CHRISCHAT: Why write about a family that is going through a separation and possible divorce? Was this aspect more important to you because (a) for the story or (b) because there are so many children/families going through this very difficult time?
PENNY: I think the story would have worked just as well if Mom and Dad were not separating, but it gave me a good reason to have Mom move to a cheaper rental in the country. The separation added conflict to the story. I think a lot of kids can relate to a family in emotional crisis. When you look at statistics, it seems more families separate than stay together. It’s a sad situation, but unfortunately a very real one. My dad died when I was ten, so I grew up in a single parent household, and I know how difficult it can be. I guess that type of family is more familiar for me when I think as a child.
CHRISCHAT: Regarding the mom character, is she close to your own writer experience? From discussions, on many writing lists, we all seem to have those moments of ‘oh, mom’s (dad) writing her stories’ which are then met with surprise when something sells. Our families mean well, I hope all our families mean well, but sometimes it is frustrating.
PENNY: My husband and I never argued about how much my stamps cost, but I think I was more excited about my publications than he was. Being a writer is what I always dreamed I would be when I grew up. Seeing my byline is a real thrill for me. My daughter never felt I was a writer until this book was published, despite my numerous magazine sales. My
son seemed oblivious. My mom, however, would get very excited every time I had something published. But, you’re right, it is frustrating when your family doesn’t see the value in your work. I decided a long time ago, I would write for myself if for no one else.
CHRISCHAT: The Wendy character reminds me of myself at the same age – writing little quick lines as my poetry. Were you a, Wendy, as child?
PENNY: I was a Wendy in that I was very opinionated and stubborn. My poetry writing, however, didn’t come until my 20’s. When I was Wendy’s age, I was writing “books.” In fact, I still have one my mom saved called “Patty and the Country Ghost.” I find it ironic that my first published novel is about a country ghost. My daughter, at around the same age, was fascinated by Edgar Allan Poe and Sylvia Plath, thus the references to dark poetry.
CHRISCHAT: Do you believe in ghosties?
PENNY: I definitely believe in ghosts. In my early 20’s, I shared a haunted home in New Hampshire with several friends. One evening I was home alone, and I spotted our ghostly roommate going up the stairs. It still gives me goose bumps to think about it.
Regarding the craft of writing:
CHRISCHAT: How do you research the young adult/children genre/market?
PENNY: Every other year, I purchase a copy of Writer’s Market. I subscribe to several “free” newsletters, including Funds For Writers, Writing World, Writing for Dollars, and Women on Writing. I have subscriptions to Gila Queen’s Guide to Markets and The Children’s Book Insider. I also frequently check Duotrope, Spicy Green Iguana, and Ralan’s Market Listings. Sometimes, I’ll get a notice from someone who has sold to a market I’ve never heard of, and I’ll check it out. I’ve been doing a lot more on-line sales the past few years. It’s easier to research the market, since you can readily see what the editor is buying and what direction they want to go. I’ve had the pleasure of attending the Muse On Line Conference for the past few years, and I’ve had the opportunity to chat with publishers and editors there. This is a great way to learn what they are seeking.
CHRISCHAT: Do you have any pet peeves about how writers write for elementary/middle/secondary children/young adults?
PENNY: Not really. There are a lot of different kinds of readers and a lot of different kinds of writers. I think there is room for everyone. Not every child who picks up my book will like it. When my daughter was in grade school, a group of parents tried to get James and the Giant Peach banned from the school library. Some parents I know wouldn’t let their
children read the Harry Potter series. I think children should be exposed to lots of different writing styles and genres. When I was young, I enjoyed everything from the Secret Garden to Call of the Wild. I guess if I had any pet peeve, it would be writers who talk down to kids and try to preach a lesson. I think reading should be for fun and enjoyment.
CHRISCHAT: Why do you believe an adult can offer to this age market when, at times, the generations seem so far apart?
PENNY: Did you ever notice how things tend to come back around? When my daughter was in grade school, suddenly bell bottom pants were back in style, and the girls were wearing peasant tops. History tends to repeat itself, with slight modifications. Times change, but emotions and problems tend to stay the same. Young people may be forced to confront
their problems earlier than I did, but they are still the same kinds of problems. There are always bullies. There are the kids who are nerds, and the kids who are popular, and the nerds who want to be popular. There are always kids whose parents don’t get along or who have siblings who tease them unmercifully.
CHRISCHAT: Your bio mentions you write for both adults and children, do you prefer one over the other, or, is it the individual story that excites you?
PENNY: I would say it’s the story that excites me. I enjoy writing for both, which is why I do it. Once I get an idea for a story, I let it take me where the characters want to go. Sometimes it ends up being a children’s story, other times it’s definitely for adults. At times, it’s caught in the middle. My illustrated chapbook, Dragon Sight, is one I thought would be an adult story, but my publisher thought it better promoted as a young adult tale.
CHRISCHAT: Lastly, “Ghost for Rent” is a fast and fun ghost story, a paranormal. What genres would be used to classify your writing and which genres would you like to tackle?
PENNY: I mostly write in the areas of fantasy and soft science fiction, although almost all the stories have a slight touch of romance. I have written and published a couple of romantic short stories as well as a couple of light horror stories. I probably prefer fantasy above all of them. Sometimes I think I would be better off writing romance, especially when I meet so many romance writers who seem to be quite successful. But since I don’t enjoy reading romance, I would find it difficult to write it. I am usually reading at least one fantasy book, so I guess that’s why I enjoy writing it. I think the best way to relax is to suspend disbelief for awhile and get lost in another world. In many ways, the reader needs to do that to enjoy Ghost for Rent. I enjoy being versatile in my writing and often play around with different genres, but if I don’t like where the story is going, I usually don’t finish it. I worked in a district attorney’s office for many years before I retired, so who knows, maybe there’s a detective story in me somewhere – but of course, it would have to be a witch or vampire who solves the crime!