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Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Moonlight Shines on Penelope Przekop, author of Aberrations

Thank you for taking the time to interview with us! Penelope Przekop’s newest release is Aberrations. Her full length mainstream literary novel became available in paperback in July of 2008. Since its release, it has gained a strong grass roots following, and has received a bucket-load of excellent and exciting reviews. In early 2009, it was voted a Book Blogger Top Ten of 2008!

When/how did you know you wanted to write?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t absolutely and oddly in love with words and books. The first creative thing I remember writing on my own was a long list of names that became my imaginary children. I must have been about six. When I played house, I referred to the list as I spoke to all my children. I was like Ma Kettle. For some reason, I love making up names and imagining what each one would be like. I idolized writers and knew that I wanted to be one by the time I was about ten. I’ve been working toward that goal ever since.

How long did it take you to become published?

My first book, Six Sigma for Business Excellence, was published by McGraw-Hill in 2006. My writing path has been a bit like a roller coaster. I had been trying for years to get my first novel published, when an editor from McGraw-Hill called me out of the blue to ask if I’d ever considered writing a book. She just happened to read an abstract I wrote for an upcoming speaking engagement related to my work in the pharmaceutical industry. My novel, Aberrations, was subsequently published by Greenleaf Book Group last summer.

How long does it usually take for you to research a book? Write the book?

I’ve written four books, and the research for each has ranged from four to six months. I took five years to write the entire draft of my first novel (not yet published). The draft of my second novel, Aberrations, took about three years. However, I worked on perfecting both of these books for over ten years. I wrote the McGraw-Hill book in nine months, and I’ve written my third novel over a nine month period. (I actually have four more chapters to go but am on schedule.)

Is there any character in your books that you can really relate to?

I can relate to every character in my books, no matter how small a role they play. I can’t imagine creating a character that I can’t personally relate to. How would that work?

What advice do you give to those who are just starting out or trying to become published?

There’s a lot I could say ... I think it’s important to understand the long-term dedication it requires. I believe you have to love it and want it so fiercely that even knowing the incredible odds against you, you literally can’t give up. It’s critical to know who you are, and let that come out in your writing. All my years of writing helped me understand who I am. Until that point of more mature recognition, I don’t believe my writing was ready for publication.

Where do your story ideas come from? Do you use people you know as characters sometimes or even sometimes a certain event from real life happenings?

My primary characters are created from a mix of people I’ve known and from my imagination. I’ve never based a character solely on one person. I have used real life experiences in my writing. Things creep in all the time but it all becomes mashed up, twisted, squeezed, and pulled in new directions.

You just recently were published. How does it make you feel?

I was thrilled with Aberrations was released by Greenleaf Book Group last summer! On the day it was released, I wrote about it in my blog, Aberration Nation:

Getting back to your books coming out soon. Tell us a little about what to expect from them.

Here’s some of what’s being said about Aberrations:

Small Press Bookwatch says Aberrations is ... deftly written ... very edgy ... engaging ... insightful ... and fascinating! 5 Stars!

Aberrations is a novel filled with gorgeous imagery, quirky characters and deep storytelling. It will stay with you long after you turn the final page! Melissa Walker, Journalist and Acclaimed YA Author

"A marvelous and unique coming of age story, Penelope Przekop's Aberrations is the story of Angel Duet as she discovers who she is and how she can find the missing pieces of herself. It is a book about discovering who you are to yourself, and not what others want you to be, about accepting all the bits that make you who you are and about finding unconditional love, even if it isn't necessarily where you thought it would come from." 5 Stars! - from my bookshelf...

Detroit Metro Times says, "Never was a title so apt in correlation to a novel’s theme than Penelope Przekop’s debut Aberrations ... heavy stuff ..."

When and where can we purchase Aberrations?

Aberrations has inconsistent availability in bookstores due to its association with a small publisher. It’s best to call the bookstore first to ask if they have it stocked. If they don’t, they can likely order it. Of course, you can always order it on Amazon.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk, and I’m reading The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon. My reading recently slowed as I headed into finishing the last four chapters of my new novel. I’ll likely finish Chabon’s novel after I finish mine.

Are there any authors (living or dead) that you would name as influences?

Of course! I have a long list so I’ll name a few (in no particular order): Chuck Palahniuk, James Michener, Pat Conroy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ian McEwan, Caroline Keene, John Irving, Anne Tyler, Nathanial Hawthorn, Dave Eggers, and Robert Ludlum.

What was the book that most influenced your life — and why?

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I had to read it in a college literature class. I thought I was going to hate it but it turned out to be the most powerful reading experience I’ve ever had. After reading Crime and Punishment, I absolutely knew that I not only wanted to be a writer, but I wanted to write something meaningful and timeless.

If you had a book club, what would it be reading — and why?

Probably one of Chabon’s books; I’m very into him at the moment. I fell in love with him and his writing while reading his new book, Maps and Legends.

What are your favorite books to give — and get — as gifts?

Well, I love giving bookstore gift certifications to the readers in my life. At the moment, I think Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers is a great book to give as a gift. That’s one I think everyone should read! I once gave my husband a book about ghost stories in the Philadelphia area because he loves scary stuff, and he doesn’t read fiction too often. Usually, if I give a book, it has some significance for the person, particularly if they’re not an avid fiction reader. I love getting any book as a gift!

Give us three "Good to Know" facts about you.

For this, I’ve decided to share three of the “Random Facts about Me” from Facebook. Feel free to send me a friend request on Facebook. Once we’re Facebook friends, you can check out the full list.

1) When I was 22, I had a child 'on my own.' My husband adopted her when she was six. Because of that experience, I have an enhanced understanding of how love and family are created.

2) I worked as a runway model and a cocktail waitress, among other things, during college. I was not a good cocktail waitress. I walked out one busy night around mid-night and said that I wasn't coming back. I also left a modeling gig when I was 18 because I got scared--long story.

3) My husband has diagnosed me with something called, TDD. It stands for Temporary Disorganization Disorder. (He made it up.) Although I’m highly organized in many ways, I can’t seem to consistently keep my surroundings organized by normal standards. I make piles everywhere, and never want to take all the steps to completely put things back where they belong. It's because in my head, I'm on to the next thing.

What else do you want your readers to know?

I began painting in January of 2008 and love it! I had an odd urge to paint for several years before I finally picked up a paintbrush. I’ve never been able to draw well so I’ve surprised myself! I can actually paint decent pictures! It’s opened up a whole new creative piece of me, and has enhanced my writing as well. My new book also happens to involve Vincent and Theo van Gogh so it’s been interesting to paint and write the novel.

What are your experiences with publishers and agents?

I’ve had three agents over the years. The first one passed away before selling any of my work. The second one decided to leave agent work behind and take a position with a large entertainment law firm. The third one is a charm! I’ve literally spent years just trying to find a good agent. It seems to be the toughest step in the process considering that actually writing a book is an internally driven activity, and that once you’ve landed a great agent, you have a champion on your side when it comes to finding a publisher. I’m betting that a lot of writers give up during the agent-seeking phase.

What will the role of the Internet play in the future of publishing?

I’m not an Internet expert but I’m guessing it will play a critical role, particularly with regard to marketing and sales. People who love to read and learn new things are going to be on the Internet. Writers should be there as well.

What's your next project?

Well, Aberrations still feels new to me, especially because my agent is busy working to sell it to an A-list publisher. This would give the book expanded distribution and open new doors in terms of marketing. Meanwhile, I’m nearing completion of a new novel. My agent will likely begin pitching it at the end of the summer. Here’s a special never before shared sneak peak as to what it’s about:

C e n t e r p i e c e s
A Novel by Penelope Przekop

Vincent van Gogh fakes his own death.
Ellis Spencer longs to paint.
Holly Carter conceals a famous lineage.
Theo van Gogh gains his health but loses the woman he loves.
Mimi Calais says she’s a vampire.
Tom Spencer hatches a plan.

Overshadowed by the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, secrets converge in 2010 Greenwich Village, New York amidst a bizarre bookstore, strip clubs, art galleries, brownstones, and Starbucks ad nauseam. Two sets of extraordinary brothers and two very different women struggle to carve out unique identities in a world where middle age is the beginning of the end, and forever takes on a whole new meaning. Where corporate puppets and dreaming immigrants pass in the hallowed burning halls of Ellis Island. Join Vincent van Gogh in a journey of self-discovery, friendship, betrayal, fantasy, corporate intrigue, and love. Find out who will finally live and who will finally die.

Find out what you are living for ...

Why did you choose your genre?

I never thought about what genre I would focus on. Instead I went straight to the heart of what I wanted to express.

Have you ever gotten to a point where a story wouldn't come? If so, how did you get back on track?

For the most part, I don’t experience writer’s block of any kind of regular basis; however, I got stuck when writing Aberrations because I couldn’t decide how I wanted it to end. I eventually put the novel aside for three years while I worked on a Master’s Degree. By the time I finished the degree, had another baby, and wrote the McGraw-Hill book, I figured out the ending. Once I picked it back up, I quickly finished the last six or seven chapters.

What do you think is the most important characteristic of a prolific writer?


If you could choose one thing to be remembered by, what would it be?

Not sure about this ... I can say that when my grandmother died, it was amazing how many people remembered her as incredibly selfless. That would be a great way to be remembered, but I’m not sure if I’ll make the cut.

How do you come up with original story lines?

I tend to throw a bunch of unrelated things that interest me together. I enjoy finding creative ways to pull unrelated topics together to create a story.

Some authors start out with a plot in mind, others with characters whom they’ll follow to reveal the theme. What works best for you and why?

I start with a topic that I care deeply about. For me, writing is about expressing and exploring how I feel about various issues. I need to pick topics that hold significant mystery for me to feel passionate about what I’m doing. Once I decide on a topic, I toss all those unrelated things together with it, and start building characters and events.

Do you use a pseudonym?

(use my real name)

Many writers have had success writing in different genres. Do you think it is difficult to switch over to another genre?

I think it would depend on the writer and what type of skill set they have. Just like on American Idol, there are some rare vocalists who can sing anything put in front of them, and then there are others who are phenomenal at one type of music but not so good at others.

When did you start writing?

I wrote all kinds of things growing up--with the dream of one day writing a great novel. When I was about 25, I considered going to grad school but couldn’t figure out what I wanted to study. I finally decided that instead of spending my time in a graduate program, I would write a novel. I finished my first novel five years later.

Where did you receive your most valuable lessons in becoming a writer?

In the pages of all the books I read growing up. Also, some of the things I went through as a child and young adult instilled in me a never-give-up attitude that has kept me going as a writer.

Do you belong to a critique group or have a critique partner? Which do you prefer?

No, I’ve never been crazy about critique groups. I went to a few early on and wasn’t impressed. I think they can be dangerous unless you’re absolutely sure you have the right group ... and how can you be sure?

Would you recommend critique groups to other writers? If so, what elements, in your opinion, make a successful writer’s group?

They should all be Pulitzer Prize winners. If you can’t find that particular group, read all their books instead.

Do you ever look back and think, "I wish I had written this differently?"

Yes, just about every day. I constantly edit my writing. It seems like I’m never satisfied. I have a difficult time saying that I’m finished.

Is writing your full time job or do you have another job also?

In January of 2008, I left a full-time career as a Global Director at Johnson & Johnson to focus on my creative endeavors. Now I consult within the pharmaceutical industry two to four days a week. Considering how many hours a week I work, I now qualify as a full-time author and artist.

How important is it to attend writing conferences?

I’ve only attended one writing conference and it was focused on nonfiction. I don’t think it’s critical but I’m sure some are helpful. I’ve never had time to attend conferences. Some day I’d love to go to the Maui Writer’s Conference.

Do you write more than one kind of book? Do you have a preference? Is one type of book easier to write than another?

I enjoy writing fiction and non-fiction but fiction is my love. For me, non-fiction is easier. It’s like writing a gigantic college term paper as opposed to creating something from nothing. With that said, my goal is to be a successful novelist. At the moment my non-fiction works is primarily with my blog, Aberration Nation. I hope everyone will visit. Aside from that, I have two non-fiction proposals with my agent, too. I’m building a great pipeline so hopefully you’ll see more fiction and nonfiction from me in the future.

What kinds of books do you like to read? Who is your favorite author?

I read all kinds of books, both fiction and nonfiction. I don’t have one favorite author. Some of my favorites were listed as my influences above. My absolute favorite book is The Scarlett Letter by Nathanial Hawthorn. It’s timeless relevance and depth of human emotion blows me away. I’d love to one day write a book like that!

What do you do to unwind in your free time?

Here’s a list of some of the things I do to unwind:

  • Go biking with my nine-year-old daughter
  • Drink Martini’s and watching a movies with my hubby (who is a great bartender)
  • Relax and watch our daughter frolic in the pool with her friends
  • Go camping
  • Yoga (just started this and love it)
  • Read! Read! Read!
If you would like to learn more about Penelope, here are her links again:


Thank you for visiting with us, Penelope. We hope you enjoyed your stay here. ~ The Moonlighters

6 Moonbeams (comments):

Molly Daniels said...

I love Michenor and Irving!

Great interview!

Margay Leah Justice said...

Thank you so much for blogging wit us today, Penelope. I hope our readers will take a moment to visit your blog for some thought-provoking articles and interesting artwork.

Gracen Miller said...

Thanks for blogging with us Penelope! It was a pleasure and an honor to have you with us!

Anonymous said...

Penelope, I copied and pasted the blog link, but it came up 'blog not found.' Would you re-post it please?

Got both books on the TBB list!

Molly (who's too lazy to sign back in!)

Anonymous said...

Never worked the second time!

Molly (see? Told you I'm feeling lazy today!)

Sheila Deeth said...

Fascinating interview. Thanks.

I used to make up lists of names for imaginary kids too. I'm glad my real family wasn't as huge as my imaginary one.