BookView Interview with Author Peggy Ann Shumway

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we interviewed Peggy Ann Shumway about her writing and her debut, Vestiges (Faith, Freedom, and Posterity Series #1), a archaeological mystery adventure. (Read the reveiw here ).

Peggy Ann Shumway has always loved learning about individuals, stories, and mysteries of the past, which led her to write historical and archaeological themes. She loves family history and has compiled several genealogical works for herself and others. She holds a bachelor’s degree in multimedia, which she uses for cover design and video production, and she often blogs about writing. Her archaeological mystery adventure debut, Vestiges, allowed her to delve into the Hopewell civilization and combines her love of history with her passion for world-building. Peggy lives amid the rustic background of Arizona.

Who and what ultimately inspired you to become a writer?

If anybody asks me why I write, I blame it on my eighth-grade English teacher. Mrs. Osborn, a rather drab specimen of a woman, wore a ponytail draped over her shoulder and sat with one leg folded underneath her at the desk in the front of the room. Yet, when she taught me the techniques of placing words on the page, something caught fire inside me. I wanted to know more. I eventually accepted Mrs. Osborn’s challenge to the class and entered the district creative writing contest. A few weeks later, the principal announced that I had won first place, which sparked my love affair with writing.

What life experiences have shaped your writing most?

My dad, who taught me to read before I entered kindergarten, shaped my writing the most. Dad collected books, and I felt privileged to peruse row after row of classics, Shakespeare, and every topic you could dream of inside his library. He always encouraged me to accel at whatever I wanted to do.

Then, my ability to read morphed into the desire to write. In the first grade, one of my poems won a place in a local newspaper. After that, my occasional story or two adorned the pages of my elementary school’s literary magazine. I even wrote for several local newspapers later in life. But my envy of Anya Seton, Geraldine Brooks, Kate Morton, Kristina McMorris, and Patti Callahan Henry’s work, with their solid protagonists and page-turning plots, made me yearn to do the same.

What’s more important: characters or plot?

I’d have to say that characters are more important than plot in my writing. I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer. Outlines are too confining in my creative process. Once I have a basic understanding of what’s supposed to happen in my story, my characters take over and lead me to experiences that never would have occurred to me. This unplanned approach sometimes leads to massive rewrites, but I enjoy getting to know my characters through my story’s development.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I love research and sometimes spend more time than necessary on fleshing out characters, societies, and events. I’d rather have too much information available than not enough. It’s easier to cut pages of data than to be left with a hole in my story, especially if I don’t know where to find the information.

How many hours a day do you write?

I don’t set a specific number of hours to write. Instead, I work in scenes, striving to complete an entire section before I quit. I have often written from four in the morning until five at night with only a lunch break in between. And when the thoughts don’t gel for me, you might find me shopping at my favorite haunts for the day. I’m a relatively slow writer. I allow the ideas to percolate inside me before I access the muse so anxious to spill onto the page.

What inspired the premise of your book?

Many years ago, I attended several lectures in Mesa, Arizona, where three researchers introduced me to the Michigan Relics and the mound-building civilizations of North America. I had never heard of the Hopewell or Adena peoples, yet, at the dawn of civilization, these old-world cultures had built more than 200,000 earthworks throughout the United States and into Mexico and Canada. They had left behind burial mounds, temple plateaus, places of refuge and fortification, and an abundance of relics that suggested a Semitic and Egyptian origin.

A few Native American populations, like the Ojibwe, Iroquois, Cherokee, and Mi’kmaq, corroborated with such theories, confessing they had entered North America through the St. Lawrence Seaway or through the southeastern shores of the Gulf of Mexico by transatlantic voyages from the old world. Their mind-bending stories of the Pale One, Creator, or Dawn-God, known among the tribes from the east to the west coasts of the United States, touted similarities to the Christian beliefs of Jesus Christ.

My previous education sparked my uncertainty about this new theory. The history books had failed to suggest that the Native Americans ever arrived from anywhere else than from over the Bering Straits. They had never taught me of eight-foot giants or pits of bones suggesting wars and mass burials, ancient copper mines, or iron-smelting operations. And they had never taught me of relics containing stories of the Garden of Eden, the Flood, or of a man who had visited the people of this country, bearing similarities to Christ.

The information hooked me. Whether by intentional misrepresentation or by ignorance, scholars had hidden America’s secrets well.

Which scene, character, or plotline changed the most from the first draft to the published book?

Until I had almost finished writing Vestiges, I wasn’t exactly sure which character I wanted to become the murderer. I vacillated back and forth with different endings until a friend’s advice stirred me to a different path. But no one knew the outcome until I published the book.

What do you hope readers will take away from this story?

We are all quick to judge others or their beliefs, contrary to our particular cultural ties or philosophies. Tolerance and fair treatment fall by the wayside because our prejudices, our rose-tinted glasses, are so unforgiving or clouded that we can’t see the ideas that could transform us into better people. I hope that the themes in Vestiges might convince the reader to take a step back and listen to alternative views before they throw up walls of indifference.

How does your faith life/ethical outlook inform your writing?

My faith and ethical view are why I create the stories I publish. Granted, my slice of life brings with it ideals that might offend another, but I’m hoping that I present all sides of every equation in my books so readers can decide for themselves which slant they choose to believe.

What’s next for you?

I’ve almost finished writing a historical novel set in a 1930’s Portuguese community in California’s Central Valley. The book has nothing to do with the Faith, Freedom, and Posterity Series, of which Vestiges is a part. Instead, I have based this story on a stranger who came to my great grandmother’s farm during the Dust Bowl era and changed their lives forever. I am also waist-deep in research for the second book of my mystery series.

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