Veteran author R.H. Peake discusses his latest book, Love and Death on Safari, a novel based on his interest in ornithology and trips to Africa.
Now still writing poetry and prose in my eighty-third year, I embarked upon novel-writing after retiring from college teaching in 1998. I’ve published poetry and some prose since I was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, but I began writing novels only when I was no longer teaching full-time at what is now the University of Virginia’s College at Wise—what we like to call the western outpost securing the University against attack from beyond the Appalachians.
Since I taught literature for over forty years, it’s difficult for me to point to any one particular influence. I’ve read widely, but my own novels tend toward realism and comedy. My first novel was an academic satire set at a small Appalachian college entitled Jack, Be Nimble, a title suggested by the tradition of the jack tale still alive in Appalachia. Like the novels following it, this work has a heavy dose of what has come to be termed environmentalism, as I grew up on a farm and became a birdwatcher at age thirteen. My second novel deals with the surface mining of coal during the boom of the late sixties and early seventies. In Moon’s Black Gold my protagonist comes home from Vietnam determined to acquire enough wealth to marry his high school sweetheart. He succeeds, but the marriage is unhappy, he finds other company, and is tried for the murder of his wife but is exonerated.
My third novel Love and Death on Safari is just coming out. It is based on the many birding trips I have taken to Africa. Told in the first person, it begins in the middle of the action with the murder of a very obnoxious tour member. Much of the rest of the novel recounts the activities of the tour as all of the tour participants show their antipathy to the unpleasant victim. While writing this novel I was a member of a fiction-writing group. I found it interesting that the women found the birds and travel interesting, but the men thought the sexual triangle much more entertaining.
I try not to be preachy and have a good amount of sex in all of my novels, but there is an underlying message about the importance of the natural world in all of my novels and in much of my poetry.
My fourth novel Beauty’s No Biscuit is in production at iUniverse. A sequel to Moon’s Black Gold, it is also set during the coal boom in Appalachia. My protagonist of Beauty’s No Biscuit is the reclamation officer who appeared in Moon’s Black Gold. In this book he finds himself in conflict with a law-breaking strip miner who is also the kingpin of local crime.
Besides professional antagonism, they are at odds because Blackmun wants to strip mine a five-hundred acre woodland that George has inherited. George’s sidekick is a deputy sheriff who is working undercover for the FBI, and together they bring Blackmun’s chicken-fighting, dog-fighting, call girl and blackmail operation down, but Blackmun retaliates. Throughout, George is having trouble ending his affair with a newspaper reporter so that he can marry Heidi Leaves, head of a non-profit working for better reclamation laws. Besides several murders and a kidnapping, George and Mike are also occupied with hunting on George’s five hundred acres.
I’m not very successful in marketing my books, although I maintain a website at eagle1author.com. I invite you to visit. For my new novel I have signed up with iUniverse for a marketing campaign on social media. I’ll be interesting in seeing how it works. I know people exerting a great deal of effort in marketing excellent murder mysteries, but she has not had great success thus far. Luckily for me, I’m not dependent on the commercial success of my writing.
At present I’m trying to begin a novel about American interventions in the Middle East. I’m having difficulty getting started and am glad I have a writing group to bounce my ideas off of. I recommend that aspiring authors try to become part of a writing group.
If possible, join a group for poetry and another for prose (especially for fiction). Poetry explores the emotional world of the author, while fiction requires the author to create a world for a particular fiction.