Peggy M. McAloon is a retired speaker, trainer, and national sales manager in the field of commercial credit. She has also been extremely active in protecting our water resources, winning the National Daughters of the American Revolution Conservation Award in 2013. She has been interviewed by the Associated Press, numerous television stations, and magazines about toxins in our waters and runoff issues.
As an author, Peggy has been featured on numerous interviews (see http://peggymcaloon.com/books for links) in her efforts to empower kids in trouble to seek help and inspire others to help through fantasy. In her words, “I want to live in a world where children are protected from the social injustices that plagued my generation.” Her own journey through childhood abuse and a disabling accident provided a foundation to connect with kids through storytelling. She urges parents to download the parental discussion sheet found under the above tab to use as a basis of book discussion with their children, using the characters to discuss issues kids everywhere face today.
When she’s not writing, you can find her at the School of the Arts or by Tainter Lake in Dunn County, WI, creating watercolor paintings, reading, and playing with her grandchildren and two Shih Tzu rescue pups.
She is now working on the second book in the Elle Burton, “Lessons from Fiori” Series, Missing.
What is your writing process? Do you follow a regular routine or do you have any weird, funny, or unusual habits while writing and what are they?
I used to do a seminar for business people on biorhythms. This is considered speculative science, but many believe there is a spike in energy and creativity that occurs on a 12 hour cycle. I find I am most productive from 11 to 2. I can produce twice the number of words during that time period than I can if I write from 8am to 4pm. I write from 11 to 2 twice a day and do other chores outside of those hours.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what do you do about it?
I haven’t had a problem with writer’s block. All I have to do is page through the thousands of pictures I’ve taken and placed inspirational quotes on. It doesn’t take long to find inspiration in the words and pictures.
What is the single most important piece of advice for aspiring authors?
Join author groups long before you have your first book ready to publish. Don’t wait until it’s finished to seek advice from others who have already had successes and failures. They will be able to answer most of your questions and will hopefully prevent you from making some of the most common mistakes new authors make.
What are your current/future projects?
The second book in the “Lessons from Fiori” series with Elle Burton is in final edits (delayed due to a fall in London last fall). A new mystery series about an investigative reporter from Des Moines is in the first round of edits, and the third book in the “Lessons from Fiori” series is a work in progress.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
I have always loved both fantasy and mystery. Fantasy seemed to be the best choice when it came to inspiring children to be kind and to empower them to stand up to bullying and abuse. My goal is to entertain children through fantasy in a way which will encourage them to be more aware of the social injustices children face every day. As a victim of both bullying and abuse, I wanted to try a different tactic to help children stand up to the social injustices that plague so many. I worked with a child counselor who developed a two-page discussion sheet parents can use to discuss these issues. It uses the characters in the book to make the discussions less frightening. There are still more than six million cases of abuse reported in the U.S. each year. We need to encourage those children to find someone to help and fantasy is a genre that can be less intimidating that other methods.
What do you think is the future for independent authors and do you think it will continue to be easy for anyone to be a published author?
The entire field of publishing is changing and I believe it will continue to do so. My biggest frustration is the number of books being published without adequate editing and the multitude of self-help books utilizing public domain information which is repackaged over and over again. I doubt this will change in a digital world. We all need to make an effort to publish quality work and take pride in our finished projects.
Are you traditional or self-published, and what process did you go through to get your book published?
I consider myself to be self-published. I chose a small publishing company but kept all rights to my book. They provided the editing resources and together we developed the original cover for the first book. I spent a great deal of money on editing, setup, and everything else that goes into bringing a book to the public. I regret the fact that I didn’t understand the contract language and discovered too late that the book would not be in bookstores or in libraries. The second book in the series will be published through other resources available to the self-published author.
Have you ever changed a title, book cover, or even the content of your book after it was published? What was that process like?
I do have a new cover for the first book, but it is only being used on the Audible platform. I have 100% control of the audio book, but the eBook and softcover change requires the involvement of the publisher. The charge from the publisher to switch to the new cover was quoted at $500. I’ve spent over $15,000 to bring that book to publication. Currently I’m not prepared to spend any additional money on the first book.
What opportunities have being an author presented you with and share those memories? (i.e. travel, friends, events, speaking, etc..)
I have a long history of speaking in the Twin Cities. I have had a few opportunities to speak since writing the first Elle book, but I expect those to increase after the publication of the second book in the series. Again, an injury in London shortly after the book was published changed everything in the first year.
What are your marketing, advertising, promotion strategies and which one(s) have worked the best for you? If you had to share your most valuable promotion tip, what would that be?
Facebook has been the most effective advertising tool so far. Even though the book falls in the fantasy realm, it has been incredibly popular with women who were abused as children. My background in abuse has provided an engaged following and healing for many who have never discussed their own abuse until after reading the book. It was written for children, so the adults who have fallen in love with it came as a huge surprise. I think my tip would then be to write about those things you are very familiar with to bring a level of honesty and realism to your work.
What field or genre would you classify your book(s) and what attracted you to write in that field or genre?
The only comfort I found as an abused child was in the books I read. I could be anyone and live anywhere in the world. I could sail down the Mississippi with Huck & Tom or I could talk to a spider in a barn. The books from the library was where this small child found safety and love. This is what I have chosen as a way to provide inspiration and safety for the children I’m writing for.
What do you do if inspiration strikes in an inconvenient place like (car, restaurant, bathroom/shower, etc..) and how do you capture that moment before it gets away from you?
I have filled so many notebooks it’s beginning to become difficult to find all the notes. Sometimes I simply call my voicemail and leave a verbal message. It all depends on what’s available at the time.
Do you have a target amount of words/pages for each of your books or do you just know when enough is enough?
I try to target 70,000 to 98,000 words, but I’m not married to those numbers. I have a current project which will probably fall into the novella category.
How do you think you have evolved as a person/author because of your writing and do you believe your writing has helped others, how/why?
I no longer hesitate to talk about my childhood abuse. I finally came to realize no seven year-old child can possibly do anything to warrant what happened to me. I’m constantly humbled by the women who admit to me the same thing happened to them after reading the Elle book. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to tell your story for the first time. It is also one of the most empowering moments anyone can experience. I’m so grateful for the inspiration and guidance that brought Elle to the public.
How much influence do you believe a title, cover, content, page numbers have in purchasing decisions of potential buyers/readers?
My first book was a reference guide for people in the field of commercial credit. I decided to title it “The Art of Business Credit Investigation.” The title explained what the book was about, as did the cover. I’m afraid the cover of the Elle book and the title made it difficult for buyers to understand fully what the book was about. When I published it, I didn’t have a support group to help me with suggestions. The cover and title are critical in the purchasing decision, but content is king. If the content is lacking, the book will not receive positive reviews and that will kill it faster than anything.
Do you believe there is value in a Press Release, have you used any press release service, and what have your experiences been?
Absolutely! I took a class from Sandra Beckwith in order to make sure my press release was as good as it could be. The result was a nice spike in sales after it was released. Again, my background was in business. Writing a novel was a new experience. I discovered after I chose a firm to handle the press release that their niche was business. Subconsciously that may be why I picked them, but a fantasy for kids should have been presented to parenting magazines, so that was a huge mistake on my part.
Do you believe there is value in a review? Do you believe they are under rated, over rated, or don’t matter at all?
Reviews are critical to the success of a book. I regret that I didn’t realize how important they are to writers over the years since the Amazon has become such a huge player. I review everything I read now, and I hope others will make it a habit also.
What are your thoughts on authors doing review swaps, paying for reviews, or reviews that just don’t seem right for the book?
I haven’t ever asked anyone for a review of my book when I review theirs. I personally don’t believe in paying for a review either. We owe the readers a certain level of integrity in everything we do or we will destroy their trust in indie authors.
Do you believe there are competitors or general readers out to sabotage authors with bad reviews and what are your experiences with this?
I’ve seen some examples of this, but I haven’t experienced it myself. The world is filled with both good and not so good people. I have difficulty understanding how anyone can be mean-spirited, and yet there are people like that who affect every industry. It’s not something that only affects the publishing industry. I recently heard from an author who received one star from someone who didn’t even read the book. They trashed it because it wasn’t what they expected. Something like that should be required to go through a review process. If you don’t read a book, you really don’t have a right to give it a bad review.
Have you ever had an interesting, funny, or even bad experience during a live interview, reading, event, or autograph session?
I suffered a traumatic brain injury back in the ’70’s and was told I’d never work again. I used an electronic game to retrain my brain around the damage and eventually returned to a lucrative career in commercial credit. After the Elle book was released, I didn’t realize the fifteen hour days I was putting in and the stress of it all would have such an impact. I started receiving emails asking for pictures to go with interviews I had no memory of even giving. At a book signing, I asked people to print their name on a tablet so I wouldn’t misspell anything. The truth was that I couldn’t remember the names long enough to autograph the books. All the old short-term memory issues returned and I still struggle with it.
With self-publishing being so easy these days, do you believe there is an overabundance of books out there and how do you sort through all the hype or copycats?
Eventually, the hype to get more books out there will fall off simply because it will be difficult to make any money. I still look to others for recommendations and pay close attention to the reviews. Many of the authors I follow are quite famous and I will always buy their next book.
What is your biggest fear about having a book published?
I want to get it right. I want high quality books that have been properly edited and are set up under the highest of standards. I’m nervous there will be ink splotches or the books will fall apart if I pick the wrong supplier. It’s all about quality as far as I’m concerned and I want to make sure anything that has my name on it will be something I’m proud of.
What is the intended audience for you book?
“Elle Burton and the Reflective Portals” is appropriate for children ages 8 and up. As she continues to grow in the series, I expect the story to appeal to young adults.
Give us a fun fact about your book(s)?
I made up a character in the book who is a police woman in Menomonie, WI. I named her Wendy. After the book was published, a local citizen came up to me and asked me if the character was based on the real Officer Wendy. That was probably one of my most embarrassing moments. I would never have used that name if I’d known there was a police woman by that name on the force here. It all boils down to “do your research”!
If you had the chance to get one message out there to reach readers all over the world, what would that message be?
Start the conversations about abuse so we can begin to reduce the numbers of children hurt every year. Parents need to ask one question, “Has anyone hurt you?”
Do you find it easier to connect with your readers with the advances in technology we have today like social media? What platform do you prefer, and why?
Absolutely! Back in the ’70’s, I put together sales flyers and a cover letter. Then I went to the library to research the financial leader of the largest corporations in the U.S. That was the cheapest form of advertising I could come up with. Inc. Magazine ended up publishing a great testimonial that I wasn’t expecting and the book took off. With the novel, I have found most of the parents who will purchase it for their children are on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I do use Linkedin, but Facebook has triggered the highest number of purchases to date.
What makes a good story, why?
I would guess we all have our own idea of what constitutes a good story. I typically don’t read romance novels, and yet others love them as evidenced by the high sales numbers. A good story will keep the reader engaged from beginning to end. A good story is one the reader doesn’t want to put down until it’s finished, begging for a sequel.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning? Do you have any name choosing resources you recommend?
I love the discussions in the author groups when authors are trying to think of a name for a certain character. I had one character I named for a dear friend in Mississippi who was still working in the soup kitchen there when she was 105. I had her permission to do so, and she had a copy of the book before it was released. Otherwise, I simply made up the names. The characters from the dimension of Fiori were the most fun as I did make up some of the names.
Do you read your reviews? Do you respond to them, good or bad? Do you have any advice on how to deal with the bad?
I do read my reviews. I try to respond to them if at all possible. I haven’t had an opportunity to deal with a really bad review yet.
What are some events you have attended or participated in that has been a positive experience/influence on/for your writing?
I have worked with children at a women’s shelter doing art projects. (I’m a watercolor artist.) I try to donate the Elle book to women’s shelters as the children there are at higher risk of abuse. My goal is to donate a copy to every women’s shelter in the U.S.
What is the easiest/hardest scene for you to write, why? (Love, action, fight, death, racy, controversial, etc…)
The most difficult scenes for me are death scenes. I become so attached to my characters that I actually grieve for them. I get completely emotionally involved in tragic scenes and sometimes need to take a break from writing before I can get back to the scene. I actually put one book up for three months after a death scene.
What would you like to write about that you have never written about before?
I think I’d love to try my hand at science fiction. My children loved the Star Wars movies and we discussed them for weeks after seeing the movies. I think I’d write about life in a different galaxy where the intelligent creatures are not at all like humans on this planet.
Have you ever had a book idea or characters come to you in a dream? What did you do about it afterwards?
When I was young, I had wonderful dreams in living color. They were as exciting as any movie I had ever seen. These dreams continued until the brain injury I suffered after the head-on collision in 1978. That is the one thing I miss the most after the disability.
Were your characters based off real life people/events or did you make it all up?
Only one character was based on a real person, and yet I changed everything about her except her personality. Otherwise, the characters were all a combination of everything in my background. I believe we each take pieces of people who have influenced our lives as we write. A great example of this would be the message of children having a kind heart that is woven throughout the story. My grandfather was probably the kindest individual I have ever met. It was his influence that triggered the idea that winged creatures from another dimension would be required to breathe the first breath of life into a newborn child to ensure they have a kind heart.
What are your thoughts about eBooks vs. print books?
I love the smell and feel of a print book. I also have a Kindle Fire because it is easier to travel with. I love the portability of the eBooks on long trips and the fact that I’m not adding significant weight to my luggage.
Do you view writing as a career, labor of love, hobby, creative outlet, therapy, or something else?
It is definitely a labor of love for me. I have already made a significant difference in the lives of other women who suffered sexual abuse as children. Although the abuse in the Elle book is physical, the fact that I have been open about my own story has allowed me to connect with some incredible women.
Do you proofread/edit your own books or do you send them off to an editor? If you send them off to an editor, who/what have you had the best experience with?
I proofread and edited my book at least six times before sending it on to professional editors for three full rounds of editing. The entire process took roughly six months. Because of the traumatic brain injury, I would never try to do the editing myself. I know I have a tendency to use the same word multiple times in my writing and I need new eyes to catch those types of errors.
Do you have a subject/genre you would never write about, why?
I couldn’t write erotica because of the abuse I suffered as a child. The why should be obvious.
What motivates you to write and where does your inspiration come from?
My motivation comes from the thousands of children who suffer the same abuse I did. Nothing we have done has worked to diminish the numbers. I decided to ignore the adults and give the children a story they could fall in love with. A story that would inspire and encourage them to help friends in trouble and seek help if they were being hurt by anyone.
What makes your book stand out from the crowd?
Elle Burton is a normal kid who has some extraordinary powers. She makes mistakes and takes chances like most kids do, making this fantasy so realistic that kids can put themselves in her shoes. It’s a new spin on the “invisible friend” angle that many have used. As for the creatures from another dimension some call them fairies, others have asked if they’re guardian angels. You’ll have to read the book and decide for yourself what you think.
Do you design your own cover? If not who does, why?
I provided the picture and design for the first book. I am now working with an artist to do the covers of the subsequent books.
What is your most/least favorite part of the writing process, why?
I think the thing I dislike the most is the fact that I become so engrossed in the process that I forget to eat and exercise. I’m working on coming up with a better system of reminding myself to get up and walk away more frequently.
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