PATRICIA SELBERT was raised on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao, speaking four languages. She immigrated to California at age 13, later representing the Netherlands Antilles in equestrian events at the World Championships and the Pan American Games.
Her work has been published in numerous newspapers and magazines. Currently, she’s promoting her novel, The House of Six Doors, which was published in 2011. She lives in Santa Barbara, California, with her husband, two sons, and three dogs.
INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR
Question: How much of the book really happened, and how much of it is made up?
Answer: The story is loosely based on my life. I came to the US at the age of thirteen and that was the starting point for the novel. All the characters are fictional. Many of the places in the book are real and you can visit them, but they’ve been used fictitiously. The House of Six Doors described in the book does not exist, but there are many beautiful landhuizen in Curaçao.
Q: The House of Six Doors narrates the tale of a young girl who leaves Curaçao for Los Angeles in the 1970s and faces many challenges. Could you tell us about her struggles as an immigrant?
A: I drew on my own experience as an immigrant to write the main character´s story. In the novel, Serena learns that moving to a new country involves much more than just going to live there. She discovers that in order to assimilate and take advantage of what her new country has to offer, she has to expand her beliefs and values. When she learns to do that, without letting go of her history, she is able to recognize and grasp the opportunities that present themselves and create a new life for herself.
Q: An exotic part of The House of Six Doors is Serena’s grandmother, Oma, recounting their family’s history to Serena. Can you tell us why these stories are essential to the novel?
A: I’ve found tremendous value in knowing my own family history. In the novel, Mama is desperately moving forward, away from her family history. She makes decisions based on what is happening at the moment. Oma, on the other hand, preserves and shares the family’s history. It’s through this history, passed on by Oma, that Serena gains perspective on, and an understanding of, both her mother and herself. Having the past from Oma and the pull into the future from Mama, Serena can make the wise decisions that allow her to create the life she wants.
Q: Where did the idea for the book come from?
A: I joined a women’s writing group and wrote weekly stories for almost a year. I wove some of them together and had the beginnings of the novel. After that, it was a process of several years.
Q: How did you keep your ideas organized?
A: I didn’t; I’d just wr0te. I’d wake up in the morning and I would see a scene from beginning to end, as if it had been packaged. I could hear the voices. It was as if the novel wrote itself through me. It was later that I strung all the scenes together and checked the characters for consistency and integrity.
Q: What was your writing schedule like?
A: I wrote about seven to fifteen pages each week. I didn’t write with a goal in mind, but rather wrote what wanted to be written. If something needed to be written that was not part of the novel, I’d write it anyway and return to the novel later.
Q: How did you choose the title for The House of Six Doors?
A: The original title was “In the Seventh House.” Astrologically, this is the house of relationships. One of my editors suggested The House of Six Doors and I immediately loved it. It’s perfect. It captures the heart of the novel. Most of the landhuizen —the large country houses in Curaçao— have a salon in the center part of the house with three doors on either side. They are directly across from each other in order to let the trade winds breeze through, which is why one of the characters in the book says, ‘Three doors to bring in gratitude, wisdom, and compassion and three doors to let out greed, ignorance, and anger.’”
Q: Can you tell us about your next book?
A: I’m working on a couple of books. I don’t want to discuss them much, but the one that is just about finished tells the lives of three wealthy women, one in a turbulent marriage, one in the middle of a divorce, and one divorced, as they travel together around the world, trying to find the secret to eternal love, relationships, marriage, and happiness.
Q: What advice would you give to someone wanting to write a novel?
A: Write. Sit down and write. Don’t worry about it making sense at first. That will come later. Just put everything on paper and see what you’ve got. You’ll discover gold.
Q: What were the biggest obstacles you experienced in writing the novel?
A: English is my fourth language and I’m dyslexic so writing didn’t come easy. I was lucky because I received a lot of positive feedback during the process, including from editors and agents. That helped to stay disciplined, dedicated and committed.
Q: What is the most important idea or thought that you would like readers to keep after reading your book?
A: There are two major ideas. One is that happiness is found in your heart. It’s not found out there somewhere: it’s not found by being with someone or by doing something. Happiness is always present in your heart, you just have to tap into it. The second idea is that if you see through the eyes of love, you will see beauty.
Q: The book is very easy to read. It’s as if the emotions of the story grab you and you can’t let go.
A: I believe a written scene should evoke emotion. These emotions are, to me, like the notes and phrases in music. Just as notes and phrases are strung together to make a song, scenes are strung together to tell a story. The way the scenes and their emotions are strung together makes the story compelling and brings it to life.