Thursday, July 7, 2011

Interview with Writer Patricia V. Davis by Wendy Nelson Tokunaga

Memoirist, teacher, blogger and advice columnist Patricia V. Davis is the author of the new, fun, funny and practical self-help book, The Diva Doctrine: 16 Universal Principles Every Woman Needs to Know, published by Bonneville Books. One of the many things that makes this book stand out from just another women’s self-help guide is how Davis brings in her own life experiences in a strong, engaging voice that makes you feel like you’ve spent quality time with a warm, compassionate friend. And I also love how she’s bringing back the true meaning of the word “diva,” which means a clever, classy, confident and powerful woman—not a self-absorbed prima donna!

Patricia took some time from her busy schedule to answer a few questions for The Girlfriends Book Blog.

How did The Diva Doctrine (TDD) come to be? The Diva Doctrine came out of a blog post, From an Older Woman to a Younger One, which I’d written to a 21-year-old reader who was experiencing some pretty severe self-doubt. I wrote the post with genuine affection because she was a wonderful girl and because I so identified with all the insecurities she expressed, remembering how I felt when I was her age. I wanted her to know that once she got older and felt more powerful, she would realize that these things that concerned her now were things she shouldn’t have worried about. I really hoped it would give her some reassurance and save her some time. Well, that post hit a nerve for some reason, and suddenly started showing up on quite a number of blogs and websites. Some changed the name to “Ten Things I’d Tell My Younger Self,” a title I dislike, by the way. Then people began contacting me, asking if they could translate it into other languages, etc. I was pretty surprised that it was such a hit.

Your previous book, Harlot’s Sauce, is a memoir. How was your writing experience different from this when writing TDD? Any similarities? The differences were that although both are non-fiction, Harlot’s Sauce was a book that I felt I had to write. The Diva Doctrine was a book I was asked to write, and sold even before it was completed. It was a whole different feeling while writing, as you can imagine. The similarities were that in both I had to write about personal feelings and experiences—really baring my soul—because otherwise they both would have come across as lectures or treatises.

Could you have written TDD before Harlot’s Sauce or did you need to process certain events in your life through your memoir (e.g. your expertise in failed relationships) before coming up with the idea of writing a self-help book? You know, I never thought about this until you asked! I think Harlot’s Sauce had to be written first, because as I said in that book, it took going through that experience to make me who I am today. There’s a certain sense of shame we carry around for a while after we fail at something, and failing at relationships is probably the worse feeling of shame for most women. It took years of self-growth and evaluation, and then finding a loving partner and good supportive friends (“true” divas) before I could finally feel some pride in my failures and mistakes and understand that because I came through them and learned from them, that they actually helped rather than hindered me. It’s hard to look at failure like that, because we’re taught that “failure” is the opposite of “success.” It’s not.

There are 16 Universal Principles in TDD. Did the ideas for all of them come quickly to you? Did you need to cut some out? Add more? In the original blog post there were ten, as the title states. But when my agent and I decided to propose a book, we realized that there were some areas missing from that original ten. We went from ten to 18 and finally settled on 16, but I still think there are one or two things I missed.

Unlike a lot of self-help books, TDD includes many of your personal experiences as examples. Did you have any trepidation about including so much of your personal life? I was a teacher for many years and because of that experience, I developed a way of speaking that can be interpreted as sermonizing. My husband and sons will sometimes say, “Don’t get all ‘teacher’ on me.” And they’re right—it can be annoying. It works well in a classroom, where you have only 40 minutes to convince 30 savvy teenagers that you know what you’re doing even when you don’t. But in personal relationships you shouldn’t talk that way to loved ones—as though you’re in charge, and as though you and only you are infallible. In fact, even in the classroom you need to do this usually only at the beginning of the term when you have to set an atmosphere that’s conducive to learning.

In general, you’ll have more success when you talk to people rather than down to them. And if you’ve learned something and want to pass it on, and you truly hope that whoever you pass it on to will seriously consider it, you need to be honest about what happened and say, “Look, I was just as much of an idiot as you’re about to be, and look what happened as a result. Now it’s up to you: do you want to be an idiot as well and make the same mistake, or can you take away from my experience and make it your own?” The feedback I’ve gotten so far about The Diva Doctrine is that reading it is like talking to a friend. Or, as one reviewer put it, I’m comfortable in my “role as a horrible warning rather than a good example.” I really loved that.

What would you say is the overall message you most want to get through to women in TDD? I want women to live their lives as fully as possible, and not make decisions based on a belief that they lack something. And I don’t want them to make a choice based on fear—a fear that triggers fight-or-flight reactions. I want women to support one another, and to recognize that the success of one woman is the success of all women.

Do you have a favorite DD principle? What is it? Yes I do. It’s Principle Number Two: “The only thing you should be faking is confidence. If you don’t have it yet, pretend that you do. In every new situation, pretend you’re not nervous, pretend you’re not scared, and after a while, the ‘pretend’ part disappears.” [This is my favorite too!]

Some women say to themselves, “I’ll just wait to do that until I feel more confident—until I believe I can do it.” But if you don’t put yourself out there and try new things, go new places and meet new people, you’ll never develop self-confidence. It’s a Catch 22. That’s why you have to fake it and remember that no one but you knows what you’re thinking and feeling in any given situation. If you come across as confident, chances are people will buy it. And if you make a mistake, well, a confident person knows that the best of us make mistakes and they don’t curl up into a ball and cry when they do. They learn from it and go on. That’s the essence of the book— live, learn, and go on.

What was your research process like for TDD? I spent lots of time on the Internet, interviewing people, reading books and verifying information. At least half of it you don’t use, and the other half you try your darnedest to double and triple check. Even so there’s a disclaimer on my website and on my advice column saying that I have no actual degree in psychology. In fact, the whole first chapter is essentially a disclaimer that states in a nutshell that I only learned the things I put in the book because I screwed up on every one of them.

What has been your family’s reaction to TDD? Apart from the fact that they’re really proud of me and make that very clear, they’re having a lot of fun calling me “The Diva.” I suspect they might be mocking me. What do you think? ; D

Describe your writing schedule and the place(s) you like to write. I work eight to ten hours a day: backside in the chair, fingers on the keyboard. Period. Some of that time is on actual writing projects and some of it is promoting my work and letting potential readers know it’s out there. I write at home, but we have more than one spot we call home, so when I need a change of scenery I just go to one of our other spots. I’m extremely disciplined when it comes to what I do. It’s the only way to get anything done.

What’s coming up next for you? What are you working on? I was working on a paranormal murder mystery before I was contracted to write The Diva Doctrine. It was a totally different experience from non-fiction and I was loving it. Now I’m working on it again when I can, but at the moment most of my time is being spent promoting TDD.

What and where is your favorite restaurant and why is it your favorite? I only get one? Well, if that’s the case, I would have to pick my cousin’s Italian restaurant, Panificio e Ristorante Solunto in San Diego’s Little Italy on India Street They’ve been in business for over 40 years and bake the most delicious bread on site. The smell of that bread brings back so many memories. If you visit, please tell them Patricia sent you.

Best of luck with the book, Patricia! Visit Patricia at her website

Wendy Nelson Tokunaga is the author of the novels, “Love in Translation” and “Midori by Moonlight,” both published by St. Martin’s Press, and the non-fiction e-book, “Marriage in Translation: Foreign Wife, Japanese Husband.” Wendy holds an MFA in Creative Writing from University of San Francisco. She teaches writing classes for Stanford University’s Online Writer’s Studio and University of San Francisco. She also offers private manuscript consultation services. Visit her at:


  1. This sounds like a doctrine I can get behind. Great interview! Will tweet it.

  2. Terrific interview Wendy--and what a great book idea for a new graduate! off to tweet now...

  3. Many, many thanks for this wonderful interview! I am honored that you enjoyed the book.(And thank you to Girlfriends Book Club too!)

  4. Patricia, I lovelovelove all the wonderful advice and encouragement you're imparting in The Diva Doctrine. (And I remember seeing "10 Things I'd Tell My Younger Self"--so fab!) And thanks to Wendy for doing this interview. Great job, ladies!

  5. we're all about girl power and empowering women! thanks for visiting today!

  6. Thanks, everyone! Yes, GIRL POWER! :-)

  7. A terrific interview!! Lots of smart advice and insights! I enjoyed reading it!

  8. Fabulous interview!!! West coast writers rule! I particularly love Patricia's comment how women should "not make decisions based on a belief that they lack something." Ain't that the truth! It was also very interesting to read how Patricia had to write Harlot's Sauce, yet TDD was something she was asked to write.

  9. Wow! I am getting this book! What a great interview. We all struggle with insecurities, and I remember to this day, my mom telling me, "The best thing about getting older is that you're less insecure. You don't care so much about what other people think." Ain't it the truth!!!!!! I feel like a Diva. REcently, my sister and I were talking about people who have overdosed on drugs, and because we both had our share of trouble as teenagers, I said, "Sometimes, I think I'm lucky to be alive," and she said, "You know, I don't. I always liked myself so much, I knew I'd survive those teen years." Then, it sort of struck me that I was the same way. I couldn't have ever really "done myself in," at least not on purpose. Teenage girls and women, young and old, need to find their inner diva. My hat is off to Patricia and Wendy for a great interview. Girl Power. Diva Power.

  10. Thanks, Wendy and Patricia - great interview!

  11. Great interview! So personal and yet full of advice that all of us divas can relate to. You both brought us to the power of the book: sharing truth with stories is sharing from the heart.

  12. How nice it was to stop by here again today and see all these terrific comments from such fab DIVAS!

  13. Thanks again everyone! All comments much appreciated!

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