Author Interview: E.J. Patten

This month it's my pleasure to interview my friend and debut author, E.J. Patten. His Middle Reader novel, Return to Exile launched this fall from Simon & Schuster. This highly reviewed book is a great read, especially if you're a fan of monsters, traps, and humor.

What inspired you to write Return to Exile?

First of all, I should mention that Return to Exile is nothing like the responses I’ll give for the rest of this interview in that Return to Exile is dark and funny and entertaining and people will actually want to read it.

Having said that…wait, what was the question? Oh yes, there it is. Inspiration. Now if you break down the word “inspiration” into its constituent parts, you get: INS-PI-RAT-ION, which of course is a horrible device used by the INS to ionize pirats (i.e., rats who like pies and/or very large numbers). I’d like to here clearly state that this word had nothing to do with my story.

Return to Exile, and The Hunter Chronicles as a series, has gone through so many transformations, it’s hard to point to a single source. It’s become epic in scope, and the series itself is the climax of events set in motion centuries before. It’s a big story and the hardest part is fitting it all in. Tolkien inspired the rich back-story. Lovecraft inspired me to create my own mythos. Rowling inspired the focus on character and hidden worlds within our own.

And Rube Goldberg, Steven Spielberg, and Chris Columbus inspired the traps (I’m a huge Goonies fan). I organized Return to Exile as a series of traps, leading up to the biggest trap of all—one that captures the reader.

You're main character, Sky Weathers, is forced by his mother to practice the tuba? Is this something you had to do as a child, or does it carry any special meaning?

I wish. I would’ve loved to play the tuba. Unfortunately, the only thing I could afford to play growing up was the castanets.

And, to be fair, they weren’t really castanets—they were two Campbell’s soup lids I’d taped together. And “play” isn’t really the right word either since I mainly used them to smash cockroaches and stir delicious Campbell’s soup. But man, I played those castanets all the time.

Snap, crackle, pop.

Still, the squeals and clacks of smashed cockroaches does sound strangely similar to a tuba, so I suppose you could say that I knew a thing or two about tuba playing.

Beyond that, I have no musical talent whatsoever. I also wouldn’t recommend my soup.

What got you interested in writing to Middle Readers, specifically?

The money. Well, not really the money; more the promise of money.

Seriously though? I read this obscure book years ago that really grabbed my attention. It’s called Harry Potter. Have you heard of it? No? Oh. Well, anyway, I was a film student in college, working on a career in fast food, and I had several different stories I wanted to tell to future customers. One of the stories was a kid’s story, but I had no idea what sorts of things children read, having never been one myself. Plus, my parents had spent all our money on tape for my castanets, so we could never afford books.

After I finished Harry Potter and returned it to the little child on the corner whom I’d stolen it from, I thought “that’s the sort of thing I want to write! And where’s my wallet?” Turns out the small child was a dirty rotten thief, can you believe that?

What are some of your favorite Middle Reader books?

Mostly, I like the ones with words in them, though pictures are also nice, if they’ve got blue stuff.

What's the story of how you went from an idea to ending up with a publishing deal with Simon & Schuster?

I cover this story in detail on my blog:

It’s one of my most popular post, probably because the others are really quite terrible.

In a nutshell, I wrote a book using recycled toilet paper I pilfered from the men’s bathroom in a city park where I lived at the time. I mailed that book to an agent who mistook it for a child’s story, written for a school project. It was only after he sold it that he discovered I was 37.

Sometimes I get the impression writing a book is the easy part—it's the marketing and other activities that end up taking a lot of time and energy for the author. What has your experiences been like so far?

Marketing…what is this word you speak? Yes, marketing does take up a lot of time—as much as you’ll let it, in fact. There’s always another school to harass, another bookstore to threaten, and another PR stunt to perform. Landing a big publisher doesn’t guarantee that your book will sell; it just means that they get to take most of the money if it does.

Debuts are hard. Nobody knows who you are, or cares when they find out—not until they’ve read your book, and maybe not even then. The whole point of marketing is just to get as many words coming out of as many mouths as possible. And to do that, you need to write a book worth talking about.

And then you need to throw millions of dollars at it and get very lucky, because there are hundreds of other great books out there worth talking about and only so many people buying them.

I’ve heard people say that they make their own luck, as if personal effort could overcome all obstacles. I hereby declare that people who say this are nearly as stupid as people who make their own money. Counterfeiting is a crime, people; look it up!

What do I mean by this? I have no idea. But, the secret formula for a bestseller is simple: great book (great luck * great money)/a duck-billed platypus = blueberry snorkel. For good measure, let’s multiply it all by effort or something. I was never very good with math.

The point is, with great luck comes great responsibility, and money can heal all wounds.

You throw enough money at me, and I would read any book on earth—maybe even Tolstoy.

If you could step into your world and hang-out with one of your characters, who would it be and why?

Honestly? I’d hang out with one of the Whispers, Ambrosia or Ursula, because they could shift into any of the other characters under a full moon and I’d probably never know the difference. But mostly, I’d want them to look and act like Phineas. He’s old and wise and says “bully that” a lot. Plus, he wears a monocle. Need I say more?


  1. Wow. This guy is hilarious! I'd definitely buy several thousand copies of his book, which is pretty amazing from what I hear.

    Thanks for the interview Platte! Next time, I'll try to make sense.

  2. Phineas is way cooler than Obi-Wan Kenobi.

  3. LOVED this interview. This made my night...


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