect with by teaching this class?

Experienced and aspiring writers alike who want to learn more about the craft of writing.

Q: Could you give an overview of what a typical class with you might look like?

In the intensive mystery-writing class I’m teaching, I will divide the afternoon into segments on Who (developing the protagonist), Where (setting—it’s crucial in a mystery), How (the actions/reactions in the mystery), and Why (the motivations). 

In each segment, we’ll have writing exercises, reflections to identify emotions within a scene, and sharing. 

Q: What are the primary learning outcomes you aim for?

  • Empowerment – the right to write
  • Exploration – delving into the elements of a mystery
  • Understanding – how to apply those lessons to our own work

Q: What kind of support or resources do you provide your students?

Handouts, helpful websites, and their own notes from class 

Q: What do you love most about teaching?

Empowering others. I keep using that word, but it’s the most important gift I can give as a teacher. And when I see someone become more empowered, it’s the best reward.

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