In 1900 it took a tornado, a wicked witch and a trio of misfit friends to convince a little girl from Kansas that there was no place like Home. Our featured author today—Gloria Zachgo—also hails from the Sunflower State but happily discovered that all it took was encouragement from a writers’ group to firmly plant her fertile imagination and watch it blossom beyond her wildest expectations.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: So many of the authors we’ve interviewed over the years were voracious readers as children and claim to have been bitten by the author bug at a young age. Your own journey was quite a different one. Tell us about it.
A: I had three dreams when I was growing up. I wanted to learn how to paint sunsets, be a good mother, and continue being a cowgirl. Instead of reading, I discovered adventures with a variety of four-legged farm critters and a vivid imagination.
Though some would say I had a limited education, I prefer to think attending the one-room-schoolhouse in our community was much like having a private tutor for a teacher. Our teacher knew our individual strengths and weaknesses, yet we worked as a team.
I chose business school over college, married my high school sweetheart, and became a mother. It wasn’t until much later in life that I had any inkling I might someday become a writer.
Q: When did it first occur to you that “author” could be added to a resume which already included owning your own small business and being a volunteer?
A: After I sold my small business and gave up my volunteer duties, a friend asked me to join her Creative Writers Group. We were a motley group that dabbled in short stories and poetry for fun. And then, one day, I found my passion in fiction.
I attended an author’s workshop that our local library offered. On the drive home, I kept thinking of one of the short stories I’d written. Inspired and challenged, I went home to write the rest of that story. As I developed a plot and characters, a friend from my writing group critiqued and encouraged me with each new chapter. Finally, after a year of writing, I surprised myself with a finished manuscript.
I spent the next year reading a chapter a week to my writing group. Then, with much encouragement from them and my husband, I finally realized I didn’t want that manuscript put in a drawer and forgotten.
Q: Do you remember the first piece you shared with your creative writing group? How was it received?
A: I wrote a memory about myself as a child when I feared I was responsible for my horse, Nellie, getting stuck in quicksand. But, of course, it wasn’t quicksand—just a muddy creek. It was a true story of a child’s guilt and fear during one of her escapades. The class loved it.
Q: You started out writing short stories and then segued to full-length novels. Which would you say embraces a more challenging process for you—short-form storytelling or juggling multiple plot-lines and characters across a broader platform?
A: Novels. My writing is usually condensed. Details and descriptive elements that add depth to a story are often challenging—like a bar of rich chocolate—a little goes a long way. I feel too much description quickly becomes repetitive; therefore, I usually don’t write enough in the first draft. Where many authors are cutting words in an edit, I often have to add them. I suppose that’s why it took me four years to write Never Waste Dreams.
Q: For your historical novels, how do you go about doing your research—finding out everything you need to know in advance or looking it up as you go along?
A: For Never Waste Dreams, I made a rough timeline. I was lucky enough to find a book written by Dorothe Tarrence Homan, who was the Lincoln County Superintendent of Schools when I was a youngster. Even though I’d lived in Lincoln County until I was eighteen, her book, Lincoln—that County in Kansas, gave me information I’d never heard before. An example: the battle for a county seat with a town called Abram. I doubt many who are alive today even know there was such a town in Kansas, and I could find little information of it ever existing.
Q: In historical fiction, it’s a delicate balance between sticking to the facts and weaving in an entertaining story of your own creation. How do you handle that?
A: Since my writing is usually character-driven, I used my timeline as a guide. I wanted to mention the murders and vigilantes mentioned in Ms. Homan’s book, but my character’s stories were not about that. So, I used Tinker to bring history into their experiences, but then I focused on the Taylor and Carter reactions.
Q: If you could live in any period of history, in which era do you believe you’d feel the most at home?
A: If I could choose, there’s only one—the 1960s. It’s my own history of when I grew into adulthood. It’s when I fell in love with Ron, my husband of 55 years. However, if I had to choose another, it would be the middle 1800s, and I would hope I’d have enough fortitude to survive. But, unfortunately, in Never Waste Tears, my first book in this series, not everyone did.
Q: Tell us a little about Never Waste Dreams.
A: Never Waste Dreams is a sequel to my first historical fiction, Never Waste Tears. It is a continuation of two young couples on the Kansas Prairie. They tell their experiences in their own dialect as they struggle to fulfill dreams for their families and their land.
New voices are added as the population of their nearest town increases. New family and neighbors join them, some bringing joy, some bringing heartache.
While giving a few historical facts of the region, each voice tells of the personal adversity, perseverance, forgiveness, and pure grit it took to survive and continue on.
Q: What was your inspiration for the storyline?
A: Readers asked for more after reading Never Waste Tears. I’m so glad they did. Though I, too, wanted to know more of what happened to Carl, Hannah, Sarah, and Nathan, I also discovered new characters—Nathan’s family, Frederica’s family, and of course, Mathew.
Q: If you could spend a day with one of your fictional characters, who would it be (and why)?
A: I must cheat on this answer because I already have. I knew Carl as I was growing up. He was my maternal grandfather. I remember sitting in the back of a wheat truck with him when I was a kid. He taught me how to make wheat gum—yeah, that’s not as appealing to me now as it was then.
He told me stories of how he and his brother planted the Cottonwood that stood in the middle of my dad’s wheat field. He slurped his coffee out of a saucer. He listened to nature. How I would love to ask him the questions I never thought of as a child.
Q: Do your characters ever take you in unexpected directions than you originally planned?
A: All the time. When Frederica’s family left Jack on the prairie to fend for himself, I had no idea he and Mathew would eventually become friends. But as I continued the story, I realized they had a mutual bond only they could understand completely.
Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?
A: I fashioned Sarah’s quick temper after my own. In my younger years, like her, I would see a red flash when I felt wronged. I often spoke first and regretted later. Also, if it was someone I loved, I could never stay angry for long. Hopefully, I’ve mellowed some since then.
Q: Do you allow anyone to read your works-in-progress or do you make them wait?
A: It depends. Often when writing a short story, I wait. But a novel takes time. Until we were hit with a pandemic, I was in a novelist group that met once a month. I’d read parts of what I’d written, and they would critique and give me invaluable feedback.
Most writers know what it means to kill your darlings. I once wrote a darned good scene about one of the children getting into a fire ant pile. Then one of the novelists asked me what time of the year this took place. I researched. I had to ditch the scene.
Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?
A: I never did. After I wrote The Rocking Horse, my first novel, I queried at least 80 agents and received the proverbial rejections. However, some were kind enough to write back with encouraging notes.
My husband was my biggest supporter who agreed to help me publish my manuscript. Self-publishing was relatively new back then. So, we invested in a packaged deal from CreateSpace. From that deal, I learned what it meant to become a self-published author. I’m still learning and adjusting.
Q: Best advice to writers are who are just starting out?
A: Join a writing group. Listen, learn from them—from their critiques and suggestions. And most of all—enjoy the trip.
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: Housekeeping. I’m a scribbler. I write notes, stick them in files, decorate my backboard, and place them wherever convenient at the time that have an idea. Not only do I find snippets of paper in strange places, but my electronic notes are rather scattered, too. Hopefully, when I start digging through them, I’ll find some forgotten short stories to polish.
Will they stay short or develop? I never know. I write what’s in my heart at the time.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: More than anything else, I love developing new characters. They come from pieces of people I have known over my lifetime. I mix their quirks and their assets to build them. Then, I give them conflicts to make them come to life.
It’s true that if I know you, I will probably put part of you in one of my stories. But, if I do it well, you’ll never know for sure that it’s you.