Peggy Payne writes fiction about the intersection of sex and spirituality -- to her surprise and no doubt that of everyone who was in high school with her.
The pattern didn’t become startlingly clear until she’d published her third novel, Cobalt Blue, and reached the supposedly staid age of 65.
By then she’d spent years as a travel writer, TV and newspaper reporter, magazine nonfiction writer, from Ms. Magazine and More to Travel & Leisure and Cosmopolitan. After writing from more than 25 countries, she had expected to keep rambling about the world for the rest of her days.
But then came the overwhelming need to write fiction, an event much like a spiritual awakening.
Peggy dates her first glimmers of interest in writing fiction to the third grade, when she thought: “I could never be a writer, because everything I write sounds like me (not like real writing.)”
Her career then unfolded in fits and starts. Highlights:
Eighth grade: when a homework writing assignment unexpectedly emerged in rhyme, she discovered writing can be fun.
Tenth grade: Peggy learned that writing can produce school prizes, ground-level fame, identity, and an excuse for any personal peculiarities.
Duke University: She discovered that there might still be things to learn about writing.
Writing jobs: Summers at hometown paper Star News and, post-graduation, two years at The Raleigh Times, including covering desegregation of the local schools. Learned: One can get money for writing!
Age 23: Blind leap! Quit job and became a freelancer. Spent about 15 years writing travel stories and other nonfiction: from Poland for The Washington Post, from Wales for The Dallas Morning News, from South America for The Chicago Tribune. Covered the North Carolina legislature as a live on-camera reporter for public television.
Same year: Had a mini-religious experience after an interview with famous parapsychologists.
Thirty-something: Returned to office from covering a government meeting, frustrated by being an observer without a vote. Started writing a novel, creating a world of her own making.
Rest of Life So Far: Published three novels:
Revelation: a liberal university minister hears the voice of God, which disrupts his life, marriage, and church
Sister India: a troubled American woman flees to a Hindu holy city on the Ganges
Cobalt Blue: an artist in a conservative golf resort town has a mysterious spiritual and physical experience that initially tips her into sexual compulsion and searching for answers
Wrote a history of Doncaster women’s clothing company, co-authored The Healing Power of Doing Good, produced a great deal of copy for ad agencies, started her ongoing consulting service for writers, offering manuscript critiques and career counsel.
Since then, Payne’s fiction has been cited in Best American Short Stories and published in anthologies including God: Stories, edited by Atlantic Monthly fiction editor C. Michael Curtis, New Stories from the South, and Remarkable Reads. An interview with her, "Writing and Revelation," is included in Dale Brown's Of Fiction and Faith: Twelve American Writers Talk about Their Vision and Work.
She has been the recipient of an NEH grant to study fiction at Berkeley, and an Indo-American Fellowship to research Sister India in Varanasi, a North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship, the Sherwood Anderson Award, a 2014 IPPY for Visionary Fiction, and others.
Her public speaking has taken her to locations from Banaras Hindu University to Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church.
Peggy Payne writes, and works with other writers, in a sunny office in the Historic Oakwood section at the edge of downtown Raleigh, NC, sharing space with writer/artist Carrie Knowles and her Free Range Studio. She drives home to a log house on a pond in rural Chatham County where she lives with her husband, psychologist Bob Dick. From her husband's special interest in clinical hypnosis, she learned much that contributed to Sister India being repeatedly described by critics as “mesmerizing." and to Cobalt Blue’s award for visionary fiction.
She never decided to focus her fiction on sex and spirituality. Instead, the subjects emerge on their own every times she starts writing a new story.