Insurance man turned author, David Patneaude (’71) finds his calling

David PatneaudeWith a pen and paper in hand, David Patneaude (B.A., 1971) let his creative ideas flow on his 30-minute bus commute to and from work. After 19 years working at the same insurance company, the business moved to Philadelphia and Patneaude was left without a job.

But on December 20, 1991 he got two phone calls.

“Earlier that morning the supervisor at Farmers Insurance that I interviewed with called me to tell me that I was going to get the job,” Patneaude said. “I was really excited because I hadn’t been working for six months, and then that afternoon the editor called to say they wanted to publish my book, so that was even more exciting even though the steady job was a lot more practical.”

The book was titled “Someone Was Watching” and was the result of about a year of his uninterrupted bus commute downtown. However, being an author wasn’t always in the plan. Patneaude went to college part-time for four years before the military called. The year before he joined the Navy, he attended the UW, majoring in business until his deferment ended. It was in the Navy that he decided to become a communication major, graduating in the advertising track.

“I started writing poetry in the Navy,” he said. “I had a desk job and we were working seven days a week, 10 to 12 hours a day. A lot of the time, there was nothing really going on, but I had to be at my desk in case people needed information, so I started doing some writing.”

Patneaude wrote some short stories and almost got one published. He has re-written many of them and now has them in a collection. In hindsight, he said he’s not sure if he would have become a writer if he had never joined the Navy, but his main inspiration is his kids.

“I coached for a lot of years starting with my older son,” Patneaude said. “I coached basketball, soccer, track, and when he got older, my younger son came up and I started teaching him and his buddies. So I spent a lot of time around kids.”

Even though all three of his kids have been through college, Patneaude’s target age group for his books is at about the junior high level. Although he was always looking for the “magic bullet,” he said there isn’t one secret to being a successful author.

“I think it’s just writing, if not every day, then at least regularly,” he said. “And read lots of books, especially the genre that you want to write in… See what other people are doing, what authors do to make their work successful, but the most important thing is writing.”

Patneaude admits to being naïve as he entered the realm of authorship, not knowing what a critique group was or how to properly present a manuscript to an agent, but he said he got lucky and learned.

“One of the most valuable things I did while I was in between jobs was sign up for a technical writing course through the UW’s extension certificate program,” Patneaude said. “It was valuable to go back to the basics. It wasn’t creative, but it gave me a foundation as far as proper usage and style goes.”

David Patneaude meets with UW Electrical Engineering Professor Eve Riskin, who said she couldn't stop reading Patneaude's book while reading it to her son before bed.

David Patneaude meets with UW Electrical Engineering Professor Eve Riskin, who said she couldn’t stop reading Patneaude’s book while reading it to her son before bed.

After consulting his wife (who is a junior high librarian with her own David Patneaude section), he decided to become a full-time writer in 1998. Ten of his books have been published with about half a dozen in the works. His first book was also made into a film.

“My wife said new kids come into the library and when they pick up one of my books, they look at her name and look at the name on the book and ask if she knows the author,” he said. “She replies, ‘As a matter of fact, I do.’”

While he says some days it’s like pulling teeth, spending two hours on one paragraph; other times he can get 10,000 words written in three days. “Once you get in a rhythm like that, it just kind of flows.”

Patneaude’s latest book titled “Epitaph Road” is set in the year 2097, and chronicles the life of a 14-year-old boy living 30 years after a mysterious plague wiped out 97 percent of the male population.

“The characters always start out as sort of like cardboard, not really developed,” Patneaude said. “But once you get them into the story and they start doing things, reacting, and dealing with conflict, then they start having a personality.”

As the second oldest of seven children, all settled in the Seattle and Portland areas, Patneaude continues to read and write every day – creating characters with similar traits as those around him.