Author Interview: Peggi Davis

What book inspired me as a child?
I grew up in New York City, and spent many a Saturday in the regal rows of books that were guarded by those magnificent stone lions on Fifth Avenue. But the book that really rocked my world is C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. My fourth grade teacher read it to us at school, and I was mesmerized. As a child living a somewhat untethered existence, parented by an eccentric British father and a sometime-model mother, our home was filled with formality, fashion, and a few friendly ghosts. Narnia sounded like heaven to me with its glistening, ice covered trees and engaging, empathetic list of characters. I remember flinging open my bedroom wardrobe doors, changing out of my stiff school uniform, and crawling inside. For weeks I would push the back wall as hard as I could, hoping beyond hope to break through to the snow covered scene I yearned for in my mind.

As a child, what career did I aspire to?
This is an easy answer as I was extremely close to my Godmother who was a copywriter and later Advertising Manager for a large New York department store. I always wanted to be just like her and remember hearing “You should have been Rita’s child” often as I grew up. As a toddler, I would sit and draw catalogs, pages upon pages of “ballgowns, shoes and scarfs (sic),” that make me laugh to this day. Years later I was Vice President for Macy’s Direct Mail (catalog) Division and ultimately a Creative Director for Saks Department Stores and AGA Design in New York.

How many books have I written?
I have actually written three books, all very different; Funny Face, Edie in Between and Rewind Ranch. I only began writing following my retirement and during the pandemic. I needed a project while in the early days of our seclusion, and started recalling stories from my childhood and wacky work experiences with my creative colleagues on Facebook. I began hearing from people all over the country saying they wanted more stories, please write more, which I did. Through a suggestion by a local journalist, I created a blog so my stories would all be in one place.
Encouragement from readers led to my compiling some of the stories into my first book called “Funny Face: a Memoir,”which ended up winning a few national awards. My husband, who was battling progressive Multiple Sclerosis at that time, had asked if maybe I could write one about his family. He was about to turn eighty that Fall, so I wrote a book as a surprise for the birthday weekend I was planning with friends and family from all over the country, but didn’t publish it.
Unfortunately, he passed away before seeing it, which broke my heart. Instead of a birthday celebration we had a wonderful memorial weekend in his honor, and gave copies to all those attending.

Which book is my favorite?
For sentimental reasons, I think I would have to say that my book Edie in Between is my very favorite. It was fiction based on fact, and the story was told from the voice of my late husband’s mother who lost custody of him after her divorce from his father. My husband spent summers with her in a one room flat in Texas, and worked at the local army base where she was a dental hygienist. This was a far cry from his privileged upbringing in Illinois. Although I never met her, I had heard all kinds of crazy stories. She was a real character and party girl, but thought she must have felt like such an outcast, being “fitted in” to family holidays and such. My husband loved her so much. I just wanted to give her a voice.

What inspired the idea for Rewind Ranch?
The chapter in my memoir that resonated most with the readers was an essay on aging, something we face with little information and no guidance. No one prepares you for feeling one way on the inside and looking another way on the outside. I began wondering What if we could change that narrative? How would the ability to look and feel young again present itself and how? What is the modern day Fountain of Youth? I challenged myself to learn about the technological and medical possibilities, and create a place where previously pampered women would be enticed to go. Iit had to be more than superficial changes. It had to promise to change their lives. And with that, Rewind Ranch” was born.

What characters are similar to people I know?
I live in a beautiful condominium in Birmingham, Alabama. My late husband and I moved here when we realized he would be in a wheelchair in our near future. It was perfect for us. Now that he is gone and I am living alone, it is even more perfect. Our building is filled with a list of characters you could never make up. It is a mixture of young professionals and med students, retirees, and those needing a second home in Birmingham. Of course I am one of the retirees being 77 years old, and have a group of sassy friends that were perfect characters for my book. Margo is easily identifiable. She is our building hell raiser and avid Crimson Tide fanatic, Mary Grace and Lacey are a combination of several residents, and I am rooted in Elli, having lived in Texas for a long time, and worked in the advertising business for most of my career. The former three lived a privileged life locally, where as Elli and I did not.

What would I say to authors wanting to design their own covers?
Design, art direction and typography are learned skills, just like medical school. I doubt many authors would be so bold as to diagnose and treat themselves when sick. And I certainly understand the desire to control your product. After all, new authors invest an enormous amount of time, energy, and money into publishing a book. That being said, I did design the covers of all of my books. But keep in mind, I was a designer professionally, worked in marketing, and understood the necessity and nuances of branding a product. To be honest, the very first thing I do is design the cover and create a title, before I ever start writing the story brewing in my head. I am first and foremost an artist and very visual in all aspects of my life.

What do I like to do when not writing?
Honestly, I live in my head. I am always conjuring up projects and editing my surroundings. I think it comes from years of art direction, where by I am decorating and redecorating my house, editing my closet, and creating beautiful dinner parties. I love to cook and entertain friends. I work-out twice a week with a trainer in our building’s gym, belong to a Book Club and a Mah Jongg club, and make collages and jewelry from found objects. I love to read and travel. My sister and besties live in Texas, so I am there regularly. My family lives in London and I see them as often as I can. And, I go to our gorgeous white beaches every summer.

What books am I currently reading?
I just finished The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai and thought it was absolutely brilliant. I have just started The Women by Kristin Hannah and have The Friday Afternoon Club by Griffin Dunne sitting on my night table. I am dying to read it. I have always been a voracious
reader. I still am. I am inspired by Anne Lamott, Augusten Burroughs, Jeanette Walls, and Joan Didion. I devour their books. I am mesmerized by their transparency, honesty, and courage.

What advice would I give to other new authors?
I have often heard the saying, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” And that certainly applies to new authors. Most of us are not going to get rich or be interviewed on NPR or CBS Sunday Morning. Chances are we will never be mentioned in the New York Times book section or hounded by Hollywood producers. My advice to you is write because you have something to say. Write because you absolutely love it. Write because it feeds your soul like nothing else. Just write.

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