Snacks: You have so many great books and high profile
articles to your credit! What do you credit for your success?
Thank you! I believe that we all have God-given talents, and for some reason, writing is mine. I like what Jan Karon, author
of the Mitford series, once said: She wrote that she had no idea where her story ideas came from—they just came!
I have also been
incredibly blessed to have had many people teach me and encourage me along the way. At Vanderbilt University, for example,
I studied in the shadow of Southern writers known as “the Fugitives,” and I had remarkable professors, like Shakespeare
scholar Scott Colley, now president of Lees-McRae College in the North Carolina mountains.
journalism has also invaluable to me, and I probably would never have taken that path if it had not been for Vanderbilt classmates
such as Neil Skene (former publisher of Congressional Quarterly), Clay Harris (former London bureau reporter for
The Washington Post), and Ann Ahern Allen (Charlotte Observer books editor), who generously taught me what
they knew and nudged me relentlessly to get better.
So I was blessed with some talent, the gift
of an extraordinary education, and a solid journalism background at big-city dailies, like The St. Petersburg Times,
where a middling reporter might be pulled aside at any moment and informed that his or her work was “not up to St.
Petersburg Times standards.” I learned from this exercise in near-terror to set the bar high, to think fast but
write steadily when covering breaking news, to produce accurate copy every day on deadline, and be meticulous in editing.
By the way, I was lucky enough to get the Senior Editor’s job at Dalmatian Press by simply answering a newspaper
ad and lugging two tote bags full of books from my children’s book collection with me to the interview.
Snacks: I love the name of your website: Wren Cottage. Tell us the story behind it as well as your professional services.
Shaw: I’m a Virginian,
home of the Sir Christopher Wren Building at the College of William & Mary. The building (where Thomas Jefferson matriculated!)
was designed by 17th-century British architect Sir Christopher Wren and is America’s “oldest academic
building in continuous use.” The historic campus was dear to me when I was at W&M and so when I moved to Atlanta,
an architect friend dubbed my faux-Williamsburg home “Wren Cottage.”
When I was considering
names for my business, Kathryn Knight, editorial director at Dalmatian Press, said that she thought Wren Cottage was warm
and friendly, and also reminded her of a small publishing house. Then I came across an oil painting—the charming image
of a little Carolina wren perched on a stack of books—which had been done by a friend of mine in Nashville, artist Camille
Engel http://camille-engel.com/. Camille graciously allowed me to use the image, and I christened the business Wren Cottage Writing &
Editing. I’m so glad you like it. Everybody, come in for tea!
I was thrilled to get this note recently from
Sesame Workshop editor Betsy Loredo: “I love the name ‘Wren Cottage,’ by the way. What a lovely ring it
has; it makes me think of British novels of the war era, kind of solid and reassuring, unassuming but with a lively and indomitable
These days, I do mostly book manuscript editing, magazine writing, and public relations
for published authors. I also work with PR specialist-extraordinaire Mimi Schroeder of Max Communications http://maxbookpr.com/.
My favorite things to do are to help aspiring authors get published and write Sesame
Street books. I would live on Sesame Street if I could.
(Just some of Peggy's works for Sesame Street!)
Snacks: How would a writer know if they are ready
for your editorial services?
Anyone who wants to be a writer is ready for my services. I once knew an office manager who wanted desperately to
be a reporter. I would “assign” her stories and she’d practice writing them; then I’d edit and help
her rewrite them in my spare time. I was so proud and happy for her when she got a reporting job at a Texas newspaper!
I noticed a business card recently that advertised an editing business called something like “Rough and Tough
Editors.” That’s not me! I would be with the “Caring and Considerate Editors.” (Picture Mister Rogers
with a very small, fine-point, not-too-red pen!) People who write usually have their hearts in it. So I try to guide them gently, but firmly, along their way.
In addition to being a great writer and editor, you are also a public relations professional. How
do these professions complement each other?
I wrote and edited a lot when I did public relations
for the College of William & Mary and Vanderbilt—news releases, alumni magazine stories, speeches for the President,
commencement programs, brochures, faculty/staff newspaper articles… and Web site copy. It’s all communication.
Public relations work has something in common with newspaper journalism: It allows you to write and edit every day.
And just the act of doing
it, of getting something down on paper and then learning to either refine it or start over, is so important. You develop a
sense of your writing. And you get over the notion that you can only write when the spirit moves you. You learn to move the
spirit and get on with it!
Snacks: WOW! You’ve interviewed so many famous people! Tell
us about your most memorable interview and how you came to interview that celebrity.
see…I got to hobnob with Margaret Thatcher at a cocktail party, sit in a room alone with Warren Berger and listen to him reminisce about his years on the Supreme Court, have lunch with Patricia Cornwell,
chat with Wynonna Judd at her legendary yard sale, and stand alone with George Jones, in his back yard, as he told me how
God had given him the gift of sobriety. I also got to ask Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gene Patterson about his coverage
of the Civil Rights Movement, hang out with Christian singer Michael W. Smith at a barn he was converting into a vacation
home, talk with Roy Rogers about his Western movies, 1950’s TV show, and beloved palomino, Trigger.
My favorite interview, though, was with Mister Rogers. I was assigned to watch Sesame Street and Mister
Rogers’ Neighborhood at Vanderbilt when I was doing student teaching. I loved Fred Rogers’ way of saying
to children, “I like you just the way you are” and “You are special!” He came to Williamsburg, Virginia,
one year when I was a reporter. I stopped my car that day for someone sauntering over a crosswalk,
and when the pedestrian turned to smile and wave at me, it was Mister Rogers! Just like on TV! Let me tell you, I felt like
I was in the Neighborhood of Make Believe.
I immediately parked illegally and sprinted across the Courthouse
Green to catch up with him. A small crowd gathered while I was interviewing him, but he listened intently when I told him
that I thought his show’s message was an inspiration to adults, as well as children. He kept his eyes fixed on mine
and said, “How is that?” in his focused, leisurely way, even though we were surrounded by other people.
I found him to be a man with great generosity of spirit. After I mailed him a copy of the newspaper story, he sent
me an autographed copy of a picture of him with Trolley. It’s one of my treasured possessions.
I found out after he died that Mister Rogers and I shared the same favorite quote. It’s from the Antoine de Saint Exupery’s
book The Little Prince: “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
What one piece of advice do you have for new writers that they absolutely must know?
Shaw: Writing is a very solitary, and sometimes lonely, endeavor. So it’s particularly easy for new writers to get distracted
or try to avoid the inevitable—sitting down to an empty screen, or blank tablet of legal pad paper. One day when I was
a young writer living in Tampa, something occurred to me and I scribbled it down on a little piece of paper and taped it to
my desk lamp:
“To be a writer, you have to write.”
That’s it. It’s simple. You have to write. You have to write when the words aren’t coming. You
have to write when you’re not sure what to say. You have to write when the words are flowing, even if you’re
tired and it’s the middle of the night. But if you really, truly want to be a writer, you have to go forth and write!
I love this quote from Hemingway to Fitzgerald about writing any way you can: “Don’t you like to
write letters? I do because it’s such a swell way to keep from working and yet you feel you've done something.”
Snacks: What are your favorite writing snacks?
Shaw: Cold milk and a warm chocolate chip cookie
from Whole Foods.