Debra Eckert is a native Pennsylvanian who found her writing voice in the river valleys of the Pittsburgh region and beyond.
Writing came to her naturally as a child and adolescent, and much of her free time was spent creating and illustrating stories. She began her formal writing career as a journalist and then transitioned to work as an advertising and marketing copywriter and creative director, winning numerous local and national industry awards for her work.
Now preparing to publish her first novel, Debra writes historical fiction that portrays the dramatic experience of women whose stories have been rarely told in historical narratives dominated by the politics and war of men.
The longer version–my journey
It’s been a long journey to get here, but what matters is that I did.
I’ve always held the belief that what consumes you as a child is a big clue to what may be your life’s calling professionally. In my case, it was writing. Always writing.
From the age I learned to write, I began creating and illustrating stories, mostly about animals doing human-like things. I also wrote (badly) some Nancy Drew-type mysteries and even some stories about what you would call fashion influencers today–decades before that was even a thing.
My dream was always to write books, and particularly fiction, but for many years life (and fear) got in the way.
That life included terrible first jobs in a Southwestern Pennsylvania small town, a year as a dance major at a Pittsburgh university, and too much college partying in another nearby small town. Through it all, though, a tiny flame burned deep inside: write.
In college, I joined the student newspaper staff and wrote under the intentionally mysterious byline of D. Vincent. That eventually lead to a journalism internship and then a job at a local newspaper where I had the very good fortune to really learn how to write while collecting a paycheck.
That job was the true start of what would become a career that included teaching college writing, working as an advertising and marketing copywriter, and then writing as a freelancer.
Then a road trip changed everything.
Driving from Pennsylvania to New Orleans seemed crazy at first. My future husband and I had decided that we would spend 17 hours on the road in a 1986 Chevy van with worn out shocks and no air conditioning.
It’ll be fun, he said.
And actually, it was. We made it to Nashville, hit a few clubs, and the next day we got on the two-lane Natchez Trace Parkway to get away from the big trucks and road noise of the interstate.
It was a beautiful, scenic 400-mile drive on gently winding road that took us through places I’d never seen or heard of before.
We stopped at a few historic markers and took walks along trails deep in the woods. Those trails were remnants of an old road that native Americans and whites had walked to travel north and south in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
The woods were quiet. Mysterious. Desolate. Terrifying, even, when you thought of walking on this path, perhaps alone, deep in the woods for weeks, when
civilization could be no more than a log cabin or farm, not knowing who or what you would meet, or whether you’d live to see your destination.
As we walked, a thought began forming in my mind. There’s a story here.
As I stepped along the exact same earth that hundreds, even thousands, of people had traveled centuries before me, I started to envision characters, a storyline, and scenes that felt startlingly real. And for the first time, in a very long time, that long-glowing ember in my heart to write fiction suddenly burst into flame.
I saw the way. I saw the next step toward what I had always, truly wanted to do.
Finally. Here was a story idea that I was truly excited and motivated to pursue, to put in the time, discipline, and effort required to produce a novel.
It’s funny. For years, I viewed history as just about the most boring thing you could ever want to think or read about.
Once this story idea took hold of me though, I became obsessed–learning everything I could about exactly what was happening to and around my characters in their time, what challenges they faced that would be unthinkable today, how they lived and died, their most unimaginable, heartbreaking tragedies, and their greatest moments of happiness.
I also learned that I love stories about the experiences of women. So often in the telling of history, women’s lives and stories are sidelined. Instead, narratives focus on the prominent events and men who are tasked with navigating the politics and war of the time.
Standing and working beside these (and more ordinary) men were women–living in extraordinary times, in difficult and often dangerous situations, and who had to be resourceful and often daring to survive. The stories of these women are just as, if not more, compelling to tell and read.
I hope you’ll join me in my writing journey. It’s taken awhile for me to get here, but I cannot tell you how excited I am to do what I’ve dreamed of for so long.
On a personal note…
I love reading books in genres besides historical fiction. Among my favorite contemporary authors are Stephen King, Margaret Atwood, and Khaled Hosseini. I’m also a great fan of Tolstoy, Tolkien, Hemingway, and D.H. Lawrence. I enjoy non-fiction books, too, in the areas of entrepreneurship, self-help, spiritualism, and travel.
I’m married and live with my husband in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Travel is a particular passion of mine, and while the pandemic has kept me at home for longer than I’d like, I’m already planning what’s next–likely Scotland or a very special place in the Caribbean.