Today’s author spotlight has found Donelle Knudsen, a native Oregonian wandering the dusty trails of her homeland and telling the tales of the lives she discovers along the way. Stop by her campfire and sit a spell, there is a mug of coffee and a story to be had! Without further ado, here’s… Donelle!
I’m a native Oregonian raised in an era so different from today that in 2003 I decided to write my autobiography so my children and future grandchildren would have a glimpse of the ‘50s and ‘60s. They would be, to coin a phrase from Stephen King, my Ideal Readers. Always in love with literature and encouraged by my father, I visited the library every week and checked out Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Little House on the Prairie, and Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy and Tib books.
Sports played a large part in my life until mid-way through high school when I began working at a restaurant after school and during the summer to save money for college. I attended Southern Oregon University and graduated from Portland State University where I earned a B.S. in Arts & Letters. Life took me along a different path and I ended up following a career in Accounting and Finance rather than teaching high school English. When my husband’s job moved us to Washington State in 1988, myriad life experiences, health problems, and the stress of moving compelled me to write poetry and short stories to stay balanced, in touch with my feelings.
Our children are grown and we will soon be welcoming our fifth grandchild into the family. My husband, of forty-six years, and I retired five years ago, so now we travel and I have more time to pursue my writing career.
How did you get started on your writing journey?
My writing journey began, as I mentioned earlier, in 2003 when I wrote, Rose City and Beyond which was gifted to family and close friends. The next year I wrote a short story which evolved into the book length memoir, Through the Tunnel of Love, A Mother’s and Daughter’s Journey with Anorexia. I submitted a portion of it to Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s 2004 literary contest and it was named one of ten finalists in the memoir category. Encouraged by this, I submitted three more short stories over the next few years to PNWA’s literary contests and they also earned the finalist status. These successes gave me the courage to finish Through the Tunnel of Love, A Mother’s and Daughter’s Journey with Anorexia, a true story about our family’s experience with our daughter’s struggle with anorexia. It was published in 2011 with a small publisher. Then in 2013 I began writing a novel and in 2015 I submitted my novel, Between Heartbeats, to another publisher who released it in August 2015.
Life another U-turn and when my publisher closed its doors in May, 2016, and I quickly learned how to re-format and self-publish. Between Heartbeats was only out of circulation for a day or two.
Are there any poets or writers who influence you? How so?
I’ve read and admired so many writers, my list of influential writers is rather long, so here goes: Maud Hart Lovelace, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Ray Bradbury, J.R.R. Tolkien, Stephen King, and Jane Kirkpatrick. Ms. Lovelace and Laura Ingalls Wilder spurred my desire to write for young people; Jane Austen’s witty social commentary and endearing characters showed me good writing is timeless. I believe Charles Dickens is the best novelist of all time. His description of life in England through his characters’ eyes and their varied experiences cannot be surpassed. Ray Bradbury and Stephen King introduced me to Science Fiction and Horror and taught me anything is possible; J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings inspired me to write about how Good can conquer Evil on any level. I have attended Jane Kirkpatrick’s workshops and book readings, and receive her newsletter, Story Sparks. Jane writes primarily historical fiction and focuses on strong women protagonists. My goal is to create strong characters that can capture a reader’s imagination and in turn give her or him confidence to face life’s challenges.
Let’s talk about your novel! What is it about?
My novel, Between Heartbeats, was originally written for the Young Adult audience, but reader feedback has shown women of all ages enjoy it. I wanted to write about a young female protagonist who experiences a life-changing trauma. When Diana Baker awakens on her seventeenth birthday, she is told at breakfast, during a heated argument with her mother, that the man she has loved as her father is not her father at all. Diana decides to unravel the mystery of her childhood and the reason for family secrets and travels across the country to visit her step-father. And so she begins a journey where she discovers shocking truth hidden just beneath the surface. That summer she meets Kevin Wright, a college junior and when he disappears without a trace, Diana learns family is more than shared DNA and discovers who will help her when it appears all hope is gone. Between Heartbeats is about a young girl’s quest to find her roots and discovers love and the power of forgiveness.
How is the title significant?
I titled my novel Between Heartbeats because I believe life can and does change in a heartbeat, hence, between heartbeats. I like the image of a heart on its literal and figurative levels.
Where did inspiration for this come from?
Kernels of ideas for Between Heartbeats grew from personal life experiences, our daughter’s adoption, and from people I’ve met along life’s journey. I believe young people are capable of making important decisions and can determine who is trustworthy and who is not when it really matters. When I turned thirteen, I had to make several important life-changing decisions, so I know it can be done despite the inexperience of youth. Also, I understand help can come from the most unexpected sources, so it wise to imagine what’s possible, seek solutions, and accept answers and sincere help unconditionally.
Tell us a little bit about the characters? What are they like and how did you come up with them?
Diana Baker is as a contemporary seventeen-year-old living in Boise, Idaho. She lives with her mother and visits her step-father, who lives in the mid-west, twice a year. When Roberta, her mother, tries to ruin not only her birthday, self-confidence, and more importantly, her relationship with her step-father, Diana takes a chance and stands up for herself. She faces tough challenges and uses her maturity and innate sense of right and wrong to discover the truth about her past. When Diana meets a young college man during summer vacation, she must also decide whether she is ready for love.
Cassie is Diana’s best friend and sole confidante, but is different from Diana in temperament and interests. Cassie has a stable home life, isn’t particularly interested in academics, and is a little boy crazy. Like Diana, she is fiercely loyal to her family and friends and has her own fears and insecurities. That’s where she accepts suggestions from Diana to help find and develop her true passion of becoming a chef in an upscale restaurant.
Kevin Wright and Diana meet in Starbucks while she is visiting her step-father during summer break. He becomes her first boyfriend and they maintain a long-distance relationship after she returns to Boise for the school year. Kevin is a college man majoring business and political science however on a clear spring evening, he disappears from campus and sets off a regional man-hunt for his possible kidnappers.
Roberta Baker is Diana mother, but her shady past and abusive treatment of Diana, spurs Diana to move in with Cassie and her mother for the remainder of her senior year of high school. Roberta’s turbulent past is gradually revealed, but more comes to light in Book II in the Heartbeat Series, which will be published in late 2016. Roberta relies on her close friend Zoë, who is a good-hearted psychic, but must turn to her lawyer when she gets into legal trouble.
Glenn is Diana’s step-father who is loving and supportive, but concerned about her romantic relationship with a college man. He is a lawyer who employs his legal prowess and hires detectives to assist Diana in finding the answers about her past, as well as Kevin’s mysterious disappearance.
All of my characters are from my imagination; however, I have taken real-life people and circumstances and then embellished these elements to mesh with my plot.
Who do you think would like your story and what kind of readership are you aiming for?
Originally, I designed Between Heartbeats as a Young Adult novel, but I believe its message is broader in scope and universal in appeal. I have received feedback from women of all ages who have enjoyed my novel and related to my characters’ personalities and circumstances. I categorized my novel in Coming of Age, Teen Romance, Contemporary Women, and Young Adult genres.
What is the message you are trying to get across in your book?
My goal in writing Between Heartbeats was to focus on universal young adult issues; however without giving away too much, I wanted to address how a girl searches for her family heritage, handles the trauma of multiple kidnappings, everyday stresses in friendships and family, and how to find and accept help from unexpected sources.
What is your writing process like?
For novel-writing, I begin with a general idea and know the ending before I type the first word. In reality, I write on my laptop fluidly, freely, and just let it happen. Outlining is limited to general plot ideas and characters’ personalities and backgrounds. I allow one year to eighteen months to complete a novel and this timeline includes submitting most of the book to my critique group for their feedback. This step has helped me immeasurably.
My first book was a memoir and so the process was entirely different from novel-writing. I outlined meticulously, relied on my diary, my memory, and private interviews with parties involved. Through the Tunnel of Love, A Mother and Daughter’s Journey with Anorexia took five years to write primarily because our daughter’s battle with her eating disorder was erratic and unpredictable. From month to month, I didn’t know how our journey would end. Plus, it was an emotional ride that often left many tears spotting my legal pad, as I wrote much of it longhand and then transcribed to a Word document.
Writing Book II of the Heartbeat Series is proving to be easier as I have most of my characters developed. I’m having fun with a more mysterious plot line and setting, and the stakes heat up as Act I progress into Acts II and III. I’m adding a touch of the supernatural and introducing Diana as a grown woman, her teenage children, a past love, and the occasional character’s cameo appearance from Book I.
Crazy me, but I actually enjoy the editing process. First thing in the morning I review the prior chapter or two and do a quick edit to warm up for a few hours of writing. I periodically print out a few pages and edit line by line. I need to get away from the computer screen and read it like an actual book.
Our critique group meets every two weeks and their fresh eyes give me helpful feedback. I don’t use all of their suggestions, but they do help me see where scenes and dialogue need to be tightened or developed, and I take it from there to flesh out my characters and storyline. After the first draft is complete, I print out the entire manuscript and read it through. I often do searches to eliminate pesky repetitive words or phrases.
I use at least one beta reader, do another complete edit, cross my fingers, and send it out to the great beyond.
Where did you find your cover artist and what was the process like?
With Through the Tunnel of Love, my publisher and cover designer sent me several cover choices and I chose the cover on my own. Between Heartbeats was a little different in that I had an entire team helping me with the publishing process; even so, I relied primarily on my cover designer. I sent her a mini-synopsis and an outline of my protagonist’s personality, and then she researched and posted several options on Pinterest. I consulted with my daughter, who is an avid reader, and between her and my cover designer, we chose the perfect cover. It was heartily approved by the department supervisor the rest is history.
How did you go about getting published?
In May of 2014 I met a representative of a publishing house at a writers’ conference and I pitched my novel to her. One year later Between Heartbeats was formally accepted and on its way. Then I chose my team, including my editor and my proofreader, and we began the editing phase. The process went smoothly and by mid-August of 2015, Between Heartbeats was live.
What was your self-publishing experience like?
My first project, the memoir, was technically self-published as I paid a small publisher to print my book; however the president was my editor, manager, and formatter. Part way through the process she submitted my manuscript to the layout designer and after receiving an online proof, my job was to proofread and approve the copy for production. It went through several iterations before printing. I was happy with the finished product and I found it to be a little more involved as it had at least thirty photos. The family photos gave life to the story and helped the reader relate to our journey from darkness to light, from illness to a healthy life.
For Between Heartbeats, I went with a publisher that used the team approach, but when they closed their doors in May of 2016, I had to decide what to do next. With the help of a friend, I was able to re-format the book and cover and then I re-published on CreateSpace and Kindle. This process took less than a month and I lost no days online.
What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
The Pro is that after multiple rejections with my memoir, I was able to get our story out to inform others who may be facing the horror of watching a love one starve herself nearly to death. I was also able to get my book into Barnes & Noble and I had multiple book signings. I entered into a consignment agreement with two Indie bookstores, sold my books at writers’ conferences, and hosted personal book signings. It has been a positive experience.
The Con is facing the hurdles of Marketing and Advertising. The first time around it was learned as I went, and I was not online savvy until Between Heartbeats was published. One year before it came out, I opened a Twitter account, an Author Facebook page, LinkedIn, and became more active with my blog. I discovered it’s not Publish or Perish, but Market or Perish.
What were the surprises? Good or bad? If so, what were they?
I think most published authors would agree that marketing is the most challenging part. Being creative is one thing, however, getting out and pushing our books in person and online can be a real chore. For me, advertising my books did not come naturally; however, I’ve learned a lot since 2011 and hopefully with my third book, I can anticipate potential bumps in the road and be ready.
Good surprises have come my way in myriad ways. People I know well or not at all have attended my book signings and/or purchased both books online. Reviews are critical and a few have been gracious and posted reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Hooray for reviews!
I have received lots of encouragement and praise for writing two books, from two different genres. For that I am grateful. Each project is different and I take nothing for granted. I still fear the blank page on my laptop and tremble inside as I begin each new chapter. But so far I haven’t experienced serious writer’s block. Somehow, the creative juices keep flowing.
How do you go about promoting your book as a self-published author?
I’ve touched on promotion a little in previous paragraphs, but I have found that face-to-face works the best. I’ve formed relationships with bookstore managers, held multiple book signings at writers’ conferences, bookstores, and venues of my choice; but I have found simple word-of-mouth is effective. Establishing a personal relationship with potential readers is KEY. This can also be done online through a blog or to some extent Twitter and Facebook.
I ordered custom bookmarks for both books and with permission have left them in various businesses. I carry bookmarks in my purse and give them to people when the occasion warrants. I keep copies of books in my car and have sold several that way. I ordered a few pieces of swag for Between Heartbeats. Swag in the form of mini-journals, key rings, specialty bookmarks, and such are cute, but they don’t sell books. So don’t get carried away with swag. I’ve hosted a few gift card giveaways with a book purchase or even just by stopping by my table during a signing.
There are many people out there who are so wise in the marketing area, and it’s a good idea to network and learn as much as possible.
Is there something about the whole process you wish someone had told you before? Good or bad?
It’s hard to clarify what I wish I’d known before publishing, or even writing for that matter. No one told me which method of publishing would be best; no one prepared me for the pressure of deadlines, making on-the-spot decisions, or warned me about feelings of rejection or the frustration/disappointment when my publisher closed its doors with only a few weeks warning.
Good things have come my way and I learned early on that other writers are incredibly supportive and smart. Writing is a lonely business, so I believe it’s imperative to join writer support groups, attend writers’ conferences and workshops, and perhaps a critique group. Online information is available and bookstore managers are helpful, too.
Do you have any advice for writers who want to self-publish?
I would say do your homework: talk to other authors, learn how to self-edit, then hire an editor and a great cover artist. Learn how to use book formatting programs and know what is needed for online publishing in e-book or paperback form. Learn all you can about marketing and don’t be afraid to try something different.
When you get discouraged, sit back and think about where you were before you even began writing. Each step is a learning experience. Savor each moment. Rejoice with triumphs and learn from mistakes. And Don’t Give Up.
What plans do you have for the future of your writing?
I have nearly completed the first draft of Book II of the Heartbeat Series. I need to run most of it by my critique group, before I send it to my publisher, who I have lined up. Now all I have to do is finish it. My following book, which is a bit of a departure for me, is a sweet ghost story that would appeal to Middle Grade reader, I believe. I plan on writing until I run out of ideas, or am too old to use a computer.
What are you social accounts if people want to connect with you?
Sneak A Peek at:
- Books Read in 2016: ‘Little House in the Big Woods’ by Laura Ingalls Wilder #amreading (kayedacus.com)
- Actress Melissa Gilbert drops out of Michigan’s 8th Congressional District race (mlive.com)
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