Today, for this special edition of 20 Questions, we sit down with best-selling author P.C. Zick. She is a prolific author with many of her stories set in Florida. This 20 Questions installment coincides with her offer of her work, Trails in the Sand, which is free on Amazon today through Friday. (August 8th – 12th).
Please enjoy this special installment of 20 Questions.
Q1) When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
It’s always been my secret desire as long as I can remember. But I didn’t dare tell anyone for fear of being laughed out of the room. I always received praise for my writing and completing assignments that required an essay never fazed me. I preferred it. As an English teacher, I taught others to write and became known as the “writing teacher.” One day, one of my students attempted suicide, and I thought, I need to stop teaching and start writing. Within six months, I’d left teaching and finally, and loudly, proclaimed, “I am a writer.”
Q2) How long does it typically take you to write a book?
It depends on the genre. I’ve been writing romances—some full length novels and others novellas. Those go quite quickly. I can get a first draft written in a month and then another two or three months of more drafts, sending to editor, more revisions, and then to the final copy editor. Now, my longer contemporary fiction works that explore topics such as family dysfunction and environmental issues can take me a year or longer from idea to final published version.
Q3) What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
Not exactly as I’d like. Since most of us writers do our work at home, there are many distractions simply from life. And then add to it the distractions of having to market my works as an Indie Author, and I don’t have nearly enough time each day to write as much as I’d like. When I’m writing a novel, I try to put away the distractions, shut my office door (which is a sign to my husband who recently retired that I should not be disturbed), and write as much as 2,000 words in one sitting. I think putting out 1,000 words per day is a good goal, and when I go beyond that, I’m pleased.
Q4) What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I don’t know if anyone else would find it interesting or not, but when I really need the muse to visit, I sharpen all my No. 2 pencils, pull out a legal pad and go somewhere away from my office. Then I just start writing. Usually I only write a page or two in longhand, but it’s usually enough to get the ideas flowing again, allowing me to get back to the faster method of writing. I think it’s the ‘erasable’ aspect of doing it this way for a bit. I know that what I write there can definitely be erased or burned, but I find this method works and almost everything I write in this way makes it to the actual work.
Q5) How are your books published? (traditional, indie, etc.)
When I first published, I went the traditional route, and even had an agent at one point. I hated the lack of control. I even dropped out for a few years, but I continued to write. When I did decide to publish again, the revolution led by Indie Authors was beginning, and I jumped into the pile with them. While the market is glutted now with Indies, I’d never go back to traditional publishing again. A friend of mine who just had her memoir of growing up as a Cuban American published by a traditional publisher asked recently when she’d see her first royalty payment for the book published in April. She was told it would be a year. And she was unable to even find out her sales. I couldn’t go back to that.
Q6) Where do you get your ideas for your books?
My ideas come from life. In the beginning, I probably used my own life too much as the prototype. Most authors do. But I also draw from life. When I create characters I do think about people I know, and then I draw a composite character. Several of my books star female writers or reporters so everyone thinks I’m using myself as the model. Not so. I use a dozen different people to create one character. And those heroines are always the women I’d like to be. They become my models.
Q7) If you don’t mind sharing, when did you write your first book?
I started writing my first novel, A Victorian Justice (no longer in print), thirty years ago when I was in my early thirties. I taught high school at the time, so every summer, I’d pull it out of a drawer and work on it. Then one summer when I caught up on all my own personal reading, I read one too many bad novels and said, “I can do better than this.” So I finished it in the summer of 1999. I sent it to ten publishers, and the tenth—a small publisher from San Francisco—picked it up and published it in 2000 when I was forty-five. Since then I’ve published eleven more novels and five nonfiction books.
Q8) What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I love to read, of course. And I love being outside. I kayak, golf, and walk. My husband is an avid gardener, and I am the one who preserves all the food he grows. It’s very satisfying. And I love the oral tradition of telling stories.
Q9) What is your favorite book?
That’s tough. I love so many books. Of my own, I have to say Trails in the Sand. I can tell you authors I love: Barbara Kingsolver, Lisa See, Isabelle Allende, Anita Shreve, Pat Conroy, Carl Hiaasen, John Irving, and so many more.
Q10) What do your family and friends think of your writing?
My daughter, an artist, gave me the courage to leave my teaching career to write fulltime. My husband loves everything I write and reads my books with great interest, but with a critical eye. A few friends and a family member here and there are loyal fans. The rest just ignore me. I think they’re under the impression this is just a hobby like refinishing furniture.
Q11) What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
How much I loved doing the research. It’s so much fun to learn new things, and then incorporate real events or facts into a work of fiction.
Q12) What do you hate most about the writing process?
I really like all aspects of the writing process. It’s the marketing of the books that doesn’t go well for me.
Q13) How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?
I have written sixteen books and Trails in the Sand in my favorite.
Q14) Do you have any suggestions to help us become better writers? If so, what are they?
Always be willing to listen to criticism, and then decide which of those are valid for you. Study the craft. Once you’ve studied it, go back and refresh your memory by studying it again. As writers, we should always be fine tuning and experimenting.
Q15) Do you get feedback from your readers much? How and what kinds of things do they say?
Occasionally, I hear from readers, mostly from reviews. I love it when they say they want to read more by me.
Q16) What is your preferred reading audience?
Anyone who likes to read, but probably most of my readers are female.
Q17) What do you think makes a good story?
I’m a sucker for descriptive settings and using the setting as a strong part of the plot. Sometimes, it could almost be another character. A hurricane, snowstorm, thunder and lightning all become forces to move plot. A lazy river on a summer afternoon can create contrast for a devastating turn in the plot. I also believe the best stories are character-driven. I want to feel a connection with the characters. Their motivation must be clear to drive the plot forward.
Q18) As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to be a Foreign Service officer until I found I needed to be fluent in several languages. This information came to me as I was floundering in Spanish I as a freshmen in high school. Then I wanted to be a lawyer.
Q19) Where can we find your books?
I’m mostly on Amazon, but a few can be found on other online retail sites.
Q20) Will you give us an excerpt from one of your favorite works?
1956 – St. George Island, Florida
Alex and Gladdy Stokley sat on the sand as the reddish glow from the setting sun disappeared and left the beach shrouded in darkness. The light of day remained only in memory as the waves rhythmically beat upon the shore where the brother and sister sat in silence.
“Moon’s rising,” Alex said half an hour after the sun left the horizon. “See the light edging its way over there? It’s going to be full tonight.”
The tide was going out as they sat on a linen tablecloth that served as a blanket; they smuggled it out of the family’s beach house as they escaped the rage of their father an hour earlier. Alex produced a crumpled pack of cigarettes from the front pocket of his white T-shirt. He cupped his hands to light the match and then the cigarette. He pulled a second one from the pack, lit it from the already glowing stick, and handed it to his sister. Gladdy touched her brother’s hand before taking the offering.
“Everything’s going to work out,” Gladdy said. “You’ll see. Daddy will forget all about it once he goes back to work on Monday.”
“He’s not going to forget, Gladdy. Not this,” Alex said. “And neither will I. Do you think you can forget it ever happened?”
“I can try. You can try. Let’s just put it out of our minds as if it never happened. Please, Alex. We have to.”
“It won’t work. It’s hopeless,” Alex said.
“Look,” Gladdy poked her brother who was older by ten months.
She pointed to the edge of the shoreline only feet away from where they sat on the sand. The light from the rising moon illuminated the beach in a soft white bath.
“It’s a loggerhead,” Alex said as a sea turtle lumbered out of the ocean and laboriously began its march to the dune line. “You can tell by its big head.”
“I bet it’s going to lay eggs,” Gladdy whispered.
They sat motionless as the turtle, not more than fifty feet away, pulled itself through the sand. The loggerhead moved slowly but steadily, using first the front right and then the left rear flippers to pull it forward. Then it repeated the action with the other diagonal flippers. Its march from the sea was distinct from the other species of turtles that came ashore in Florida to lay eggs. The green turtle, Kemp’s ridley, the leatherback, and the hawksbill also laid their eggs on the beaches of the peninsula, but loggerheads were by far the most numerous.
The female loggerhead, so graceful as it floated and swam in the ocean, now tromped through the sand dragging nearly 300 pounds of body weight. Every few minutes, it would stop and dig its snout into the sand.
“She’s testing the temperature,” Alex said. “That’s exactly how it was described in that book Daddy threw in the trash tonight.”
Alex read any book he could find about the ocean. Archie Carr just published a book about the sea turtles, and Alex checked the book out of the library in Calico, where the Stokleys lived, before they came to St. George Island for the summer. He’d received special permission to keep it for three months. When his father came to the dinner table that night and saw Alex sitting with his elbows on the table and The Windward Road propped up on his glass of milk, Arthur Stokley snatched the book and walked out through the kitchen to the back porch and threw it in the trash.
“We do not read at the table,” Dr. Stokley said when he returned. “You have the manners of a heathen and the sense of a moron. You never fail to disappoint me.”
“But that was a library book,” Alex said.
“All the more reason not to have it at the dinner table,” Dr. Stokley said. “You’ll have to tell the librarian you lost it, and earn the money to pay for it.”
When the turtle reached the edge of the sea oats and grasses protruding from the dunes, she swept the sand with all four flippers before using her front flippers to push sand out of a large area. The loggerhead kept rotating her body around the area until a place big enough for her body indented the sand. She used her cupped rear flippers as shovels and began to prepare the cavity for the eggs.
After digging for what seemed like an eternity to the teenagers, the ancient creature placed itself in the body pit with its rear end just at the edge of the cavity. They watched as three eggs dropped into the hole followed by a clear thick liquid. The process was repeated over and over again.
“That’s mucus to keep moisture in the nest while the eggs incubate,” Alex said. “Are you counting how many eggs she’s laid? The book said they can lay up to 200 in one nest.”
“I’m up to 82,” Gladdy said. “There’s 83 and 84.”
After counting 124 eggs, they watched as the sea turtle filled in the cavity with its rear flippers and then swept the area in an effort to disguise what lay beneath the surface.
When the turtle finished her job, nearly two hours after she came from the sea, she began the slow return back to the ocean. Alex rose from the sand and followed the loggerhead.
“Alex, what are you doing? You can’t go swimming after dark – the undertow is too strong.”
Did you know sea turtles always return to lay their eggs on the beach where they were hatched?” Alex said as he walked backwards into the sea following the trail of the female loggerhead. “The eggs will hatch in about two months, Gladdy. Be sure to come down here every night and wait for them to emerge so you can help them go home. Remember 124 eggs and remember the location.”
Alex turned toward the ocean and kept walking until the sea engulfed him, and he went under.
“Alex, come back,” Gladdy yelled out over the surf, but the only answer came from the sound of the waves lapping the beach. “We’ll find a way.”
Gladdy pulled the corners of the tablecloth up around her shoulders and waited for her brother to reappear. The waves came back to shore time after time, but as she sat transfixed in her spot on the beach, Alex never returned with them.
About P.C. Zick:
Bestselling author, P.C. Zick describes herself as a storyteller no matter what she writes. And she writes in a variety of genres, including romance, contemporary fiction, and nonfiction. She’s won various awards for her essays, columns, editorials, articles, and fiction
Many of her novels contain stories of Florida and its people and environment, which she credits as giving her a rich base for her storytelling. “Florida’s quirky and abundant wildlife – both human and animal – supply my fiction with tales almost too weird to be believable. Her Behind the Love trilogy – contemporary romance – is also set in Florida, but she’s now working on a series set in the Smoky Mountains.
You can keep track of P.C. Zick’s new releases and special promotions by signing up for her newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/0o6-D. Visit her website to find out more about her writing life at http://www.pczick.com.
Find P.C. Zick’s Books:
Amazon Central: http://www.amazon.com/P.C.-Zick/e/B0083DPN4E/
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/%22P.C.%20Zick%22