Midlife Cafe Interviews Writer Peggy Bechko

 Born To Write

Peggy Bechko is a recognized writer of Western, Romance and, most recently, Science Fiction novels. A women seemingly born to write, she started very young and is still at it. Life has presented her with challenge and disruption in the form of her mother’s death and late marriage. Yet, she is a person who was able to get the support she needed, enabling her to rebound successfully into midlife. She  bloomed and created a new balance expressing her evolving passions in writing her first Science Fiction novel, Stormrider, and opening Silver Streak, a jewelry store.

1. You have written and been acclaimed for your westerns and romance novels. What led you to choose these genres?

It’s funny the twists and turns life takes.  I’ve always been fascinated with the west and read westerns (and of course I live in the western mountains now), but I was writing general fiction until a friend of mine dared me to write a western.

Okay, so who could resist that?

I did write one, and I wrote it as if I were a middle-aged man (first-person). In reality, I was a 20-year-old woman. The extra kick to this little tale was I found an agency which took me on when I finished that western –– and then promptly went belly-up. Of course back then, in the dark ages, we didn’t have computers and ‘back-ups’.  I’d sent them my only copy so panic ensued –– where was that manuscript?  Did I have to retype the whole darn thing? Ahhhhhh!

As it turned out, one of the defunct agents broke off to start his own agency. He took my manuscript with him and called me, asking if I would accept a contract from Doubleday for that first Western, Night Of The Flaming Guns. Would I?  Surely you jest!  Of course I did and I was only 22.

Then, that same agent, George, encouraged me to add Romances to my repertoire. He placed my first romance, Dark Side of Love (just re-released as an Ebook through Amazon Kindle at  http://amzn.to/KYtgDi ) with Harlequin Superromance.

2. How did you decide to branch off into Science Fiction writing with “Stormrider”?

For me it wasn’t a decision, really, it was kind of an inevitability.  I’ve also always loved Science Fiction and Fantasy.  I’d go to any Sci Fi movie that came out, read a lot of Orson Scott Card, Octavia Butler, Sheri Tepper, Jennifer Roberson, Laurel K. Hamilton and others. Sooner or later I had to give it a try. Stormrider was a blast to write. In addition to that novel, I’ve also written and optioned a screenplay titled Replica. It originally finished in the Quarter Finals of the Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship competition. I would love to see that produced one day. Meanwhile, I wrote a Vampire Western which slips more into the horror genre –– I plan to put that into novel form as well in the next several months. I can’t help it, I just like variety.

3. You are a very prolific writer, how has your process of writing changed over the years?

Strangely my process hasn’t changed much.  The real evolution has come in the details of how I organize what I write.

I’ve always begun with thoughts of an interesting character with the potential for lots of problems.  Then came an interesting setting.

I’ve always had at least a couple of projects in the air at the same time, like a novel slowly becoming while I sketch out an idea for a screenplay.  I’ll also have notes and ideas floating and accumulating for another novel.

I usually try to finish up on a high note for the day, then jot a few notes to myself for the next day and leave that in the middle of my desk so I know exactly what I need to accomplish. It’s very important for me to remain focused as I do succumb at times to that writer’s malady – procrastination. The notes to self thing keeps me on track (well, most of the time).

4. You’ve been an active and successful writer since your twenties, how has midlife impacted you and your work?

I think midlife brings challenges that youth did not, even though while in youth we all think we’re pretty challenged.

One major change was marriage, the first for both myself and my husband.  It came late to us and that was good. We had some serious talks about my writing and what it meant to me before we got married. He’d always given me my space. He also had his own pursuits.  (He loves to study, read, and  has published a couple of young adult books of his own: one, Tales of Caer Alban in paperback and Ebook on Amazon.)

Mostly, it’s those outside issues at ‘midlife’ that have had a big impact on me. My grandfather always told me, “in this life we either get older…or we don’t”.  The second choice doesn’t have much appeal.  He made it easier for me to face the challenges, the tragedies of life.  My Mother’s illness and death tore a five year chunk out of my writing career. With the help of that same wonderful, unexpected husband mentioned above I’m recovering and coming back strong.

5. What  is your new Science Fiction novel, “Stormrider”, about?

Oh, I loved writing that one. It’s filled with adventure, action, mysticism and a bit of romance.  Stormrider is the name given to the heroine by a native people when her aircraft crashes and she survives. She’s a Janissary, a loyal supporter, amazingly trained, fierce and determined. Her mission is to retrieve an amulet that’s been stolen, which must be bestowed on her people’s leader to legitimize his reign. But the amulet is more than stone and metal as the wolves of Nashira are more than wolves. Heroism, strength, weakness and leadership come from a very unexpected source. I hope your readers will read a sample, get hooked on the story and want to finish it.

Tony Award winning actor John Cullum, who read it and said, “Its a wonderful book, not just for science fiction readers – once I started reading Stormrider I couldn’t put it down. It’s a great read – exciting.”

*Samples and downloads are available at:
Kindle http://amzn.to/pjY0HP
Smashwords http://bit.ly/9R0Gcn
Barnes & Noble  http://bit.ly/q0axXr
IBooks http://bit.ly/NyzLwZ
On the Indian subcontinent, in hardcover at http://bit.ly/qKgzlF*

Also a guide for new and young writers: http://amzn.to/OUuwT3

6. How did “Silver Streak Jewelry” come into existence?

My SilverStreak Jewelry shop ( http://www.silverstreak.etsy.com) is an outcropping of what I’ve believed all my life. Creativity simply IS and it finds different outlets.

I’ve always made things with my hands, knitted, crocheted, worked with paper mache, and doodled in addition to creating unique pieces of jewelry. For me, and for many writers I know, doing something else creative feeds back into your primary focus of writing. I have notebooks filled with doodles and  sketches (and I do mean stick figures). Over the years, doodling jewelry took center stage. Then, I decided the jewelry needed a place to be seen and the shop was born.

The truly wonderfully amazing thing about creating in a different venue is it frees my mind in other ways. It goes wandering off into story-telling even while I’m designing and working on a piece of jewelry I love.  The new metal clays are fantastic. The wire is something I can pound on. The beads a riot of color and texture.

Creating jewelry of many medias is a passion that’s really come into it’s own. As I’ve gotten older and sought a balance in my creative life, one activity is nourishing the other. More than a change, it’s an evolution. I give the jewelry creation a little more time these days and my writing grows because of it.

Thank you Peggy for sharing about the woman behind the novels. Your latest work is a fascinating turn in your life path. Jewelry making and selling is clearly helpful in your creative process. It sounds a little like going for a run when you have something on your mind. While running, the mind is distracted. Free to work on that thing festering beneath the surface of awareness. Suddenly, the right course of action, or the best idea to further the creative process comes up ready for expansion. I love the way you express it here.

Thanks for your time and energy. I am sure our readers will enjoy this interview and the introduction to your work

 

Midlife Stress Series Part 4

Support Your Friends

Friends are always precious. But in dealing with stress in the midlife transition, they become even more so. Eileen and I, had been friends and business partners for years, before we drifted apart. She moved away to Florida and I thought I would never see her again. Then, one day, she called to ask for a copy of a course we had developed together. We started talking and discovered we were on the same path. She was having a midlife crisis too. We decided we needed to get out of our ruts and add some spice to our lives.

For example, one week we gave ourselves homework. We chose to do something just for us, for at least two hours.  It could be anything from painting a picture, to shopping at a store we always wanted to visit. Our goal was to make ourselves special. I decided  to go to a wooded reservoir with lots of walking paths that wound through water bogs, pine forests, rhododendrons and mountain laurel.

Feel Power

Take a walk with me now in your imagination. Imagine it’s early spring and the leaves aren’t on the trees yet. It’s warm, with some clouds and sun. You can hear and feel wind gusts pushing and pulling at your body, forcing it this way and that. Feel how soothing it might be to be moved around by the wind. Let go into its playful dance. Feel comforted by it’s power and nurtured by joining it, in it’s freedom to move at will. Feel alive knowing you can either go with the wind or move against it. It’s your choice.

The next day, I told Eileen, I was able to let go and be tossed by the wind but couldn’t manage to surrender this way in my daily routine. In my life, I was missing. I was living into the shell of my to-do lists. I would push myself, rushing to get this or that done, because I was supposed to. I’d given up searching and discovering along the way. With the wind, I was awake. I could feel each new subtle movement. Yet, in my routine life, I had gone numb. I was a doing machine. No wonder I was tired. It was an exhausting way to live.

Does any of this sound familiar? Personally, I needed to shake up my perception. Only then, was there a chance to make a choice about what to explore next. I could never have done it without the homework agreement with my dear friend Eileen. She and I made a very small group. But, larger groups are helpful to work with too.  Next time, I’ll share about how to set up a successful midlife support group. Do you already have a group? Let me know about your activities and if you can use it to shake things up.

Midlife Stress Series Part #3

 Midlife Imbalance

During a major life crisis, circumstances are can so shaken that we feel internally off kilter. Physically numb and overwhelmed into a state of frozen dizziness, it’s hard to move. I went through periods like this when my father died. Though I knew he had congestive heart failure, I was still not prepared for the loss and sadness of his comforting presence. Midlife is full of opportunities for feeling loss of one type or another. This happens when you leave an old comfortable job,or a spouse, or when our parents pass away.

Music And Dance?

A great way to deal with this loss of equilibrium is to focus on the feelings in my body. When my dad died, my body was a great refuge. It sounds counter-intuitive, because in great loss we just want to get away. But instead, I refocused on, and made full contact with my body and breath, which enabled me to feel its gifts. Only then, could I sense that anti-aging energy rejuvenating itself. It was like waking up with aliveness. Sound good? I loved it.

But, how do we fully inhabit our bodies? How do we release into this place with the abandon required to fully experience the alive center the body houses?

For me, dance and movement of any type will work as long as I stay focused on my sensations. Music can help. Aldous Huxley said,”After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.”

Andrea Grafstein, a counselor at The Spiritual Life Center in West Hartford Connecticut, shared with me a way to help spiritually balance the inner being. She said a student there, presented a program where music inspired dance movements. The only rule was to keep the feet from moving much, yet allow the upper and mid body to move and sway to the rhythms. This posture was grounding and uplifting at the same time.  There’s no worry about protecting the body because it is stable in the feet. Just move and flow freely as you feel the music.

Dr. Deforia Lane, a Music Therapist, has said, “Music has the power to move a person between different realities: from a broken body into a soaring spirit, from a broken heart into the connection of shared love, from death into the memory and movement of life. Music has the power to touch the heart of a child with God.”

We will shut down as an automatic protective reaction to the discomfort of these changes. Help yourself feel alive again. Try music and movement, even if you are not in great pain right now. Marianne Williamson told a friend of mine, a key joy in her life, was playing music and dancing every morning. She felt that joyful space lift her heart and spirit to help her throughout her day. It can bring you out of any sense of deadness you might be feeling. Allow yourself these joys and let me know what music you recommend. I am looking forward to hearing about your favorite music.

 

Are You Satisfied?

 No Satisfaction?

For me, it took some time to understand exactly why I was starting to feel unhappy. I mean, life was working so well, on the surface. I had a great job, husband and money. But, no, it wasn’t good enough for my internal world. At first, I thought it was my job. For my friend Barbara, it was her husband. For my cousin, it was his wife. For my friend, Eileen, it was the town she lived in. I realized it was different for everybody. We blamed something. After a while, I could see it wasn’t all that stuff. Yeah, there were issues in all the circumstances. I’ll never deny that. But, everyone of us has had complaints for years, even when we were younger. And after a while, as we age, discontent can reach a crucial point.

Later, I learned this is a typical sign of the first stage of midlife transition. Life is not working for one reason or another and you can’t ignore it anymore. The tension is too high. You might want to leave, even run away. But, notice that more often, you don’t make the move. You just complain and think of the reasons why you can’t do anything.

What Not To Do

My good friend Barbara, for example, told me she couldn’t afford to leave her husband, so she stayed and felt trapped. If your life looks like this right now, ask yourself, “what am I running away from?” Is it your boss, your co-worker, your job, or your environment? What is it you really want to change? Is it them or something deeper?

In Barbara’s case, she really wanted to feel she could leave, or stay. She wanted to feel independent. It didn’t turn out to be her husband at all. She was scared to live her life. We didn’t know how it would affect her husband if she did start to make independent decisions and act on them. She was scared to tell him she wanted to do things without him. Instead, she told everyone he was overbearing and bossy. And she’s still complaining.

What are you afraid will happen if you start to change your life? Maybe it doesn’t have to be this way? Maybe the complaints are a signal for you to grow and change? It’s midlife, remember? Do you find yourself complaining instead of making changes? Let me know your situation and share this discussion on Twitter and Facebook.

Fear Of Aging

Place’s Inside

I was having dinner at a couple’s home with my husband one Saturday night. We were sitting around the dinner table eating salmon, rice, soup and vegetables, when Steve asked me what I was doing now. When I told him about my blog on midlife transition, he got all excited. He had just turned 50 and was terrified. He said, “I feel trapped. I look to my past and feel the pleasure of hiking in the woods. I smell the leaves turning in the fall and the fresh green of new growth in the spring. I can even hear my favorite river, bubbling. The water penetrates my shoes, as I wade into throw out my fishing line to try for some fish. This is all great until I look into the future. Now that I am 50, I feel the noose tightening. I can’t see any future. I don’t know if I will be able to continue the life I’ve been living. How do people live with no vision of the future?”

Where?/How?

I replied, “They live just fine, because there is something they know that you don’t right now.”  He stared at his plate confused. I said,” There is another place to be aware of inside. Now, you are looking at your lack of vision in the future and the memories you have of the past. This place is so close you’ve missed it.”  He  still looked around confused.  I said, ” You are engaged with it right now, though your attention is not on it. What are you doing right now?” He had his fork of salmon perched in mid air. He got it! I said,”Just feel the fork in your hand and when you take the bit of fish, really taste it. Feel the fish mix with your saliva, and taste the subtle textures as you chew it before you swallow. This is the space, the place that mid life and beyond asks and demands you cultivate.”

I was grateful for the chance to have this conversation. It reminded me of the safest place in the world, the present moment.  Here. everything is possible. This is where anti-aging really lives, in the daily moments of life .

The Unquestioned Life

WHO ARE YOU ANYWAY?

Aren’t you just one stage of development after another, that mindlessly follows a single path? We start development by learning to walk and talk. You learn what is acceptable to say by expressing Yes and No. Eventually we learn the limits of that expression.  Life moves as a clock ticks, from here to the next phase or period of learning. We learn how to be a student and make friends. You fail or succeed with relating to people or school, scaring yourself one way or another. You grow up, and are called an adult even though you may not really know who or what that is. Never mind, you go on to a training program of some kind because you want to succeed, survive, find a place for yourself in the world. You get a skill as a hairdresser, a cook, a teacher, a dental assistant, a lawyer. You become someone in the world. Maybe that will help with the nagging sense of not having an identity, not really knowing who or what you are.

You either meet someone and have children or stay single and devote yourself to your profession. You have worked hard.  Almost no one consciously thinks beyond this adult period. It is supposed to go on forever. There is almost a hypnosis about it. This is an unquestioned life.

WHERE IS THE KEY?  

I lived that way too, moving from one stage to the next. But I began to notice something at midlife and I’ve kept noticing it. I check in periodically and ask myself, “Am I the same person I was before?”  When I became an adolescent, I looked entirely different from how I looked as a preschool child. So it wasn’t based on how I looked. But I recognized myself. I knew it was me. It almost seems like a ridiculous question. But, I began to wonder HOW do I know I am me?

Well, I looked inside myself. I had a sense of me that was always with me. This sense has never changed. It has always been there. My thinking has changed. Many feelings have changed about myself and different people, but I still have that indescribable presence that I am here. Not, Lois is here, but this sense is here. I have called it Lois, but it does not know its name. It is just an awareness. I’ve asked many of my clients if they recognize this sense. Surprised by the question, not one of them doubted they are the same person they always were. They are familiar with the internal sense.

THAT SENSE OF REVERSE AGING

Perhaps we all have the same sense? I certainly bring it with me wherever I go in life. It’s an anti-aging state, that is always with me. It is a peaceful state, unaffected by emotional blows, pain of loss and defeat, or the benefits of success. I find it comforting. I like the idea of being able to bring it with me into an older age, as something constant that I can count on.  All I need to do is become aware of it. It makes no negative judgments of me or anyone else, no matter what. It’s just there. Certainly, I’m more aware of it as I make my midlife transition.  It’s best described, as a light pulse of energy. When I focus on this energy, the glow of it grows more powerful. Being aware of it, I feel a sense of reverse aging. The fact that it has always been there, frees me from any sense that I am really aging in this fundamental sense of myself. When I listen to my thoughts and feelings it recedes from my awareness. What do you think? What do you notice about it?

I think the key to successful aging is building on this sense, this foundation, that nothing disrupts, when I am aware of it.