For as long as she can remember, author Cathy Pegau created stories in her head before she fell asleep at night. She was in high school when she made her first attempt at writing a story down, but didn’t share it with anyone, she said.
She put aside thoughts of writing to pursue a wildlife degree in college. Next she went to work, and then she got married and had a couple of kids.
“It wasn’t until our oldest was about 2 years old that I thought I might be able to write a novel,” Pegau said. “A friend was writing. It sounded like a good challenge, as well as something I could do between toddler things.”
Eighteen years later, Pegau is a published author with several books to her credit: a historical murder-mystery series set in Cordova in the early 1900s; three science-fiction fantasy novels and short stories published in several sci-fi fantasy anthologies.
“My first love was science fiction and fantasy,” she said.
One evening, Pegau was researching Cordova for a post-apocalyptic novel, when her husband, Scott Pegau, came home from a meeting. Scott told her about a cemetery in Cordova that few people knew about.
“We decided to check it out,” Pegau said. “While walking through the cemetery, we got into a conversation with Marv Van den Broek. Marv told us about a prostitute and her child who’d been murdered here in the ’30s or ’40s.”
Van den Broek is a Cordova resident.
“Marv’s information and that research sort of melded together to spur the first Charlotte Brody mystery,” she said.
The Charlotte Brody mystery series consists of two books so far, with a third set to release early next year and possibly several more to come. Brody is the main character, described as a suffragette and journalist who came to Cordova to escape her past. Brody’s brother Michael is a doctor in Cordova, and the heroine solves murder mysteries in the Alaska frontier town. There’s even a wise and saucy madam, who befriends Charlotte early in the first book.
It takes Pegau approximately 18 months to two years to write a novel, she said, from the first spark to the final release.
“I try to get in 1,000 words a day,” she said. “That doesn’t seem like a lot until you’re pulling your hair out to get a scene right. I’ve cranked out 5,000 words when I was really in the zone.”
Pegau said one of the biggest challenges she faces writing historical fiction, are making sure the details are correct, although she readily admits to tweaking certain things about Cordova.
“I do try to make the books as historically accurate as I can,” she said. “I might be able to get away with moving a building a few blocks, but if the musical numbers or technology, or clothing of the time are wrong, readers will nab me on it. I take creative license with some things while doing my best to be on target with others.”
Book one, “Murder on the Last Frontier,” released in December 2015; book two in the series, “Borrowing Death,” released in July, and upcoming “Murder on Location,” will drop at the end of February 2016. The series is published by Kensington Publishing Corp.
Pegau has further murder and mayhem in store for Charlotte Brody and her cast of fictitious Cordova characters, she said.
“I have three more books in mind,” Pegau said. “My agent has the proposal for them to send to Kensington. Fingers crossed they accept them.”
Pegau, her husband, Scott, and their two daughters, Robin and Cori, have made their home in Cordova since 2007.
Her family often helps Pegau flesh out challenging scenes as she writes.
“My family is a great help with plot ideas, titles and other aspects of the process,” Pegau said. “We discuss characters and plot points around the dinner table, or sometimes interesting ways to commit murder. Dinner at our house can be interesting.”
Pegau said one of the more humorous moments, is when she uses her kids as “victims,” to help choreograph murder or fight scenes.
“Perhaps that isn’t so funny,” said Pegau. “But, it’s a thing that I’ve had to deal with for a number of books. ‘Come over here and let me strangle-stab-shoot you for a second,’ is not unheard of in our house.”
Pegau, currently outside of Cordova on a quick research trip for one of her next novels, said she finds the town to be amazingly supportive.
“The museum and library folks have been so helpful and accommodating,” Pegau said. “And I can’t tell you what a joy it is to be in a store or on the street, and have someone stop me to chat about the books. Thank you, Cordova! You’re the best!”