Talkshow Thursday: Meet Paula Peckham!
Linda: Thanks for joining me today. Congratulations on the release of your first full-length novel, Protected. Where did you get the inspiration for the story and its characters?
Paula: I wanted to tell a story that people would enjoy and that showed a view of God that felt real. The world gets an image of God from our churches and leaders that can make it seem like Christians are perfect and judgmental. Often—sadly—that view is correct. But those of us who call ourselves “Jesus followers” instead of Christians know that is not what life with Christ is like. We’re just as flawed as the rest of the world, and we don’t always turn to God when we should. I want my stories to show those real people and, more importantly, show that God never leaves us despite ourselves.
To form the actual story of Protected, I thought about my favorite books and cherry-picked the bits I really liked, then mashed them all together. The manuscript was pretty messy when I first typed “The End,” coming to its weighty and cumbersome end with 145K words. (Did I mention I had no idea what I was doing?) After a lot of critiquing and smoothing, the finished product is 75K, lean and mean.
LM: In addition to Protected, you’ve been part of two novella collections. How is writing a novel different than a novella? The same?
Paula: Due to the limited length, there is less freedom to meander. Both of my novellas are romances, so the relationship has to move along fairly quickly. In one of them, In All Things Charity, included in Texas Heirloom Ornament, the characters already know each other, but don’t have romantic feelings in the beginning. I didn’t write a love-at-first-sight story, but things kind of marched right along. In the other, A Father’s Gift, included in Christmas Love Through the Ages, it was a continuation of Protected, so my characters already had an established relationship. That gave me the freedom to develop a sub-story I hardly mentioned in the novel. Other than that, it was pretty similar for me. You block out your bones, start filling in the gaps, and keep an eye on your word count.
LM: Protected is set in Texas during the 1860s, a turbulent time in our country’s history. The book is the first in a series. What draws you to that time period?
LM: Research is an important part of writing a book, especially historical fiction. How did you go about researching Protected, and did you unearth a particular fun fact you knew you had to include in the story?
Paula: I realized in college I really enjoy research. While researching for Protected, I found many things I didn’t already know. How to tan a hide, how to butcher a deer, how to prepare a living, breathing chicken for the frying pan, what to do if you stumble across a rattlesnake. YouTube is great for things like that. I now have some really interesting search history.
But three facts really caught my attention. All three will become major parts of the next books in the series. One was about the Native American population the white settlers displaced (one of those dark parts of our history). Researching about which tribes lived in the area where Protected is set uncovered the fact that when Indians kidnapped white children, the children almost never wanted to come back home. Forcing them to return really messed them up. That fact will show up in book three, Pursued.
Also in Pursued, I have a Texas Ranger character. We’ve all grown up watching Walker, Texas Ranger and seeing the bold hero who sticks up for the underdog and is full of integrity. That’s the image they taught us in school. However, I learned, to my dismay, the early Texas Rangers were often little more than vigilantes. They were responsible for some horrible things. So that will come out.
I also learned, to my delight, Texas had an underground railroad to help enslaved people escape to Mexico. I was definitely not taught that in school. The railroad here wasn’t as organized as the one Harriet Tubman worked with, but it was there. That comes up in book two, Accepted.
It’s super easy for me to lose hours of time that should be spent writing simply chasing research rabbits down holes. But it’s fun. For example, did you know vultures don’t have vocal cords? Instead of singing, they hiss. Of course, they do. Who wouldn’t want to know that? And I want to include everything I learn. That’s how I ended up with 145K words in my first draft. I discovered the hard way you don’t have to share every detail you uncover, no matter how interesting it is.
LM: What is your favorite part of the writing process?
Paula: I love it all. When I’m in the middle of a book, the story is running in the background of my mind almost all the time. The smallest thing will catch my attention and become an idea for a scene. It may only show up a paragraph. It might totally change the direction of the story. I’ve learned to jot down notes in my phone so that fleeting thought doesn’t disappear like mist.
I like the editing, too. I love polishing the manuscript and watching it tighten up. I love finding the perfect phrase or word.
And the friendships I’ve formed in the various critique groups I’m in have been outstanding. There is always so much to learn. I read a meme on Facebook that cracked me up because it’s so true. It says, “Deciding to become an author means agreeing to have homework every day for the rest of your life.” Yep.
LM: What do you do to prepare for writing (e.g. listen to music, set up in a certain location, etc.)?
Paula: I get distracted very easily, so I have to put my phone in the other room. I give myself a specific amount of time in the morning to handle emails, etc., when I first sit down at my computer, then everything else gets shut off.
I listen to music to help me set the scene emotionally for specific things. I have a play list for the romantic scenes, and a different one for the action scenes. I’m writing Accepted now, and one of the characters will die. I’m going to need a playlist for that scene. Soundtracks from A Star is Born and Titanic might be on repeat in my house for a while. I just added “Brother Let Me Be Your Shelter”, by NeedtoBreathe, to my list. It will set the mood for a scene leading up to the death of my character as it describes our need for community.
Music has always spoken to me, and having the right song, right music, right lyrics can really help me get my mind focused.
LM: Your website indicates you’re working on the next book in the series, but what do you have planned past those stories? Or are you a “wait and see” kind of gal?
Paula: I’m laughing. Protected, book one, has ten characters who could each get their own story. If I do that, it’ll keep me busy for the next decade. But I also want to explore writing a mystery. I love reading crime dramas, too, with the dramatic courtroom climax. That would be fun. So I guess we’ll just wait and see who speaks to me the loudest.
LM: Where can folks find you on the web?
About Protected: Disaster strikes a wagon train en route to Texas, leaving 18-year-old Abby in charge of the survivors, all children younger than her. After an attempted kidnapping, the others convince her to disguise herself as a boy. Initially reluctant, Abby soon realizes life on the trail is much easier without bulky skirts. The disguise allows her to do things as “Abner” she couldn’t do as Abby. It's intoxicating.
Disfigured by fire as a child, Manny, a young cowboy, is lonely and yearns for companionship. His scars and the judgment of townspeople make it difficult for him to trust others. He intercepts the wagon train and agrees to help the children finish the trip to San Antonio. A new friendship cracks the protective walls built around his heart. Hope blooms when he meets “Abner,” and Manny’s fear of rejection slowly dissolves.
As the weeks on the trail go by, Abby develops romantic feelings for Manny, and he values his first new friendship in years. When Manny discovers her deception, it destroys the fragile bond of friendship growing between them. Can God help the two young lovers find trust, faith, and forgiveness on the hot Texas plain?