Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Interview with Author Peggy Shumway

Deirdra: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

Peggy: Believe it or not, a local newspaper published one of my poems when I was in the first grade. Even as a six year old, I loved seeing my work in print. That got me started writing for the elementary school’s literary magazine. But it was my eighth grade English teacher who first taught me characterization and plot development. She opened up a universe of writing possibilities. I entered the school’s creative writing contest that year and won. The day the principal announced my success over the loud speaker to the whole school, my jaw dropped to the floor and my passion to write ignited.

Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?

Peggy: I learned the most about writing while I created my first novel. I won a couple of writing contests, started writing for local LDS newspapers, and flipped when one of my stories was published in another author’s book. Imagine my thrill when I received a contract for my first novel. But when the publisher plunged into financial difficulties, they released most of their contracts, mine included, so I sidetracked for awhile. I attended a computer school and graduated with a multimedia degree, which landed me a position as a graphic designer. Though I lay out graphics during the day, my literary education continues with each writing project I take on.

Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?

Peggy: Words and the way they fit together inflame my passion to write. Just the thought of reading a well-crafted sentence accelerates my pulse. I also love attending writer’s conferences. Hearing a day’s worth of authors’ writing techniques sends me home with the desire to plant my backside in the seat and write until I drop.

Deirdra: Besides writing what other talents do you have?

Peggy: I’ve dabbled in many different creative pursuits over the years. I spent time as a florist, crafter, dancer (ballet), and artist (watercolor and pastels). The problem is I want to do it all. I finally realized I had to choose what creative outlet thrilled me the most. Guess which talent came in first?

Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?

Peggy: My writing schedule consists of snatching moments. Finding time to write hasn’t come easy while raising a special needs child, going through a divorce, taking care of my parents, and earning a living. I’d love nothing more than to have a huge block of time to practice my craft every day. Since I don’t, I write between five and six in the morning and after my father goes to bed at night. I jot down ideas, research, or read on my lunch breaks.

Deirdra: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is good enough to write a book about it?

Peggy: I guess the trite answer is I get my ideas from life—gleaning material from all the follies and joys that bombard me every day. But if I think about it, the ideas that turn into books are those ideas that spring up from some place beyond the scope of my imagination and experience. Those inklings nag at me, begin to buzz inside my mind. As they grow louder and more annoying, I corner the ones that are most clear and try to capture them on paper. I often wake up in the morning with direction and focus and eventually follow that inspiration right to my keyboard.

Deirdra: When did the idea of writing a book first come to you?

Peggy: The idea to write a book gelled about the time I won my first writing contest. I didn’t chase the idea until I had several children in my home.

Deirdra: What do you hope readers will get from your books?

Peggy: I hope my readers will see, smell, hear, and taste what I’m trying to say. I want them to feel as enthusiastic about my subjects as I do. I especially want them to love the characters they relate to enough that they’ll want to bring them home and invite them to dinner.

Deirdra: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline first?

Peggy: I’ve done both. My first book was an experiment. I let the ideas and words flow without structure. As I write my second book, I am outlining so I don’t forget vital plot development. However, I often veer away from my outline. My characters are as stubborn as my kids. They want to do things and say things I never planned or hoped for them.

Deirdra: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer's block? If so, how do you deal with it?

Peggy: Writing is a serious of snags. Sometimes I haggle over solutions for days. Sometimes I let ideas simmer while I’m asleep. Usually after brainstorming with people in my writers group, I’m able to push myself over the hump. My greatest struggle is fear—fear of making mistakes in grammar or plot, of stumbling over dialogue or character development lest someone dubs me a terrible writer. Fear is the ogre who sits in the middle of the road blocking my project’s progress on the way to completion.

Deirdra: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when you are writing?

Peggy: I’ve learned to write through distractions: screaming kids, barking dogs, and blasting video games. However, I do like quiet when I write. I want to hear the words forming in my head, not someone else’s words beating a tune inside me. The break room at work is noisy and people could care less about what I’m trying to do. So I’ve learned to shut out the noise. My co-workers have commented on how my concentration baffles them.

Deirdra: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?

Peggy: Inspiration is everywhere. I read, read, read, research a little here, a little there. I go to movies and pay attention to plot development on TV. I listen to conversation in grocery store lines or in conference room meetings. I like to absorb how authors put sentences together; it helps my own creativity kick in. But I have to chose whose work I read with care. Reading a less talented writer’s stories affects me as much as reading the good stuff.

Deirdra: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?

Peggy: I wish I could thank my eighth grade English teacher who handed me my life when she introduced me to storytelling. My talent might have remained dormant otherwise. In my later years, attending the first meeting of the American Night Writers Association (ANWA) in the back room of the Gilbert, Arizona library provided me a source of encouragement and writing education from which to draw over the years. I can’t say enough about joining a writers group.

Deirdra: What’s your secret to making the character’s in your books come to life?

Peggy: I use a combination of techniques to make my characters come to life. Sensory descriptions and realistic dialogue help me mold my characters into shape. Then I sprinkle on the essence of who I am as an author, and my characters begin to move and walk and live life on the page. They think my thoughts and feel my sorrows and joys. Even my evil characters have a part of me lurking around inside them. That’s why writing is so therapeutic. I’m always learning something about myself through my characters.

Deirdra: What authors do you admire and why?

Peggy: Any author who helps me envision life and people has my vote. O’Henry’s short stories and plot twists kept me fascinated as a young girl. I read with mouth agape the works of James Alexander Thom, Jennifer Lee Carrell, and Geraldine Brooks for their choice of words. And even though he uses never-ending sentences, I love the way Faulkner’s characters come to life. The list goes on. The world is full of great writers.

Deirdra: What is your favorite snack to have while you are writing?

Peggy: Food is the last thing on my mind when I write. Most of the time I forget to eat. When I do feel hungry, I say to myself, “Just one more paragraph. Just one more sentence.” Before I realize I’m still hungry, an hour or two has gone by.

Deirdra: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?

Peggy: Never give up. That’s my motto. If someone has a passion for turning words into worlds, they should do everything they can to see their goal take root. To know I came so close to getting my first novel published gives me hope. If I snagged the interest of one editor, I can do it again.

Deirdra: What are you working on now?

Peggy: My pet project at the moment is my archeological adventure centered on the Michigan Relics and the Hopewell civilization that once lived in North America. I use Indian folklore, science, and religion to pose some thought-provoking questions about Christianity and about who these ancients were. I also have two other novels and a non-fiction book in various stages waiting for me to revisit them.

Deirdra: What is the most difficult thing about being an author?

Peggy: The most difficult thing about being an author is to know I’ve worked at writing for years without anything significant to show for it.

Deirdra: What is the best thing about being an author?

Peggy: The best thing about being an author is when I satisfy the urge to create. At these times, my status as a writer doesn’t matter. Inventing new ways to say what’s in my heart is all I want to do, and whether I publish or not is not as important as improving the talent my Father in Heaven has blessed me with.

Deirdra: What are your goals as an author for the next three years?

Peggy: My most pressing goal is to finish my book and get it published. Three years from now I’d like to see another project almost completed.

Deirdra: Where is your favorite place to write?

Peggy: I usually write on my laptop because I can take it anywhere in the house or wherever I go. It allows me to be alone when I want or to be around family when they need me. Other times, I write in my home office. If I had a more comfortable chair at my desk, I’d probably prefer to write there all the time.

Deirdra: How do you come up with your character’s names?

Peggy: Naming characters is a complicated process for me. I search baby name sites or on the back of book covers for inspiration. Sometimes I look up the meanings of names. I know I’ve chosen the right one when the name rolls off my tongue, and I feel like my heroes and heroines are long-time friends.

Deirdra: What is the best complement you’ve received from your work?

Peggy: Many years ago I wrote and performed a narration for a production called Daughters of Eve. The program featured women of the Bible through music, narration, and sculpture. One day, we performed the program for American Mothers, whose president at the time was Barbara B. Smith, the former General Relief Society President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. After our performance, Sister Smith made a beeline to where I stood, hugged me, and said, “You are a master.” In fact she found me once more after the program and repeated her sentiment. That was by far, the most humbling and uplifting comment anyone ever gave me.

Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?

Peggy: Thanks, Deirdra. This interview was a lot of fun. I’ve remembered things I haven’t thought about in years. I’d love it if you and your readers would visit my blog at and leave your comments about writing.


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