Interview for Peggy A. Wheeler
Can you introduce yourself and tell us a little about who you are?
I’m a native Californian, and live with my husband and six rescue dogs in a funky 1970s vintage Geodesic Dome, in a heavily forested mountain boondock town. No crime to speak of, but lots of bears and snow. We are near Donner Lake and Donner Pass, where we often go for a “bite.”
I am published under the names Peggy Wheeler and Peggy Dembicer. My non-fiction articles have appeared in COLORADO SERENITY, MOUNTAIN CONNECTION, and LLEWELLYN’S 2012 MAGICAL ALMANAC. My poetry appears in a number of small press magazines and women’s anthologies.
My B.A. in English Literature is from U.C.L.A.; my M.A. with a Creative Writing emphasis is from California State University at Northridge. While attending U.C.L.A., I was one of only twelve students (and the only undergraduate) chosen to study with Robert Pinsky, former Poet Laureate of the United States. I won first prize awards for two of my poems from an Evergreen Women’s Press nationwide poetry contest. My poetry received honorable mentions from the judges of a Los Angeles Poetry Festival and The Academy of American Poets. My poem Du Fu was nominated for a Rhysling award for Best Science Fiction Poem. I’ve led adult poetry and fiction writing critique groups and workshops in both Colorado and California., I am the former editor of the online literary magazine, STRAITJACKETS. ww.straitjacketsmagazine.com.
I am traditionally published only. My debut novel, THE RAVEN’S DAUGHTER, came out from Dragon Moon Press in Canada in February 2016, and was a finalist in THE GREAT NOVEL contest. My agent, Melissa Carrigee, just scored a contract for another novel, THE SPLENDID AND EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF BEAUTIMUS POTAMUS: A FABLE FOR GROWNUPS.
How many books have you written and what is your current book?
I’ve written four books. One non-fiction. Three novels. I’m working on four concurrent novels. Two sequels, and one set during The Beat Generation era narrated by a ghost, another is about a Facebook catfish who also happens to be an alien from another planet.
How does your writing process work?
I’m a pantser. I don’t outline. I don’t plot. I get an idea, and dive in. I also don’t write on a schedule. I may get up at 2 a.m. with an idea and writer twenty hours strait. I may not write a word for two months.
If someone asked you why they should read your books what would be your answer? What makes them so unique?
My goals is “to have fun writing what people have fun reading.” My books are fun, they are fast, have quirky characters. I don’t write high brow literary fiction. I do write cross-genre, with a supernatural element current running beneath nearly all my stories.
Do you have a favorite book that you wrote and if so why?
Hard to say. I think my debut novel is one of my favorites. THE RAVEN’S DAUGHTER is filled with Native American mysticism, and lore, and I love the protagonist, a foul-mouthed, humorlous, and tres-feisty woman who has poor control over what she says (she just blurts out what she wants to without thinking) who has a hard time accepting her true nature. She is also compassionate, and has a loving heart.
Any favorite character?
Beautimus Potamus from THE SPLENDID AND EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF BEAUTIMUS POTAMUS. She’s a middle-aged talking hippo with hot flashes, on a different planet who also happens to be a university professor and a writer. She’s a believer in “The Goddess” and has a good heart but she’s seriously flawed. He has trust issues, and body image problems, is insecure, tends to jump to the wrong conclusions, and she has “man problems.” Her best friend is am an atheist praying mantis, Samuel S. Goodwings, a physicist, a womanizer, and does not believe in any of Beautimus’ goddess claptrap. The two often fight, but they love one another. I like Beautimus because I wrote a lot of me into her.
Which one of your characters is most like you?
See above. Beautimus!
When did you know you wanted to become a writer?
I wrote my first book when I was six called MY LIFE. It was my memoirs, of course. I wrote the book by hand, stapled it into a book (so I bound it myself), illustrated every story, and did the cover art. It was the ultimate self-published book. Hahaha I was so proud of that thing. My teacher gave me a C- because my penmanship was poor, and said I had no ability to write. I was crushed.
I’ve been writing non-fiction, first as technical writer after I graduated from U.C.L.A., and I was a poet for a good many years. My master thesis was a volume of poetry. I’ve written a good many published non-fiction articles. I had my own column in a Colorado magazine for some years. I guess the answer is I don’t know when I wanted to become a writer, because I’ve always been a writer…in spite of what my first grade teacher said. I didn’t start on my first serious novel, though, until 2011 at age 57. Therefore, I’m a relatively new novelist.
What books inspired you?
No single books come to mind. There are many. Anything by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda’s poetry, and Rumi, Douglas Adams’ work, The Hobbit trilogy, I’m a fan of Steven King and Amy Tan and Barbara Kingsolver and Margret Atwood, and I loved Chaucer when I was in undergrad school. Many books inspired me, not just a few.
Who inspired you?
That’s hard to say. I’ve a few mentors. One is my first agent, and good friend, Denise Dumars. We’ve been friends for over thirty-three years, and she’s always supported me. Another is a 92-year old man, Ray Strait, who has written something like 32 celebrity bios and at age 92 is working to get his novel, BUGHOUSE BLUES published. He was Jayne Mansfield’s assistant for ten years. He’s an amazing fellow, and he keeps telling me “Peggy, you’re going to be a Number One best selling author on the New York Time’s List. Mark my words.” Now if THAT isn’t inspiration, I don’t know what is.
How do you juggle writing, your family and personal life?
I’m very fortunate in that I’m “old” – my eldest granddaughter just turned 20. So, no kids at home. My husband is basically retired, but works part time. I get to spend my time writing. I do have some normal house chores, and I’ve a writing group, and have other responsibilities, but I have the great privilege of getting to write as much as I want to or need to every day. That’s my job! It wasn’t always that way. But, when we writers wants to put words on paper, we find a way….lunch hours, on the bus commuting to work, set the alarm super early and write before the kids wake up, stay up after everyone else is asleep, on weekends, whenever. I did that, sure. If you want to do a thing, you make it a priority, and you do it. No excuses.
Can you tell us about your challenges in getting your first book published? Even if self-published.
Where to start….almost 100 rejections before a publisher accepted it, then for reasons I won’t go into, after ten months, I had to pull the manuscript. Then finally, the right publisher. Took nearly five years from the time I finished the book to see it in print. Every time an agent or publisher rejected, if they were kind enough to tell me why, after I’d finished crying into my pillow, I sucked it up, went into the manuscript, and made changes. I was with two critique groups. After every meeting, even if I felt brutalized, I went in and made changes. I had beta readers. After every one of their critiques, even if I disagreed, I went in and made changes. I must have rewritten that book a dozen times, no kidding. And, if when I’d finished it in 2012 I’d just self-pubbed it, the book that’s out now would not have been nearly as good as it is. Through the process, I cried often, and there were times I was tempted to throw in the towel.
How many hours a day do you dedicate for writing?
As many as it takes. I don’t have a routine or schedule, and part of writing is researching, editing, marketing, promoting, rewriting, attending workshops, and leading or attending critique groups. Well, you know. I spend every day on something related to writing, or actually putting words on paper, but no day of writing (or working on writing), is like the day before, or will be like the day after
Do you have any unfilled dreams where your stories are concerned?
I have huge dreams as far as my stories and my writing career, but I keep my expectations realistic. I would like to become a well-respected mid-list writer. I have no desire to be “famous.” I do want to be able to make enough steady money with my writing to pay back my husband who has been kind, and supportive every day, and who (even though retired from his corporate job) works outside the house and pays the bills so I can do what I love to do most. He absolutely believes in me, and did when I did could even believe in myself, and I won’t let him down. To be successful enough to pay him back -- that’s my big “dream” right there.
Can you give us a little sample of your most recent book?
The one published? How about the one I just got a contract for? Here’s part of Chapter 1, of THE SPLENDID AND EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF BEAUTIMUS POTAMUS
Imagine an iridescent jade-green pearl in a star system of the far reaches beyond Arcturus covered in red sands, ancient acacias, and blossoms larger than an elephant’s ear. This planet is double the size of Earth with two suns, two moons, and one vast ocean filled with sea dragons, elder leviathans, and singing orcas. Imagine rivers populated by the wisest and most loquacious fish and water mammals, and lands inhabited by all manner of talking creatures, many now extinct on the blue planet Earth. Imagine…
“Applecheeks! Agnes! Please fetch my oracle bag, and be quick about it.” Beautimus Potamus had overslept. Between hot flashes that produce so much night sweat that twice already her household help had nearly drowned in it, and her persistent hormone-induced insomnia, a good night’s sleep was rare days. It was late in the morning for her daily oracle reading, and she’d yet to even bathe in the river, or eat her breakfast. As she rose from her pillows, her bones and joints snapped and popped, and when she stretched her legs, she groaned.
The house squirrels scrambled atop the altar and pulled the gold brocade pouch onto the floor. Together, they tugged the draw-string bag over the straw to the hippo still reclining on her sleeping pillows. Agnes scampered to the cooking pot to make the morning tea, leaving Apple to attend to Beautimus.
“Thank you.” The hippo closed her eyes and raised her head in prayer. “Oh Great Goddess Genesis, thank you for blessing us with your presence.” She opened her eyes, and nodded.
Applecheeks pulled a divining cloth from the bag and spread it on the floor of the abode using her paws to straighten the corners. Only when the silk cloth was neat, and the corners squared, did the squirrel put her paw into the bag to withdraw the first of three glyphs.
“Moonmagick,” Beautimus said. “Goddess energy strong at work today. Please pull the next.”
The squirrel withdrew the second of the stones, placing it to the right of the first.
“Dreamlizard. Ah, yes, my recurring visions. The Goddesses say I must pay attention to them.” Beautimus sighed. “It’s rare these two show up in that order in a reading. Apple, these two stones together are a message that I’m to be on the lookout for omens, signs, chance encounters, anything out of the ordinary. We are all going to have to take care to notice anything different. You and Agnes keep an eye peeled. Will you?”
Beautimus took a cleansing breath. “Now. The outcome glyph.”
When the last of the stones was in place, Beautimus froze. Her eyes widened, and she gasped. “Oh no. No. No. Please. Not again!” Her eyes rolled back into her head, and she sunk into her pillows.
Visions. Beautimus had experienced them on and off since adolescence. But they were so infrequent, sometimes a decade would pass without one. Recently, they came at her in bunches, like fruitflies in a mating swarm. One right after another they came to her, and usually after a Glyph reading. For six days in a row, Beautimus’ mother, Sangrina, who’d long before passed into the arms of the Goddess, appeared to her. It was the same each time. Without warning or reason, Beautimus’ eyes rolled back, her lids closed, and she dropped to the ground aware of her impending unconsciousness, but as if in a state of paralysis, unable to do anything about it. First, a resonate buzzing that seemed to originate from inside her head. Then the visions appeared and played out for her. They were like the classic films she streamed from Earth. Only these movies were projected on the inside of her eyelids, and she was the lead character.
In them, Beautimus sat under a blooming yarron tree. She watched roan mares dancing with red dragonflies in a grassy meadow near the edge of an emerald cenote. A fog bank, the color of spun pink sugar, rose from the water and rolled onto the meadow. Sangrina stepped out of the fog. “Beautimus, it’s time.”
“Time for what, Mom? Tell me.”
“You’ll know soon enough.”
Without so much as a wink or a nod, Sagrina faded into the aether. The fog cleared along with the horses and dragonflies, and Beautimus came around to consciousness, confused and groggy as a drunken coati. The visions stuck to her like a coquillet midge to a sorghum blossom, but try as she might, Beautimus couldn’t ferret out their meaning, or why they recurred. Then today for the first time in decades --- the reading, and the glyph, the one that never failed to predict a life-changing event.
Beautimus activated her Crystal Interface and connected with her friend, Lizzy, a mastodon who she’d known since she was a bubbit.
“Lizzy, during my reading this morning…White Light.”
“Did it land in the outcome position after Moonmagick and Dreamlizard?”
“Yes, exactly as it had when the janitor discovered Áine’s body.”
“Yes, exactly as it had when the janitor discovered Áine’s body.”
“No kidding. What do you think is going to happen?”
“I don’t have a bloody clue, but I’m nervous as a Phidippus spider. The last time I’d received that glyph in that order…who knows what may happen this time. The Anam Glyph, plus the repeated visions of my mother, it’s like….”
“…Bea, you know the Goddess is speaking to you.”
“And if only I had paid attention last time … I mean…I may have been able to prevent Áine’s murder.”
“You don’t know that. Maybe you could have. Maybe not. Don’t blame yourself. But, do pay attention this time.”
“I feel so certain I would have been able to save Áine. I live with this every day of my life.”
Many years before, Beautimus had experienced a series of similar visions, and one morning as the squirrels pulled her three daily Anam Glyphs, White Light surfaced in the outcome position of her layout as it had this morning. Back then, Beautimus found her recurring visions and the glyph reading curious, but dismissed their messages.
A few days afterwards, a janitor arrived at dawn as usual to Dr. Pimbly’s School of Goodly Educated Adults where Beautimus held the position of History Professor of Earthly Things. That morning, when making his rounds, he discovered the dead body of the beloved Wise Woman, the red fox, Lady Áine.
The Wayflower Quacker printed verbatim what the janitor had told the reporters.
Death of a Wise Woman: The Custodian’s Story
That mornin’ was derned flat dark. No moons at all up in that sky. I fumbles arounds a bit until I founds me keys to The Commons so’s I could groom the grounds likes I always does.
As I was a rakin’ beneath a two-flowered acacia I stumbled on something that felt like a lumpy fur-covered sack of tubers. Holy Mother Genesis, what’s that? I asks meself. Then me paws slipped in sumpin’ wet throwing me clean off balance. Holy Mother! There waz her body right there on the ground under that tree. What I’d a-slipped in waz blood.
When the sunlight busted over The Commons wall, I seen her good. I run full speed out of The Commons. ‘Oh me Goddess, she’s dead, she’s dead,’ I hollers. The dead gal waz that pretty red fox, Áine, a Wise Woman, that one next in line fer the High Priestess of Wayflower. Her throat were ripped clean out, poor little thang. Horrible, I tells ya, the most horriblist thang I ever did saw.
The news of Áine’s murder shocked the whole of Wayflower. The Dean, Sr. Henry, a distinguished grey mole, gave his statement to the reporter from The Quacker: “None of us can imagine what kind of fen-sucked evil gudgeon would kill dear Áine. She was a kind soul, one of our finest graduate students. She had a promising future, and we all knew her as the sweetest natured fox in the entire District. We are stunned by what is by far the worst tragedy in our institution’s history.” ….
Please list any websites, blogs, amazon or promotions you are having.
Oh, gosh….lots going on right now with promoting and marketing THE RAVEN’S DAUGHTER. I have an old blog that I’m reviving, and a website that’s under construction. You can check out www.Peggyawheeler.com
I have an Amazon author page.
You can find me on Twitter at @Peggyawheeler.
I’m also on LinkedIn and Google+ and Ello, but I’m hardly ever on those sites. Facebook networking keeps me busy as it is. I do have a Facebook group for writers, editors, agents and publishers interested in traditional publishing. It’s called “Literary Traditionalists.”
Next month, I’m hosting two book launches for THE RAVEN’S DAUGHTER, and I’m combining those with fundraising for our local small town libraries in two counties. Every book I sell, I donate two dollars to the libraries. We’ll have cake and champagne!
Thank you very much for the interview, Brenda.