1) Tell us a little about what you do.
I make stuff up. When writing fiction, anyway. The key is the made up stuff has to be believable and must grab the reader’s attention. Writing non-fiction is compiling true stuff in a way that is fresh, insightful, and provides excellent take-home value for the reader.
2) How long have you been writing? Was there a specific moment when you decided to become a writer?
I began as a modern dance major in college. When I blew out my knees, the other option that made my eyes light up was writing which is probably a better fit. My favorite aisle at the store has always been the stationary row with all those splendid pens and reams of paper waiting to be filled. Bookstores and libraries are on the same level as Disney. The foundation of Disney is books and story.
3. What is your favorite part about being a writer? What do you enjoy most about writing fiction?
Writing is a way of connecting with others. It is a gift I give of myself to the world. I fashion story and truth, questions and wonderings, into writing that will outlive me. When I write I am unconscious of time and immersed in the process. My style is tight and connected, weaving in little-known history and real places. My favorite compliment has been from some military guys who said, “You sure don’t write like a girl.”
With each of my novels, I want readers to close the book having learned something they didn’t know prior to reading my story. Everyone longs to connect and belong. Libraries and bookstores are places where creativity, ideas, and questions are communicated between writers and readers.
4. How do you approach writing a new book? How do you decide what to write about? Do you write an outline & make plans, or do you just start writing?
I’m always working on four projects simultaneously. It’s how my brain works. Some stories are my idea, like Chasing Sunrise. Some are stories I believe should be shared like The Slave Across the Street, and some stories I tell for others like Voice of Your Childhood that I am finishing now.
5. What is the best investment you’ve made in yourself/your writing career?
The greatest challenge to success are the belief systems that exist between our ears, and I accumulated a boatload early on. The best investments I’ve made have been in myself, joining a personal growth mastermind, an author mastermind, taking personal growth seminars, and having mentors. This year, Benjamin Hardy is one of my mentors.
Additionally, I am continually learning the craft of writing. Writing is like fashion, trends and style are constantly changing and it’s vital in this industry to stay up-to-date. Like playing a musical instrument, writing is a craft that is never mastered yet I work to constantly become better. Writing is a team sport. Investing in key writing conferences is necessary to network. Being an author cannot happen in a vacuum, I need community, connections, and voices other than my own.
6. Who are some of your favorite authors or books & why? What is your favorite underrated book or author?
I read several books at a time – is there any other way to read? – and a big part of my reading is audio. I replaced my car when the CD player couldn’t be fixed because listening to audio books is not optional. All that great drive time for books! I read all genres except horror and erotica. Favorite authors include Saundra Boynton, John Erickson (listen to Hank the Cowdog on audio with all the voices and sound effects!), Richard Paul Evans is an excellent writer and a very kind man, I’ve learned from Jerry Jenkins. I resonate with Clive Cussler and Vince Flynn. Karen Hancock’s Legends of the Guardian King series, and Richard Peck’s Grandma Dowdle series (A Year Down Yonder, A Long Way From Chicago, and A Season of Gifts) are the few I’ve reread. Of course, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson is a holiday must read and reread. The whole gospel is in that hilarious little book.
7. What advice would you give your younger writer self? What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
To my younger self I would say, Dream big, follow the dream relentlessly, and stick to the facts about situations. Creating stories in my head about facts, the story becomes my reality and I live from that false reality. For instance, when a publisher loved two of my books but turned down my next two ideas, I assumed they didn’t want to work with me anymore. That’s the story I made up in my head around the simple fact that my next two ideas were not a fit for them.
8. What things outside of other books & authors influence & inspire your work? (Films, music, people, your past, your hopes, the world around you, etc?)
I’m inspired by people, what they do, and why they do it. Chasing Sunrise was born as I sat in classical concerts my daughters played while my son went into special forces. I projected what life might look like for special forces men and for the arts, put the two together on the gorgeous island of St. Croix and added an atmospheric theater like we have an hour from my home. I have a western that has been living in my head for 30 years – probably time to put that story on paper. Listening to particular music genres is inspiring as I’m working on a project. And I take my laptop everywhere – I write at my daughter’s soccer practice, between rodeo events with another daughter, and at any new destination I can travel to from Israel, St. Croix, Hilton Head Island, Hawaii, London, in the mountains, in the car, and on airplanes.
9. What is the best way to market your books?
Writing and marketing are two completely different skill sets. Today, authors are required to have both. The best marketing is word of mouth. The kindest thing readers can do for authors and books they like is post reviews on Amazon and other sites, and tell others. Ask the library to carry the book, and ask your bookstore to carry it. In today’s loud world, getting noticed is vital.
10. What’s a common bad writing habit you’ve noticed with your own work or other writers & how do you fix it? What is one of your favorite GOOD writing habits, tricks, or devices that you love when you see other authors use it?
1) Writers need editors. Get a second pair of eyes to spot and correct bad writing. What I meant may be completely different than what I wrote. When a pre-readers or editor doesn’t understand, or translates my words differently than I meant them, I change the wording so we both read the same meaning. Professional writers do not argue their point. We rewrite for clarity.
2) When I coach writers at conferences and professionally I remind them not to hold back. We can tell when someone is holding back in a relationship. Readers can tell when authors hold back. Give your everything to the project.
3) All writing must have take home value for the reader. No one cares about your life story unless it benefits the reader.
For myself, I write tight and concise, and rarely, rarely use dialog tags (said, explained, asked). Dialog happens in the midst of action. Banned words in my final manuscript include said, very, some, just, really, all, also, literally, has, as, it.
The best writers are brave enough to dig deep and feel the best and the worst feelings, regret, remorse, joy, love, loss. If I am not courageous to go there and truly feel these hard emotions, I cannot write them.
11. Have you published books with a traditional publisher or self-published? What are some of the pros & cons of each?
Most of my 28 books are traditionally published. Traditional publishing is a team effort. We need others to come alongside with their unique skills in design, editing, brainstorming, and marketing. Traditional publishing requires a large platform in addition to excellent writing.
If you have a large platform, indie publishing means you get all the income. Indie publishing gives everyone the opportunity to publish. Indie publishing is preferred for projects for small and niche markets.
If you do indie publishing, get your work edited first. If your project is poorly written, badly formatted, and has spelling and grammar issues you can kiss your reputation as a writer good-bye. Whether you publish traditionally or independently, marketing spells the difference between success and staying invisible.
12. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Does any aspect of it relate to what you do now? What was your favorite book as a kid?
As a kid I wanted to be an astronaut, oceanographer, and author. I began college as a modern dance major. When I blew out my knees, the other option that made my eyes light up was writing which is probably a better fit. Even as a kid, my favorite aisle at the store has always been the stationary row with all those splendid pens and reams of paper waiting to be filled. Sitting in the mulberry tree, I used to write when I was in grade school. And I read like crazy. Books I remember were Amelia Bedelia, Ramona, Green Dolphin Street,and Zane Grey westerns.
13. What has been your biggest challenge or setback, & how did you handle it? How did it help your writing?
Growing up unanchored to family and relationships, learning how to do life without guidance has been a disadvantage. I adored being a mom to my seven now grown children, and I see huge holes in their hearts and mine because their dad chose out of the marriage and parenting. You can imagine the stories I told myself about those facts. My dream has been to share life with a soul mate. I’m a team player so doing life on my own is not what I would put on my life script. The paradox of having a voice and sharing with the world when simultaneously I feel invisible can be incentive to play small rather than full blast and full out. I feel I would have done better with loving guidance and a life’s partner who recognized my talents and supported my success. And I am certainly not alone in this setting. One in four homes are single parent led.
14. Why do you do what you do? What drives you to be successful/keeps you interested in what you do?
I do three things well: write, talk, connect people. Math is a four-letter word in my vocabulary. Truly there is nothing I want to do more than write and teach the skill of writing to others. I adore teaching at conferences, events, retreats, schools, and universities.
With writing there is an unlimited scope for projects, research, learning, producing, creativity, art, and wonder. Everything I do and experience is material. I can write anywhere and anytime.
15. What’s your favorite quote, & how does it relate to or inspire you & your approach to your writing?
Ephesians 3:16-19 according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
16. If you could be the author of any book ever written, what book would it be & why?
Imagine being one of the 40 authors who wrote the Bible under the inspiration of God. Being that connected to the Creator of the Universe, being in the center of a great work that has survived all of time, persecution, and has changed hearts.
In a contemporary setting, I wish I had thought of something as brilliant as Hank the Cowdog. John Erickson’s books are hilarious, appeal to all ages, have had healing impact on children, and we learn without effort. Writing for the longest running radio drama, Adventures in Odyssey, would be a dream come true. Heard by 1.2 million people around the globe each week, AIO has impacted three generations. How fun to be part of that team. I would love to write for Disney, and hope that one day one of my stories is turned into a blockbuster film.
17. What are some of your biggest goals for the year ahead?
My goal is to be self-supporting as an author. I want to publish books that will outlive me by 500 years. And to coach others how to write their own message.
18. What are some of your longer-term goals?
To write the books and articles, and teach the classes I was created to do. To connect people to others who can help them achieve their full potential.
19. You have a new book out October 8, “Homeless for the Holidays”. Can you tell us more about that? I understand it’s a novelization of a film. What drew you to the story & what did you enjoy most about writing it?
Homeless for the Holidays, is the hope-filled novelization of a film with the same name, based on the real life experiences of producer George Johnson. Unemployed, Johnson penned the screenplay in three weeks. Though the usual budget for a film like this is $1.5 million, George kept costs to $30 thousand. Expecting fifty people might show, open auditions were announced in the Auburn, Indiana newspaper. Eight hundred actor-hopefuls auditioned. All together, there were five hundred people in the cast, including the woman who played Sheryl Baker – who was homeless herself when she acted the role.
The film featured local residents including media personalities who played themselves in the scene where main character, Jack Baker, opened his front door to find his cul-de-sac filled with television and radio crews. In the media crowd was Marsha Wright, Johnson’s friend who loaned her house—decorated for Christmas—as the setting for the Baker family home. Marsha agreed to novelize the story, invited me into the writing process.
A screenplay tells a story in 120 minutes. A book allows the author to tell a far longer, embellished tale. Writing from a screenplay is akin to receiving a newly constructed home on a bare lot and having the freedom of an unlimited budget to decorate and landscape. I enjoy novelizing screenplays.
Drawing from seasons I experienced growing up, and as an adult, when employment and finances were less than adequate, I added the between-the-scenes details of what life could look like as a family faced an extensive period of unemployment. Then I shared the completed manuscript with folks who had been unemployed and homeless, adding what I learned from them to the manuscript.
My favorite character in Homeless for the Holidays is the Baker’s son, Adam. The mother of seven, I mined Adam’s sense of humor and quick wit from quips made by my own young adults. The generous review provided by The King of Christmas, Richard Paul Evans, made my heart happy.
The world needs hope more than advice. Throughout Homeless for the Holidays hope shines bright.
You can find out more about PeggySue & her work at the following links:
Homeless for the Holidays: Available in ebook and paperback, order Homeless for the Holidays through your local bookstore and on Amazon at https://amzn.to/2yoVVN9.