Meet Peggi Davis and learn more about her delightfully charming mix of memoirs and short stories in Funny Face (Silver Award Winner - NFAA) - published by Archway Publishing on May 26, 2021.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your published book.
I was raised in New York City, the second child of a sometimes-model mother and an eccentric, artistic British father. For my ninth birthday, my mom took my sister and me to see the iconic movie “Funny Face” at Radio City Music Hall. It was based on the life of her model friend, Suzy Parker. The movie changed my life. I knew I wanted to be part of that fun, fashion world when I grew up. Coincidentally, my father used to call me that same name when I was being photographed. “She’s making that funny face again,” he would yell. But it was because I was self conscious about my big, bucked teeth. Even after two rounds of braces, I still smile that same way.
I idolized my Godmother, a writer herself and a retail Advertising Manager at several of the country’s big department stores. So between seeing “Funny Face” and knowing her, I knew what I wanted to do from a very young age. The retail business changed dramatically in the 80s, with all the mergers and acquisitions. This meant moving coast to coast as the Creative Director positions became fewer and fewer.
However, I have lived in some of our country’s most exciting and beautiful cities because of that, so I consider myself really lucky.
“Funny Face” is my first attempt at writing a book. It is a memoir told in a series of stories about my life. These are the stories I have told my friends and work colleagues over the years to a repetitious response of, “You should write a book.” It really never occurred to me that my life was that different from everyone else as it was the only one I knew. I had always been an artist, and yes, as an Art Director and Creative Director professionally, I never considered myself a writer. And so, I took a non fiction writing course where I discovered I indeed could write short stories. My journey began with posting some of my life stories on Facebook during the pandemic. It was there that I heard from people all over the country asking me to keep writing; they wanted more. Then when a newspaper reporter was doing a story on what people were doing with their time during the pandemic, he included me in his article. A Pulitzer Prize journalist, he encouraged me to keep writing. That was the catalyst for my blog, storiesbypeggidavis.com, where my essays were read by even more people. It just grew from there and gave me the confidence to publish them.
Tell us about the genre you like to write, and how is it similar / different from other women fiction genres.
So far, I have only written non fiction, because that is what I know. I recently completed a book called “Edie In Between” about my husband’s family and his experiences growing up, as a surprise gift for his 80th birthday. It is not for sale, but will be given to old friends and family members at his surprise party this fall. Like my previous book, it came from fact. But what makes it different is that I wove a fictitious story around those facts coming from his mother’s voice. She was a brazen but beautiful woman who gave my husband up for adoption by his grandparents when their son divorced her. And although he spent the summers and holidays with her, and adored her, I always wondered how it felt to be on the sidelines like that. She was always involved in between his largest life events, and few day to day. It made his family history, remarkable in itself, much more personal and interesting. And, it was great fun to write. “Edie In Between” has given me the confidence to try and write a fiction book next, something I have just started. The story line is something the HenLit audience will really relate too, and enjoy, I hope. It’s a real challenge for me since “Funny Face” just flowed from my mind. I literally just typed the voice in my head, which was a very strange experience.
What are some of the biggest challenges hen lit authors face today?
I never realized the work that goes into publishing a book. The writing and design of it was fun for me. The marketing was my biggest obstacle. When my fashion career as a Creative Director ended, I became the Marketing Officer for a state Arts school here in Birmingham. Continuing in fashion would have meant another move for us. We fell in love with this city and really wanted to retire here. You would have thought that marketing my book would have been a piece of cake for me, but it was quite the opposite. It was incredibly time consuming and expensive, and I really disliked the entire process. I should have just hired someone from the beginning to do it for me. It was hard for me to make the right connections and sell myself, much less my book. I recently purchased a book on literary agents, so I may give that a try if my fiction book seems viable to me. I think I am basically a socially adept introvert.
Given the ongoing popularity of chick lit, where do you see hen lit ten years from now?
I am thrilled that HenLit Central evolved from ChickLit Central. Being of a different generation than many ChickLit Central readers, it is so reassuring that there are hundreds of thousands of authors and readers just like me. People who can relate to my life and my stories. I am almost 75 years old and feel 30, and still love Mick Jagger (whom I just saw perform in person for the very first time and was totally blown away) the Doors and Bob Dylan. As HenLit Central grows in the next decade and expands their base, and I’m sure it will, I only hope I’m still around to enjoy it!
When did it dawn on you that you wanted to be a writer?
During my Advertising career, I was primarily on the visual end of things. In that arena, I would write headlines occasionally to support my ideas and design concepts. However, one day a new boss asked me to write a television commercial, and it opened up a whole new world for me. But it wasn’t until the pandemic began that I dusted off those skills for real. Looking back, I must have been responding to the isolation and lack of connection with people. It motivated me and was a blessing of sorts. I guess you would call that the silver lining in a horrible situation.
Do you have a day job other than being a writer?
I retired five years ago from the Alabama School of Fine Arts, after my advertising career with Macy’s, May Company and Saks Department Stores. I did a brief stint as a Creative Director for a Madison Avenue design firm as well. Needless to say, my husband and I have moved around a lot. Just before the pandemic hit, I rented an art studio down the street to have a place to create. I love to make jewelry and collages. I had planned to hold classes, but had to shut them down because of the virus. It is called Schoolhouse Art Studio because it is in a turn-of-the- century schoolhouse. Every resident has one of the old pine-floored classrooms, and is a very diverse group of professions. The gentleman across the hall from me is a spice merchant and I am fascinated. It is a very cool space and I am hoping to reopen my studio this summer.
My husband has progressive MS and is now in a wheel chair, so I am also a part time care giver. It is something I never imagined I would be doing, and thought I would be terrible at it. However, I have grown to realize it is a privilege, not a job, for someone to trust you with their well being. It has been another positive life lesson for me.
What are some things that inspire you to write?
Inspiration for my stories is all around me. I might read an article or book, see something on television or outside my window, or have a conversation with an old friend. It all gets me thinking of how to tie other stories about my life into the thread. For example, when I read that Pantone’s color of the year is called Veri Peri, it lead me to thinking about color. That triggered a memory of moving to Tennessee a few years back, and going out to dinner our first night there. Everyone but my husband and me were wearing orange. We were so confused and perplexed about what the chances would be that all these people picked the same color outfit. We later learned that it was the color of Tennessee’s football team and there was a big game that night. Evidently, wearing the team color is the de rigueur. Who knew? We were like aliens moving there from Washington DC. And then that color story lead me to the bigger issue of civil rights and the injustice of skin color. It all just works together for me before I start typing. Then at the end, I come up with a line or two that ties the stories together. It is really fun for me. I am also inspired by music lyrics and tend to include song titles or words in my writing. Being a coming-of-age child of the 1960s, most are from my half-hippie, half-haute-couture days. It is a connector to other times and feelings for me, and I hear, for my readers too. I think music is magic.
What is your typical writing routine like?
I really don’t have a routine. Sometimes I write during the day, sometimes at night. I am a historical night owl and get my second wind about midnight. Usually I will think during the day and write at night while my husband Jim and doodle dog Dylan sleep next to me. On some days, I will go to my studio and write where I am free of interruptions. But usually the story is formed in my head before I “put pen to paper.”
What kind of message does your book convey to readers?
I was unaware of my book’s message until the book reviews started coming in. I wasn’t cognizant of including a message in each of my stories. But universally, readers found not only humor, but a message of finding it in somewhat troubling situations, and the importance of gratitude and being resilient. The overall feeling was that if readers would take the time to review their own lives, they would be amazed at the abundance of blessings they have received. I am big on gratitude.
Creating the dichotomy of humor with more thoughtful subjects in the same story, allowed me to explore a wider range of emotions in one piece. It was also more challenging to create a puzzle of events that eventually fit together at the end, giving the reader a message and feeling of closure.
Who are some of your favorite authors and why?
I tend to gravitate to non fiction when choosing books to read. I am particularly drawn to dysfunctional family tales, probably because my own was so strange. I loved Jeanette Walls’ “Glass Castle” and Augusten Burroughs ‘“Running with Scissors.” I am also a big Anne Lamott and Joan Didion fan, who both write so beautifully and authentically. I recently read “A Rip in Heaven” by Jeanine Cummins, author of “American Dirt,” which I loved. Her latest book was so heart breaking, brutal really, but such a good read. I also read fiction and just started “What Happened to the Bennett’s?” by Lisa Scottoline. Sometimes I need a break from how disturbing reality can sometimes be. I hope my book, “Funny Face” provides that for others!
Any advice you’d like to give for aspiring writers at this stage in life.
I think anyone around my age who wants to write should just do it. What have you got to lose? I have found aging has made me much more free and fearless. I’ve let go of other people’s expectations and opinions of me, of what I should do, of what I should think. I am much more authentic and approachable. I pretty much just do what I want, although I am mindful and cognizant of any collateral damage. We hens have shared so much in our lifetime. We had the absolute privilege of growing up in the most newsworthy and idyllic generation. We grew up feeling safe and secure, riding our bikes and roller skating until dusk. We lived Mayberry and Mickey Mouse. Then as young adults we witnessed wars and brutality, movements for peace and civil rights, the very best of music, and a fantasy world of fashion and pop culture.
We have so much to glean from; so many experiences, and so much to say
I was a very, very unlikely author. You can be one too! A friend and colleague of mine, on a recent visit, said to me in a late night conversation, “At this stage of the game, we should say yes to everything.” And I think she’s absolutely right.
Read my blog: storiesbypeggidavis.com
Follow me on Facebook: Peggi Davis
Coming this summer on Facebook: Schoolhouse Art Studio