Today’s author spotlight is on Peggy Wheeler, who’s stories blend the supernatural/paranormal genres with mystery/thriller. Are you sure you are not actually a horror author, Peggy? 🙂 Without further adieu, here’s… Peggy!
- Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I live in the mountains of Northern CA in a tiny town near Donner Pass, Lake Tahoe, and Reno, Nevada. My husband and I live with six little dog-like creatures in a 1970’s geodesic dome in the forest. We have more bears, deer, coyote and bobcats around us than people. Between the two of us, my husband and I have four granddaughters, the oldest is twenty and a college athlete. All four are beautiful and smart, and I love them all to bits.
I’ve been writing non-fiction and poetry for over forty years. Dragon Moon Press recently published my debut novel, THE RAVEN’S DAUGHTER, but I’ve won awards for poetry going back to the 1980’s, and I was technical writer for nearly twenty years. My undergraduate degree is from UCLA, where I studied literature, and my Masters is from California State University, Northridge, where I studied Creative Writing with a poetry emphasis.
- How did you get started on your writing journey?
I wrote my first book when I was six-years old (in 1961) my memoirs titled: “MY LIFE.” Included were small vignettes that I illustrated myself, and I did the cover art, and bound the book myself with staples. Truly a self-published marvel. I was so proud of that book. I fantasized that my teacher would give me an A++ grade, tell me it was the greatest book in the world and ask me to read it to the class. Instead, she gave me a C- and told me my penmanship and my writing were substandard. I was devastated. Once I recovered, I started writing again and never stopped.
- Are there any poets or writers who influence you? How so?
So many. Not sure where to start. I love the South American poets and writers. I’ve a passion for magic realism. I love Pablo Neruda’s poetry, and I’ve read every book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, and Laura Esquivel. How have they influenced me? The freedom in their language, the risks, the color, the imagination. Latin American authors are in a magical class of their own.
Let’s talk about your novel! What is it about?
When a charismatic Algonquian killer shows up in the remote mountain town of Wicklow, CA, he turns peaceful Wild River County upside down and inside out. One time criminologist, and Wicklow resident, Maggie Tall Bear Sloan, (50% Yurok, 50% Irish, and 100% gutsy) joins forces with county sheriff and long-time friend, Jake Lubbuck, to track down the murderer. Maggie’s twin nieces live in Wicklow and match the killer’s victim profile exactly. She’ll do whatever it takes to protect them and the people of her home town. Maggie has recurring dreams of turning into a green-eyed raven the local tribal people believe exists, and she just might be a “pukkukwerek,” the shapeshifter monster killer of Yurok legend. As she pursues the murderer, Maggie accepts her true nature. She learns that not all things are as they seem, and discovers some myths are true
How is the title significant?
There is a Yurok myth of a magical raven that has a daughter who is part human and part raven. At night, she shifts from her human form to a raven and flies through the night air with other ravens. In my book, the protagonist is a shapeshifter who turns into a green eyed-raven.
- Where did inspiration for this come from?
Partly from my own heritage, Irish mostly on my mother’s side, and we’ve Native Americans in our family. I’ve always been fascinated by the lore, mythology, and oral traditions of the Irish and the Native Americans. I also like mysteries, thrillers, and scary stories with tough, original, female protagonists.
- Tell us a little bit about the characters? What are they like and how did you come up with them?
Maggie, the lead, is a woman near fifty years old. I didn’t want a twenty-something year-old hot dangerous babe dressed head to toe in skin-tight black leather with eight-inch stilettos, and tons of exposed cleavage. I wanted an older, yet attractive, smart but flawed character for Maggie — someone who women can identify with. She’s intelligent, but a terrible judge of men, and she has anger issues, a mouth like a truck driver, and abuses her body. I didn’t make her as old as I am because she has to get physical, be able to physically fight, and be fearless and powerful. I know at my age I can’t jump, run, punch or kick like I might have at Maggie’s age. So, I made her old enough not to be a youngster, but still young enough to get the job done.
It would require too much space to tell much about the others.
- Who do you think would like your story and what kind of readership are you aiming for?
Adult audience. Anyone who likes horror, dark fantasy, mythology, police procedure, mystery-thrillers, monster stories, and strong women who screw up too much.
What is the message you are trying to get across in your book?
The message I am going for is it’s important to accept our true nature, to be able to recognize and appreciate who we are.
- What is your writing process like?
I’m a pantser. I don’t usually spend too much time on outlines, plotting formal processes, or character bios. When the muse screams in my ear, I write. Sometimes I write for ten or twelve or even sixteen hours straight for days in a row. Sometimes, I don’t write an original word in two months. I don’t set hours, or create a word-count per day limit. I just do it. I also believe in research. Lots of research. All my books (I’ve written four, although only one published as of now) are the result of a combination of imagination, story-telling ability, and weeks or even years of research. I have one book, CHACO, very different from THE RAVEN’S DAUGHTER. I spent two years on helioscience sites, in the library, and on science pages to research the info I needed to write CHACO.
I cannot tell you how many months I put into researching Native American and Irish lore and mythology, and police procedure, for THE RAVEN’S DAUGHTER. I also used two subject matter experts for Raven, one a retired Los Angeles Police Department motorcycle cop who is still with the reserves, the other a former undersheriff for Trinity County, California, who teaches criminal law at Shasta College.
- How do you go about editing your story?
I do not query any agent or publisher until at least ten set of eyes have reviewed and critiqued my manuscript, and I’ve rewritten at least three times. I am in critique groups, I use beta readers, and my husband is a good copyeditor and line editor – he never pulls punches, either. I also rely on pro editing my publisher provides either him/herself, or via a hired editor.
- Where did you find your cover artist and what was the process like?
My publisher, Gwen, provided the art for THE RAVEN’S DAUGHTER. Compliments roll in constantly on the cover for this book.
- How did you go about getting published?
I spent four years querying agents and publishers, and the rejections piled to the ceiling. But every time an agent or acquiring editor would be kind enough to tell me why they rejected my manuscript, once I had finished crying into my pillow, I’d get up, dry my eyes, roll up my sleeves and begin another series of rewrites. The book I wrote in 2012 is not nearly as good as the book that Dragon Moon Press published in 2016.
I do not self-publish. I’m a traditional girl all the way.
- What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
Both are fine ways to go. It’s a matter of preference. For me, I don’t have the funds to pay up front for certain services. I have no desire to learn specialized skills on my own. I just want to write, re-write, market, promote and allow experts with decades of experience to take care of layout, uploading, cover art, pro-editing, distribution, etc.
- What were the surprises? Good or bad? If so, what were they?
My surprise came early. I had an agent in 2007 for another book, a non-fiction piece, THE ANAM GLYPHS. When she retired without having sold the book, I thought it would be much easier to find another agent. Nope. Like pulling teeth. That book is still unpublished. I have an agent now for my fantasy, THE SPLENDID AND EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF BEAUTIMUS POTAMUS, but she’s had the book since December. We’ve had two offers, but I was uneasy with both, so I turned them down. She’s still looking. We’ll see. I had another agent for CHACO, and she quit the agenting biz before selling that book. My current agent doesn’t want to rep CHACO. Insert face palm here.
I had bought into the tall tale that once you had an agent, he or she would guide your career, rep all your books, and be with you for decades. No way. If you want to go the traditional route with an agent you have to know they take one book at a time, and if they don’t like your others, you’re on your own to find another agent, or you can query a small press who accepts unsolicited or unagented submissions. Biggest surprise? Harder than hell to get a good agent, and if you want one, you have to be persistent and patient. Once you have signed with an agent, there are no guarantees. You cannot count on them to stick with you for the long-term, and even if they love you and your work, they may never sell your books, either. Also, there are some great small presses out there, but if they are good, they are selective. You have a better chance of getting hit twice by lightening on the same day than you do of getting your book published by a good, legitimate press. So, if you follow the traditional route, and you see your book in print, thank the stars.
- How do you go about promoting your book as a self-published author?
Both self-published and traditionally published authors must take responsibility for their own success. As a writer with a product (a published book), you campaign on-line, send out post cards and e-mails, put up flyers in your community, put out press releases, participate in local author events, readings, and signings. Attend the cons. If possible, get a seat on a panel at cons. We all have to do it, even if published with the Big Five.
- Is there something about the whole process you wish someone had told you before? Good or bad?
Only that writing and publishing a book is bloody hard work, and as gratifying as it is, and as romantic as you think being a writer is, you have to be willing to put in the effort to write a good story, to learn the craft, to study, to research, to listen to those more experienced, and to put in the gobs of time in editing, rewriting, and polishing necessary. If you can’t do that, then it’s probably best you find something else to do.
Not really. Just have fun.
- What plans do you have for the future of your writing?
I’ve at least thirty more novels in me. Four are underway.
- What are you social accounts if people want to connect with you?
You can find Peggy’s novel at the following fine retailers: