Penelope Przekop Interview
Posted by Michelle on July 2, 2008
Penelope Przekop has just published her first work of fiction, Aberrations and has already published a non-fiction book, Six Sigma for Business Excellence.
Q: What did you do before you started writing?
A: Before I began writing, I went through the birth process, and then spent time learning to read and write. In all seriousness, I’ve been writing my entire life, but I began writing novels when I was about twenty-four. Over the last eighteen years, I’ve written two novels and a non-fiction book while working in the pharmaceutical industry. Most recently, I was a Director at Johnson & Johnson with a focus on quality management and compliance. I have a BS degree in Biology and an MS degree in Quality Assurance/Systems.
Q: Have you always wanted to write fiction?
A: Yes, I used to write short stories as a kid. Once I was about twelve, I focused on poetry and intense journal writing. Interestingly, my years of poetry and journal writing were critical to developing my literary voice. I actually had a few poems published as a teenager. The day I wrote my first prose, I took out a poem and transformed it into prose. That was my start.
Q: Where did you get the inspiration to write Aberrations?
A: My inspiration came from my own need for mother, as well as my interest as a young adult in understanding how the choices I’d made up to that point had shaped my life. I also felt compelled to write about the South, and my own experience becoming pregnant as an unwed college senior. Of course, Aberrations is fiction but there are bits and pieces of my own story hidden between the lines.
Q: Is Angel, your heroine, modeled after yourself at all, or after someone you know?
A: Angel is a mix of specific aspects of myself and my imagination. Her struggle with narcolepsy and her intense need for her mother were a great avenue to channel some of my own conflicts. Of course, like many people, I’m an extremely complex individual. This enables me to be both the same but separate from Angel. There is a part of me in every character I create. I think that’s how, as a writer, you make them real. I believe that if you continuously strive to know yourself inside and out— all aspects of yourself, all your emotions, and all your experiences— you can use that knowledge to best understand others, their motivation, and their behaviors.
Q: How long did it take you to write Aberrations?
A: I wrote about 75% of the first draft in about a year back in 1998-99. Then I spent the next eight years or so writing the last 25% and editing. During that time, I set it aside for a three-year period to complete my MS degree. Then at another point, I set it aside for about a year to write, Six Sigma for Business Excellence (McGraw-Hill). It worked out well because I was struggling with the ending for awhile. Once I picked it back up after finishing the McGraw-Hill book, I knew what I wanted to do with the ending. I finished the last 25% and started the long process of finding an agent. Keep in mind that during this entire time period, I was working full time. I also had a baby in 1999 so that also slowed me down for awhile.
Q: What was the publishing process like? How long did it take you to find a publisher?
A: For Aberrations, it took about a year to find and sign with a good agent. However, soon after he began pitching the novel, he decided to take a position with a large entertainment law firm and leave his agent work behind. I was quite discouraged because I’d had a similar experience with my first (yet to be published) novel. My agent (back around 1997) had passed away shortly after beginning to pitch the book. She had no back-up, which left me to start all over again. I began writing Aberrations soon after that.
After my Aberrations agent was out of the picture, I decided to self-publish, something I never thought I’d consider. I’m so glad now that I did because doing so led me in a convoluted way to my current publisher. After the book was released as a self-published novel, it was picked up by Greenleaf Book Group. They have a unique model that keeps authors highly engaged in the publishing process so it’s been great!
Q: Is your family supportive of your writing career?
A: Yes, I’m lucky that my husband is somewhat of a renaissance man. Over the years, he’s managed his own high-pressure career, done the laundry, cooked, etc., so that I could focus on my career and my writing. Of course, we both parent our children. I do all the running. We have a pretty good system, but like everyone, we struggle with trying to do it all. My parents are great in that they seem to understand who I am and that I need to write. They are both brave people who realize my unique experiences growing up have super-fueled my creativity, and they don’t try to stop that process. That’s love.
Q: What do you like best about writing?
A: I love how writing allows me to express myself in a way that I often can’t verbally. I have good social skills; however, there are strong internal aspects of myself that, for some reason, have never quite fit with the various facets of the external picture I seem to create with my verbal communication, appearance, mannerisms, etc. There is a disconnect, a gap, that writing fills for me, and the part that comes out in the writing is the part of me I love the most, and want to be and express. I never want to lose that; I want to continue exploring it and perfecting it, but I also hope to find other ways to fill that gap.
Q: Do you enjoy the promotional side of writing, such as public appearances and interviews?
A: Yes. Of course this side is just beginning for me with regard to Aberrations. I’ve spoken at many conferences on topics related to my nonfiction book, Six Sigma for Business Excellence. I highly enjoy public speaking and hope to do more of it. I had my first radio interview a couple of weeks ago. It was a great experience and I’m looking forward to the other radio interviews that are coming up this month. I actually thought it would be fun to have my own radio show! That’s not likely to happen but I thought it would be cool to have a talk radio show based on my blog, Aberration Nation. I could interview people about their aberrations, and we could talk about how they’ve impacted their lives. Ok, maybe I’m getting carried away; not sure my voice is right for radio work! People often think I’m a kid when they get me on the phone.
Q: What has been the best moment for you since your book was accepted for publication?
A: There have been several high points so far. The day I got the call from Greenleaf was quite exciting. The day I went to NYC to have lunch with my publicist was an incredible experience. Lastly, reading all the recent reviews has absolutely taken my breath away! Your review, in particular, got me pumped up. I danced around the house with my 8-year-old. We screamed like Mary Murphy on So You Think You Can Dance, and yelled, “She’s on the hot tamale train!”
Q: Are you writing anything new, or are you planning a new book?
A: Yes! I’m so excited about it and can’t wait to get further into it. Right now I’m doing a little editing on my first, unpublished novel, currently titled, Jesus Wept. (Publishers often change titles.) If all goes well, Jesus Wept will be the next one on the shelves. Like Aberrations, it also includes numerous themes. It delves into the intense conflicts that can result from growing up in the Bible Belt while trying to relate to the tough realities of life. It’s not a religious novel but rather one that takes an honest look at the complex role that fundamentalist religion, in particular, can play as we struggle to find a reality we can believe in and embrace as young adults—which is what we all go through in some form or another. So, my third novel is the brand new one that I’m currently planning. I don’t have a title yet but I’ve completed the majority of the research and will soon be at it full speed. I don’t want to say too much about it since it’s in such an early stage. I can tell you that there will be a southern character in New York City, and it will compare and contrast current corporate politics with the ideals of Ellis Island while packing in numerous universal themes. I’m excited about blending my southern background and my own corporate experience to tackle this one.
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