Author Peter Petrack is here chatting with me about his new urban fantasy/adventure, Wayfarers Highway.
In addition to writing Wayfarers Highway, Peter Petrack is also a composer and performing trombonist. In recent years, he has found growing success as a writer of Jazz, as well as Orchestral, Choral, and Band Works. Between these two artistic businesses, Peter has frequently been forced to write in the third person. He lives in Pennsylvania, where he is constantly surrounded by pieces of paper.
Welcome, Peter. Please tell us about your current release.
My new book is a novel called Wayfarers Highway. It’s about an ordinary young man, named Orson Gregory, who winds up ruining his life. He gets involved in a decades-old conspiracy and is forced into a cross-country journey across America, to try to clear his name so he can go home again. To do this, Orson winds up with a motley bunch of travelers: hired guns, an innkeeper, an adventurer, and a mythology professor, as they all try to evade the terrorists and conspirators that are pursuing them. On his journey, Orson travels the great roads of America, struggles with his new friends and enemies, and faces the truth that the world is stranger than he ever could have imagined.
What inspired you to write this book?
We live in a bizarre time, and one where I don’t think anyone fully knows what the rules are, in business, with technology, with each other. Strange times are always the setting of stories, whether a real time period (westerns) or a fictional one (most of Sci Fi). I wanted to try my hand at contributing a story like that, but a story for today, about today. Ultimately, I hoped it would have that quality that many cultures’ folk tales have – they are very exciting stories, with relatable characters and struggles, but these stories also revolve around relevant ideas connected to a country or era’s culture.
I wanted to write that sort of story. That way, if you (a reader) wants a fun adventure, you can read a fun adventure story. If you want a deeper level, a meditation on modern myths and legends in America, and the wider world, that layer, or that story, is in there too.
Excerpt from the introduction of Wayfarers Highway:
the other patient
The moment Eloise Corwin awoke from her restless sleep, she knew she was in a room filled with people who hated each other. Angry whispers filled the stuffy air above her head. Yawning loudly, she made it clear that she’d awakened. Those around her fell into an uneasy silence. One woman asked how she felt.
“Better now.” Eloise lied. Her frail constitution, well known in those parts, had become the subject of much talk. Eloise hated it. She’d spent a great deal of time in her town’s infirmary, but she’d never felt weak. As heiress to the wealthiest farm in the southwestern town of Littlefield, Eloise kept up a strong appearance. “How is everything going in town?” She was trapped in that room most of the time, with no news worth mentioning.
“Very nicely, Miss Corwin.” One young man spoke. He looked at his feet, like he thought his glance might be too much for her. “But . . .” He stammered. “Mr. Corwin thinks that it might be for the best if you wait some days yet, before you get to talking.”
“My father needs to tell me what’s going on,” she said. “I can’t help him, but I have the right to know how he is.”
She said no more. There was no point getting upset. Half of the crowd wore the bland pale blue coveralls of her father’s farm, most of them sweat stained, mud splattered, beaten, and threadbare. Few of them would want to openly disobey her father.
The other half of the crowd dressed nicely. They worked in town. Their clothes were more varied, naturally, everything from dress shirts to a blouse, all of it cleaner, all of it clearly never worn on a farm.
And yet, almost none of it was new, almost none of it was truly clean. Sweat soaked everyone in the room, somewhere. Every square inch of Littlefield was beaten by the heat, the desert sands, or the poverty. Nothing escaped all three.
“Maybe we should all be on our way,” one of the farmhands commented. Eloise hated to see them all leave without any news. They were scared, the townspeople. Strange stories had been reaching Littlefield for months, conspiracies about terrorism and dangerous travelers wandering the country not far away.
All of it was oddly similar to the superstitions of frontier towns: ghost stories and monsters, wanderers and urban legends. Littlefield had long been an isolated desert community, and many of the quarrels in town, surely including the argument that had awakened Eloise, were part of the same reoccurring issue regarding their place in the world at large. Many of the townsfolk wanted Littlefield to remain alone.
Eloise had long been kept in the dark, but she often heard unusual and half-formed rumors of dangers on the roads and chaos in the big cities far away on the east coast. Her father put little stock in tall tales, but was afraid too. He owned the town’s biggest farm, and frightening bedtime stories did little but keep his workers up at night and tire them for the day.
Quickly, the crowd departed, except for a man she hadn’t seen before. He sat on the far side of the room, in an antique pressed-back rocking chair. Eloise could guess his age no easier than his name, yet he held himself with the confidence of greater years. He wore a navy cotton blazer. It was wrinkled. Only that and his overlong, dark hair betrayed him for the traveler that he was.
“Don’t you sweat?” she asked him. The man didn’t respond. He seemed concerned only for the occupant of the neighboring bed, which the crowd had obscured. The other patient was a young man, likely just out of school, dressed in the coveralls of her father’s business – a new pair. The uniform had none of the stains or marks of wear that most of the workers’ attire possessed.
In odd contrast to this, the patient’s face was filthy. He clearly hadn’t washed himself for some time. Though probably fair-haired, it was difficult to tell, coated as he was in dirt and grease. The chest on the uniform hung open, revealing a painful looking mass of welts on his midriff. He slept, his brow furrowed with worry.
“It’s strange for a boy to share a hospital room with a girl,” Eloise said. Littlefield didn’t have much in the way of medical facilities, but she wanted the silence broken. In all the time Eloise rested there, male patients had always been kept somewhere else. Then again, the town’s only certified doctor – a man who had for decades seemed elderly – had recently died. Now his aides were all that kept their ward operating.
After a time, the well-dressed man shrugged. “There was nowhere else for him to go.” Eloise had to strain her ears to hear his whisper over the hum of the dilapidated fans that ‘cooled’ the room. “If it’s any consolation,” the man continued, “he won’t be here long, only a day according to the man in charge. Your father, I suppose.”
Eloise got quiet. She knew her father would visit unless he expected her to sleep more. Not remotely tired, she stared around the room. The ‘Medicine Room’, as she called it, was a low-ceilinged chamber with a few locally made paintings covering the old and splintering wooden walls. The house had been built over a century before. That was long before the interstate made the old highway through Littlefield – ‘the Mother Road’ – obsolete. By that time, much of the old route was long forgotten or abandoned.
Littlefield had been isolated all those years. Eloise’s family had gone to great expense to keep the town alive, when the youth population shrank. Offering rooms in their packed manor house and seeking outside labor had depleted the old savings.
Eloise stared at the paintings, depicting beautiful sunsets, beaches, and other places she’d never seen in life. Her bed sat near the room’s lone window, its tall headboard blocking any view of the outside. Maybe the fields were in as bad a shape as she suspected. Her father would not wish her to know.
“What happened to him?” Eloise pointed to the other patient; he and the well-dressed man were obviously either friends or family, but she suspected the former. They looked nothing alike.
* * *
What exciting story are you working on next?
I just started a companion novel to Wayfarers Highway. It’s technically a sequel, but the themes and style is a little different. I’m writing it in such a way that there should be no confusion for new readers. There’s a name for that, is it “continuity lockout”? I think that’s the one. I don’t want there to be any continuity lockout.
They’re pretty different stories. I obviously want them both to be a lot of fun on the surface, that’s a given, but the first one is a more about dealing with the unknown and situations beyond oneself. The second has a slightly more long-term focus. What happens to normal people when their normal world slowly ceases to exist? I think this is a very relevant question today.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I considered myself a writer when I posted about my first novel on Facebook and several acquaintances of mine, people I hadn’t spoken to in five or six years, replied with an interest in the book. They aren’t people I see regularly. They aren’t family. No social interactions would have been made awkward if they simply ignored my work forever, but they immediately jumped onboard, for one reason or another. I felt like I’d worked some magic of my own to win their attention.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I work full-time in the arts. I’m a musician, a classically trained composer and arranger. That’s actually what I studied in college. Right now I’m doing a lot of freelance arranging and copy editing sheet music. Because I am (for now) freelance, my workday varies tremendously – all day in front of a computer screen, vs. a day spent at a musical conference, vs. time spent in rehearsals. I’m a very speedy typist and my music work has strengthened the creative part of my brain. It’s difficult making time to write every day, but my musical training has given me the ability to make the absolute most of the time I set aside to write.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I am very picky with writing dialogue. So much of how characters are viewed by an audience really depends on dialogue. I’ve spent hours writing unused conversations between my characters, trying to get their voices right. I think, more than almost anything, that’s what humanizes fictional characters and makes them memorable.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be the President of the United States. My dad was a political consultant and I’ve always felt a strong desire to be a public servant in some capacity.
My priorities switched to the arts. I am much too impatient to be under that much scrutiny, so I’ve never so much as run for any sort of political office.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Join me on the Wayfarers Highway! The road is dangerous, but there are things out there, wonders and answers that you won’t find anywhere else.
Thanks for being here today, Peter!