It’s been a while since I’ve had an author interview around here, so I’m REALLY excited to have one to post.
Donna is another friend I’ve met through Authors’ Tale. She is one of the most encouraging and supportive people I’ve had the honor of meeting within the group. Her style of writing and mine are very different and focus on very different things, but she is an absolutely delightful woman and I’m honored to share my space with her today.
Where did you grow up and do you live around there still? What drew you to where you live now?
I grew up in Villa Park, IL a suburb of Chicago. Nowadays I live in a quiet little suburban town and love it and the people here. I keep a membership to Brookfield Zoo, and each year we buy a membership to a different museum and spend time exploring everything. The best thing about Chicagoland is that there’s always something fun and interesting to do.
Dogs or cats?
I love them both for different reasons. Dogs are so loyal and loving, protective and humorous. Cats are loving in their own, quirky way…nothing says I love you like dead rodents left on your pillow. I think one of my love languages is time spent together and the other is gifts…in that way they both fill my life with love.
Morning person or night owl?
I’m super adaptable, but naturally tend toward night owl.
Coffee or apple cider or hot chocolate?
Yes, please! I love them all. But coffee is a staple.
City or country or ‘burbs?
I honestly love them all, but probably will stick in suburbs because you can reach country and city in very little time
Favorite music to write to? (or silence?)
I feel like a copout saying everything to all these answers, but I love variety. I had a couple of wonderful country playlists when I was writing the Taking Flight Series, but when I sat down to write Interrupted, the novel I’m currently writing, that music was all wrong. I made a few different playlists to capture my characters – oldies rock and roll, big band era, and an embarrassing 80s list. They like music and dance, a lot, and there’s multiple generations, so it worked really well. But the one that really surprised me was club mixes. I’m a rock n roll girl through and through, but the club mix really sent me into a writing frenzy. Go figure.
Favorite movie? (It’s okay if there’s a few… I’m not sure I could narrow down to less than 10, haha!)
The Blues Brothers, The Godfather series, Princess Bride, Moonstruck, Big Fish, Steel Magnolias (the original, I haven’t seen the remake)…these are my most favorite because they absorb you into their world, and a few really make me laugh.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I’m a mom to four awesome humans and two amazing fur babies. They take most of my time and energy. I love taking them to museums and the zoo, and out to explore – they’re my world.
Top 3 MUST READ books?
Harry Potter series (I’m counting as one!) It’s the battle of good vs evil, overcoming the odds and is the richest tapestry of lore and fairy tales. It’s simply magical.
Most of Maive Binchey’s books, but my favorites are Tara Road and Evening Class
Tuesdays with Morrie – I freaking loved this book. I still get chills thinking about the lessons learned from chats with Morrie.
A Walk Across America – a cynical man in the 70s decides to see for himself how bad things were in the country. He learned a lot along the way. It’s an amazing view into the real America.
Gods and Generals – I’m an American History nerd and this brought the Civil War to life for me.
Bonus: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and How to Win Friends and Influence People both helped this awkward chick learn to overcome shyness and insecurity.
When did you first know you were a writer? Was there a specific moment when you thought “yes, I want to be a writer” or has it always been part of you?
Uncle Sam made me a writer first. In the Air Force I served as a journalist first in my Public Affairs duties. Later I wrote as a civilian for newspapers, but things happened, and I stopped writing altogether. I think I’d have kept not writing, but more things happened. And a book took form in my head. I couldn’t find it anywhere I looked, so I knew it was up to me to get it out there for others to enjoy. It took me ages because of having so many kids and responsibilities. Some weeks I was lucky to get a sentence down. But I plugged along and eventually wrote and published Taking Flight: Departure, Taking Flight: Turbulence, and Taking Flight: Arrival, which are finally all available as one collection online and in print. It took five-ever as my daughter would say.
When did you decide to pursue writing as a career? How did those closest to you respond?
I told very few people what I was doing. Unfortunately I lived in a very toxic situation. But, honestly, talk is cheap. It’s better to just do it instead of hearing everyone say it’s hard or you could never do that. It’s fun when people underestimate us, and we can witness the look of disbelief in their faces when you unveil your masterpiece. I love those moments, its sad how often they come to pass.
What is your general writing process?
I do so much thinking first. Like a crazy amount. It rolls around the empty halls of my mind, rattling about, picking up plot points and wild characters. Then I sit down to write. I do a little planning, but my memory is horrible, so I keep spreadsheets of important things like names, attributes, plot points, etc. Once it goes into the story I bold face that item on my spreadsheet, so I can be sure it’s in there and even refer back to it later.
What is your general editing process? How long do you wait between finishing the first draft and starting to edit?
The first time we learn so much. I rushed everything. Then I spent so much time undoing that mess. I won’t rush again. So with my next book, Interrupted, I’ve had it written for a long time, I set it aside when I realized Taking Flight should be a series instead of one book and needed serious rewrites. But by the time I got back to it, the story was new. I found myself laughing and crying as I read this story. I write for myself, so that’s a special kind of magic to enjoy your own story. But I digress…by sitting on it, I could see what’s written instead of what I intended and could then shred it in rewrites. I am still shredding it as I write this.
I shared with a few friends for insight and to look for plot holes.
Once I have it just how I want it, I’ll send it to a book editor to be eviscerated. That’s the best feeling in the world. Weird, I know, but steel sharpens steel, so having it ripped apart again, means it’ll be that much better in the end. I love that somebody cares enough (even if it’s their own bottom line for the money I paid them) to make sure the book is at its best when I finally presented to readers.
Do you use alpha/beta readers? How do you find them?
I do. I’m blessed with friends who love to read and want to help. For Taking Flight, I didn’t expect that men would want to read it, but my veteran brothers rallied around and even helped me fix a couple of scenes. I felt so loved and blessed that they’d help me like that. And for Interrupted, they immediately jumped into the fray to read, even though it’s almost opposite Taking Flight.
How many times do you edit your manuscript before sending it off to your editor/publisher?
Infinity! I couldn’t begin to guess the number. I go over it obsessively. I know from my journalism days there’s no such thing as a perfect finished newspaper, but I still try my best.
How do you determine which subplots you want to follow?
If it enriches the story, I follow, but never too far from the main story because I’m a wordy person and can get lost on tangents.
What is your character development method?
Pinterest is the devil. No. Really. You lose days there if you’re not careful. But I love creating boards of details to help me describe things later. Sometimes I make them public. Mostly they’re for me. It’s great for outfits, jewelry, house details, whatever. Since I am part planner, part pantster, I let the characters have the reins a little. I generally know their age and occupation, etc. But from there little quirks present themselves. There’s a scene in Taking Flight that wrote itself in. I was shocked at what appeared in the morning after Gabe’s promotion ceremony, but my characters were determined to misbehave, and I wouldn’t have them any other way.
I love to write about what happens after their world explodes. So the beginnings of my books always hit hard and introduce the characters at their most vulnerable. So it’s only natural they go from weakness to strength…life doesn’t ever get easier, we just get stronger. I love exploring how people get past these horrible things and find their joy again. I’m a huge believer in human strength and dignity, as well as the power of love – especially for oneself.
How do you work your writing/research? Do you write a bit first and then research? Research and then write? Some other combination?
Yes. I research a lot. But I don’t lose the momentum when I’m writing. If something comes up and I need to know a detail, I type a few hashtags to hold the place and drive on. Later, if I’m feeling lackadaisical or blocked, I do the research and that always gets my brain back in the game.
What is the best piece of writing advice someone gave you?
There are three. First was my mentor in the Air Force. She told me don’t start at the beginning. Just start. You can rearrange the details later. That got me past the pressure of where and how to start an article. The second was from the same amazing woman. When I sent her the early draft of Taking Flight, she also told me that the reader needs to feel what the characters feel. I knew that, but I’d forgotten. The third was my Air Force editor. She told me to let the person tell their story. That still applies to novels, but it really helps keep things on the level in journalism. If it’s their own words, they have a harder time accusing you of putting words in their mouth. In novels, this works by using dialogue to bring the reader further into the story, in a show don’t tell kind of way. I use dialogue whenever deep perspective is needed. It helps a lot.
Do you have a writing mentor? How did you find this person?
God sent me two of them. First is the mentor I mentioned. I swear I’d still take a bullet for that woman. The other is a dear friend and fellow author I met at the park one day when we were both pushing our kids on the swings. She offered to read for me. And she was scared when she sent me the first two chapters because she eviscerated the copy. I mean total annihilation. She was worried I wouldn’t be her friend, but that was exactly what I’d hoped would happen. I told her to wait before reading everything else and fixed those errors and fixed the same errors all the way through, then started sending her a chapter at a time so she wouldn’t keep fixing the same mistakes. She helped me so much! There I was an award-winning journalist screwing everything up! But the difference between journalism and novels might as well be two different languages.
What does your personal writing community look like?
I joined a few writing groups, even had a few chats going, but it eats time I just don’t have. So I have a few friends who like to read my stuff, and a few author friends I lend my support to, otherwise I’m pretty isolated.
What are your go-to ways to overcome writer’s block?
Research and edit when words are evasive. It helps so much to get things rolling again. The research helps you work out how to explain the difficult stuff and editing re-familiarizes your mind with the plot. I’m so busy and forgetful, sometimes I have to reread multiple chapters before I remember where I’m headed with this thing.
If you could give starting out writers a piece of advice, what would you most want to tell them?
Write it all out. Everything. Give your editor something to work with. And the first draft of anything always sucks. It’s a fact. It’s okay to suck. It’s not okay to quit. Also, don’t be afraid of criticism – if it’s constructive, take it in and let it marinate then use it. If it’s garbage or malicious, do like my dad taught me…”take it in your ear and out your rear.” Not everyone is going to like everything. They’re allowed to have bad taste. Don’t let the muggles get you down. And no matter what, keep writing.