Jen: Today we welcome Peggy Bird to Romancing the Book. Peggy, will you share a short bio with us?
Peggy: Peggy Bird is a writer and glass artist who lives and works in Vancouver, Washington, across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon, where most of her stories are set and where her three daughters, four grandchildren, and two granddogs live. Stop by and visit her at any of these places:
Jen: Please tell us about your newest release and where the idea came from.
Peggy: My newest release is The Professor’s Secret. Claudia Manchester, PhD, teaches English lit at Portland State University and hides her secret identity as hot romance writer April Mayes from her stuffy colleagues. When she’s persuaded to go in disguise to a writer’s conference to promote her work, she meets Brad Davis, another romance writer and teacher. To hide who she really is, she creates yet another identity so she can continue to see him. The web of lies she spins will not only get in the way of their relationship but will damage the very thing she’s trying to protect: her reputation at the university.
The idea came from watching the variety of women and speakers at a romance writers’ conference. It led me to the “what if” question—what if a writer wanted to hide her life as a romance writer and someone fell in love with the fake identity?
When the six women had finished their formal remarks, the floor was opened to questions. If (April/Claudia had) impressed (Brad) with her presentation, her stage presence as she fielded questions with meaty, informative answers blew him away. She never looked or sounded like she thought the question inappropriate, repetitive, or off the subject, although a couple were all three. His favorite exchange, however, was the one she had with a man who was clearly skeptical about her skills.
The audience member led with, “So, you’re saying you don’t write porn. You’re writing sensuous fiction for readers who are looking for a story with explicit sex. Okay. I guess I accept that. But what makes you an expert on the subject?”
“Thank you for listening closely enough to hear how I described my work,” she began. “Not everyone does.” Then when the laughter died down, she added, “I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on the subject, but I am—”
He interrupted. “So you’re saying you haven’t done all the things you write about?”
“I didn’t say that. I was trying to say—” “
Well, are you saying you have done all the things you write about?” She paused for a moment. Brad thought he saw a small smile fight to make an appearance. Then, instead of answering directly, she said, “Let me ask you a question. Do you assume P. D. James, Elizabeth George, or Ngaio Marsh wrote from their experience murdering people? And before you answer, I’m willing to concede Jessica Fletcher knew a lot about murder from her habit of stumbling across a dead body every week for however many years she was on television. But she’s a fictional mystery writer. I’m asking if you believe the real women who write mysteries are like her.”
“Of course I don’t,” the man said. It was obvious he was annoyed with her.
“So, you give mystery writers credit for being creative and talented enough to write realistically about something they have not experienced, but you don’t extend the same courtesy to romance writers?”
The questioner looked like he was about to reply when he shook his head, made a sound of disgust, and stalked to the rear of the room. Brad fought the impulse to say “Way to go, asshole” to him as he left.
Paying no attention to his departure, April continued, “The question the gentleman asked illustrates a problem I believe writers of all genre fiction, romance in particular, have. We don’t get much respect within or outside the writing community for writing creatively or skillfully. We’re assumed to be hacks, or worse—writers who can’t make it in the world of literary fiction.”
She stopped to take a drink of water. “Well, in my opinion, good writing is good writing, whatever the category. We shouldn’t dismiss a book or an author because the work is shelved as ‘romance,’ ‘mystery,’ or ‘science fiction’ any more than we should embrace bad writing because it’s labeled ‘literary fiction.’ And we shouldn’t assume the writers of commercial fiction are any less talented or creative than the authors who write other kinds of fiction.”
Jen: What’s the most interesting comment you’ve received about your books?
Peggy: There are two that stick in my mind. The first came from an acquaintance who had recently gone through a nasty divorce. She came up to me at an event we were both attending and said, “I just read Beginning Again [the first book in my Second Chances series]. I identified with Liz [the heroine] so closely that I think I’m going to take my friend up on her offer to fix me up on a blind date. If Liz can bounce back from her divorce, I can bounce back from mine.” She’s remarried now. Not sure if her new husband was the blind date, but I like to think he was.
The second comment was about Sparked By Love, which is set in my hometown of Vancouver, Washington. I overheard a friend telling someone, “You’ll love the book. Peggy makes you feel like you’re walking around in Vancouver seeing all the public art. The Chamber of Commerce could use the book to promote the city.” There was a brief pause. “Oh, of course, she’d have to take all the sex out of it first, but other than that it’s a great sales promotion for the city.”
Jen: How do you remember ideas that come to you at odd times?
Peggy: Teeny, tiny slips of paper are the answer. Kleenex, old receipts, paper napkins, small note pads, bits of programs from plays and concerts, newspaper scraps, the back of a bank deposit slip. I have used them all. I carry a small notepad and pen everywhere with me and have pens with larger pads in strategic places in the house—my bedside and in front of my favorite place on the couch, for example.
What do I do with all those scraps? I tape them into a blank book I was given as a gift one year—the year everyone gave me blank books and I had more than enough to journal in for the rest of the decade. Turns out, the one with the scraps is the most useful one!
Jen: Is there a genre you’d like to write? Is there one you’ll probably stay away from? Why?
Peggy: I’d like to try historical fiction, which is a genre I read quite a bit. A writer acquaintance, Becky Lower, has just finished a series called the Cotillion Ball series that takes place during interesting times in United States history, and she has inspired me. I’d probably set the story in the Northwest.
It’s not likely that I’ll try science fiction any time soon. In spite of my addiction to Star Trek and Star Wars, I don’t read sc-fi, and I’m a believer in writing what you enjoy reading.
Jen: How do you come up with characters names?
Peggy: In some books the names have meanings within the story. For example, I’m writing a novella now in which the heroine is an old-fashioned girl and the hero is a tech nerd. I named her Helen Morgan, a nice old-fashioned name. He’s Trent Steele, modern and a bit hard-edged. In another book, the mothers of the hero and heroine were Celeste and Dolores. Celeste, meaning heavenly, was the mother of the hero. He had a great childhood, full of love and laughter. The heroine’s mother is Dolores, meaning sorrow, indicated the opposite for the heroine.
Sometimes the names indicate an ethnic background I want to emphasize: Anthony Salvatore Alessandro, Marius Hernandez, Jacob Abrams are three of my heroes and Quanna Morales is one of my heroines. Their Italian, Cuban, Jewish, and Native American/Hispanic heritage, respectively, played a part in each of their stories.
For minor characters, I often use the names of family members or friends.
And sometimes I fall in love with a name—the hero’s name in The Professor’s Secret is Brad for that reason. Such a nice strong name, don’t you think?
Jen: What did you do to celebrate your first book? Do you do anything to celebrate a sale, new contract or release?
Peggy: My first book was set in an art gallery so I hosted a party for friends and family to mark the release. I happen to do art glass and am a member of a co-op gallery, so it wasn’t hard to secure the location. We had champagne, cupcakes, and a little bit of reading, although it seemed a bit odd doing a reading using an iPad because the book was only available as an ebook. The other readings I’d done, when I had a piece included in an anthology, all involved paperback books. But I got used to the new way quickly enough.
Now I tend to have a quiet dinner with friends when I have a new release. And, of course, I spend the day on Facebook and Twitter announcing to the world that my latest book baby is available.
Jen: What’s next for you?
Peggy: I’m part of a release in May of eight novellas for Bella Andre’s Kindle World based on her book, Game for Love. In my novella, “Out of the Game,” Mac Maguire, defensive coordinator for the San Francisco Outlaws, and Sydney Nelson, the NFL’s first woman orthopedic surgeon, go toe to toe over the treatment of an injured player—until they fall in love!