Reading is about more than following a narrative or learning facts; it can also be a profound shared experience that culminates in a better understanding of ourselves and each other. In that spirit, welcome to the Westword Book Club, a weekly feature celebrating the books that inspire Denver artists.
Peg Brantley is mystery writer and owner of a strange assortment of pets, including foxes, snapping turtles and peacocks. A Colorado native, Brantley discovered her gift for writing after a long corporate career, but has remained admirably prolific since her debut novel, Red Tide, was published in 2012.
Her third book, The Sacrifice, which chronicles one man's quest for revenge against the cartel who murdered his family, was released on October 21. Brantley will be signing books at the Lonetree Library on November 10, and on November 22-24 at the Denver Junior League Holiday Mart. She'll also be discussing publishing at Book Bar on January 11.
Westword caught up with Brantley to discuss how blurbs work, her favorite mystery writers, and how personal adversity prompted her to start writing.
Westword: How long had you been pursuing a writing career before your first novel was published?
Peg Brantley: Oh man. Before I first published, it took me probably about ten years of working, writing, flushing manuscripts down the toilet and paying plumbers until I had a book that I felt like people would want to read, and that was Red Tide, my first novel. It took a long time.
Was that the first manuscript you submitted?
To be published, yes. I'd sent a few things to agents and been rejected. Then, a friend of mine who had been traditionally published for a long time and then found herself in a situation where she needed to sell more books and make more money off of each book sold. So she started her own publishing company for her books. She really was instrumental in encouraging me and making sure I was ready to have a book out there.
So, have you always been interested in crime fiction?
Yes, since when I was a little girl. My mother used to read Agatha Christie and Mary Roberts Rineheart to me as bedtime stories. I grew up on Nancy Drew. I had the entire Nancy Drew collection, every single one of them.
What kind of books did you gravitate towards as you got older?
I actually fell pretty in love with Stephen King. Then I got to the point with him where his books became almost too scary for me to read anymore. I don't know if he got scarier and I got older and wiser, but something happened.
If I had to guess, I'd say you got wiser. I'd imagine your perspective on Stephen King's books would change as a parent. There's a lot of children in peril in Stephen King books.
See, I don't mind children in peril, but don't put a dog in peril. No animals will come to any harm in my books.
I'm the same way. So, was Cujo your deal-breaker then?
Yeah, I think that was probably one of the last King books I read.
Who do you read these days?
Now I enjoy Michael Connelly, he's probably right at the top of my list. Timothy Hallinan is another writer I really enjoy. He's endorsed my books, including the new one, The Sacrifice. The Queen of Patpong, which is the fourth book in his Poke Rafferty series, was nominated for an Edgar award, which is like an Oscar for mystery writers. It's cool that he likes my books and was willing to endorse them.
How does that whole process work? Soliciting blurbs for the dust jacket?
It sucks. Here's how I think it works, first of all, part of it is just being courageous enough to ask. You can ask whoever you want. You may not get a response from them, they may tell you something that's obviously not true, but you need to have the courage to ask. The way that I got Tim, I believe, and Dennis Palumbo (who writes psychological thrillers) to blurb for me was by getting to know them a bit first. I supported them in what way I could, in writers' groups and on social networks, I did the best I could in terms of getting the word out for them. So, when I asked them to blurb, they were more than willing to give me something back. I don't think you can ask someone to help you out if you're not willing to help them first. Also, if they didn't like it, they wouldn't blurb it, and that's the deal that you make.
Were there any books about writing that you found particularly helpful when you were getting started?
Oh yes. I love The Artist's Way.
A lot of people bring up that book. From different mediums too.
It's one of my favorites, I've been thinking about how I need to work through it again. It's helpful for everybody, whether you're creative or in business. Another one I like is Write Away by Elizabeth George. That book made me feel like for once I was reading somebody who had a process that mirrored what felt comfortable for me. There were some really important affirmations for me in there. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott, --who I love-- is another great book about writing that I'd recommend to anybody.
On your website it says that you worked at corporation for most of your career before you started writing. When did you decide that writing was a dream that you couldn't ignore any longer?
I started working in corporate America when I was literally 19. I got my own place and kept having bills to pay, so I kept working. I started writing probably about 10 or 11 years ago when my bonus son had a stroke. He was 39 years old and he had to move back home for rehabilitation. I was running a business that just caved because I spent so much time looking after him. So after about a year and a half and I thought "you know what? I've always wanted to write a book. Let's get this done." I did not realize --thought I'd always read a lot-- that writing a books was not as easy as I thought it would be. I thought I would be the next undiscovered Dean Koontz, that publishers would ask "where have you been all this time?" Wrong. Really wrong. They weren't just waiting for me. So, it was a very sad event that kicked off my writing, but if it hadn't happened that way, I probably wouldn't be doing what I love.
I imagine he's proud. Does he like your books?
He is proud, but he does have trouble reading, so I'm really excited because the audiobook version of The Missings should be coming out before Christmas. I'm going through ACX, which is part of audible.com. My granddaughter chose the narrator, and I've heard the first 15 minutes, which sound great so far.
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Follow Byron Graham on twitter @ByronFGstrong> for more mildly amusing sequences of words.