Last week, I was rather popular with two podcast interviews. The first with A Hot Take on Thursday with Jenna Greene and Miranda Oh and then another with Alive After Reading with Tim Niederriter You can find the links here:
Were your core beliefs the reason you began writing historical fiction?
In a way, yes. I was an English and History major in college and had a hard time finding information about influential women. I was appalled that even noble and royal women were rarely named while historians wrote tomes about the deeds and misdeeds of their brothers, husbands, and fathers. I initially felt compelled to give voice to women who had been marginalized, let alone completely overlooked. When I came across the African proverb, “Until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the hunter,” I knew I must write novels about significant women based on strong historical evidence which had been supressed.
Did you grow up in an atmosphere of individual empowerment or did life experiences propel you in that direction?
My childhood was anything but empowering. I was terrified of my psychotic, authoritarian father, and ashamed of my mother, who did not stand up for herself, but instead fell headfirst into a bottle of whiskey to cope with her life. And yet, I always knew my mother and sister loved me unconditionally, something that sustained me through the trauma that was both my youth and the Sixties in general.
Despite her own demons, my mother managed to raise my sister and me to be strong, independent women. I learned from her example and vowed early on to never subjugate myself to another’s will, whether that of a person, a government, or a religion. When I met my husband, I realized he valued my independence. He encouraged me to be empowered and a freethinker. We’ve been married for 44 years and are still equal partners striving to become more self-aware. My husband tells people, “No one yells at Donna … twice.”
Where did the link to Celtic Tradition come from?
My mother was Irish and never felt quite at home with Christian dogma. She raised me in the “old ways,” which she learned from her grandmother. We celebrated the Celtic Wheel of the Year. As I child I loved the freedom to run in the fields and lay under a tree as my form of worship. I was taught that all things have a lifeforce, whether that be rock, tree, river, ocean, animal, or human. The earth-based spirituality practiced by the Celts felt natural and liberating. I gave Christianity a try in my early teens but found the basis of original sin constricting and repressive. As I grew older, I embraced my mother’s tradition and researched the “old ways” through books, retreats, and eventually leading my own quarter day celebrations.
Do you feel women’s wisdom is supressed in modern culture?
There is a resurgence of respect for women’s wisdom in many parts of the world. If we look back 200 years, or even 100 years, women who expressed wisdom were shunned, if not murdered. Even in fairy tales, the wise old woman, the woman who knows herbs and healing and speaks with the forest animals, is always a haggard, old, evil witch, that preys on children and the unwary; someone to be scorned. With women in the forefront, late 19th and early 20th century occult spirituality led by Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society and Annie Horniman’s Order of the Golden Dawn, women began to openly reclaim their personal power.
With the “women’s rights” movement of the early 1970s, and courageous leaders like Gloria Steinem, women began to publicly claim their inner wisdom and outer proficiency.
What we see from a historical perspective, is that anytime women advance in society it is through their own leadership and determination. The #MeToo movement is a great example of women joining together to bring about change. I’m speaking in broad terms of empowerment, but respect for women in all aspects of their lives, including women’s wisdom, cannot be separated from women’s empowerment.
While most of the world still suppresses women’s wisdom, there are pockets of light where women are honored. The Maiden, Mother, Crone aspects of women are certainly making gains, even though the perceived roles of women as Temptress, Whore, Witch, persist.
How did growing up in the 1960s affect your personality?
The Sixties were remarkable. Young people felt anything and everything was possible if we wanted it badly enough. The sixties stereotypical “free-love” culture received most of the press, but it was the larger desire to embrace “free-thinking” that motivated my generation. Definitely me. Conforming, following rules, becoming our parents with their warped sense of patriarchal rule, was anathema. My generation believed that if we united, we could affect change—and we united as had rarely been seen. My mother always encouraged me to think for myself. She encouraged me to question authority, even hers, and when given an answer, question that too!
As I grew older, went to college, started teaching high school English, I found that I could carry my values from the Sixties with me into the “adult” world, use them to help others find their own uniqueness, their own authenticity. The Sixties concepts of freedom of thought, freedom of action, freedom to live as one wanted, were tempered by another guiding star from my mother: Do no harm.
I continue to question authority, laws, regulations, first impressions, and the nature of people who enter and leave my life. I value unique qualities in people and depend on my inner sense to form, and break, my own opinions.
You wear many hats – memoirist, fiction author, journalist, activist, and teacher. Do these roles contribute to your writing?
Everything a writer does, or doesn’t do, influences what they write. I’ve found that even the agonizing writer’s-block is there for a reason: To shine a spotlight on what is blocked or hiding in one’s life at that moment. The many hats I’ve worn lend me varied perspectives about people’s actions and motivations.
I started writing the first book in my historical fiction series, The Last Magdalene, before I wrote House of the Moon: Surviving the Sixties. I realized my fascination with women marginalized throughout history was partially because I too had been marginalized and silenced; that my generation arose to claim our voice, to make certain we were not ignored. Writing my memoir was both traumatic and liberating. When I found I was able to write an unvarnished version of my teen years, it became imperative that I do the same for other women. I went back to square one and wrote The Last Magdalene from a deeper level of comprehension.
I find that the common thread in everything I do is to be authentic and to allow myself to change perspectives as I learn more about “life, the universe, and everything”—to quote one of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams.
From where do you gather your research? (Library, archives, internet etc.)
I use every means available but find physical books and research papers especially gratifying. I also like to travel to locations in order soak up the ambiance, feel the sun or rain, hear the sounds, touch the stones, eat the food, and immerse myself in the history of any given place. I even went back to my childhood home in Covina, California and walked around my high school while writing House of the Moon.
My research for The Last Magdalene includes studying with a Hebraic scholar, Shana Laxx, from Haifa University, to better understand women’s place and participation in ancient Judea. The primary written sources for my series, The Magdalene Chronicles, are from my personal library and include works by several Roman and Egyptian historians, Josephus, Elaine Pagels, and multiple translations of both the Torah and New Testament. I find reading various renditions of history to be illuminating, and helps me to see differences in various editions, and more importantly what one translator left out, or added.
I do refer to the internet but am skeptical about fast and easy searches. I end up going down the rabbit hole for hours on end trying to source information, and often end up back in my personal library, or emailing university professors who are always helpful and eager to aid in my research.
What surprising things did you learn from writing your books?
How much I don’t know!
I’m also continually surprised at how interconnected people are, even when there are no physical ties that bind. But above all other surprises, the reach of the written word is what continues. Books have been a major source of inspiration throughout my life. Maya Angelou, Alan Ginsberg, Hunter Thompson, Marion Zimmer-Bradley, Sharon Kay Penman, and so many other authors and poets have shaped my perspectives, given me both hope and despair. When someone contacts me to say my writing has impacted their lives, I’m hugely surprised and gratified.
Every person can make a difference, but it takes courage and authenticity. Don’t doubt your abilities or your insights. To quote Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself. Everybody else is already taken.”
Donna Conrad is an award-winning author, journalist, activist, and teacher. Her core values revolve around the concept of individual empowerment, a sustaining ideal running through the books she writes. Her writing interests are varied and include articles for fine-art periodicals, memoir/narrative non-fiction, as well as historical, flash, and paranormal fiction. She teaches all of the above at writers’ conferences.
Her first published book “House of the Moon: Surviving the Sixties,” has received rave reviews.
Donna’s life is as varied as her writing. She embraces change as an exciting adventure. She has studied writing with the likes of Alan Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Jack Whyte. She has also been mentored by Donald Maass, whom she worked with privately on her upcoming four-book historical fiction series, “The Magdalene Chronicles.” Book One, The Last Magdalene, is scheduled for publication April 2022.
She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their five cats. When she’s not writing, you can find Donna cruising the back roads in her black-on-black Miata MX-5, Maya – named for one of her favorite poets, Maya Angelou.
Her memoir, House of the Moon; Surviving the Sixties has received critical acclaim. The first of her four-book historical fiction series, The Last Magdalene, is scheduled for publication April 2022.
Although, this celebration was yesterday, any day is ‘read a book day’ – won’t you agree? I thought it would be fun to see what kind of reader you are. My reading habits are eclectic across many genres (I write that way too), so I think the closest is extrovert reader for me.
Please put your answer in the comments.
I have booked my ticket for a virtual interview hosted by Bloody Scotland – Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival of Stephen King, as you all know he is my ultimate writing hero. I am so excited for this event, not just because it’s Stephen but also because I am in the midst of writing a crime trilogy.
We have looked at how book covers change from country to country, but how many titles have changed? Do you know?
I have altered a couple of my own titles as the story evolved and a better title came to mind. Initially, when I was writing my YA novella, Creature Hunt on Planet Toaria, the main character, a robotic protector was my focus. The working title was Bubble the Grubble as the initial story concept was for a younger audience. As the narrative formed it was obvious that the story would appeal to an older readership. So I changed the title to reflect that.
The other title, I changed was The Commodore’s Gift. Initially, this story was a writing exercise prompt on a writing retreat, using a random title. I was assigned ‘The Toymaker’ and wrote about Marcus, an exceptional toy-maker, and his capture by the Commodore. The completed story was 7900 words. Although, Marcus is still part of the completed novel, his role is significantly reduced.
Did you know the former titles for these famous novels?
First Impressions Became Pride and Prejudice. All’s Well That Ends Well Became War and Peace. The Un-Dead Became Dracula. The High-Bouncing Lover Became The Great Gatsby.Tomorrow Is Another Day Became Gone with the Wind. The Last Man in EuropeBecame 1984. The Return of the ShadowBecame The Fellowship of the Ring. Strangers from Within Became Lord of the Flies. Second Coming Became ’Salem’s Lot.
Can you add to this list?
I attended an in-person event on Friday, the first since the pandemic began with members of my writing group. It was a local fun day for culture and sport. The main focus was to present the winner’s of our annual children’s writing contest with a book, which included their stories. As you can imagine it was a fun watching these young writers see their writing in a published book. We also promoted the monthly children’s writing workshop, so they can continue writing and improving their skills. Currently, the event is held virtually, so it is not limited to who can attend. Details are on the calendar. https://www.wfscsherwoodpark.com/ The workshops are held the second Thursday of every month. 6.30 pm MST
Do you know a young writer that would be interested?
I have been writing since 1987. I started as a journalist, went to college in my 40s, and continued to write after that. My first book, “A River of Stones” was published in 2002.
You write in multiple genres – do you start with the genre and then the story or the other way around?
The genre usually. For my most recent book, I knew what the genre was going to be pretty close to getting it going. I have written mystery, YA fiction, middle reader, nonfiction, a picture book, Christian fiction, Christian Historical Fiction and science/fantasy, so you can imagine what my mind is like.
Which do you find the most challenging to write – fiction or non-fiction?
That depends on the research. When there’s a lot of research, the time it takes to finish a book is lengthened. The easiest books for me to write are those that mostly come from my head. If the book is based on where I live or a place where I’ve vacationed, the challenge is lessened.
Where did the ideas for the Brianne James Mystery & Susan Cramer Mystery Series’ come from?
I really wanted to tackle a mystery, and so I thought how it would be if I was a detective, having no training and no experience in the field. This is Susan Cramer. She loves a great mystery but she really has no idea – especially in the beginning – how to solve the crime. I am like that. The ideas after that came from my ‘strange’ mind. I am always asking what if questions. What if someone died in an old hotel and everyone thought You were the murderer? What if you were on a cruise ship and an old man died at your feet?
Do you have a favorite character and why?
I would have to say Brianne James. She is the daughter to Susan. And she has a little more of her wits about her. She is tough, too.
Were the series planned ahead or did the character’s dictate a continuation?
The series was not planned ahead. “Scrambled” was a one book wonder in the beginning. I wrote it because I was attending college and I needed money for school. I received a $500 scholarship from Mystery Writers of America after sending in my first chapter – a chapter I wrote for one of my college classes.
What is your writing process?
Get up. Sit down. And write. I treat my writing like I would a profession because it is. Writing is NOT my hobby. Yes, I love it, but I write because I have to. I go through multiple drafts and revisions before I call something finished. A have a part-time job as an aide at an elementary school, and two businesses – we publish too over here, [Idea Creations Press] and run a non-profit [Trees For Keeps], so I keep myself pretty busy.
Do you have a favorite place to write?
Our family just returned from a vacation to Bryce Canyon, Utah. It is a beautiful place. Every morning I would sit out on the porch and write. I loved it. At home I have my office. It’s not as peaceful as an early morning in the canyon, but I love having a work space just for writing.
Does your own life experience play a part in your characterizations?
This question makes me smile. Yes. There is a lot of me in my books. The goofy girl. The question asker. The mystery maker. The searcher.
Where can readers find you?
I love it when readers find me at my blog and learn something new about writing, marketing, or publishing. http://www.ariverofstones.com. I also have a fun Author’s Amazon page here.
Kathryn is a lover of words and a bearer of mood swings. When she is feeling the need to inspire, she writes a Christian fiction book. If a mystery is waiting to be uncovered, she finds it. If something otherworldly is finding its way through her fingertips, she travels to it.
Kathryn has been a reader since she was a young child. Although she took classes in writing as a teen, it wasn’t something she really thought would become her career until she was married. And even then, it took a few more years for something worthy enough to publish to manifest itself.
Kathryn’s first book was published in 2002. Since then, many other books have found their way out of her head depending on the sort of day she is having. Kathryn is a journalist, a teacher, a mentor, an editor, a publisher, and a marketer.
Her greatest joy, other than writing her next book, is meeting with readers and authors who enjoy the craft of writing as much as she does.