Interview with Danielle de Valera

Published 2013-11-18.
When did you first start writing?
I guess you could say I started when I was abour ten, with the good reception of my first composition. See: A Bit about Beginnings in my Author Profile for the story of how my father helped me - and probably changed the course of my life by doing so, bless him.
What's the story behind your latest book?
When I was a child, my Australian-born Irish mother made up dialogue for all our pets, dialogue for every occasion. I think she got it from her mother - all the siblings in that large family did this. The cats talked, the dogs talked. I grew up making up dialogue for my own pets, and really, it wasn't much of a leap to go on from there.
I wanted to tackle the serious subject of poverty in a novel, but I didn't want it to be a heavy, Grapes of Wrath kind of thing. That's when I remembered the dialoguing animals I grew up with. I wanted to make the subject palatable to the general reader without compromising its integrity - it's all in the Preface, actually.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
I did try the traditional route, and I had a wonderful agent for this novel. She loved it so much she sent it first to HarperCollins. I was over the moon, but the head editor of HC at that time didn't like the anthropomorphism and didn't take up the option. However, I was so encouraged by the manuscript's reception by this well-known agent, that I decided to go the indie route.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Being able to enter other worlds and live there in them, sometimes for years at a time (I'm a very slow writer and I do innumerable drafts.) I love my characters, they're alive to me, and it's very gratifying when someone tells you they really enjoyed one of your stories, or that they were feeling down and one of your books helped them. This is what I hope for MagnifiCat. It's a book that moves deceptively slowly at the beginning, but it gains momentum, and it's a feel-good book, which is what I wanted.
What do your fans mean to you?
I think fans mean a great deal to every writer. Well, let's say readers, anyway - fans, readers, they're not the same thing. Fans can turn into stalkers; readers never do :-)
I've met writers who say they just love the act of writing, and don't care whether anyone reads it. But I don't know. Most writers want to be read. They want to communicate their particular view of the world, and they hope that somewhere out there, there are others who share that view. Everybody needs acknowlegement, and for a writer, readers are that acknowledgment.
What are you working on next?
I'm hoping to put out a children's version of MagnifiCat in November 2014, minus the alcohol and the angst. It will be about 50,000 words in length - about three-quarters of MagnifiCat's length - and will be called The Children's MagnifiCat. The idea of it is very dear to my heart, I've always wanted to write a book like Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows.
Who are your favorite authors?
Oh my goodness. I love Martin Cruz Smith. Not Gorky Park so much, for which he's most famous, but Wolves Eat Dogs, and Rose, and Havana Bay. In my book, he has a style to die for. I'm prone to obsession, which is very good for writing, but it means Ive had to be very careful not to obsess on any one writer. Rather, I read anything that falls into my hands, and also books recommended by friends. That way, I read a wide range of stuff and don't fall into some kind of readers' obsession. (Well, there's Martin Cruz Smith - but I've read everything he ever wrote, and he doesn't turn out novels like cookies from a cookie factory, so I'm pretty safe there.)
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Writing. When I first get up, I spend half an hour in the kitchen, getting the cats off to work for the day. Then I sit down at the computer with my cup of tea. When I was young, I wanted some kind of physical career, you know: athlete, dancer ... Now I'm older I'm so glad I have something I can keep doing virtually until the day I die.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I'm no high flying jet setter. In fact, I don't like being further away from home than about two hours' drive in a car. I'm a quiet person, I like simple things. I can't handle crowds, prefer one-to-one interactions where I feel we get below the superficial.
I walk on the beach, read books (printed only - though I buy e-books to support writer friends I've met on the net) and edit/assess other people's manuscripts. I've been a freelance manuscript assessor since 1992; that accounts for quite a bit of my reading, actually. I watch old shows on TV to unwind in the evenings. It's an interior life, some people would find it unutterably boring.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Ah, well , you see, I don't read ebooks, my eyes aren't good enough. I can only spend a certain number of hours per day on the computer, and I need it for my work and a little bit of social media. There isn't any time for ebooks. Besides, I belong to the generation that likes to hold a book in their hands, smell the paper, etc. It's a tactile thing. I can remember occasions in my childhood where I had to cut the edges of the pages of a book with a knife before I could read them. Now that was really a hands-on experience.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I remember the first composition I ever wrote. It's described in detail in the A Bit about Beginnings section of this author bio.
I remember the first story I ever got published. It was in 1990 in Australian Penthouse in the good old days when Bob Guccione was the owner of the mag and Phil Abraham was the editor of the Australian version. He was a wonderful editor. Every month, he would publish one good short story of around 5,000 words. He published people like Peter Corris and Susan Geason, nothing trashy. How much I wanted to be in that mag. I had a boyfriend at the time, who bought Penthouse very month, Istudied the stories for years. The day one of my children told me Phil Abraham was on the phone, I was on top of the world. We were very poor at the time, and the money caused us great excitement.
What is your writing process?
It depends on the level of work I'm doing. If it's first-draft material, I do it in the first hour before the phone rings or the radio is turned on. I can't write first-draft material at any other time of the day. Well, I could, but it wouldn't have any spark.
I can edit my own or anyone else's writing in the afternoon, but the first hour of the morning is where I do what I think of as the creative work, that's where I don't always know what's going to happen, what the characters might decide to do next.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
Not the first story, no, I don't think so. but the stories that had the most impact on me when I was very young were fairy stories. There was a beautiful illustrated book called Peg's Fairy Book by Peg Maltby. There was also a wonderful book about two mice called Pip and Pipita. Then there was another mouse book that began:
Hoppity Greymouse was unhappy.
I still think that's one heck of a good opening line.
How do you approach cover design?
With terror. I employed a cover designer for MagnifiCat, and although I will have to learn to do my own covers for the short stories I'd like to put out as e-stories over the next seven years or so, I will always pay a cover designer for the novels. Fortunately, I already had a wonderful line drawing by US artist Marty Norman, which I found in a book put out by Workman Publishing NY in 1996. I tracked down the artist via Facebook and he agreed to let me use the drawing for the cover.
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