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Interview with Brooks Preik, October 4, 2007 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Brooks Preik, October 4, 2007
Date:
October 4, 2007
Description:
Interview with Brooks Newton Preik, author of Haunted Wilmington and the Cape Fear Coast.
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Interviewee: Preik, Brooks Interviewer: Diesenhaus, Doug Date of Interview: 10/4/2007 Series: SENC Writers Length 60 minutes

Diesenhaus: Hello, I'm Doug Diesenhaus and today is October 4, 2007. I'll be interviewing Brooks Preik for the Randall Library Oral History Project on creative writing. So I think a good place to get started, perhaps the best place to get started is if you could talk about how you got started writing and how you've come to it.

Preik: Okay. Well like most writers I always wanted to be a writer but unlike most successful writers I didn't get started until I was about 55 years old. I have a degree in elementary education and taught school for ten years. Then I was a real estate broker for 35 years. But when I was 54 years old I was diagnosed with breast cancer and as you know that's a frightening diagnosis for anybody and when you go through all the procedures you have to, to deal with that, it gives you a lot of time to think and setting a whole new list of priorities was what I did. And I realized that life was not maybe as long as I had thought at one time and so I decided to try writing. I had earlier taken a short story writing course not that I wanted to write short stories but it was the only course available at the time and the person teaching it was a woman named Ellyn Bache who had had at that time several books published and one of them, Safe Passage, made into a movie and she was very encouraging about my writing. I really wanted to write just family stories and all for my children and grandchildren, but she seemed to recognize something in my writing that I didn't and so she encouraged me to do it. And when I had the breast cancer and decided that I wanted to sort of lay aside my real estate work for a while and concentrate on writing, Ellyn was kind of the catalyst that got things going. I belong to a writers group that she was in charge of and even though I never contributed anything I had been with them for a while and was really interested in what they were doing and the process of editing and all was very educational. So anyway, it's hard for me to make a long story short. It's the other way around so I'm sorry about that. But Ellyn called me one day soon after I had gone back to work after the operation that I'd had and all and she said that she had gotten a call from a local magazine that was printed out of Raleigh and they wanted an article with a coastal flavor but just kind of a lighthearted article. And I said, "Well, it's unusual that you should call because I've just finished writing a little article about growing up in Southport and going crabbing with my brothers and my dad and how much a part of my life that was when I was a child and it might work." And so she said, "Well I told them I wasn't interested but I gave them your name and told them that you were a good writer so don't tell them you're not." And I said, "Well, okay." And she said, "I'll help you with it if there's any problem." So the magazine called and I was at work and we had a fax machine so I faxed her this article and about an hour later she called back and she said, "Everybody in the office has read it and we love it. Can you send us some pictures?" So I said, "Well, I'll try and do that." So I found some pictures and about a month later the article came out in the magazine and from that point on I was hooked. I had done one little thing that I really didn't count as writing. It was a collaborative effort with the writers group. We decided to try and form our own publishing company and write a guide book to Wilmington. So I picked the historic places and Southport was one of them and Bald Head Island and some of the old places downtown including Oakdale Cemetery which is a fascinating place. And in the process of doing this book and getting together with this group, I would sometimes tell stories about these places because I'm primarily a storyteller not a writer I think. And one of the things that I told them about from time to time were ghost stories that I had grown up with. So after the magazine article was printed, Ellyn called me one day and she said, "You know I think it would be great if you would write a ghost story book and there's not a collection of ghost stories primarily for this area and I think it would be wonderful if you'd do that." And I said, "I just don't think I can write a book." And she said, "Well, it's nothing but a group of these little magazine articles you've been writing but a lot of research involved." And we talked about it. She had taken over the little publishing company we had formed after we finished our book and sold out our 3,000 copies and decided we didn't want to do it again. She said, "I'll publish it and I'll edit the book for you and we'll do it together and if it makes us some money, fine. If it doesn't, it'll be fun to try." So I started and initially I made a list of all the ghost stories that I knew that were actual local legend and lore. I had decided I didn't want anything in the book that was made up, like the Goosebumps stories or anything sensational like Edgar Allan Poe was one of my idols but I knew I couldn't reach those levels. So anyway as I made the list I began thinking about the research. I've always loved history and because I did teach elementary school and knew about children's fascination with ghosts, I wanted to take advantage of the local history in writing this book. So I ruled out any ghost stories that I didn't think had some basis in local history and lore. There was one actually that was popular at the time about Poplar Grove Plantation and I went up and interviewed the two ladies who had grown up there. The Foy [ph?] sisters and their family had lived there and they both told me that there was no such thing as a ghost at Poplar Grove that the house had been sold and a restaurant was now operating there and they thought that the ghost had been made up and hence the drawing power of the restaurant. So that was one of the things that I ruled out. As I started working on the research for these stories, it was absolutely fascinating because one story seemed to be tied to another. I found that I could find a lot of things in the library. They actually had a ghost file down there and the ______ is a local legend, probably the most famous and they had a lot of material already collected about that. So I took what I could find there, tried to authenticate as much of it as I could with going back in the old newspaper files and finding references to things. When you're working on ghost stories some of them 200 years old, you run into a real problem because there are no eyewitnesses for one thing. If there were, their stories would all be very, very different. And even the historical accounts in newspapers and magazines were contradictory so I just had to go sometimes to third and fourth sources to try and see what probably was the correct thing. There's another local ghost story, the man who was buried alive. I was tickled. Several years ago a ghost story book came out that included that story of coastal North and South Carolina ghosts and the girl who wrote the book said that you could visit the grave of this man who was buried alive in St. James Cemetery in Wilmington and there was a marker there. There's no marker in that cemetery, hasn't been for years, and it may be that the man's body was moved in 1858 when a number of those graves were moved to Oakdale. Another thing that I found out was when they widened Market Street they had to move a lot of the graves in that cemetery. In all likelihood the marker might have been a wooden one which deteriorated. But that's the type of thing that you run into in doing research. But because the stories were local lore there were a lot of families with ties to the original ghost stories, so I felt like Ms. Marple on a detective hunt trying to tie all these bits and pieces together to fill in, sort of flesh out the stories. It was about a six-month process and the reason I was able to do it in that length of time because it was really a huge job but because of the breast cancer and the fact that I could no longer take estrogen, estrogen has something in it that helps you sleep at night. It's a natural thing the body produces. I couldn't sleep at night so I was up at 12:00 and 1:00, 2:00 writing ghost stories. And one night I was upstairs, my computer was up there at the time and my husband was still living. He's been dead now for six years but he was asleep in a recliner chair in front of the TV at the bottom of the stairs. And the story of the man who was buried alive was very interesting to write because I had all the detailed information. I also had copies of two or three other versions of that same ghost story so my problem was how to make mine different in some way and I tried to imagine the inside of one of the old houses downtown and sort of put myself in that setting and how I would feel if I were the young man that this ghost appeared to. So I was upstairs writing and all of a sudden something happened that's happened to me a number of times and I've talked to other writers and the same type of thing happens sometime to them. If you're lucky, it'll happen to you Doug. But as I was writing it was almost as if I were no longer a part of the process. I was just typing up this continuing panoramic that was going through my mind. It was almost as if a video were playing and I was just recording the fact. And because of the subject matter it was so vivid by the time I finished, I was really, really frightened and it was about two o'clock in the morning and I had to turn off the lights and come downstairs and even that short distance I thought I can't do this. So I called to my husband and woke him up and he had to stand at the foot of the steps while I came down and then I read him the story and he was a good critic. He didn't write at all but he was really good at telling me what was wrong. And he said, "You know that one is fun just like it is." So once in a while that happens and it's really good when it does. As I said, in my writing the research if primary to me. Also, after that book I got an opportunity to do a lot of talks to civic groups and school children and all and that was important to me. And in doing that, it sort of built up a background of talking to people about my work, asking them questions, answering questions, and it was sort of a natural transition with that to interviewing for magazine articles. I really feel that my best efforts in writing are in non-fiction, although I'd love to write a novel and I still haven't ruled that out. But I did soon after that, through Ellyn again, get an opportunity to write a real estate article for a magazine that was coming to Wilmington which later became the Wilmington magazine and that went well. From that article, I got a sort of a steady job with that magazine writing articles, still keeping up my real estate work because that was the source of most of the income, but I was fortunate to get paid well for the articles too. Nobody seemed to be bothered by the fact that I didn't really have any experience. And I was very fortunate to have Ellyn as an experienced writer because she would read my articles and give me some help editing. I realized that I had to do more on my own and so as I started writing these articles, I've never thrown away a magazine in my life I don't think, so I had tons of them upstairs and I would sit down. If I was doing a garden article, I would get out Southern Living magazine, 20 or 30 copies of it, and go through all the garden articles. I would see how the format was laid out, what the topic sentences were. I didn't copy any of those but I learned from the way they were done how to set the articles up and so I really sort of taught myself the process of writing these articles. If I had to do an interview with someone I did the same thing. And some of the most beneficial magazines were the airline magazines because they had some really interesting and varied articles and from time to time had some good interview articles. So that was the way I taught myself in my late 50s to write magazine articles. Then that magazine was sold and Brownie Harris, the photographer, who was and still is an internationally famous photographer and he lives here in Wilmington, he decided that he wanted to start his own magazine. Flying by the seat of his pants and having no experience in writing, he had wonderful contacts, wonderful ideas, and so he asked me if I'd be the editor of the magazine and I fit right in because I had no experience. So I said, "Okay, if you want to try it, I will." And for two and a half years we turned out a really beautiful magazine. I got to write an article. I didn't get to do the interview because Brownie and Billy Cohn [ph?] a local writer went out to interview David Brinkley at his home out in Montana or Wyoming, Jackson Hole it's Wyoming, yeah. That's where they went. But Billy didn't feel comfortable writing an article because it was-- most of my interviews I did as a narrative. This interview was a question and answer interview. David Brinkley at the time, and I can say this now I think because he's dead, but at the time he was having some memory lapses so that article I had to take his autobiography and the interview and I had to check the facts against each other and then I had to leave out parts of the interview that were contradictory to the truth. That was one of the biggest challenges I've ever had. Then his wife and manager and he insisted that the article had to receive their approval before we published it so I had to submit that to them. We were just really pushed to get to press with that article and we hadn't heard back. So I very bravely called out to his home and he answered the telephone. I could hardly speak when I heard his voice because I wasn't expecting him to answer. And I said, "Mr. Brinkley, I don't mean to push you but we are really pressed for time and I know you know about that and I just wondered if you all had had an opportunity to read the article and if you wanted any changes made." And he said, "I don't think so but let me check with the manager" or whatever. And so he came back and he said, "It's absolutely perfect. Go with it." So I thought that was one of the nicest compliments I ever had. And then when he came here about six months later to have his star put on the Wilmington Walk of Fame, they had a big reception for him at the chancellor's mansion down on Market Street. Is it the chancellor is that what they call it?

Diesenhaus: I believe so.

Preik: At the time it was Dr. Leutze and so they gave a big reception and I had an opportunity to meet him and he once again told me how much he enjoyed the article and what a fine job I had done. So things like that kept me going. The article with Charlie Daniels was interesting because I'm not a country music fan. I like some country music and I loved his song, The Devil Went Down to Georgia, but I didn't feel that that was my forte because I prefer classical music. When I went to meet him downtown that day to write the article I was amazed because I am not a small woman but when he walked in to meet me I had to look up. He is an enormous man. He's very tall and he had a belt buckle on that was huge, about this big. It had to have been about eight inches across. I couldn't do anything but stare at that belt buckle which was about eye level I felt at the time. But we started talking and he was, first of all, a far more intelligent speaker than I had anticipated. I think I had a bias about country music stars maybe thinking they weren't quite as sophisticated as I would like to interview and I got myself set straight after that interview and learned a lot from it and was really, really fascinated by him too and the things that he had done, the places he had been, and the depth of his feeling for people and understanding of cultures and things so that was an interesting article.

Diesenhaus: I'm curious about Ellyn's support for your work. I wonder did she ever have any specific advice or specific guidance when you were getting started that was really helpful to you to get going?

Preik: She did. She always told me about the research to document everything very well because I might one day have to go back and refer to that. She gave me a piece of advice I did not accept on two occasions and I was glad I hadn't. In writing the ghost story book, Ellyn is primarily a fiction writer, and she wanted to make the ghost stories a little bit more sensational from a ghost standpoint and a little less historical and I said, "No, I'm not going to do it that way. It may sell better that way but I've got to write it this way because this is the way I feel about it." And so she said, "Well, okay, you do it your way." And she later admitted to me that I was right because that book is now in the sixth printing and I have the rights back now and I have my own publishing company just to publish that book but it sold over 20,000 copies which is kind of remarkable for a little regional book. But that one piece of advice was helpful and several times I have had to go back and check some research that I'd done and probably would not have been as careful about doing it if she had not gone over a lot of things in that regard. Another point of disagreement when I was writing the magazine articles she said that she in writing magazine articles never did recorded interviews. I said, "Ellyn, my interviews with people I have to look them in the eye. I have to see them face-to-face because I am a storyteller and when you tell stories to people you know which direction to go in based on the reaction on their faces. I see by your face, Doug, you probably do the same sort of thing when you do interviews. And if I'm busy writing I don't have that same reaction from people. Also since I was new at the process I felt very uncomfortable writing up an interview without the recording because I was afraid of misquoting someone. I write very fast and I think I could have done it that way but I don't think I would have ever captured the spirit of the people that I did in these interviews if I had to write and not just turn on the recorder. Sometimes people were hesitant but usually once I got started we just sort of pushed the recorder out of the way and forgot about it. And so she did a lot of interviews too because she started out as a newspaper writer, but we just went at it in a different way but that was a piece of advice I didn't take. Some of the best advice she gave me was when she first started editing the magazine articles I wrote. She would say to me, "You've got it all here. You've just got it in the wrong order." And she would move it around. She would help me to see that I had to have a certain flow in the article that may be different from the way you tell a story orally. She would tell me how important it was to get the reader's attention in the first sentence. So the first sentence was always my most important sentence in an article to me and especially the first paragraph. I had taken writing and English courses in college and you have to write a paragraph with a topic sentence and you have to write your research papers with the theme sentence and the topic paragraph and all that, but the whole process was a little bit different in writing a magazine article. And so when I was busy writing articles all the time I was trying to redo that first sentence and get it just right. And also I felt the last sentence was important equally because that's the impression you leave your reader with. And sometimes I felt like I was right on and then other times I wasn't sure I had it exactly right but it was the best I could do at the time.

Diesenhaus: I guess I'm particularly curious given that you started later in life and that it was an experience of potentially having more time and considering. Had you had ambitions to be a writer? Had you always wanted to be a writer?

Preik: I did in college. I took an English course in English literature, the romantic poets and that period and I did a couple of papers and the English teacher I had said, "You know you really ought to give some thought to doing some serious writing." I was also taking voice lessons at the time and the voice teacher was telling me the same thing. "You really ought to spend some time, more time than you're spending so that you can have a career in music." At that time and still now to a certain extent, I like to do a lot of things and in order to do one thing really well, like music or writing especially or art, you have to devote all of your time and energy. Writers who are really good, successful writers and John Grisham started out as a lawyer but that sort of ultimately fed his writing career but that's what he does all the time. I'm sure he does other things for entertainment but to turn out the volume of material that he or someone like Stephen King or John Updike or people like that do, that's got to be the focal point of you life. I've never been able to focus to that extent on any one thing.

Diesenhaus: How have you balanced it especially given the way you've described it talking about your first article? You faxed it from the real estate office. I know you have a family. How have you balanced it among your other responsibilities?

Preik: It has not been easy but because of the type of work real estate is the schedule is very flexible and that's why I gave up teaching and went into real estate because at the time I was divorced and had two young children and so I needed a flexible schedule so I could spend some time with them. Then I later remarried so I didn't have to be the sole support of the family and my real estate, while it was a primary job, it still was secondary in my life so I was never the hottest real estate salesman in town. I thought at what I did I was as good or better than most in town because I gave it my best and I did the same thing with my writing, Doug. When I was working on a project I just had to devote myself to that project. I had to put other things aside. The six months I worked on the ghost story book I worked night and day. I did a little bit of real estate but not nearly as much as I did ordinarily and I worked day and night to finish that project. And I've always been able to do that. Even in college, I was the one that crammed at the end for exams or waited until the week before an eight week term paper was due because I seem to do my best work under pressure and that's nerve racking but I never can seem to do anything well until I have that pressure on me to do it. So you will never get a chance today to see the rest of my house. These two rooms are clean because you're here today. I am not a good housekeeper. That's not my function in life. I love it nice and clean but if it comes to cleaning house or working on a fun project, the fun project wins out. So that's sort of the way I've been able to do it. I'm not writing as much now as I was because I have a 3-year-old and an 8-year-old grandchild and they are really the focus of my life right now. But in playing with them and working with them and all I find that there are things I want to write because of them, so as they get a little bit older and I spend a little bit less time with them, I'm probably going to be writing some more things about my family and stories that I want to pass onto them which was the original reason I started writing more little memoir type things like the crabbing story. They love to hear stories because I was born in 1938 and with the changes in the world in the last 75 years it's as if I'm an alien from outer space so these stories are very different.

Diesenhaus: I know that you do readings with school age children and also older people and I wondered if you could talk about that experience. What is it like to perform things that you may have written?

Preik: I love it. That's another reason I wanted to write because I had gone a lot of times to readings that writers did and I just love the whole process of them being able to stand up and talk about their book and the research and everything. Ellyn, on the other hand, my friend, cannot stand to do that but I love it. That's where I feel that I'm in my best element because I was always in high school plays and in college I was in charge of the senior follies which is the group of stunts and musical numbers we did. That's another part of my personality. I still would like to be in a play down at ____ hall. I haven't given up on that yet. But I just love to be in front of people because I love making people laugh and seeing that they're enjoying something. And when I taught school I think I probably had the best reading group in the school because we always had fun. I remember and I shouldn't say this because it sounds a little bit egotistical but back when I was teaching and they go through all kinds of phases but then they had in the fifth grade, which I was teaching that year, they had three fifth grades and three reading classes and I got the low reading group. The children actually changed classes and, of course, it doesn't take children more than a week to realize they are the low people on the totem pole which is a really bad way to teach reading I think. But it was my job to do that. These children would drag in with long faces every morning for reading and my job I felt was to make them want to be there and to learn to read. I had this little skinny book from Scholastic magazine about this scientist who bet a friend of his that using the scientific process he could break out of a penitentiary in a certain amount of time. So his friend who was a policeman said, "There's no way you can do it." And he said, "You'll have to have special things that you take in with you." He said, "No, I'll go in just like the other prisoners with no other thing." And so it was a short book but I read the children a chapter of that book each day at the beginning of the class and it was just the most interesting book and how he managed to do it. I wish I still had the book but I don't. But after the first week of reading this book to them and we'd just read a little bit each day and then go on to reading, the children were coming in the class with smiles on their faces. And the teacher who had the high reading group had been teaching in that school and I'm not going to tell you which school it is because it's here in town and she's dead now so it doesn't matter, but she had been teaching in that school for about 25 years and she always got the high reading group. She went to the principal and complained that the children in her reading group wanted to come to my class. He came to me with a smile on his face and he said, "I hate to even come tell you this but I need to let you know what's going on and she's worried that you're not teaching the proper reading skills because you're just entertaining the children." So that was sort of my philosophy all through life. I think you can teach people anything if you can get them to laugh and be interested in what you're saying. And when I go in, of course I've got the best subject in the world, but I love to talk to children's groups and I love their questions. One day I was over in Barnes and Noble and that's a tough order because if they say there's someone telling ghost stories you have toddlers on up to adults, but I was doing the best I could with this group. And then I can't read. I have to tell a story because I've got to do it on a Kindergarten level and an adult level all at the same time and it takes a lot of juggling to do that. But I was telling the story about the house downtown where there's a specific odor of sweet potatoes in the house that comes every now and then and footsteps on the stairs and that sort of thing. This darling little boy, about this high with blond hair, after I finished looked up at me and you would have thought the child couldn't even talk but his eyes were as big as saucers and he said, "I have a question." And I said, "What is it?" He said, "Do ghosts like ice cream too?" I said, "I'm sure they do." It is just so much fun doing things like that. But then in classrooms where you have an age group, then you can zero in on the history and the children love the story of the _____ lighthouse and the story of the Bellamy mansion. You talk to them and then because I love to teach too I can bring in all this history. And I've had letters from teachers who have told me that I've made teaching local history so much easier for them because now they see how to get into it and then the children are hooked before they know it so that's been very gratifying to me.

Diesenhaus: Do you feel that you're carrying on that oral storytelling tradition?

Preik: I do.

Diesenhaus: Is there something about the talking of stories and the listening that you think is particularly valuable or brings something else to the story?

Preik: I think it does and I tried to write the book like I talk and I think I accomplished that just from the comments that I've gotten. And sometimes when I give the book away to an adult, a friend that I know is an avid reader and I say, "Just keep in mind this is not great literature. These are just old time ghost stories." But I do think that there's something about the oral tradition. I remember the storytellers in my life and I remember the way they told the story and the expressions in their voice. I was in Scotland this summer with my grandchildren and we had an opportunity to go to the John Knox [ph?] house in Edinburgh and they had a storytelling festival that afternoon and they had storytellers. We listened to three different ones, one from Ireland, one from England, and one from Scotland and it was interesting to see how different they were yet how they too were able to capture this crowd from little children to old people and do it with hand gestures. One fellow had an instrument and sang and just a lot of different techniques. I think children and adults remember those things even more than reading something but yet I think reading is of equal importance because when I'm telling a story I can describe something to someone and they can hear in the tone of my voice something that tells them more about it. They don't have that in reading yet the reading challenges their imagination so they've got to come up with the pictures. I can't paint the pictures as easily when I'm writing as I do when I'm telling the story. And so I like both sides of it.

Diesenhaus: That made me curious if you listen to audio books or if you thought to maybe record your book as an audio book to sell as well.

Preik: Ellyn and I both thought about that at the time and I wanted to do that. I just never could. We couldn't figure out whether it would be financially sound to do it and I would still love to do it. I did record part of the man who was buried alive and I did a program for WHQR about six years ago. They had a young man down there who was in charge of special programs and all and he was a friend of my hairdresser. So I had given my hairdresser, this young man, a book of my ghost stories and he told his friend about it and so he called me and asked me if I would be willing to read one on the air and we recorded it and he did the background music and all and it really turned out great and I still have that tape so I would love at some point to do that. I think it would be fun to do, maybe not just strictly this book but add some other things. I also decided after this book to do another collection of ghost stories and I've got probably two-thirds of that done and then I decided I didn't want to do it because I really felt I had the best stories from this area in that book and I would be competing with myself and I didn't think I could do as good a job with the second book as the first because of the nature of the story so I just put that aside and didn't do it.

Diesenhaus: I'm curious because so much of your work is about the Wilmington region, I'm just curious what's it like to kind of interact with that history and to research it and to encounter it and teach it? It's about your place where you are.

Preik: It's wonderful and I love world history. I didn't get a major in history in college but I took every history course I could as an elective just because I love it. I grew up in Southport which was as isolated a place as you could get in the '40s and early '50s. For instance, my family never owned an automobile. My mother and dad never had a driver's license which is just the strangest thing to people today. My friend taught me to drive in high school and the first time I had an automobile was when my brother who was three years older than I was in the Coast Guard and bought a '55 Chevrolet and had to go on a cruise to the North Atlantic and left the car at home with me and made me swear that I wouldn't drive it more than a couple of times a week and all. But that was the first time I was able to drive a car. But because of the nature of the town being small like that, no television until I was in high school. The first TV set in town I think I was a senior in high school and then it was the Wilmington station. It was all snow. You could just sort of see the outlines of people. When I was in college at Carolina I graduated in 1960 but even as late as that there were two TVs in the dorm. It was originally a men's dorm and for medical students. It was near the hospital and you went in the central entry and there was a parlor and that's what they called it there on the right side and a parlor on the left and we had wooden chairs lined up in that parlor in rows and a television set at each end and we watched Rawhide and Maverick on the weekends. That was big entertainment then and that was it, no individual TV sets. So I grew up in a time of storytelling. My dad loved poetry so he read poems to us. Tennyson was one of his favorite poets and he used to read Enoch Arden, the story of the shipwrecked sailor, which later sort of was paralleled in a movie with Tom Hanks. What was it Castaway or something like that?

Diesenhaus: Yeah.

Preik: But the words to that story I remember even before I could understand the words the sound of his voice and the beauty and the rhythm of that poem. Every Christmas whether we wanted to or not we sat while he read Dicken's Christmas Carol. My mother loved telling stories to us and reading to us and she read Old Mother West Wind and the Wind in the Willows. She loved animals so her stories were animal stories. We had Compton's Picture Encyclopedias and it had animal stories in each volume of those books. I think I've still got them upstairs in the attic. Our whole life was centered around reading and listening to stories. My dad worked in Raleigh and came home on the weekends because Southport was a fishing village and my dad, all of his uncles and his father were river pilots, but my dad he liked to go out in a boat but he preferred fishing with a hand line off the end of a dock. He was not a river person like they were or a sailor. His brothers were but not he and he was an accountant. He worked for the state up in Raleigh and you might wonder how with no driver's license and no car he got home on the weekends, but in the summertime he came with a friend whose wife ran a hotel out at Wrightsville Beach and he rode down every Friday with him and caught the bus from Wilmington to Southport. There were about four busses a day running back then. He would catch the bus home or people in Southport who shopped and worked in Wilmington knew daddy's schedule and they would swing by the bus station to see if he was there on their way home to Southport and if he was they would just say, "Come on, Ed, we'll give you a ride." It was just funny how he was able to work it out like that. But when he would come on the weekends there were five children in my family, my oldest brother was gone because he was 12 years older than I, but my dad would give my mother a break. She would do his laundry and get his stuff ready to go back. She'd do all the cooking that he liked. He would take us for long walks or crabbing trips and things like that. In the fall, we'd go out in the woods and get chincopins and he would tell us about the history of the town and the history of his people. His family settled there in the mid-1800s and they were sailors who came from England to Barbados and then from Barbados to Fort Fisher. And after the Civil War my great grandfather moved to Bald Head with his sons and then eventually they moved over to Southport and all of them built houses in Southport in the early 1900s. And then the cemetery down there is full of my ancestors. So I grew up in living history. I was related to everybody in town almost. And then I always loved coming to Wilmington. It was just the greatest place in the world. When I was a teenager I'd catch the bus and come over. My cousin lived out in the country. She would flag the bus down out _____ and we'd ride in together and go to the Bailey Theater downtown, eat lunch at Green's Drugstore and shop around and just make a day of it. I just thought that was wonderful. Entertainment for school, as I said in the book, was sitting around a campfire and roasting hotdogs and especially over at Long Beach in the spring and the fall. I was a Girl Scout so we went. I was part of the Methodist Youth Fellowship and that was the big entertainment for young people then. If you were a Baptist, you had your Baptist group. If you were Methodist, it was the youth fellowship. We had folk dances back then. The Methodist Publishing Company put out folk dance records and so we did that. And then we had countywide meetings where we all got together and part of that was storytelling. So I just came from a whole background and tradition of storytelling and local history.

Diesenhaus: I'm curious are there any parallels between your writing and that kind of storytelling and your real estate work? Do you find when you're showing people it's a similar way of--

Preik: Exactly. I think that's why I was as successful in real estate as I was without doing the cold calling, without doing the things that salespeople are taught to do. When I met people I knew that if I established the right rapport with them they would send their friends to me and their relatives, so every person that I met to deal with the first thing I did with people from out of town, and this was long before I wrote the ghost story book, I would take them on a tour of the downtown. The traffic situation was much easier then. But we'd go downtown and I would tell them why I loved living in Wilmington and I'd show them the ____ house and tell them that the local history said that Lord Cornwallis planned his campaign for Yorktown right here in Wilmington. That part is true. Whether he actually stayed in that house no one can prove. But if I thought they were really interested in revolutionary history and I would get that reaction from some people then I could go on to revolutionary history. We would go by ____ hall and I would tell them about ____ hall and the famous actors who had been there. Drew Barrymore's great grandparents acted there, all kinds of connections there. Buffalo Bill gave a Wild West show there one time and the posters for that show they went to my grandfather who had a farm ten miles out of town and a big barn right on Highway 17. And my grandmother wrote in some family stories that she wrote down that the promoters for the Wild West show came out and paid them to let them put these big posters on the side of the barn. So there are all kinds of stories there. If they liked art and drama and all, then I knew where to go. And the next stop was St. James Church with a man who was buried alive and if they weren't interested in anything else, they never forgot that ghost story and I would tell them about that. I'd see people, I can see people right now that I sold a house to 30 years ago and they'd say, "You remember when you told me that ghost story about a man that was buried alive?" So I realized that my love of history and my communication skills with people and my art of storytelling was very useful in my real estate work. I didn't have salesmen skills. I never felt that I was a salesman. I felt if someone told me what they wanted in a house I knew the market and I could take them to that house and, again, the market was much smaller back then. There were maybe 350 properties on the market at one time so given an area I would know immediately what someone might want after spending a little time with them. And so I felt that my real skill was finding the right property for someone. I was good at financing and back then there were only three types of mortgages, FHA, VA, and conventional and only three types of loans when I first started so that was much easier and that's how I really made the money in real estate without working quite as hard as some other people because I never had to go look for customers. They came to me by referral if I did a good job, which I felt that I did. I didn't have the volume but I had enough volume to earn the amount of money I needed and beyond that I didn't care. Money's never been my motivating factor so I wish sometimes it were but anyway that's it.

Diesenhaus: I think I have time for one more question.

Preik: Okay.

Diesenhaus: I essentially want to ask if you have any advice for a writer. Coming back to specifically what you're saying in terms of storytelling how you tailor it to different groups of people in terms of real estate, are you saying you find a connection or a look in someone's eyes if that can also be applied to how you find your way writing.

Preik: I think it can and I think I was very fortunate because in learning the skills to become a teacher I learned how to integrate subjects, how history was related to math, and to transition from one subject to another with children and show them why in this science experiment how that might be related to history in some way, how geography affects history, why the people who live along a river can have a successful trading post, while those who settle back in the country may never grow rich and all of these things. So everything to me since I was a child has been a story because I loved stories. My whole life I see in terms of stories and sometimes that's hard because stories have a beginning, middle, and an end and usually the end you're looking for is the happy ending. It was really rough for me as I grew older learning that every story didn't have a happy ending but I still see life in those terms and so everything that I do is interrelated but it has a story like quality. I think if you can learn to do that, if you want to be a writer, if you can see things in terms of stories and all, that's one aspect of it. The hard part is sitting down and actually doing the writing and there's no getting around it. You have to do it and I always like that quote and I never can remember when I'm trying to quote it who said it. Maybe you'll know the person who said about sitting down to write all you have to do is open a vein and just let the blood drain out, how hard it is to do. But you actually have to write and I find that once I get any idea on paper I'm ahead of the game. The revision to me is the fun part. I love doing that, writing and rewriting, because then the story takes shape and I see it in my mind. But I would encourage anybody who writes or wants to write to sit down and start writing. If you can't think of anything from your imagination write about something you just did. I was reading an article by Pat Conroy just last night about how he wrote the Prince of Tides and he said he was living in Rome at the time and this story just started taking shape in his mind about the low country in South Carolina where he grew up. And he was in Rome so he had nothing that was even similar to that but he had his journals with him and he said he was a terrible journal writer because he was never consistent but he did go back to those journals and he found just little sentences, one line descriptions of people or bits and pieces of conversation and he was able to take those and develop that novel while he was in a place totally unrelated. Clyde Edgerton does the same thing. He says he hears bits and pieces of conversation in a restaurant at the next table and he's like a voyeur almost. He sits down and writes them down on the napkin and stuffs them in his pocket but he never lacks for dialog in something he's writing. So you have to learn to be aware of your surroundings, write them down, keep a pad in your car because if you once get an idea and you love it in your mind, if you don't write it down right then an hour later it's gone and you can never create that sequence of words. I keep a pad by my bed because I still have trouble sleeping at night and when I wake up sometimes I have a really great sentence and I'll just write down one sentence but somewhere I'm going to be able to use that sentence. I keep lists of words that I love the sound of so that's my advice to writers.

Diesenhaus: Thank you very much.

Preik: Thank you, I've enjoyed it.

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