Meet Patty, Who’s Disrupting the Peace with her New Novel [Q&A]

Patty Yumi Cottrell is a Hamline alum with a Bachelor of the Arts in English. She’ll be returning to campus this month to read and discuss her novel Sorry to Disrupt the Peace. The reading group is open to students, alumni, faculty, and staff members Thursday, April 13th from 11:30 am – 12:30 pm. A public reading will take place at 7 pm later that day in Giddens Learning Center 100E with a reception following in the GLC Art Gallery. 

How did you end up at Hamline University?

I chose Hamline because it was in St. Paul. It was close to where my grandmother lived and I wanted to live near her. I liked that it was a liberal arts school, small, and at the time, I was interested in law and politics, so I was drawn to the law school, too.

How did you choose a major in English? Did you consider any other discipline?

My first couple years at Hamline, I took mostly political science and history classes. Meeting Mike Reynolds changed things for me. I’d always been a reader, but not much of a writer. He encouraged me to write short stories and he made some reading suggestions. At that time, I was very interested in American fiction. It wasn’t a hard decision once I realized I did not have the mind or aptitude for politics.

What classes or experiences at Hamline stick out in your memory?

I remembered Mike Reynold’s American fiction class, and a class on the British Empire co-taught by Kris Deffenbacher and Susie Steinbach. When I was a freshman and sophomore I wasn’t very confident. I was shy, awkward, and hesitant to participate in class discussions. Taking those classes gave me more confidence, because those professors treated me as an adult and a scholar.

Is there anything you’d do differently in college or in preparing for a career? 

If I had been more focused, I would have tried to pursue an internship at Coffeehouse Press or Graywolf or Milkweed.

Once you graduated, how’d you get from college to writing and publishing? 

After I graduated, I worked a lot of different jobs at cafes, which I know is an English major cliché. Some years after graduating Hamline, I applied to one graduate program for writing, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and I was accepted. Jesse Ball was my advisor at SAIC, and he was encouraging and supportive. I began publishing small prose pieces on the internet and went from there. My work has become stronger as I’ve become older. I don’t know if that’s because I’ve had more life experiences, or more complex relationships with people or what. Writing can still be a struggle at times, but I try to find joy in the process of making something, rather than focusing on the publishing process, which can be seductive and an ego-trip.

Can you walk me through the ‘process’? 

The process of writing is mysterious, so I don’t think I can take you through it, except to say that it’s always shifting and some days I am filled with doubt, and everything is a struggle. The idea for this book came from an emotional place, and also from a place of curiosity. I always begin with a question or a problem.

What was editing like? 

Editing was fun. I was lucky because the editor was someone who understood my writing on a deep level. Her name is Andi Winnette, and she’s married to my friend Colin, an incredible writer. I knew Andi would get it, and that we’d have no trouble working together. In fact, not only did we have no trouble, the editing process was incredibly joyful. One of the best moments of my life. She understood things and saw things that I didn’t see.

My advice: always work with someone smarter than you.

How did you go about publishing? 

I sent my book to some agents and I sent it to one editor, Andi Winnette. I sent it to her because I knew her, and also I loved McSweeney’s. McSweeney’s is a great publisher. They let the work be what it needs to be, and they gave me a lot of control.

What did it feel like when you first held this physical thing you’d worked on, once you received your copy? 

People have all kinds of different experiences when they receive their author copies. A friend of mine said his author copies were covered in ants and honey. I think my experience was private, so I’d rather not say anything about it, except, what a relief.

What themes would you want someone to be thinking about during your book?

I don’t think the writer should ever dictate what a reader gets out of a book. It’s none of my business, really. Reading critically is a subjective experience.

Who do you think will connect best with the novel?

Anyone who likes Larry David will maybe like my book.

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