INTERVIEW WITH LAS VEGAS, NM POET LAUREATE KAYT PECK

Award-winning author, playwright, poet, screenwriter and successful grant writer Kayt Peck sat down with Mary Rose Henssler recently for an interview. Kayt is the current Poet Laureate of Las Vegas, N.M., and will be the featured guest at the Literary Salon Visit with the Author, at Gallery 140, 140 Bridge Street, Las Vegas, N.M., on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, at 4 p.m. In our interview, we discussed writing, among many subjects, and that part of the interview is excerpted below.

Kayt Peck

MRH:  You were studying speech and communications. At what point did you start knowing that writing was your life?
KP: Before I could write I would go into my dad’s office and make up stories on his typewriter. I was just pecking away, but the stories were in my head. Yeah, I always wanted to write.

MRH:  And at what point did you start writing fiction?
KP: Probably junior high. It sucked, but I wrote it. And my degree – I had a weird degree – it was called a functional degree, and I had a major in speech, and what amounted to a triple minor in journalism, psychology and education. That’s because they tried to push me into that. Actually, I finished everything except my student teaching to get education certified, but I didn’t want to teach. That’s something they – if you’re a woman at that school you had to go into education or medicine or something. I had no desire to be a teacher. I’ve been told I’m a good one.

MRH: What is your writing kryptonite? Something that protects you from just everything and lets you write?
KP: That’s a good question. Writing kryptonite. Passion. I have pretty much–I have developed the craft. I can write about anything. I make a living largely writing grants, so I can write about anything. But when it comes to fiction, when it comes to plays or now screenplays, it has to be something I am passionate about. And if I truly have passion about something there’s no such thing as writer’s block.

MRH: Now, you believe in writer’s block, but you don’t get it?
KP: I do sometimes, but it’s short lived. It’s when I’m tired. It’s the body saying ‘shut up.’ I do get it sometimes. Natalie Goldberg has some great exercises to get you past, you know, over the hump. I think it’s a story she wrote or my writing instructor in college may have told me this story about someone who was in a writing class and couldn’t write. Just couldn’t get past it, so the instructor said, “Okay. Just pick a street.” She did. “Pick a building.” She did. Couldn’t write. The instructor finally said, “I want you to go to that building. Go up ten bricks, three bricks over, and start writing about that brick.” And that broke it. Have you ever read my tagline on my email? ‘Writers are like magic wands. They can create anything.’ And you know, we really do. It’s not just on the page. Writers create everything when you come down to it, the things that happen in the world, the things that humanity creates, it has to start with words. Everything has to start with words. It has to start with communication. That’s why I was so fascinated by interpersonal communication.

MRH: When you were in the Navy, I know the bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City had a tremendous affect on you. What other experiences with the Navy had a great affect on you, good or bad?
KP: Probably the most important writing I have ever done in my whole career was when I was recalled to go to Strategic Command to help write the VIP documents when Admiral Childs was developing a plan for the stand down from the Cold War. So, I helped write the documents he used for key legislative committees to convince them to follow his plan.

MRH: You feel that was the most important writing you ever did. Do you feel that way about any of your fiction? Do you feel that your fiction has an impact on the people that read it?
KP: I think so, yes. I think this latest book, especially. The fantasy series. I really need to get into a different market for that, because I think that series… You know, Harry Potter changed the world. I think everything I’ve written–sometimes it feels like I’m not writing alone so everything I’ve written there’s been a trigger. I don’t write just for fun. It’s fun to write, but there’s something. There’s a kernel. A truth I need to say, or an observation I need to say. I told you the story of why I decided I needed to write Broken. The Ladies Room, I had to do.

MRH: That was a very powerful book.
KP: And you know, I couldn’t really tell the story of what it was like to start an organization in the Texas Panhandle, because nobody would have believed it. It was horrible. But I needed to get that flavor, that experience out to people. And do you know, I’ve done well selling that book out at the flea market, when I tell people what it’s about, that’s the one they want–straight people. And I’m amazed how supportive they are when I tell them what the book’s about. The fantasy trilogy? That was important to me, and it hasn’t hit where it’s supposed to yet. I probably needed a different publisher for that. When I write, I let the story drive the length and the pace. And even though I like fantasy, Tolkein was so verbose. The story’s good, but I enjoyed the movies more than the books. I’m waiting to see what happens with Chokecherry Jelly (screenplay). I entered it into two contests and I’m not entering it into any more until I see what it does. It costs money to enter screenplay contests. (Chokecherry Jelly won both contests.) (Someone) wants to produce it, but it’s a long ways from concept to production on a movie.

MRH: Unless you want to do it yourself.
KP:  There’s so much I want to accomplish, and picking and choosing, because I realized, you know, I’m not going to live that much longer. In the scheme of things, ten or even twenty years isn’t that long.

MRH: If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
KP: It wouldn’t be my writing self; it would affect my writing self, but I would go back earlier. Because when I was a kid growing up, somehow I knew it wasn’t me that was screwed up. Well, I was screwed up, but I think I would go back–I waited until I was older to–I’ve written forever. I’ve got manuscripts even I forgot I had written. But it wasn’t until I got in my fifties where I started saying, “Yeah, let’s put it out there.”

MRH: So you wrote, but you didn’t send it out anywhere, until you were in your fifties?
KP: I would do some, but I wasn’t real serious about it. I was serious about helping other people accomplish their dreams, because that was the subliminal message that I had, was that my talent wasn’t supposed to be used for me. So if I could, I would go back to even before pre-writing and tell child me, “It’s okay to be ambitious. It’s okay. You’ve got a gift. It’s okay.”

MRH: So that was a pretty powerful message that you were getting from the people around you.           
KP: Oh yeah. That I wasn’t supposed to use my talent for me. And it took me a long time to even recognize that’s what it was doing. I think that’s why I got into grants, because it was okay. I told myself at the time it was a great way to practice my writing skills and still make a living. Now, I look back at it, and if I had put it where I really wanted to, by now I’d be in clover.

MRH: What did you do with your first advance?
KP: What advance?

MRH: Your publisher doesn’t give an advance. What did you do with the first check you got from your writing?
KP: Put it back into the writing. Or into publishing. All of the stuff I make off my books I put into Dreamcatcher Books or I put it into the marketing. So I’m trying to think if I used it for anything else.

MRH: What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
KP: Getting a computer. That really opened things up.

MRH: You wrote your first books on a typewriter?
KP: Mmmhmm. Speaking of investment, I tried to make an investment. When I was in my twenties, I thought okay, I want to be a writer, I want to do publishing, so what am I going to do? So I started a little magazine called The Coldwater Holdout. Which is apparently kept in a couple of museums in Oklahoma. Which is kind of fun. And my dad had bought, when I was a baby, a whole life policy which he turned over to me when I turned twenty-one, and I left it for a while and I thought, ‘You know what? I need some money to be able to do this magazine.’ So I cashed it in. Now, this is one of the ways–I should have divorced him then–so, I made the mistake of putting the money in the joint bank account. Kevin bought a motorcycle. Spent my magazine money on a motorcycle, so that was a short-lived–I think I did it for six months. It was so much fun. I’ve still got it somewhere. I ought to let you see it. The Coldwater Holdout was fun. I might have been able to stay in publishing. But you know, I don’t regret the newspapers I worked for, either.

MRH: What do you regret?
KP: Not a damn thing.

Kayt Peck will be the Literary Salon’s featured guest on Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, at 4 p.m. at the Gallery 140, 140 Bridge Street, Las Vegas, N.M. Refreshments will be served. Please wear a mask and observe social distancing.

Author Kayt Peck’s published works.

Article written by Mary Rose Henssler whose work includes playwriting, scriptwriting, poetry and prose. She also enjoys drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, and being outdoors.

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Photos: Courtesy Kayt Peck

Writing and reading go hand-in-hand

Writers write. Right?

One would think so, but it’s surprising how many writers are inveterate procrastinators. Every bit of advice about writing boils down to putting one’s behind in a chair and banging away at your word processor, be it a computer or an old fashioned pencil.

  • Serious writers write
  • Traditionally published authors work as hard at getting an agent as they do at writing books
  • Serious writers write
  •  Indie and traditionally published authors learn how to promote their own books with confidence
  • Serious writers write
  • Author platforms are crucial
  • Serious writers write 
  • Authors read nearly as much as they write 
  •  Serious writers write

And don’t depend on family to edit your work, unless that is their profession and they are generally heartless when it comes to reviewing your article, or essay, or book. My ever-patient husband has been my biggest supporter and kindest critic (as in being no critic at all). He is not my editor. According to him everything I write is “fine.” Yikes. The worst word on the planet for a writer. “Fine.” A writer wants to be “thought provoking,” “hilarious,” “a thorn in someone’s backside,” “extraordinary,” any and all of the superlatives you can imagine. “Fine,” I didn’t think, quite cut it. And then I looked at synonyms for fine:

  • excellent
  • first-class
  • great
  • outstanding
  • quality
  • superior
  • prime
  • supreme
  • wonderful

So I guess I’ll take “fine” from my husband, who really, when I think about it, is a discerning and highly intelligent man. He’s still not my editor.

Over the past several years I’ve had the opportunity to talk to writers of varying levels of success. These wonderful interactions have taught me a lot about what it means to be a writer.

Write tight. Whether you are writing an advertisement or penning the Great American Novel, less is more. Good writing is often a matter of making the most of a few well-chosen words.

Do your homework. (Research). Writers have an obligation to their readers to be credible. Works of fiction with shaky plots and weak characters turn readers off. Nonfiction books with incorrect information turn readers off. Period. End of story.

Write. To be successful, writers must write. It sounds simple, but making time to write is difficult if you are not intentional about putting words on paper (or computer), which is why most authors have a schedule and stick with it come what may.

Be interesting. Create a compelling story with strong characters, drama, conflict, action and a satisfying conclusion.

Be creative. There are many ways to write about the same subject. Love. Hate. Death. Life. Fear. Happiness. Truth. Lies. You name it and it has been written about, and that will continue. How does your creativity and innovation bring new life to these concepts? That’s the story you want to tell.

Read. Yes. Read. Read a lot. Read different genres. Read nonfiction, poetry, history, fiction. Read. Read. Read. As famed author Stephen King said, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”

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Next up: In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 – Oct. 15), the September 18 Las Vegas Literary Salon will feature two of the writers who will be published in Tapestry: Tales, Essays, Poems. Ray John de Aragon and Sylvia Ramos Cruz will talk about their work, the craft of writing and their writing journeys. Read more here and register to attend. The event begins a 2 p.m. on Zoom.

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NOTE: If you are interested in being on the Las Vegas Literary Salon planning team, contact lvliterarysalon@gmail.com. We’re also interested in guest posts from writers about their writing journeys, the craft of writing, book reviews in any genre, posts about reading. If you have a guest post idea, let us know.

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Coming in October: Las Vegas Poet Laureate Kayt Peck will be our featured author at an event full of surprises, which may include hot cider and spooky treats! Hopefully by then in person gatherings will be possible. Stay tuned. Either way, Kayt will be talking writing and poetry and publishing.

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November launch of Tapestry! Details to come.

HOW DO YOU DESCRIBE LAS VEGAS?

When someone who has never been here asks you about our community, what do you say? I tend to talk about the live music that bursts out seemingly at random, especially in the summer. One Friday night pre-covid, my husband and I walked by the Plaza Park and heard guitars, a keyboard, trumpet, and drums. We paused for a few minutes of dancing, and then walked down Bridge Street, where a small band played in the breezeway, part of an opening at Gallery 140. Across the street at Borracho’s, we heard another band playing. And when we walked across the bridge and another block up the hill to Burris Hall, a guitar player sang and played softly at another gallery opening.

Or maybe you talk about the architecture, and the fact that we have over 900 houses and other buildings on the National Historic Register. Amazing. And talk about the architecture naturally leads to discussion of the history of the area. And that might lead to mention of the Fiesta in early July, when vendors circle the park and flow down both sides of Bridge Street, while in the park itself, families sit and talk to friends they only see at Fiesta, when everyone comes in from the ranches and they catch up on everyone’s news, and they watch flamenco dancers perform and listen to live music for days.

And that’s another thing, we have so many local artists who show their work not only at the galleries, but at Borracho’s, Travelers, and The Skillet (owned and run by two artists who have MFAs in sculpture and painting – I think all of the art in there is their own.)

If you are talking to someone who has a motorcycle, they might have questions about the motorcycle rally in late July, when hundreds of bikers, many headed for Sturgis, stop for a couple of days in Las Vegas for bike-related events or just to see old friends.

That’s another wonderful thing about our town. People are genuinely friendly, and will stop and pass the time of day. I once talked to a man in a gallery who told me he was in a hurry, and just needed to turn in a form, then proceeded to spend another 45 minutes talking to me and to everyone else who came through the door. He looked far more relaxed when he left.

There is a dark side. Every community in every state confronts problems. Maybe that’s where your mind goes.

But whatever you say, or think, how about expressing yourself in the pages of Tapestry, the Las Vegas Literary Salon’s upcoming offering of writings from present and former residents of northeastern New Mexico. From one of the other small villages or towns or ranches in the area? That’s great. We want to hear about your home, too. Have a great story about what happened when someone crashed Christmas dinner? Tell it as a short story. And don’t worry, as long as you change the name, people never recognize themselves in fiction.

The Literary Salon is now accepting submissions of short stories, essays, and poetry for Tapestry. Check the guidelines on this website.