Penelope Marzec has always loved words. Influenced by her father's career in journalism and her mother's creativity with art, Penelope started writing her first novel at the age of nine. However, she never tried sending out any of her work for publication. Since she also enjoyed working with young children, she became an early childhood educator and taught many first graders how to read while continuing her own education in art until she earned a Master's degree. She met her hero, Rich, at a Christian singles' group. They married and had three daughters. Becoming active in their church, they led the marriage preparation team, worked in music ministry, and hosted a RENEW Bible study group. Those activities gave Penelope more confidence and she became serious enough about her writing to brave the publishing world. She joined the New Jersey Romance Writers and later, Faith, Hope, and Love, Inc., the inspirational chapter of the Romance Writers of America. Her short stories and articles have been published in Byline, Writers' Digest, Romantic Hearts magazine, the Asbury Park Press, New Jersey Monthly, and Today's Catholic Teacher. One story, "Cruise To A Deserted Island,' was published in Romance Recipes For The Soul. Sea Of Hope won First Place in the inspirational category of the "Laurie" contest sponsored by the Smoky Mountain Romance Writers. Currently, Penelope teaches in a nursery school when she isn't helping her college-age daughters move in and out of their dorm rooms. She and her husband will soon be celebrating their twenty-fifth anniversary. They live only twelve miles from the small seaside town where Penelope grew up.
Q: Tell us a little about your life outside of writing.
A: Family has always been the main focus of my life. Our house is usually where everyone gets together-which means that on most holidays, I'm cooking for a crowd. I don't mind as long as somebody helps with the dishes!
I also have a real job. I teach in a nursery school. I have a great time playing the guitar and singing with my students. I also get to read all my favorite children's stories as well as do messy finger painting projects. I love my job.
Once a week, I go to a painting workshop where I have been working with oils for years. One of my daughters is a graphic designer. She created the cover of Heaven's Blue from a detail of an oil painting I did of the beach where I grew up. Beach scenes are one of my favorite subjects. I just finished a painting of Barnegat Light-I had to get a long, skinny canvas for the painting. I have started a painting of the marshes in Tuckerton.
Q: What made you start writing and when did you start?
A: I started writing when I was nine years old. My family is rife with storytellers, all competing with each other. As a shy child, I didn't stand much of a chance to get a turn to tell my stories-so I started to writing them down.
Q: What are your two favorite books of all time, and why?
A: Jane Eyre is my top favorite. I've always thought Jane to be the best of heroines. She goes through so much! For second place, I have two favorites-Christy and Gone With the Wind . The strong faith element in the Christy is touching and beautiful-plus I originally read it when I was much younger, about to become a naive, idealistic teacher myself. Gone With the Wind always held my interest because the characters are so well-developed-they truly live on the pages.
Q: How do you come up with the idea for a book? Once you have an idea, do you plot it out, fly by the seat of your pants, or what?
A: The initial inspiration for me can be triggered in various ways-in the case of the book I'm working on now, it started with a newspaper article. For Heaven's Blue, I was intrigued by the work my sister did in mosquito research. Then I start putting things together-asking "what if" over and over until I have a rough outline and character descriptions. I do like to have a little leeway when I'm writing the book. However, I don't change the climax. I always know where I'm heading.
Q: Do you ever use real people as the inspiration for characters in your books? If so, why do you choose those particular people?
A: Some of my characters simply appear out of nowhere, all set for action. I have no idea how they get into my head, but I'm glad they show up. I have created a number of other characters by combining certain specific traits from some real people I have known, individuals so memorable I just had to put them in a story.
Q: How much of your own life and experiences do you put into your books?
A: There are plenty of small little incidents in my books that my family and close friends often recognize. While the plots bear no resemblance to my life, I do sprinkle in many anecdotal events from real life. For instance, in Heaven's Blue, James gets bit by a green-headed fly and his arm swells up. I know that can happen because one of my daughters was the unfortunate victim of such a bite.
Q: What traits do you like or dislike in a hero or heroine?
A: I like characters who grow and change-so I feel they don't have to be perfect in the beginning of the book. They should have a few rough edges. However, I do want them to overcome their failings by the end of the book. I dislike heroes and heroines who do not change much at all.
Q: Have you made any big mistakes in your writing career? What were they, and do you think they did you lasting harm?
A: After I had written my first book, I signed on with an agent who charged a hefty fee for her services. I really knew nothing about agents, at that point, and I should have studied the matter further before handing her my money. I was far too naïve and trusting. I wound up wasting both my money and my time.
Fortunately, I joined the New Jersey Romance Writers and learned that there are those agents who charge a fee and those who do not. I cancelled my agreement with the fee-charging agent. Many years later, I found an wonderful agent who liked my work, but who also challenged me to try writing an inspirational romance. That inspirational romance was Sea Of Hope.
Q: Do you ever suffer from writer's block?
A: I haven't run out of ideas and so I don't believe I've suffered from writer's block. However, there have been times when I have felt so drained due to upheavals in my personal life that I just couldn't delve into my character's feelings because I was already expending so much of my own emotional energy.
Q: Have you found any effective ways for dealing with it?
A: The most helpful solution for me is to write something very different such as a non-fiction article or a completely wacky story. I don't give up writing, I just switch gears for a while until things settle down in my life.