An interview with author Rachel Peck

How long have you been writing?
I used to write stories as a child. I was a huge Enid Blyton fan, so most of them involved boarding schools and solving mysteries. I never took it seriously, though. When I was thirteen, I received a journal as a Christmas present, and I started journaling daily. I continued until I was in my early twenties, amassing over fifty volumes! As a teenager, I wrote a lot of angsty poetry. I never thought it was any good, though. I never shared it with anybody. I had a long gap after that, when it didn’t occur to me to write. Life kind of got in the way. Then, two years ago, my husband suggested I join an online writing group, and now I spend most of my time writing. When I spend time away from my computer for a long period of time, I actually feel twitchy. I write on my phone’s notepad, or in one of the many paper notebooks I carry with me. I don’t think I could ever go back to not writing again.

What genres do you write in? Do you have a favourite?
I was thinking about this question a couple of days ago. I don’t know the answer. I guess, literary fiction, mainly. I say that because a lot of my stories don’t fit into one specific category. They are stories about people. Real people, going through things that real people go through. I write with a lot of emotion, and I love to put my characters through the ringer. Seeing them survive and evolve is something I find really interesting. My stories always begin with a character, rather than a detailed plot.

I discovered, only recently, I can write non-fiction. Writing, with honesty, about the darkest (and lightest) parts of your life can be therapeutic. It is my ambition to write my memoirs, one day.

My poetry is free verse and, like my stories, packed full of emotion. I guess I’m still writing a lot of angst-ridden poems, if I’m honest. I’ve written my life story through poetry.

Letting Go

I sit next to the
sterile hospital bed and
wonder how she got this ill—
how I never noticed—
I was supposed to look after her.
I watch as the angry mask
furiously forces air into her lungs,
her body slamming into the bed
with every blast.
I hold her lifeless hand
and trace the misshapen
fingers and thumbs;
memories cascade before my eyes, and
I am a grown-up child,
five years old, taking care of my mum,
my precious responsibility,
but I was selfish,
all I wanted was a mum
who could play with me,
run with me,
lift me,
hold me.
None of that matters now,
I just want a mum who can hear me,
speak to me,
but I know I’ll never have that again,
so I turn to the doctor and
nod,
and the mask is removed,
the machines switched off.
I’m terrified as I watch her breaths,
almost imperceptible,
gradually fade to nothing;
she is still,
pain free,
and I am broken.
I look to her face,
in her very last breath
she has smiled,
and I know she has seen my dad—
the love of her life—
they are reunited in death,
and this comforts my shattered
heart.

Rachel Peck

Are there any genres you’re afraid to try, or struggle to write in?
A couple of years ago, I would have said Sci Fi, Fantasy, or Steampunk. I don’t read these genres, and I don’t understand them well enough to write about them. But, now that I have more confidence, there is nothing I wouldn’t try. I think it makes it interesting to try something new, sometimes. I’m sure if I did try to write in these genres, I would still turn my story into one about intriguing characters and their lives.

Do you read in the same genres that you write in?
I don’t read much literary fiction. I do read books with great characters. I also love psychological thrillers. Grip-Lit, your “Girl On A Train” kind of style. I like to read a wide variety of genres. I think it widens your imagination.

You write both poems and stories. Do you have a preference? Which do you consider your strength?
My poetry is more personal. It’s less polished, more raw. I think, poems have always been something I write when I have things I need to work out. They’re written for me, rather than for my readers. Stories are what I want to write more now. Specifically, the novel I’m working on. I think I write stories better than I write poetry. I’ve learned more about writing them over the last couple of years. Although, when my poetry is spot on, it’s pretty good.

The charity shop doorway looked inviting to Charlie. Walking the streets for hours, trying to stay away from J.T., had made his body heavy and in need of rest. His backpack hit the floor with a thud, startling the bundle of clothes lying next to it.

“You don’t mind if I grab this doorway, do you?” He pulled his lips into his most dazzling smile.

Donna was so young. It saddened him when he imagined the things that led to her thinking sleeping here was her best option.

“Knock yourself out.” Her smile had become sharper around the edges since they first met.

Springtime hung in the air, with its warmer weather finally reaching the streets. Even so, Charlie shivered, as he sat with his back against the door. He hugged his knees, and his eyes darted from side to side. He knew J.T. was out there watching him.

Screams drifted through the air, signalling the coming of Crazy Sue. She staggered between bodies, displaying a strange mixture of crying and guffawing. There were stories she ended up sleeping rough because her husband died and she lost her job. There were stories that back then she really wasn’t that crazy. Charlie knitted his brow as he contemplated how pretty she might once have been.

A whimpering sound drew his attention. He looked to Donna, who quivered and cried. Reaching out his hand and resting it on her back, he spoke in hushed tones. “Hey. What’s up?”

His friend gulped air, in an effort to breathe. “It’s C-Crazy S-Sue. She’s gonna k-kill me.”

The laugh had escaped his mouth before he could stop it. “Crazy Sue’s harmless. Why would you think she’ll hurt you?”

“I lay my stuff down in her spot earlier. She said if she saw me again she’d kill me.”

As the frightened girl buried her head in her blanket, Charlie shuffled closer to her. “Donna. It’s okay. Crazy Sue is . . . well . . . crazy. She shouts and screams at everyone. But she forgets all about it five minutes later. Honest.”

Donna peeked at him from under her blanket. “Really?” she whispered.

Holding her eye contact for longer than he normally managed, he nodded. “Really. You don’t need to be afraid of her.” He was tempted to add, “But J.T., well, there is someone you should avoid at all costs.” But it wouldn’t have made any difference. It never did.

Charlie’s Story by Rachel Peck

Do you listen to music when you write? Do you have a favourite ‘soundtrack’ to write to?
I always listen to music when I write. There is no specific soundtrack. I hit random shuffle on my iPod. I have to skip certain songs, as they can be really distracting (like, you cannot write whilst listening to “Stayin’ Alive” by The Bee Gees!). I love music. I listen to it all day long.

Do you have a favourite author? Or perhaps an author you view as an inspiration?
Yes. Marian Keyes. I love her. I first discovered her in about 1997. I was in a bookshop, and I spotted a book with a bright red cover with a pair of lime-green mules on it. It was like a siren, and I made my way over to it. When I saw the title—“Rachel’s Holiday”—I believe I yelped with delight. It was like it was made for me. I bought it, without reading what it was about. As it happened, I fell in love. Marian Keyes writes books about characters. She writes about the darker side of life, with topics such as drug addiction, depression, domestic abuse. But she also writes with humour and oodles of warmth. Her natural storytelling style has me laughing on one page, then weeping on the next. I would love, in my wildest dreams, to be able to write as well as her.

Tell us about something you read that was particularly memorable, for whatever reason.
About three years ago, I came across a book called “The Shock Of The Fall” by Nathan Filer. He was a new author to me, but I saw him speaking on TV about this book, and I had to look it up. It’s about a young man with paranoid schizophrenia, and about his past and his illness. I read it in one sitting, and I wept and felt my heart twist and turn. At the end, I felt like I’d gone through a bereavement or something. But, I realised I could write a story like that. I mean, I didn’t imagine it could be anywhere near as good, but it gave me the idea to start writing again. I had a story to tell. Maybe I could do it. Reading this book was kind of a turning point for me.

What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas from?
My best ideas are always based on my experiences. I change them, play with them, but ultimately, they have events that are part of me at their heart. I also have a tendency to dream vivid, wild dreams. Pretty much every night. So I write them down and draw on those when I’m looking for an idea. Really, though, ideas are everywhere. Wherever I go, I see people who look interesting and imagine their life stories. I spend a lot of time inside my head. I think it comes from being an only child.

Do you think negative experiences are crucial in order to be a good writer? Do you find it harder to write well when it’s a positive experience?
For me, I wouldn’t be the writer I am without my negative experiences. Especially, where my poetry is concerned. I write so much better when I’m feeling unhappy. I always have. My negative life experiences are probably the reason my writing leans toward being emotional. For me, experiencing pain makes me more understanding of how it works. For example, I don’t think anyone who has never experienced the darkness of deep depression can really understand it. They can read about it and understand it on a logical level, but they won’t feel the emotional connection to it. I think that comes across in writing.

With regards to positive experiences . . . I find it much harder to write happy. It is good to do this from time to time, though. Like, sometimes I have an idea for something light and fun, and it feels good to write something happier.

Do you think that as an author you write better when you pour the emotion on to the page, or when you take a step back and refine your work?
Without question, pouring emotion onto the page is what works for me. I always get better feedback for my pieces that are from the heart. I never would have believed it could make such a difference, but it does. It comes back to that question of having a connection to your work. However, that isn’t saying I don’t edit my work. The first draft is pure emotion, and from there, I make it more cohesive and shareable. That’s an important part of the process.

What has been the hardest thing for you so far on your writing journey?
The hardest thing has been, without question, believing in myself. It’s hard to be objective about my work because, no matter how hard I try, whenever I read it, I hear my own voice. So it doesn’t sound very special. But, I’ve chosen to accept that my voice is okay. One thing I’ve learned over the last two years is that most writers also have doubts. It actually makes us better writers. We can harvest that insecurity and turn it into magic.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
I’ve received so much advice in the past couple of years. I’ve learned to always listen to advice, even when it’s tough. The best piece, though . . . probably to write about what you know. I didn’t believe it at first. When I did, my writing improved.

What is your purpose in writing? Do you aspire to be published?
When I stared writing, it was mostly about exorcising demons and validating my feelings. I never dreamed I could be good enough to publish. I never dreamed I would one day want to try. But, now, things have changed. I would love to be published one day. I have a novel I’m working on at the moment that is everything I’ve ever wanted to write about. It’s in the formative stages right now, but the feedback I’ve received on what I have written has blown me away. So, this book has to be published. That’s my dream. After that, my memoirs. This last year, I’ve had two poems and a story published. One of my poems is in www.threelinepoetry.com. The other poem and the story are in the WDC 2016 Anthology. I can’t tell you the thrill of that! Really, though, I just want to write. Every day; forever. That will make me happy.

How do you drawn the line between truth and privacy when it comes to publishing a memoir?
This is a tough one. Writing about people who are still living is difficult, and I wouldn’t write about anyone without first getting their permission. I know the trouble that can cause. I have a distant relation who published a book on my mother’s family. She had so many facts that were incorrect. For example, she made two of Mum’s brothers twins, when they aren’t. She also said one of her sisters was dead, when she isn’t. So, getting your facts right is imperative. Like I say, I wouldn’t write about living people without asking their permission. I know most of them would be happy. People who have died, I would say that as long as you don’t lie, some people may not like it, but they are probably people who aren’t that close to you in the first place. I think honesty is the key. Whenever you write about real people and your own take on events, you run the risk of upsetting others. You have to be prepared for that, if you want to write about true events.

How will you format your memoir? Will it be told as a story, as a sort of ‘letter to the reader’ or will you use excerpts from your journal entries?
I’ve thought about this a lot. I don’t want it to be a long narrative that moves linearly from event to event. I plan to write about certain events and certain time periods in an order that makes sense to me as I’m writing. I think chapters, covering events or time periods would make sense. Some of them short, some longer. Including some journal entries is a great way to show how it felt to be me at different times. So that’s something I will probably include.

Will you include photos, letters, etc. in your memoir? I love books that do that!
Yes! I love books that include that, too. I’ll probably have some photos dotted throughout the book, rather than a section with tons of pictures. But I will definitely include some.

Will you self publish your novel and memoirs or try traditional publishing?
Ideally, I would love to have them published the traditional way. I think most writers would probably say that. However, this is the real world and there’s a lot of competition out there. So, self publishing may be the way to go. Initially, at least. I can always hope I get noticed somehow.

You can read more of Rachel’s work at her Writing.com portfolio.

An interview with author Tina Weaver

“Mom, can I have an egg?” Jemma called to her mother.

“Whatever for, Child?” A voice asked from somewhere deep in the dark house.

“The man on the radio said it was hot enough to fry an egg and I want to try it.” Jemma sat on the milk crate next to the screen door. There was no answer. She couldn’t see into the house. On hot days like this her Ma kept every drape closed up tight. Even pinned closed in some cases. She’d asked her Ma once why she did it.

“I open everything up to cool the house down in the morning and then close it up to keep it as cool as I can all day.” She’d shooed Jemma out the door, then shut it behind her.

The screen door squealed open on its worn out spring. Ma stood there with a brown egg in her hand. “Come on. We’re gonna see if that weather man was right.”

Jemma jumped up to follow her.

She marched down the walk to the smooth sidewalk in front of the house. Jemma smiled remembering the city men had been there last fall and put a new one along the whole block.

Ma tucked her flowered dress under her knees. “I don’t want to get any egg splatterin’s on me.” She wiped the sweat from her forehead.

“Do you really think it’s as hot as a fryin’ pan on this sidewalk?” Jemma wore her rubber thongs so the heat didn’t bother her feet. She squatted beside her mother and touched the smooth cement. “It’s hot alright.”

“Whacha doin’ Jemma?” Ben stopped his bike next to the curb. He talked funny and not just because he had a lollipop in his mouth. He talked funny all the time. Ma said he had a hairlip. Jemma had looked at the scar on his lip and didn’t see no hair on it. Ma was wrong. she thought.

“Benjamin, we’re going to see if it’s hot enough to fry an egg on this here cement.” Ma motioned for him to join them. He dropped the bike on the curb and leaped to the grass on the opposite side of the sidewalk and knelt down across from Jemma and Ma…..
It was the 50’s by Tina Weaver

Tell us about your journey to publishing your first novel. How long did it take? What were the stumbling blocks?
After writing my manuscript I worried it wasn’t a good story. My family loved it, but they love everything I write. I reached out to an English teacher, through a friend, asking her to read my manuscript and tell me if she thought it was any good. My friend came back with, “Our book club wants to read your MS as a project.” WOW! I printed 9 copies with the instruction, “Get your red pens and pencils out. Mark up anything you don’t like or don’t understand.” I sent them off and all November I chewed my nails wondering what they thought. My friend came back to tell me she loved it. Then I went to their meeting and the response was amazing. They all loved it. Some read it all in one sitting, others took a few days and one lady said she read portions of it to her husband. They ALL loved it and thought it should be a movie.
Next I tried to find an agent/publisher. I sent off a token amount of cover letters and queries with no response. NOT ONE. Then I contacted writers on one of my Facebook groups and was directed to an indi publisher.
Here was the process. I sent a one page pitch, longer synopsis, bio and promotion pitch. They asked to read chapter 1, then asked for chapter 2, then asked for 3 & 4, then the rest of the novel. They loved the story and offered me a contract. The editing process began. We trimmed about 15K words, maybe a few more.
I picked a cover and they sent samples. I wasn’t thrilled. At a conference, I sat in on a cover class. I learned a lot and went back to change my cover design. Best thing ever. Never be afraid to change. Its eyecatching and a cover guys aren’t afraid to be holding.

What lessons did you learn along the way?
It was my first dip into the publishing world. It wasn’t horrible, but I learned a lot.
1) Don’t pay for anything. I didn’t.
2) Ask for references. If they have only published a couple books you might think twice.
3) Make sure you know what you are expected to do and what they are going to do. Get it in writing.
4) If you love your cover art, work out before publishing to pay for it. I was lucky to get mine at a very reasonable rate.
Through the 2 years I pushed my own book and practically only saw results when I did the work. I booked my own signing gigs, I ordered my own post cards, and finally got book marks. I bought my own books from them. They paid shipping, but I paid a higher price than what they bought them for. I guess that’s business, get a piece where you can.
My 2 year contract was up in January 2017. I did nothing. I had no idea what happened. They took the book off Amazon. But I still saw it there. I didn’t realize some one was selling my used books.
I talked to my publishers. We parted amicably. They wanted me to resign, but I said, I did most of the pushing. It was my contacts that bought most of the books. They told me they understood but wanted me to know that after going to two indi publisher conferences, they were told my book out performed any book that was out there. They were asked again and again how they did it. ME. I was the one pushing my book. I can’t sell Tupperware, Thirty-one bags or any of those type businesses. I can talk to almost anyone about my book. Once its back on Amazon under my name, I’m going to push it even harder.

You describe yourself as a plotter. What do you think the advantages and disadvantages are of this approach?
I am a plotter when I start writing seriously.
Sometimes I just start writing with an idea and write until the muse stops then go and figure out what needs fixing.
I don’t write character pages in detail. I write a general idea and go back to fill in when I want to remember something important. I have plot points I write to keep things moving. They change as I write, but they are reference points. I’m not tied to them, but they are helpful.

Tell me about your experiences with National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Would you recommend NaNoWriMo to other authors?
I have completed 3 and started 2 I didn’t finish. I wrote my first novel doing the NANO. It was helpful for me to get the story out on “paper” and keep writing. I spent the following January writing the next 50,000+ words to finish the novel.
I did the NaNo challenge on Writing.com (3 times) and it helped to keep me focused.

Do you have a favorite genre to write in?
I don’t know. Literary Fiction? I tell stories about people and their families. Mostly about relationships.

Are there any genres you’re afraid to try, or struggle to write in?
I have written short stories in Syfy and Horror just to try it. I stay away from poetry. I’d like to try Fantasy some day.

Do you read in the same genres that you write in?
Most times. I love thrillers, mysteries, but I don’t have the mind to write them. You need to have a detective mind, I have an idea for one, some day. I have read all genres, but find Scyfy and Horror don’t keep my interest. I read Stephen King’s first 4 books and IT when he first wrote them.. After that I found them to be too formulaic to read.

What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas from?
This is a hard one. I used to have stories flowing through my brain. Then I discovered they needed to be more than just a random idea. They needed a beginning, middle and end. That’s when it got a little harder.
My novel came to me when I read a portion of a memoir. The incident had an effect on me and had me questioning WHY? Why would an entire town turn on one of their own? I remembered reading my favorite story by Shelly Jackson, The Lottery. I took the story in a different direction, but the story drove me to be told. I couldn’t write fast enough.
It was published in 2014. Here is my problem. I’m searching for a story that moves me the same way. One that drives me to tell it and I’m not finding it. The ones I’ve started don’t push me to tell it. I feel if I’m not excited about it, how do I make others want to read it? I often feel as though I’m a One-Hit-Wonder.

Do you have a favorite author? Or perhaps an author you view as an inspiration?
I have too many to list here. All for different reasons. Sometimes its their stories, genre, the way they hooked me or the series has elements I love.
I would classify Christine Feehan as my favorite author in this decade. I’ve loved her Vampire series as much as I did Ann Rice. She knows how to build a world, and create characters that stay true to their world through multiple books. She has witch books, and the Mind Games series about enhanced warriors. If you want to read good writing with depth that lasts through the many series she writes, try her out. She is my shining example of a great prolific writer.
M.Night Shyamalan is a fantastic story teller. His movie Devil had me in twists. The foretelling at the beginning, all the characters are intertwined and the end twist had me in awe. I love his style. While I’m not a horror fan, this movie hooked me good. Mostly because of how he weaves a character into a story with finesse.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Years ago I read Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict book. This was the start of formulating my writing for real. A short book but a powerful tool to follow.
Then I joined Writing.com in 2007. Now you may think this is an advertisement for the site, but I have to tell you as a very novice writer with great stories in my mind, Wdc has been my teacher.
No one person stands out, but a collective number of people read and reviewed my posts then directed me to take a Reviewer’s class. I did and I just discovered I’m on an accredited reviewers list. Others reviewed my stories. Some were very critical and others critiqued my work with positive advice. I put on my armor and took their advice, edited, cut and reworked until it was good. I try not to ever be MARRIED to my work. I have to be willing to cut to be better. There are some things I won’t change, if it changes the story-line or feel. The publisher wanted me to cut the slang/dialect spoken by my characters. I held my guns. I told her the father and sons spoke the dialect and she wanted to improve herself so tried to correct them. How could she if they all spoke perfect English? You have to know when to hold and when to fold.

What is your purpose in writing?
At first I wrote to share with my family. After a few years writing and winning awards on Writing.com I thought, “Maybe someone besides my family would read and PAY for my stories.” I submitted a story and it was picked up and published. I’ve had 5 other stories published. I haven’t had much luck with some of the monthly anthologies I’ve seen in Barnes & Nobel, and I haven’t tried any magazines. I continue to post stories and win a few contests on Writing.com. I want to find another story that people would be willing to read. My followers ask me when I’m going to publish another book. I’m scared it won’t be as good.

You can check out more of Tina Weaver’s work at her Writing.com portfolio, or you can read her blog here on WordPress.