Making It

By Elizabeth Chang
Sunday, August 26, 2007

When Patrick Sanchez started experimenting with fiction as a way of taking a break from health insurance proposal writing, he never imagined it would lead to a career writing chick-lit. "It wasn't my plan," he says, "but it worked out."

It worked out so well that the 37-year-old Arlington resident, whose fourth book was released this summer, is able to support himself through fiction writing.

Patrick didn't dream of being a writer. In fact, he started in the customer service center of the health-care company and took the proposal-writing gig to escape angry callers. After learning the mechanics of writing, Patrick cast about for a subject that might be more fun. "The whole club scene was big," he says, "and I thought it would be interesting to write about it."

He worked up a humorous book about the amorous adventures of several characters, male and female, and sent out queries. An editor at Kensington Publishing in New York thought he saw a niche for the book in the developing chick-lit field and asked Patrick to "get rid of the men," Patrick recalls. "When you are a first-time writer trying to get published, it's like, 'Tell me what you want, and I'll do it.'"

"I like to describe that first book as 'Seinfeld' meets 'Sex and the City,'" says Patrick's editor, John Scognamiglio. "It was laugh-out-loud funny."

The reworked book, Girlfriends, was published in paperback in 2001, sold briskly (55,000 copies at this point) and earned Patrick a contract for a second book.

Again, he zeroed in on a concern of modern women: The Way It Is was about society's preoccupation with weight. His third book, Tight, was about plastic surgery. And his latest, Once Upon a Nervous Breakdown, is about a divorced woman trying to keep a handle on her job, her son and her ailing Colombian mother. "Jennifer's struggle[s] . . . are both humorous and poignant. The writing is brisk, and the emotional undertones treat nicely the ups and downs of life, love, children, and aging parents," says Publishers Weekly.

Patrick's books are all set in the Washington region and feature characters from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. (Patrick's father, a doctor, is from Bolivia; his mother, a nurse, is from Southern Maryland. He and his three sisters were raised in La Plata, and he attended George Mason University, majoring in psychology.)

Some readers and reviewers have expressed surprise that the books are written by a man. But it's not so amazing to Patrick, who says, "I grew up in a houseful of women, and I'm very observant, and I like to watch people and watch their neuroses." He also does research and seeks input: He has hung out in the plus-size department at Saks Fifth Avenue and taken the advice of a female friend to pay more attention to his characters' shoes.

Between contracts and royalties, Patrick brings in about $50,000 a year, he estimates. That's less than he was making in health care, but "I can get by." And he's happier with what he's doing, though it's demanding. That's why he never considered publishing under a female pseudonym. "It's just too much work for me to not put my name on it," Patrick says. "I want the credit."

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