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Kim Tomsic

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Fast Five: An Interview with Author Richard Peck

Fast Five with Richard Peck

by Kim Tomsic

It’s no secret I have been a longtime fan of Richard Peck—the author, the word wizard, the genius. Imagine my joy when the man who has been the single biggest influence in my writing career agreed to a phone interview! Here's how it went:

KT— As you know, I’m your biggest fan. In 2009, I decided to pursue a writing career, because I ran out of your books, and I craved more Richard Peck style tales to read to my son.  What/who influenced you to become a writer?
Answer: “Mark Twain.” When Peck was in fourth grade, his teacher gave him a copy of ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Peck “knew that’s where [he] wanted to be.” Furthermore, Mark Twain was from his part of the country, Decatur Illinois, and seeing someone who was like him and from his area helped paint the possibility of becoming an author in young Richard’s mind. He wanted to be “words on the page,” and yet he waited—he studied literature, became a teacher, and when was 37 years old he wrote his first book. Why?  "To fill a need." He couldn’t find a book to satisfy the needs of his high school students (a contemporary story that reflected them), and so in 1971 he wrote DON’T LOOK AND IT WON’T HURT (it was later turned into a movie called Gas/Food/Lodging.)

KT—Mr. Peck, you possess the magical ability to write humor and heart in a story—I’m laughing, I’m crying, I’m buying your books for my friends. Your characters are real and fleshed out, so here’s my FREAKY FRIDAY question:  If you had to switch places for a weekend with one of your characters, who would it be and why?
With an air of whimsy, Mr. Peck said he would be Joey from A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO, because Joey’s Grandma Dowdel is the grandma he always wishes he’d had. Very much like grandma Dowdel, Peck’s own grandma was six-foot plus, with a shock of white hair, and she wore Lane Bryant dresses. But unlike his own grandmother, Grandma Dowdel was nice. He said, “When we write as authors we don't write about our family, we write about the family we might have had.”

KT—At an event where I heard you speak, you talked about “first chapters” and how you rewrite your first chapter many times and still again after you’ve completed your manuscript. My biggest take-away was your statement, “The first page of a book is a promise to the reader.” You also said, “The first page is the last page in disguise.” What other elements do you believe make a successful first page?
Mr. Peck said authors often start in the wrong place. We need to find a place “to start nearer to the action. Hit the ground running. Don't start too early and don't wander around.” He also said, “The first page is the table of contents for your story. It has every element of the book; the reader just doesn't know it yet.”

KT—HABITS:  I look forward to reading your newest upper grade novel THE BEST MAN (Dial Books, September 20, 2016). First, I must know--did you write it on your electric typewriter?

RP: “Yes! I have to feel that page in my hands.” 

KT—Awesome. I remember hearing you say you type out your first page, pull out the paper, write notes all over it, and then when you can’t find any additional writing space (or you can no longer read your own writing) you start over—and you do this at least six times! Then when you get to the end of your manuscript, you return to the first page and write it again from scratch. What other writing habits do you have?
 Mr. Peck says that after he’s rewritten the first chapter six times and rewrites the tightest first page possible, he forces himself to remove twenty words from his first page. Twenty words, people!  The aspect Peck loves most about writing is dialogue. He says "A novel is conversation overheard.” His method for making dialogue lively is practicing his dialogue away from his desk. He also practices it standing up! He rehearses the lines and then acts them out with full movement,as if he’s in a play. If something strikes him, he rushes to his desk, types it on his IBM Selectric, and then his one-man show continues until the dialogue is electrified and alive.

KT—INSIDER INFORMATION: What is a little-known fact about you?
little-known fact is that Richard Peck was a soldier during the war. Because he could type like the wind, he was assigned to be the chaplain’s assistant and part of his job as the chaplain’s assistant was to interview American soldiers who wanted to marry German brides. In the course of the interviews he would get to know the bride and groom and was often asked to serve as best man. The groom always buys the best man a present, so at the end of the war, Richard Peck was probably the only soldier who came home with 37 pairs of new cuff links!

Meet Richard Peck! 

Richard Peck will be a keynote speaker at the RMC SCBWI Letters and Lines Fall Conference September 17-19, 2016. He will also do a reading and signing of his latest book THE BEST MAN (Dial Books, September 2016) at Tattered Cover in Denver on September 20, 2016. THE BEST MAN has received a starred review from Kirkus, from Publisher's Weekly, from the Horn Book and others!

ABOUT THE BEST MAN from  the Penguine Random House website:
Newbery Medalist Richard Peck tells a story of small-town life, gay marriage, and everyday heroes in this novel for fans of Gary Schmidt and Jack Gantos

Archer Magill has spent a lively five years of grade school with one eye out in search of grown-up role models. Three of the best are his grandpa, the great architect; his dad, the great vintage car customizer; and his uncle Paul, who is just plain great. These are the three he wants to be. Along the way he finds a fourth—Mr. McLeod, a teacher. In fact, the first male teacher in the history of the school.

But now here comes middle school and puberty. Change. Archer wonders how much change has to happen before his voice does. He doesn’t see too far ahead, so every day or so a startling revelation breaks over him. Then a really big one when he’s the best man at the wedding of two of his role models. But that gets ahead of the story.

In pages that ripple with laughter, there’s a teardrop here and there. And more than a few insights about the bewildering world of adults, made by a boy on his way to being the best man he can be.
Published by Dial Books
Sep 20, 2016 | 240 Pages | 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 | Middle Grade (8-12)| ISBN 9780803738393

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