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June 24, 2019
By Matia Burnett
Getting to Know Steve Peha, the "Best Overall" Winner of "The Spark" Prize for 2019

Indie author Steve Peha is finally living the “literary life” he’s always wanted. Peha took home the trophy for “Best Overall” at “The Spark: A Literary Event for Writers and Poets,” which is sponsored by BookLife and IngramSpark, and was held during BookCon on June 1. The event invited participants to share excerpts from their self-published books or manuscripts in progress. The one caveat: they had only 60 seconds to read, requiring the writers to pick passages that show particular flare. 

Peha won the top prize for his debut novel-in-progress, In the Time of Possible Selves: Book 1: Jordan’s Run. Peha was awarded an IngramSpark Publishing Package, which includes free title setup and revisions for a year, a gift basket, and a one-hour self-publishing consultation with Robin Cutler, director of IngramSpark.

 For Peha, who lives in Carrboro, N.C., it's been a fruitful few weeks: “Something really incredible has happened since BookCon. Interest in my book has reached a level I never imagined.” Jordan’s Run, the first in a series, takes place in a near future America following the peaceful secession of the West Coast and the North Atlantic states, resulting in the formation of two new countries, Pacifica and Atlantica. According to Peha, the series follows “a group of kids through high school, out into a world that nearly destroys them and, ultimately, back home at their five-year reunion where they vow to unite as one nation the three countries of Pacifica, Atlantica, and The United States.” The first book’s protagonist is Jordan Court, a high school senior experiencing personal tumult after her family moves to an ultra high-tech gated community in Birnam, N.Y.

Peha, like many English majors, once dreamed of leaving college and finding his way into a vibrant literary life, but he learned to temper his expectations, embracing writing opportunities as he found them. Working as a technical writer, while often gratifying, did not always benefit him creatively: "No matter how prestigious the tech, it was not exactly the literary life I'd hoped for." After 10 years in the field, Peha turned his attention to education.

Since 1995, Peha has taught writing to both kids and adults. While for some writers, teaching craft may feel like a distraction from their own work, Peha has found the opposite to be true: “The real secret for me in becoming a good writer was becoming a good teacher of writing.” Peha’s affection for teaching even let him to write a book. Be a Better Writer is a composition guide for teen writers that he published in 2016 through the small press he founded, Teaching That Makes Sense. Peha has several more books for teen writers releasing later this year.

Jordan’s Run represents a clear departure from his previous work: “I know I’m a good nonfiction writer, and that when I write about helping kids with writing, my work is very successful. But this is the first time I’ve ventured into fiction—in my entire life.” He’s working with an editor, Rebecca Monterusso, to help guide the novel series forward. And he’s eager for his consultation with Robin Cutler, as well: “What are my hopes? Actually, this is a very complicated time for me in my writing, editing, and publishing career. I have some big decisions to make about how and when to release my new series on writing for kids. Honestly, though, just like getting to read for one minute at BookCon, it will be a thrill and an honor just to speak with her. I am so thankful for this opportunity.”

While his own work is gaining attention, Peha continues to mentor fellow first-time fiction and memoir writers. Most recently, he became a certified editor through Story Grid, a program developed by editor Shawn Coyne. Peha calls his new role as an editor, “transformational…And now I most definitely have the literary life I’ve always wanted—which includes getting to know those 39 fabulous writers I stood on stage with at BookCon.”