Author Feature: Patricia McCowan

Upstaged by Patricia McCowen
#Tuesdaytalk with Patricia McCowan. Her book, Upstaged, is on shelves now.

Tell us about your book.

Ellie has been used to lead roles in her small-town school’s musicals, but that changes when her dad’s job takes them to a big city. When Ellie gets into the Youth Works Theater Company, she finds herself in competition with a tight-knit group of triple-threat performers. Out of her depth and far from all she’s known, Ellie has to learn what to do to stop feeling upstaged by everyone around her.

What was the catalyst for your story?

My teenage daughter belongs to a youth theater company that mounts musicals. The level of work those young people do — from the audition and callback process, to the rehearsals for vocals and choreography, to technical and dress rehearsal days, and then the performances — is huge! And hugely satisfying. I wanted readers to have a window into that world.

What are the challenges of writing for or within a series?

The Limelights series books are relatively short. It’s a challenge to keep the plot tight and interesting while also accurately portraying a long and quite structured process like rehearsals for a musical. Rehearsals are, by necessity, somewhat repetitive, so I had to find a way to portray how rehearsals evolve without making the story feel repetitive.

What was your favourite book as a child?

I loved Janet Lunn’s Double Spell (or Twin Spell, as it was called in the U.S.) Twin girls buy a mysterious, antique doll and then strange things happen that seem to link the girls to the doll’s original owners, who were also twins. It takes place in Toronto, which was exotic enough to a girl in Winnipeg at the time (early ’70s). Only as an adult have I realized the story takes place in the Beaches neighborhood — which is where I live now! It’s wonderful to think that every day I walk the streets that made up the world of my favorite childhood book.

In your opinion, what makes a compelling story?

A compelling story has a character that pulls you right into their world, so that you experience everything she or he feels, sees and thinks right along with her or him.

Does your book have a niche or specialty market?

It would appeal to young readers who are already involved in, or want to be involved in, theater — especially musical theater. In Upstaged they can move through with Ellie to experience the highs and lows that come with learning how to work with other performers to put on the best show possible.

Do you gravitate toward a certain genre or type of writing?

I love lots of different genres, as long as the writing is compelling! I tend to go by mood when I decide what I want to read. Sometimes I feel like a contemporary story, with a lot of humor. Sometimes a massive, historical fiction story pulls me in. Biographies are great, too, because I love discovering how different people’s lives can be from mine. That’s actually always the appeal of reading to me. And writing!

What types of conversations do you hope will come out of your book?

I want readers to feel that when they take part in theater (or read about it), they enter into a sort of huge family of theater lovers. I want them to talk about and experience all that goes in to creating two hours of entertainment for an audience.

Patricia McCowanTell us a little known or interesting fact about yourself.

When I was about eleven years old I was on a couple of episodes of a local, Winnipeg kids’ TV show called Let’s Go! (Yes, the exclamation point was part of the show’s name.)

 

Patricia McCowan was born and raised in Winnipeg and now lives and writes (among other activities) in Toronto. Her novels, Honeycomb and Upstaged are part of Orca Book Publishers’ Limelights Series. Her short stories have been published in Dark Times (Ronsdale) and Cleavage: Breakaway Fiction for Real Girls (Sumach) and other pieces appeared online at Maisonneuve Magazine, defenestration, Broken City and The Globe and Mail. She has appeared in the Fringe at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival and was a finalist in their literary competition. – See more at: patriciamccowan.com.

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