Greetings from Marti Pieper in a Florida fall, which, to non-Florida residents, looks a lot like summertime. Like many parts of the country, we’re having an unseasonably warm fall. Enterprising entrepreneurs may find a market for pumpkin spice suntan lotion (just kidding, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find this product on the shelf).
Our interviewee’s most recent book will at least have us thinking toward cooler weather because it’s a holiday story. A hearty CAN welcome to author PeggySue Wells!
PeggySue, please tell us about your book.
It’s Christmas, and Jack Baker’s finances, friends and future are as gone as last year’s holiday. Jack Baker had it all—family, career and a generous bonus to spend on the annual Baker Christmas extravaganza. Now, the Bakers are homeless. One family loses it all and finds they have everything.
I hear the story behind Homeless for the Holidays is as interesting as the novel. What’s the behind-the-scenes scoop?
Homeless for the Holidays is the hope-filled novelization of a film with the same name, based on the real-life experiences of producer George Johnson. Unemployed, Johnson penned the screenplay in three weeks. Though the usual budget for a film like this is $1.5 million, George kept costs to $30,000. Expecting 50 people might show, open auditions were announced in the Auburn, Indiana newspaper. Eight hundred actor-hopefuls auditioned. Altogether, there were 500 people in the cast.
The film featured local residents, including media personalities, who played themselves in the scene where main character, Jack Baker, opens his front door to find his cul-de-sac filled with television and radio crews. In the media crowd was Marsha Wright, Johnson’s friend who loaned her house—decorated for Christmas—as the setting for the Baker family home. Marsha agreed to novelize the story and invited me to do the writing process.
That’s fascinating! Now, how is writing a novel different from penning the screenplay?
People commonly say, “The book is better than the film.” That’s because, as a screenwriter, I have to tell a story in 120 minutes or 120 pages—one page of a screenplay generally equals one minute of screen time. A book allows me, as the author, to tell a far longer, embellished tale. Writing from a screenplay is fun. The screenplay serves as the outline and is akin to receiving a newly constructed home on a bare lot and having the freedom of an unlimited budget to decorate and landscape.
Drawing from seasons I experienced growing up and as an adult when employment and finances were less than adequate, I added the between-the-scenes details of what life could look like as a family faced an extensive period of unemployment. Next, I shared the completed manuscript with folks who had been unemployed and homeless, adding what I learned from them to the manuscript.
I’m interested in both the book and the movie now! What is your favorite part of Homeless for the Holidays?
My favorite character is the Bakers’ son, Adam. As the mother of seven, I mined Adam’s sense of humor and quick wit from quips made by my own young adults.
What themes do you return to in your writing?
The world needs hope more than advice. Throughout Homeless for the Holidays, hope shines bright. Hope and grace are my favorite aspects of faith and why I write.
Life can be rugged with the Lord, and I wouldn’t want to try it without Him. The Lord promises unconditional love, forgiveness, grace for every day, faithful companionship and a happily ever after. Hope and redemption are part of my writing.
I know those themes resonate with many. Please tell us about your funniest moment with a reader.
Of my seven, half of my children are readers, two are professional writers, and half are completely allergic to words, reading and writing—“That’s your gig, Mom.” Two of my teens went with me to a conference, and we got into an elevator with several other conference attendees. An older lady looked at my daughters and said, “How nice to see expiring writers.” She meant “aspiring,” but that’s not what she said.
Without hesitation, one of my girls replied, “Oh, that’s our mom.”
That’s great. What is your ideal writing place? And … what’s your actual writing place like?
A college professor once said every writer needs solitude to write. Which made me laugh out loud. As a mom of many with all the accompanying homeschooling and pets, if I waited for solitude, I would not have written more than two dozen books and countless articles.
Recently, my daughter took a photo of me sitting near her horse in a folding chair with my laptop. She captioned the photo, “No horseshow would be complete without my mom and her laptop.”
My laptop (Macbeth) comes along everywhere I go, and I write at soccer practice, the 4-H fair, the beach and between events when my daughter rides rodeo. Everywhere is material for story, and the more of the world I experience, the more I have to share with readers. I want to know what people did and why they did it. Touring Israel had a profound impact, and places I visited showed up in several of my books.
Why do you love writing?
Writing is a way of connecting with others. It is a gift I give of myself to the world. I fashion story and truth, questions and wonderings, into writing that will outlive me. When I write, I am unconscious of time and immersed in the process. My style is tight and connected, weaving in little-known history and real places. My favorite compliment has been from some military guys who said, “You sure don’t write like a girl.”
With each of my novels, I want readers to close the book having learned something they didn’t know prior to reading my story. Everyone longs to connect and belong. Libraries and bookstores are places where creativity, ideas and questions are communicated between writers and readers.
What’s your favorite bookstore—and why?
Is there any place more magical than Disney, the library or a bookstore? Most of Disney is based on books. I adore being in all these places. When we are shopping, our family joke is not to park near the bookstore or Mom will get distracted among all the fresh titles and not find her way out. I told my children that when I am old, they should pack me a lunch and drop me at a library or bookstore for the day. Books, libraries and bookstores are filled with creativity, ideas, wonder and communication between authors and readers.
I agree! Tell us about your next project.
Like twins, Chasing Sunrise released at nearly the same time as Homeless for the Holidays. In this high-adventure suspense, spec ops military man Michael Northington wears the uniform to save lives. But when an assignment designed to protect instead keeps a friend from receiving life-giving care, he leaves the world behind to seek solace on St. Croix. When international killers arrive on the island at the same time Hurricane Hugo unleashes its fury, Michael must use all his training to protect those he has come to care about.
Chasing Sunrise is the adrenaline rush of military spec ops, timeless classical music, betrayal, friendship, family and love, all wrapped in tropical trade winds and the smell of salt air. Chasing Sunrise is about taking a piece of paradise wherever you go.
Sounds like another great read. Thank you for sharing your heart and your words with our readers, PeggySue.
For His glory,