Interview with Donna

Published 2013-08-31.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in Livonia, Michigan, but spent many summers of my childhood further north, in the small town of Mio, Michigan, with my grandparents. In the middle of a Jack pine forest, just a block away from the clear, cold Au Sable river, my love of nature was fostered. I think this reverence for the natural world does come through in my writing.
When did you first start writing?
I wrote in childhood, for fun, and in my teen years as well, but never very much. I was great at getting a story down, so long as it wasn't too long, but I was terrible at following through and polishing it up. Of course, I was always given a formula to follow; write an outline, then a rough draft, then a second draft, and so on. I hated outlines, and I hated drafts. I wrote a lot of non-fiction articles online, for free. In 2006, I finally decided to put together a couple of non-fiction metaphysical books, and that went very well. It refreshed my interested in writing. So, I wrote a couple of fan-fics for fun, and then found myself writing my first novel. I got about halfway through it, and then my 'mojo' died. I couldn't write anything of length again for six years! In the autumn of 2012, I picked the half-finished novel back up... and finished it. Then finished a sequel. A novella. Several short stories. Book 3 is done, now! No outlines. No drafts, because I can simply repair the original document, now that we're in the computer era. It works... for me. :D
What's the story behind your latest book?
Several of the characters in my books have been in my head since I was a teenager. I suppose all this time I've been working out the details, subconsciously - building my book Universe. This was a story that was told because it's the story my character made me write! This is what happened to him... I'm just telling it like it is. :D I wanted to take some of the stereotypes of vampire fiction and turn them on their heads. My vampires and donors are equal partners, reliant on one another. They're stronger together; they can accomplish far more by combining their abilities than they could alone. At the same time, we always see portrayals of vampires who are unhappy with what they are, but there's usually NOT a good reason for it. I wanted to take that type of character, and make him more logical. I also wanted to give him the self-awareness to understand that being a vampire isn't a bad thing, and that his own issues are personal; that they're not something he should project onto the people around him. I wanted to show this type of character going through a healing process. I think people need to see more of that; that bad stuff happens, but it gets better. There's hope. I also wanted to suggest that it's not about the setting you're in, it's about what's going on inside you, and that the relationships you have with others are more important than anything else.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
When I first started writing Sorrows, I had plans to go through the lengthy process of finding a publisher who was willing to give it a chance. I knew it would take years, and that I'd have an editor who would suggest changes I should implement, and I would gladly implement them to make a story that sells. That was the plan.
But, things changed between 2006 and 2012. Many traditional publishers collapsed. Major book chains closed their doors. The industry was in absolute turmoil. I saw published authors, whom I respected, have their publishing companies fold underneath them before their books could be released. The more I looked, the more I saw that traditional publishers weren't adapting well to the changes that the internet brought. Instead of focusing on what they had to offer that people couldn't do for themselves (marketing), they increasingly shoved marketing onto their authors. They went for formulaic stories that were bland, but a sure thing. They showed, over and over, that they had no idea what made a book great. So, why should I spend years trying to sell my book to them? There's a lot of work involved in self-publishing, and some initial expense. I got a good editor, good cover art, and with the help of my husband, we formatted the book and released it ourselves. It looks as good or better than any traditionally published book, and I'm very happy with my decision! I will be paid for the first time next month - not 3 years after I wrote the book, but less than one... and it will be available for the rest of my life, not just until a company decides to stop printing it.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Smashwords provides a very quick and easy way to get the epub version of my book out into major book chains such as Barnes and Noble. With their new epub upload feature, I don't have to mess with doc files - I can take the epub we created, which is exactly the way I want it, and make it available. It's super easy to manage. While I can't speak for my success so far, sales are happening.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Since I don't write to an outline, I have only the most cursory idea of where my stories are going, in advance. So, the greatest joy for me is finding out what happens next! Just as though i were reading the book, the characters lead me through the stories they have to tell, and I'm entertained by them.
What do your fans mean to you?
It's a tremendous emotional boost when someone else loves my work as much as I do. It encourages me to keep going, and continue writing, and gives me hope that I'll become successful. So, my fans are vitally important to me. They're my rocket boosters.
What are you working on next?
I'm working on several different projects at once. When I get bogged down with one, I can switch to another. At the moment, I'm working on writing Book Four of the Rogue Saga (Sorrows is Book One). I'm also working on a novella called 'Silver and Gold,' a short called 'Kelderin,' and a young adult/tween level novel called By Hand and Paw, which will be part of a series called Tales From Varg. They're ALL set in the Worldwalkers Universe. Tales From Varg came about because my own kids want to read something I've written, and the vampire novels just aren't appropriate for younger folks. So, I decided to write books about the rael-shaa (lupine shapeshifters), so they could read them.
Who are your favorite authors?
My top favorites would be Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Jean Lorrah, Alan Dean Foster, Tanya Huff, P.N. Elrod, Mercedes Lackey, Anne McCaffrey, James White (Sector General), and Jim Butcher. A diverse lot, but they all captured my imagination and held it. I've read most of their works over and over again.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Having to pee. No, really, I don't mind staying in bed. I write in bed, using a laptop. I have chronic fatigue syndrome, and a bad back, so sitting up for long periods is more tiring. I have animals to look after, though, and a business to run, so staying in bed all the time isn't an option. Besides, I have to get some exercise, right?
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
These days, I spend most of it working - looking after the animals (I breed ball pythons), and doing marketing for my businesses (and now for my books, as well). That means lots and lots of social media. I'm actually an introvert, and don't enjoy it as much as most might. Of course, when I have actual free time, I love reading! I also love getting out into nature, and walking in the woods. Photography, fishing, camping, that sort of thing. I rarely have opportunity for it any longer, but hopefully I will again in a few years!
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Well, I discover a lot of them through the writer groups I'm part of, but I've also joined some lists such as "I Love Vampire Books" and 'BookBub'. Apart from that, I do searches on book seller sites, and check out things that catch my eye. I do have some favorite authors I look for, but I also pay attention to the recommendations quite a lot. Since I read very little while I'm writing, I'm way behind now!
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Oh, I'm pretty sure the first story I ever wrote was in early grade school. I definitely don't remember it! It was probably about an animal. *laugh. I do remember some pieces from childhood, though. I remember writing a story about a house cat who conspired with a lynx to kill the neighbor's dog. Dark stuff. *laugh.
What is your writing process?
Process? I do not understand this word, 'process.' *laugh. I'm what some folks call a 'pantster.' I write by the seat of my pants. My writing process is... I start writing! The characters will go where they want to go, and they'll do what they want to do. I'm completely aware that I shouldn't be able to do it this way... that it shouldn't work. But, it does work!
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I started reading short books in Kindergarten, and I progressed very quickly. I remember reading those books that came with the records that you could play, and they'd read the book to you - a lot of Disney stuff. I remember the simple children's books, like 'One Fish, Two Fish,' etc. So, I'd have to admit that, no; I do not remember the first story I ever read, at all! My childhood was FILLED with books. They became my first love. Books themselves had enormous impact on me. I was always an introvert, and books gave me all the knowledge I wanted about the world; they were undemanding friends who always entertained me.
How do you approach cover design?
My first impulse was to create a book cover that would attract ME to buy the book... but I couldn't afford original art on that level! Then I read an article about how books written by/for men had covers that were noticeably different in subject matter from books written by/for women, so I had an idea: Since I'm self-publishing, why shouldn't my book have two covers? One designed for male readers, and the other for females? I could easily afford the 'male' cover, so that's what I had done first - a simple design that a guy could carry around, without looking like he's got a 'girlie book.' It's representative of the story, but it's a simple object, and there aren't any people. I finally found an artist willing to do my other cover, and she's still working on it. That cover will have two of my characters on it (My viewpoint character, and his best friend, who happens to be a wolf). That cover should appeal to female readers who love contemporary fantasy and urban fantasy, because they're looking for werewolf and vampire stories. I can't wait to see which cover does best! I think covers should be richly colored, beautiful, and should represent the book well.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
Tough, tough question... forcing me to pick only five! I'll do my best.

First Channel: Sime~Gen Universe series, Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Jean Lorrah. The combination of a wonderfully intriguing world/book universe, and marvelously detailed and real characters, is the reason I love this book. My favorite book, in my favorite series of all time!

Children of the Night: Diana Tregarde Investigations series, Mercedes Lackey. Three different types of vampires, and a truly chilling antagonist, made this book just absolutely unique! I also love Lackey's character-driven stories. Her people are incredibly real.

Nor Crystal Tears: Humanx Commonwealth series, Alan Dean Foster. This is, quite simply, the best First Contact novel ever written. Told from the viewpoint of the 'alien,' with richly detailed description of alien culture and personality, it really fed my xenophilia. How can you resist a book that starts out, 'It's hard to be a larva.'?

Quincy Morris: Vampire: by P.N. Elrod. Marvelously funny take on the whole Dracula story. Elrod puts her own special brand of vampires into this story, but leaves Dracula just as he is! She also allows different types of vampires to exist in one book Universe.

Blood Hunt (and the rest of the series), by Tanya Huff. Tanya Huff is the queen of characters - her people are extraordinarily real, and her sense of humor is absolutely amazing. Her vampire's perfectly happy to be what he is, and her heroine is strong, self-confident, and highly capable, without being either a Mary Sue, or having something to prove. The love triangle in these books is extraordinarily well done - there's no clear winner! I loved how many conventions she broke.
What do you read for pleasure?
I read science fiction, contemporary fantasy, horror, and a wide smattering of other things, mainly in related genres. If it has animals, aliens, or magickal beings, I might read it! I'm one of those crazy book ladies with boxes of thousands of paperbacks stashed away in the basement, most of them dog-eared and ruffled from being re-read over and over.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I have a Kindle, and I love my Kindle. I really want to upgrade to a paperwhite, though, so I can read with the lights out. *laugh.
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