Interview with Patrick Middleton

We understand you have been reviewed by KIRKUS REVIEWS-a very prestigious honor. What is their summation of EUREKA MAN?
"A searingly honest novel of determination and redemption that is also an emotionally rewarding reading experience."
For the complete review, visit KIRKUS REVIEWS or my website at: AuthorPatMiddleton.com
Congratulations on the publication of your novel, Eureka Man. Why don’t you start by telling us about the title and how it relates to the story?
Sure. None of my editors or early readers liked any of the half dozen titles I had come up with. One afternoon, my wife Marta an I were playing that old free association game. You know, where you say the first word or phrase that comes to mind. Well, the moment Marta blurted out “Eureka Man,” I knew instantly it was the right title for the book. Oliver Priddy, the young protagonist in the novel, is always having these Eureka moments where he “gets" something–an idea, a truth, a realization. He is the Eureka Man. So that’s how the title came about, and my wife gets all the credit.
Eureka Man is listed as literary fiction. For the sake of young readers and others who may not fully understand that term, would you explain what makes a novel fall into the literary category?
Author Ken Follett once said that thrillers are about one thing — danger. You think up a dangerous situation in which to place people, create a setting, etc., and then you find a way to draw the story out for a hundred thousand words. One of the cardinal rules of writing literary fiction is that less is more. You allow the writing to speak for itself in a somewhat more formal style through the use of figurative language — analogies, allusions (not illusions!), metaphors, and similes. These are generally employed not just to achieve some aesthetic quality, but usually to suggest something more, something symbolic, perhaps some abstract or universal idea about what it means to be human. In my novel, I set out to present the protagonist Oliver Priddy and his actions in such a way that my readers could see themselves doing the same thing if they were put in his circumstances. Oliver Priddy is much like you and anybody else. He’s human, he’s doing the best he can, but unfortunate events and circumstances still seem to follow and find him. In spite of it all, though, he grows in knowledge of self and the world. He shows us what makes him tick and shares with the reader a partial meaning to human existence through his own acquired philosophy. And herein lies another trait of literary fiction — creating characters who are best suited for providing the greatest range and depth of ideas to the reader. In Eureka Man, Oliver Priddy is one of those characters.
Now the story takes place in the fictitious Riverview Penitentiary located on the North Side of the city of Pittsburgh. You once lived in the real Riverview Pen, didn’t you?
Yes, I did. Riverview Pen is the mirror image of Western Penitentiary in Pittsburgh, where I spent the first thirteen of my now forty years in prison. The name was changed in the novel, but the book is spot-on in its description of the real Western Pen, right down to the streets and alleyways and the thick green ivy that used to crawl over the walls of the old Home Block.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the book?
Well, even though I didn’t begin writing the official first draft until the spring of 2010, this novel has been simmering in my head for a very long time. I started writing short stories back in the late 80s and early 90s, and many of the scenes and characters in those stories ended up in the book.
You didn’t give your protagonist a sympathetic bent.
Nope. Eureka Man is not a story about forgiveness, or even of seeking forgiveness. It’s more about survival and self-preservation and redemption. Oliver doesn’t spend much time thinking about getting out of prison because he’s too busy living in the present. He creates a life for himself in prison that has many of the qualities of life lived anywhere. And there’s nothing sympathetic about that.
How much rewriting and revising did you have to do?
Lots. My writing does not come out fully formed after the first or second draft. I am very hard on myself and that’s because I’ve arrived at a point where I know when something I’ve written is good or not. I’ve been a professional editor for close to thirty years, so there are those standards to meet. But there’s more. Every word, sentence and paragraph, every page I write is put to the test: If it’s not compelling and compulsive readings to me, it has to go. Eureka Man, I believe is a compelling read.
You’ve heard the saying “write what you know.” Is that a good adage? Do you think a writer who’s never experienced prison life firsthand can write an effective novel set in a prison?
Whether the saying is good or bad depends on the subject matter, I think. If you’re writing about flying airplanes and you have a scene where you have to go on for 40 pages describing someone flying an airplane for the first time, you would probably do better if you had firsthand experience. Stephen King was never in prison to my knowledge, but he wrote two very compelling prison stories in The Green Mile and the short story, “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.” Both of these stories do a spectacular job of capturing prison life, excuse the pun. However, what I set out to do that might distinguish my novel from these stories was to explore the deep aesthetics of prison life and the intricacies of relationships that only a person who’s been a prisoner for a very long time can truly know about.
What is it about Eureka Man that you hope will pique the reader’s interest?
The story dispels so many myths about prison life and stereotypes. For example, how many people can fathom that someone living in prison can thrive and be productive and celebrate life every single day? Or that even among seriously flawed human beings goodness exists in abundance? That hope and redemption and love and compassion and loyalty exist in prison?
When the magazine journalist, Hope Best, comes to interview Oliver in her office, she asks him to tell her everything he can about prison, and here’s one of the things he offers her: “And in case you didn’t know it, Ms. Best, there are real live love
Yes, it is. In a previous chapter there’s also a passage that reads: “What the world knows about what goes on between the sheets in prison can be summed up in a phrase: Bubbas and pretty Michaels.” Oliver has two motives in the passage you just quoted. He wants to expose the myth about prison sex, and at the same time he wants to plant a subtle seed in Hope Best’s mind.
What would you like to accomplish with Eureka Man besides selling lots of copies?
I hope anyone who reads the book will agree that it would make a terrific movie. So there’s always that. Of course, I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for something like that to happen. Really though, what I truly hope is that readers will discover they share a common humanity with some of the characters in the story. If that happens I’ll be deeply grateful.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I’ve often thought about this question. My problem in answering it is that I don’t know enough about young actors of today to match them up with some of my characters. Denzel Washington would be perfect for the role of Champ if they could make him look 25 years younger. A young Julia Roberts would be ideal for the role of Penelope. I have no thoughts on who might be suited to play the young Oliver Priddy, but in his latter years Ben Afleck or Rob Lowe would be spot-on. For Dr. B.J Dallet, I would choose Susan Sarandon or Meryl Streep. For Sgt. Dewey, I would go with Forrest Whitaker. To play Wayne St. Pierre’s character, I would want a young Robert Duvall. And let’s see, James Earl Jones would nail Early Greer’s role, and for Warden I.M. White’s role, I’d pick Don Cheadle.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on my next novel, tentatively titled, Dickie Gee’s Blues. The story begins in the 1950s in a Southern Maryland town called La Plata. Without giving away too much, the plot centers around the intricate friendship between a white family and a black family that goes back three generations. The central character is a twelve-year-old boy named Dickie Gee Moody who witnesses the murder of a black man who has ties to Dickie Gee’s family. Dickie recognizes the murderer, but his father forces him to conceal the identity of the murderer. As he gets older, Dickie Gee’s maniacal obsession to bring down the murderer takes over the story. I’m very excited about the project.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
THE GREEN MILE. I've read the book three times and parts of it still make me shake and cry. Stephen King is a genius and one of my heroes. One cannot possibly create a character like John Coffey without being filled with profound beauty and love and God Himself.

THE HELP. My family had a maid all the way up to the time I was 18. I could easily relate to and empathize with Constantine, Aibileen and Minnie. It was quite a nostalgic read for me without bordering on bathos.

AFFLICTION. I certainly knew a few Wade Whitehouses in my time. Mean and violent white men who thought they were invulnerable. The whole way through the book I was just waiting for Wade to get what he deserved and he did.

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES AT THE WHISTLE STOP CAFE. Because the main characters fought courageously and triumphantly to protect those they loved, even when it meant breaking the law.

I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS. It's a story of inspiration and courage and it taught me to be a stronger human being.
What do you read for pleasure?
Magazines: The Intelligent Optimist, Bass Player, Writer's Digest, Poets & Writers, The Nation.
For novels: David Baldacci, and anything by Louise Erdrich or Russell Banks.
Where did you grow up, and how did your hometown influence your writing?
In the Southern Maryland town of La Plata, Charles County. Many of my childhood playmates were black, so I often found myself in conflict with Jim Crow. I won those battles. I drank from 'colored' water fountains, patronized 'colored' operated candy stores, and when I was older, I entered segregated beer gardens because I loved "race" music. These experiences almost always find their way into my writing.
When did you first start writing?
Well, in the first grade. Then in the seventh grade I started writing these short stories. In 1978 when I started college, I began writing in journals and I learned a lot about myself by just writing about my daily life. Then I started writing short stories and poetry.
What is the greatest joy you find in writing?
Whenever I write something that brings a new discovery to me, another Eureka moment, something important enough to want to share it with others.
What do your fans mean to you?
They confirm and validate my worth as a writer.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I came to the conclusion that indie publishing was more logical and practical for me.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
It's too early to tell, but I'm naturally hoping for positive results!
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
My own inner spring of gratitude inspires me. There are always new challenges, new things to learn, new discoveries to make every single day.
In three words, what do you feel now that your book has just been published?
Nervous. Excited. Hopeful.
What kind of book is Eureka man in terms of genre?
Simply put, it’s a literary novel, out with a caveat: It’s a psychological study, and it’s a bit of a mystery and a romance. It’s a novel that can’t be narrowly pigeon-holed. One thing the book is not is a stereotypical prison novel.
Have you received any recent reviews for EUREKA MAN?
Yes. I am pleased and honored to share this with everyone:

KIRKUS REVIEWS December 23, 2014 Eureka Man-A Novel Patrick Middleton

"Middleton...crafts an atmospheric, semi-autobiographical tale. In it, he effectively captures the prison experience...and the unquenchable passion of becoming a self-made intellectual while living permanently behind bars. Overall, it's a story about the power of positive thinking and hard work. and Priddy's story shines with hopefulness throughout.

A searingly honest novel of determination and redemption that's also an emotionally rewarding reading experience."

To read the complete review, please visit the KIRKUS REVIEWS website in about one week.
Published 2015-02-28.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Eureka Man
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 85,590. Language: English. Published: August 14, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Alternative history, Fiction » Inspirational
Set in Pittsburgh's notorious Riverside Penitentiary, this coming-of-age story follows the life of young Oliver Priddy as the combined forces of blackmail, violence, harsh prison conditions and a beautiful college professor converge on him and turn his ivy league prison upside down.