Okay, let’s start at the beginning of your writing journey. Why did you leave teaching after 17 years and go in a new direction with your career?
I lost my passion for teaching and was scared I would become one of those old, mean teachers who hate their job. I thought about what else I did well, and I kept coming back to writing. I’d dabbled with a novel; I liked writing Letters to the Editor. Probably the biggest motivator was the praise I always received when I wrote something and published it.
I can't imagine you as a mean teacher. But it must have been great to be validated in writing. What were your first experiences with the publishing world?
I wrote an essay about my mother’s hands after she died. I read it at my writer’s group, and they said, “Get that published.” So I took it to the editor of the local paper and asked if they wanted a column. They did, and it was published. So many people told me my piece helped them heal after the death of a parent that I was hooked forever on this thing called writing. Then the next summer I pulled out the novel that had been languishing for ten years in a file cabinet drawer, and I finished the darn thing. I sent it to ten publishers and the tenth one – a small publisher – picked it up. The local paper started hiring me to do freelance and that’s when I decided it was time to give up teaching and go into writing.
How did that turn out?
Not bad. I became the senior writer on the paper within a year. Within two years, my ex-husband and I started a monthly newspaper, which we sold after two years (it’s still publishing today after a decade). I became editor-in-chief with two magazines with more than 100,000 circulation. I wrote two more novels and published them with Publish America, and I wrote a nonfiction book for a man who wanted to tell his story about being kidnapped by rebel forces in Angola. Then I went to work as a public relations director for Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission. I have stories from that job to last a lifetime. Now I’m remarried and relocated and writing fiction and my blogs full time.
That must have kept you really busy. You’ve written both fiction and nonfiction. Do you prefer one to the other?
I always say I’m a storyteller no matter what I write. I do like writing the longer story and weaving in plot twists and turns and creating characters. But I also enjoy writing my blog and the freedom that comes with a shorter piece. I can change topics after 500 words so I’m never bored. However, I would have to say my passion lies with fiction.
Great! You get to be wilder with fiction, for sure. Live from the Road is your newest book. What inspired you to write a road trip novel?
I’ve always loved road trip books such as On the Road by Jack Kerouac and Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck. I’ve always loved to travel. Then in 2007, my girlfriend and I hatched the idea of taking a trip down Route 66 all the way from Chicago to L.A. Our daughters, both in their twenties, asked to join us. So off we went, and we had some wild and crazy times. All through the trip, we kept saying this needed to be a novel. So I began writing as soon as I came home. Even though there are four women (mothers and daughters) who travel together in the book, I just took little sparks from the trip and blew them up as big as the fiberglass giants on the road. I enjoyed writing the book almost as much as taking the trip because it is a road that writes itself.
I probably do. I know my protagonists care about the world around them. Most of my protagonists have been women and most are some type of writer. I usually have themes of nature and the environment in the background somewhere. And of course, there’s always a love story, most of the time complicated affairs of the heart
Oh yes, the love stories are always the best. Who are your favorite authors?
John Irving, Anna Quindlen, Carl Hiassen, John Steinbeck, Anne Tyler, Barbara Kingsolver. Also, let me add that a quick read that shows excellent characterization and plot development and perfect lining up of all the conflicts is The Great Gatsby.
Looks like you've absorbed from the masters. What are you working on now?
My next novel is Trails in the Sand. It’s about a family attempting to heal the wounds that go back several generations. In the backdrop are the environmental disasters of Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the Upper Big Branch mine explosion – both occurring in 2010 weeks apart. The main character is a freelance writer following the story of sea turtle nests that are being rescued off Florida’s Panhandle and moved to the Atlantic coast before oil comes ashore. The other main character is her husband and a lawyer whose cousin was killed in the West Virginia coal mine explosion. Both of those events parallel the disasters happening in their lives as they attempt to salvage their family.
Did you do any work with the sea turtle rescue when you worked for the fish and wildlife folks?
I was in the process of moving to Pittsburgh when the disaster occurred, but I was still doing my job. I was in charge of all the media and public relations for the sea turtle nest rescue and transfer. I was also living coal country when the mine explosion occurred so I was keeping my finger in both events. The love story and family thing has just evolved from different things I’ve wanted to write over the years about families.
Sounds like it's going to be an interesting story with an environmental theme. What’s next?
There’s a novel I started before I took the job with the fish and wildlife folks about perfect living communities being created in the Everglades. It’s tentatively titled Pure Harbor, and it’s set in both St. Augustine and the Everglades. I took the new job around the time I left on the Route 66 trip, so I put Pure Harbor away. But I’ll get back to it. It’s a good story.
You mention that you recently married and moved to Pennsylvania. How did you meet your husband?
That's another whole story in itself. We were sweethearts in 1972 in our hometown in Michigan. He moved to Pittsburgh and married. I moved to Florida and married. We lost contact with one another until 2009 when we reconnected through the Internet and then married in 2010. We're still on our honeymoon and hope to be for the rest of our lives. I guess I should be writing romance novels!
Despite your full life as a writer, you must have some moments to kick back and relax. What do you do away from the computer besides spend time with your new husband?
We both enjoy gardening. We have a large garden and lots of flowers and that takes up lots of our spring and summer hours. But we still manage to enjoy boating, kayaking, golfing and traveling. I am an avid reader and sometimes I have several books going at the same time! I read stories with similar themes to mine about love and the environment. I love to cook and preserve all the food we grow in the garden so when winter comes, we've got a pantry and a freezer full of tasty healthy food. I enjoy spending time in nature and doing my part to see that my footsteps are as light upon this Earth as possible.
Sounds as if your leisure life parallels what you explore in your writing, which means you're passionate about your topics. It's been a pleasure to get to know you a little bit better and good luck with your future endeavors.
Thank you, Rachelle, for having me. I love reading all your interviews with authors so I'm honored you let me stop by for a few minutes today.
Contact P.C. Zick at http://www.pczick.com
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