Paula Peckham has had work published in two anthologies and has now released her debut novel, Protected. One of my favourite people, a dedicated critique partner and a ‘doer’ of so many things, she makes even me feel exhausted. It’s wonderful to feature Paula here.
Tell us where you live and what a typical day might look like for you.
I live in Texas. Since I retired from teaching math to high schoolers almost three years ago, I get to focus my day mostly on writing now. I also squeeze in tutoring college students in math, going to Mexico with my church mission group (that I lead), and volunteering for CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocate – I work with kids who have been removed from their parents by the State).
What kind of writing do you do and what led you to that?
I write Christian historical fiction set in Texas. I’m a fifth-generation Texan, and as the rest of the United States likes to grumble, we’re obnoxious about being proud of Texas. Despite our current political shenanigans, I truly love living here, and I enjoy doing the research for my books.
I also write shorts essays for my blog, and I’ve published a contemporary novella that is part of a Christmas anthology with two other authors. The essays are things from my life. The anthology traces a family of women from 1920 to 2015 and when the person who originally signed up to write the contemporary novella had to back out, my friends asked me to step in. It ended up being super easy to write because it was basically an autobiography in disguise. My character was a math teacher (so was I) and a swim coach (so was I). I hadn’t realized until that novella how much work goes in to writing historical. I never had to stop and research anything!
Do you write about a specific period of history, and what drew you to that?
I set the first book in my current series in 1862. Book two jumps to 1864. I like the cowboy aspect of that time frame—cattle drives, covered wagons, shoot-outs in the wild, wild West, and horses.
How do you go about your research?
I read a lot of books and watch documentaries and movies to get a flavor. I have eclectic Google and YouTube search histories. But I truly enjoy the research, something I discovered in college when preparing my capstone project for graduation. I also try to stay as close as possible to the historical record. The only things I make up are details I just can’t find corroborating information on. However, my critique partners are fabulous, and someone will invariably stop me if I’ve gone astray.
What’s one surprising thing you’ve learned?
Texas had an underground railroad that helped enslaved people escape to Mexico. Never learned that detail in school. Also learned that when the Native Americans captured children, invariably, when the settlers found the children and “rescued” them, they didn’t always want to go back home.
How does writing begin for you? Is it an idea, a conversation, a title or an image?
It starts with an idea. I try to imagine a scenario that would reasonably accommodate the premise and see if I can build an interesting story around it. It must be something that doesn’t rely on convenient coincidences and something with enough conflict to sustain the entire novel. My critique partners help a lot here, suggesting ideas that plug certain holes in the plot line.
Tell us about Protected, your debut novel
Protected is a love story. Abby is an 18-year-old girl, and she emigrates to Texas with her parents and three other families. They are struck by cholera. Many people die, including all the adults, leaving her, as the oldest, to take over and get the other children safely to San Antonio. Manny, a cowboy, runs into the wagon train and helps them finish their trip. One small problem—Manny thinks Abby is a boy. Both Abby and Manny learn to trust God and each other as their story develops.
Purchase Protected here.
Writers draw constantly on their imaginations. How do you keep your well of creativity full?
I read a lot. Eavesdropping on conversations is always a fun source of material. I watch the news and look for interesting things that happen in real life. Or I use things I’ve enjoyed reading about in other books and build up an idea around them.
Are you close to other writers and how does that help you?
I have met a ton of author friends. Everyone is so supportive of each other. We all know how hard this job is to do well, and we celebrate all the successes.
Who are your favourite authors and how have they influenced your writing?
Stephen King (horror), Frank Herbert (science fiction), Dick Francis (mystery), Janet Evanovich (humorous mystery), LaVeryle Spencer (romance), Kathleen Woodiwiss (the romance Queen), Barbara Kingsolver (women’s fiction), Suzanne Collins (young adult)…I could go on and on. I think the flavors from each of those authors have permeated how I write. I read so much, and have all my life, their styles have soaked into my psyche.
What would you talk to them about if you sat next to them at dinner?
This is always a hard question for me. I don’t really get all fan-girl silly about people. They’re just people, after all, and they don’t know me from Adam, so it would be an awkward situation to make conversation. And whatever works for them in their writing is not necessarily going to work for me in mine. I would probably end up talking politics or discussing the latest greatest book everyone is reading. Maybe ask them how they’ve helped other authors so I can be in a position to do the same thing one day.
What do you want your readers to feel when they have closed the last page of your book?
Satisfaction. Maybe a little sadness that it’s over. Hopeful.
If you could tell your younger writer (no matter how recently that might be) anything, what would it be?
Start now. Don’t wait.
What are your future writing plans and especially, when can we expect a new book from you?
I intend to continue writing until I’m too old to do it anymore. As we speak, I am working on my second book in the series. I hope to have it finished in three months, then it will take the standard 6 – 9 months to get published. I’m not a quick writer because I have to do so much research before I can start. Book Two involves the Underground Railroad. I’ve read five books and listened to two on Audible in my car, and my husband and I took a driving trip through the San Antonio area of Texas to do face-to-face research. One book a year (unless I jump in and take part in an anthology, which I’ve done twice) is probably the most I’m going to do.
A fifth-generation Texan, Paula Peckham graduated from the University of Texas in Arlington and taught math at Burleson High School for 19 years. She and her husband, John, divide their time between their home in Burleson and their casita in Rio Bravo, Mexico. Her debut novel, Protected, was an ACFW Genesis semi-finalist in 2020. She also writes short stories, novellas, and poems.
She has contributions in the 2021 release Christmas Love Through the Ages, and Texas Heirloom Ornament.
She serves as president of ACFW DFW, and is a member of Unleashing the Next Chapter.
She has spoken at ACFW, Unleashing the Next Chapter, and the Carrollton League of Writers.
For more about Paula and her books, follow her at paulapeckham.com.
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