Today at The Story Ideas Virtuoso I have the privilege of serving as a final stop on the virtual book tour of author Donna McDine for her premier children’s book “The Golden Pathway.” Here’s a teaser:
Be transported through time to the Underground Railroad, where high-pitched screams echo each night. David’s cruel Pa always chooses the same victim. Despite the circumstances during slavery, David uncovers the courage to defy his Pa. Raised in a hostile environment where abuse occurs daily, David attempts to break the mold and befriends the slave, Jenkins, owned by his Pa. Fighting against extraordinary times and beliefs, David attempts to lead Jenkins to freedom.This illustrated historical novel is targeted to 9-12-year-olds.
Donna is no stranger to The Story Ideas Virtuoso. She has commented numerous times on this blog and gives great feedback, so I’m excited about our interview. Before we get started, I want to tell you how Donna and I met.
It was about two years ago that we were both a part of the Children’s Writers’ Coaching Club led by Suzanne Lieurance, “The Working Writer’s Coach,” a many-times-published author and instructor for the well-respected Institute of Children’s Literature (ICL). We had a nice, intimate, little group there, sharing works-in-progress and getting valuable feedback from Suzanne and one another. Between that and completing the course at ICL, Donna has made a huge leap forward in 2010. Not only is “The Golden Pathway” newly released, but she has signed for two more novels with the same publisher. Way to go, Donna!
OK, let’s get started.
Deb Gallardo: Donna, the most common question asked of published authors is “Where do you get your ideas?” Here at The Story Ideas Virtuoso I try to help people learn to find those ideas that are all around them. Can you give us an example of an idea that came to you for one of your projects, where it came from and how it led you to the story it ultimately became?
Donna McDine: A complete awareness of your surroundings and conversations around you is essential in picking up on that one little tidbit of scenery and/or age level conversation that can be developed into a storyline. For example, when my now 12-year-old was 5 years old she made a statement that stunned everyone in the room. My uncle had died and while at my parents’ house many well-wishers stopped by to offer their sympathies. The standard statement is usually, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” After several hours of this, Hayley turned to me and said rather loudly, “If Uncle John is lost why is everyone here and not looking for him?” As my dear Nana used to say, “Out of the mouths of babes.”
Deb Gallardo: That’s a great example of youthful thinking and just the kind of age-level-appropriate snippet of dialogue that many writers would pay good money for! So tell me, Donna, what is your story germination process? At what point do you begin brainstorming and asking “What if?” Then what?
Donna McDine: I begin with a brief outline of a storyline [Editor’s note: think of a storyline as a one-sentence blurb in your TV listings about a movie that will be broadcast] and then I begin the character interview process, usually starting off with the antagonist and then to the protagonist and then the secondary characters. As I interview my characters, I ask the “what if?” question so I can develop a sense of how my characters will respond to any given situation.
Deb Gallardo: Ah, yes! What would writers do without the all-important “What if?”! So, with three books sold to your publisher, you’re obviously somewhat prolific in your writing, to put it mildly. Has writer’s block ever been a problem for you? If so, to what degree and how did you cope?
Donna McDine: Writer’s block has occurred with me several times, but rather than becoming frustrated, I will put the manuscript aside and work on something else.
Donna McDine: In “The Golden Pathway,” despite his upbringing by an abusive father, David developed compassion for others, instead of falling into the same patterns as his Pa. Because of his kindness, David eagerly defies his father with no regard to his own safety. Who wouldn’t love having someone like David in their corner? I know I would.
Deb Gallardo: David is one courageous kid and you obviously care a great deal about him, which helps your readers care, too. Now let’s move to the nuts and bolts of the writing life. What is your writing schedule like and do you have suggestions for other writers to consider developing a routine that is perfectly tailored to them?”One size fits all” doesn’t apply to such things.
Donna McDine: It’s difficult for me to suggest a writing schedule to others, since all our schedules are so different. What works best for me is writing first thing in the morning before other distractions and responsibilities creep their way in.
Deb Gallardo: All those pesky distractions like email, phone calls, dishes, laundry, snail mail — oh, the list could go on and on! What you do is actually what experts recommend: Don’t allow things to distract you before you start working for the day. Otherwise, in the case of writers, we can find it difficult to make writing a priority with so many other things pulling and pushing at us. In some people’s minds, it can seem selfish to be writing — something we enjoy — when we have so many responsibilities. This is particularly a problem with women because culturally we’re wired to put other people first. But that’s a whole other subject. I got distracted there. [grin] What would you say, Donna, has been your biggest struggle as an author?
Donna McDine: Balance. Learning and following through on not spreading myself too thin, especially with Social Networking.
Deb Gallardo: Ouch. That last one hits me pretty close to home. I’ve been so busy lately that I have been feeling withdrawal from Facebook. Balance is the obvious and necessary key. OK, let me ask you this. What were the best and worst aspects of writing your new book? Please elaborate, as we’d love to know what that process is like – the good, the bad and the dreadful.
Donna McDine: I have to say I have not experienced the bad or dreadful in writing my book. Immersing myself in my characters and storyline is such an adventurous ride — one I find exhilarating — that I rather enjoy forgetting about the world around me while writing.
Deb Gallardo: That’s great, Donna! There’s nothing quite like getting lost in your story world. It’s an experience like none other. Now, back to the cyber world for a moment. How are you utilizing the internet and the offline world to promote your book?
Donna McDine: I think social networking on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, JacketFlap, and blogs is imperative. What’s so wonderful about technology is that once you post to your blog you can have it automatically posted to your other social pages. This definitely frees up valuable writing time.
Local media, such as local newspapers and radio shows, are important to reach out to. Library and school visits and participating in children book fairs are also key components in getting the word out about you and your book.
Deb Gallardo: You’ve already given a lot of good advice here, but can you say a few words in particular to aspiring writers?
Donna McDine: Read, read, read the genre you want to write for. Network, network, network by getting to know authors, editors, publishers through local and online conferences such as the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) and The Muse Online Writers Conference.
Deb Gallardo: Those excellent suggestions can also apply to any writer. I’ve had my nose in a book ever since first grade. And although I’m a social person, I don’t network with other writers as much as I like because of living in a small, rural community. Thanks to the internet, however, there are all kinds of opportunities for online networking. But I have heard over and over again that live events are the venues that can make all the difference between aspiring to publish and to actually be published. Well, we’ve come to the final question, Donna. Is there anything you would like to say that hasn’t been covered yet? The sky’s the limit!
Donna McDine: Be true to yourself and your writing. Don’t try to emulate another writer. Your voice is unique; develop it, and the creative process will flow.
Deb Gallardo: Thank you again, Donna for taking the time to share with us about your first major publishing experience. I’m sure I speak for the majority of my readers when I say we wish you continued success on your journey through “publication land.” I expect big things will be a part of your future. I’m proud to have known you. Gee, I can say, “I knew her when…”
To keep up with Donna, visit her blog at http://donna-mcdine.blogspot.com and to purchase “The Golden Pathway,” go here. That link, which opens in a new window, as do all links in this post, will take you directly to Donna’s book. For important legal information about my links to commercial sites like Amazon, visit my Material Connections page.