Interview with Alexa Padgett, author of A Pilgrimage to Death

13 Aug 2018

What can you tell us about your new release, A Pilgrimage to Death?

As with all my best ideas, Cici Gurule popped into my mind while I was on a walk. I’d been asked to participate in a thriller box set—mysteries and thrillers are my favorite genre, my treat between more literary book club choices—and I was cataloging some of my favorite mystery characters. Andrew M. Greeley’s Nuala Anna McGrail Mystery Series came to mind, and I thought, “Why isn’t there a woman reverend sleuth? I’d totally read that!” Took a few more walks to get Cici’s past worked out, but I’m happy with the character.

So far, the reviews have been positive—people connect with Cici because she’s genuine. She struggles with doing the right thing just like the rest of us. And I’m thrilled by how much people have enjoyed the mystery component of this story! I watch the BBC’s Sherlock with my teenaged daughter, and we both get so excited when we have no idea where the plot is leading us. I hope I’ve been able to provide some level of thrill and puzzle-piecing for my readers.

What or who inspired you to become an author?

When I was seven, I read L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. That year, my teacher had a “reading tub.” She claimed it a special treat to snuggle into the heaps of pillows and read there—I believed her and spent many hours with Anne in that cracked, white porcelain palace. I’ve been hooked on novels since, though I tended toward genre fiction: fantasy, mysteries, thrillers, and romance. In fourth grade, my friend Ginger used to come over, and we’d write fantasies based on Narnia and Lord of The Rings. In some form, I’ve been writing since then.

What’s on your top 5 list for the best books you’ve ever read?

So, for me, there are books that made me reevaluate what I think it means to be human and books that made me feel. These are some of those books, in no particular order. And, I must note, my faves lists is much longer than five books!

Memoir of a Geisha


The Memory Thief

The Remains of the Day

The Fault in our Stars

Bonus:  My kids perform in a Shakespeare acting troupe. I’m a huge fan of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. For a tragedy, it sure does have fabulous comedic timing.

Say you’re the host of a literary talk show. Who would be your first guest? What would you want to ask?

I’d love to interview Diana Gabaldon and J.K. Rowling. I have two central questions to ask them. I’d like to know how publishing has changed for them over the past decade. And I’d like to know how they evolved as writers after the massive success of their first series.

What’s your favorite thing about writing?

The freedom to imagine. I like the idea of being able to create words, items, and people that don’t currently exist and put them into situations most of us would find far too stressful.

What is a typical day like for you?

I get up around 5:30 a.m. and work for an hour before my youngest pops into the office. We snuggle for a bit, then I make breakfast and school lunches for my three kids. I drop them off before eight o’clock and usually walk my dog with a friend and her dog. I’m home before nine, where I sit and work on a manuscript until lunch. I try to walk a shorter distance then because I’ve read the standing and movement keep me healthier. I come back and work—usually going over my social media accounts, answering emails, and updating my website, until I need to pick up my kids. After all the enrichment activities, I make dinner, and we try to sit down together so we can discuss our days. My younger two children still enjoy being read to—right now we’re reading Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase series, which we’re all enjoying immensely. Then, once the kids are abed, I either sit and talk with my husband or I go to bed and read.

What scene in A Pilgrimage to Death was your favorite to write?

I like the scene where the truck stalks Cici through the playground best. That one was so much fun to write! Want a peek? Here ya go!

After zipping up her leather jacket and slipping back on her gloves, Cici rode home at a sedate pace, trying to wrap her head around Anna Carmen’s presence—then immediate disappearance. As she stopped at the deserted intersection of Paseo de Peralta and St. Francis, that cool brush of wind intermixed with the much warmer summer air. Cici glanced around, wondering where the chill originated because it felt just like the cold touch on her hand in the Santuario.

A truck—the same dark tinted windows, dark exterior that had appeared at her house the evening she walked with Justin and her dogs—sped up as it entered the intersection from her left. The large engine revved loud as a roar as the back wheels squealed. The headlights aimed at Cici. A car kitty-corner to the black truck—the one with the green light, laid on his horn, alerting the rest of the cars now heading this direction to slow. 

Good. At least innocent people wouldn’t be hurt. 

Cici guessed it would be just five seconds until impact, maybe less. Probably, she wouldn’t be able to avoid impact, but no way she planned to wait there another moment and simply let someone flatten her.

She grasped the handlebars and squeezed the gas as hard as she could. Turbo injection—a nonstandard addition Anna Carmen made a few years ago to add some more zip to the machine—kicked in and Cici blasted sideways, up onto the sidewalk and into the field behind Gonzales Community School. 

Cici screamed as her bike jumped the curb, then hit the rock-strewn field with a teeth-rattling thud. She squinted, trying to keep her eyes focused on the space in front of her after the truck’s front chrome fender missed her by mere inches. Her heart revved near as fast as the engine of her Harley as she wove around the chain link fence surrounding the school. 

The truck tore over the rough terrain, spitting bits of gravel and broken sticks in all directions. Some hit Cici’s helmet, making a horrendous pinging sound. 

Cici squeezed the throttle harder and the engine shrilled as she took as hard a turn on the bike as she dared. She couldn’t outrun that big truck engine. Her tires skittered and Cici worked to regain better control of the bike. 

The truck revved, sounding closer. 

Cici gulped. Few choices. None good.

She’d been here, at this school, last week to read to the kids. The teacher—a friend of hers and Anna Carmen’s—had pointed out a gap in the chain-link that led onto the playground. 

Where was it? Far to the back, used to let older kids into the playground for the activities they didn’t want their parents or the school lights to discover.

The truck roared behind her, close enough for Cici to feel the heat through her leather jacket. 

There. She nearly missed the gap. Holding her breath, Cici veered her motorcycle through it, shrinking her body as tight against the motorcycle. The leather on her gloves and jacket ripped before the points of the chain-link managed to gouge the skin from the back of her hands and her forearms, but Cici bit hard on her lip as she shot through the wire and into the relative safety of the field.

Until the truck plowed through the fence.

Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?

One of my children has a chronic ailment. Slowly, painfully, I’ve learned—over years and years—not to fight against the problems because I can’t make those better or go away through sheer willpower. But I can be thankful for what I have now. I try to take note of even the smallest successes and to find the positivity in a situation. Some days are painful and hard and frustrating, but others…at least a portion of that time on those days…is pure magic. I want to hold on to that joy and to be thankful for the opportunities I have.

Alexa Padgett is the author of the new book A Pilgrimage to Death

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