Author of the upcoming WWII historical Where Treasure Hides, Johnnie Alexander Donley is on the blog today to share with us her experience of writing from participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) to winning the Genesis Contest for 2012 Historical Fiction to publishing an ebook with Tyndale House Publishers. What a journey!
Tell me a little about yourself.
I’m just an ordinary gal living in an extraordinary world. I was born and raised in Ohio, but the Sunshine State has been my home for almost twenty-five years. My children, all adults now, make fun of me for sorting out my Necco wafers by color, separating the food on my plate so nothing touches, and my obsession with drinking straws.
Until 2006, I worked for fifteen years as district senior executive secretary for two Members of the Florida House of Representatives. I loved my job, considering it a ministry to help constituents with a variety of issues.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve been making up stories for as long as I can remember. As an avid reader, and especially as I read great literature in my grad program, I knew how good of a writer I wasn’t. So I squelched the dream of writing except for the occasional poem or essay, and, of course, work- or school-related projects.
Then several years ago, I discovered NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and gave it a try. It’s taken several more years and three more manuscripts to realize the dream of having my novel published. During those years, God has graciously affirmed the gifts He has given me.
If you could be any character in fiction, whom would you be? Why?
Anne Shirley. I get why Anne put the “e” after her name when her teacher wrote A-N-N on the board. I appreciate her love not just of words, but of the sounds of words. I also admire her spunk and her love of wildflowers. My daughters and I have watched the Anne movies countless times.
Describe your novel in seven words or less.
Artist loses game of Nazi hide-and-seek.
Do you have a favorite character in your current book? Tell us a little about him/her.
That would have to be Ian, my story’s hero. I love the mischief in his gold-flecked hazel eyes, his heart-stopping grin, and his clear sense of right and wrong. His faith in God brings him through his darkest moments.
What books have influenced your writing most?
I suppose it’s a cliché to say the Bible, but Christian values are deeply embedded within my stories. Books by authors such as Jack Cavanaugh and Davis Bunn showed me that Christian novels could have some grit to them.
I also enjoy reading Jane Kirkpatrick, Charles Martin, and Ann Tatlock. Susan Frasier King, Kate Morton, and Anne Perry, who write for the general market, are also favorites.
How did you choose the genre you write in?
I think it chose me. Though I’ve always loved history and have a deep interest in family legacies, my desire to write historical fiction began when I learned that German POW camps were in Florida during WWII. My early attempts didn’t go anywhere. But the third time I participated in NaNoWriMo, my protagonist was a woman who helped a German officer escape from a Florida POW camp. Ian Devlin, the male protagonist in Where Treasure Hides, is a supporting character in that story. When friends who read it wanted a sequel, I chose instead to write a story about Ian and the woman who stole his heart.
You are a part of Tyndale’s Digital First Program. What drew you to publishing digitally?
To have my beloved novel published by such a highly-respected company is a dream come true. My editor, Sarah Mason, is amazing, the art team created a gorgeous cover, and the marketing team keeps me updated on everything I need to know.
Could you briefly describe the mundane details of writing: How many hours a day do you devote to writing? Do you write a draft on paper or at a keyboard (typewriter or computer)?
The process, for me, is still a work-in-progress. Where Treasure Hides began as a NaNoWriMo novel, but I didn’t like the storyline which had Ian as a widower reflecting back on the war years. Sometime after that, I opened a blank book and wrote, “My name is Alison Schuyler, a fitting name for me and my forbears.” (The name Schuyler means “protection” according to some sources.) After seven pages of free-writing, I knew details of Alison’s childhood, that she was raised by her grandfather, and that she believed in this strange family curse that prevents her from giving her heart to Ian.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Write! Set goals. Even though I don’t have a 9 to 5 job, some days I don’t have time to write because of other commitments, so I find it easier to set weekly, rather than daily, word count goals.
Attend writer’s conferences. This is the best way to network with editors, agents, and other writers.
Enter quality contests, such as the ACFW Genesis and the new ACFW First Impressions. Then be as objective as possible when reviewing the judges’ comments. My first Genesis entry didn’t do well, but I learned from the experience. My winning entry received invaluable comments and suggestions that I’m sure helped the final manuscript.
If you’d like to get in touch with Johnnie, visit her at her website:
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Interested in hearing more on historical fiction writing from Johnnie? Come back tomorrow (Dec. 12th) to hear more! Thanks for reading!
(Where Treasure Hides, ebook-only available Jan. 2013).