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Rich Christiano[Jeff Gerke]

Interview: Donita K. Paul

[Donita K. Paul] Donita K. Paul (shown here with one of her pets) is the author of Escape, Returning Amanda, To See His Way, Out in the Real World, Engagement of the Heart, The Arrow, and A Second Glance (all published by Barbour Publishing), Camp L.O.S., The Haunting Past, Where Love is Needed, and The Wedding, (Four juvenile novels by Kathleen Paul's Writing Adventure Club), and Dragonspell (WaterBrook Press, 2004), which was chosen as the "fantasy pick of the week" on Christianbook.com. Donita took part in the list in October, 2004. Diane Joy Baker, Shannon McNear, Cheryl Russell, and Greg Slade asked the questions, and here is an edited version of the question and answer sequence. You can learn more about Donita from her web site at www.donitakpaul.com, and there are also web sites for Kathleen Paul's Writing Adventure Club and Dragonspell.

GS: Where were you born?

Lawrence, Kansas. My father was a professor at KU.

GS: Where did you go to school?

Do you mean starting at Council Rock elementary? Or should I skip to University of Houston? (Where my father was a professor.)

GS: What did you take in school, and why?

I took elementary education because I wanted to be a mom. I figured education or nursing would be the best background. I didn't go for nursing, too much math.

GS: What is your marital status?

I am a single mom. But now, I guess I am more of a single grandma. I raised my kids from the time they were in 2nd and 3rd grade with God as their father and my mother as a strong support figure.

GS: How did you get started writing?

I always liked to write. I took the Children's Institute course when my kids were very young. But I didn't really write until after I was disabled by a flesh-eating bacteria in my leg. I was stuck at home, feeling bored and useless and rather depressed. My mother said, "Why don't you try writing. You've always been good at that." Aren't mothers nice to have around?

GS: What books have you had published? (not restricting yourself to SF titles)

Dragonspell (WaterBrook Press, 2004), A Second Glance (Barbour Publishing, 2002), The Arrow (Barbour Publishing, 2001), Engagement of the Heart (Barbour Publishing, 2001), Out in the Real World (Barbour Publishing, 2001), Camp L.O.S., The Haunting Past, Where Love is Needed, The Wedding (Four juvenile novels by Kathleen Paul's Writing Adventure Club, 2001), To See His Way (Barbour Publishing, 2000), Returning Amanda (Barbour Publishing, 2000), Escape (Barbour Publishing, 1999.)

GS: Of your books, which one is your favorite? (including works in progress)

You know that is like asking for your favorite child, don't you? I have one or more favorite characters in each book. But if I were to stick to the question and not go off on tangents, I would have to say the one that has just come out. The one I'm working on is a lot of work. Too much work to actually enjoy full-heartedly. There are moments while creating that the work is pure joy. But there are a lot of times when it's just plain labor.

So the book that is out there already, the book that readers write to you and tell you they are enjoying. That has to be the favorite child of the moment. Also, my "book that just came out" is Dragonspell, and Dragonspell is fun. The characters are lively and spirited and amusing. The lessons they learn are important to me. And children have a special place in my heart. A lot of the readers I hear from are children.

DJB: Which comes first, plot or character?

Definitely character for me. I watch my characters in kind of a mind movie and then write down what they do. Actually, it is a bit more complicated than that, but on good days, I'm just a court reporter.

DJB: Which authors (other than the Bible) have influenced your work?

Max Lucado, Jan Karon, Linda Windsor. Now I have to say, in addition to published authors, I have a couple of crit groups and the authors in them, published and unpublished, have pushed and pulled me to a higher level of writing.

DJB: How much has Scripture (moral content, style and literary genre) influenced your work?

Tremendously in the moral content area. Style and literary genre, I'm not so sure about. I believe strongly in the power of story. Jesus used story to illustrate concepts, to move hearts, and to even disguise heavenly truths in mystery. Remember what he told the disciples when he explained the Parable of the sower.

I think we value something we worked to figure out more than the things that are written down in formula form.

And one thing you can say about Scripture is that most verses are concise and to the point. (Don't quote any chapters from Numbers at me.) Many times the reader with the aid of the Holy Spirit is responsible to apply the lesson to his/her life. When we write, we shouldn't preach but lead the reader to truth.

DJB: Which authors do you buy off the shelf the minute you see their name on the cover? Let's reword that question to match my pocketbook. Which authors do I run to the library to get?

The same as the ones above. Although I buy Max Lucado books for my son so I can borrow them.

I also like Charles Swindoll.

DJB: What interests you in particular about SF / fantasy and in what ways does this genre have a special appeal to Christians?

Writing fantasy is fun. I can go back to my childhood when I made up stories about fairies in my pajama drawer, pocket-sized elephants in the bathtub, woodland animals that come to my special place in the hedge. (It was really where a dead bush had been hauled out, but hey! it made a cool bower.)

I think Christians as well as the general populace get tired of the real world. And in truth, we are but sojourners in the realm. We all long for a perfect world where good has vanquished evil. Christians have the hope of heaven, the reality of a life in eternity with God. Did you know it is one of the tenets of fantasy, that good always truimphs over evil? I supposed there are some modern writers out there breaking the mold, but by literary standards of old, the bad guys lose.

Also there is a part of each of us that recognizes that in our own lives we are on quests. A journey from obscurity to supreme beauty. The dragons, the evil wizards, the monsters are cloaked in disguises as hurricanes, power-warped bosses, and overflowing toilets. But the virtues and strengths that pull fantasy figures through the mire are the same ones that will undergird our journeys. (Did I mix a metaphor there?)

CR: When I read Dragonspell, I was amazed at the world and the different races you created. How did you go about world building and where did the ideas for the races come from? Did you create the characters then construct a place for them to live, or did the world come first, then the characters to populate it?

You know the verse in Ecclesiastes that says there is nothing new under the sun? Well, there isn't. They call the kind of world-building I did in Dragonspell "sub-created." In other words, I took what worked for God and used that as my foundation.

As for creating races, I took something standard and tweaked it. I wanted elves, but I didn't really want elves. So I made emerlindians. They have some elf-like characteristics (shoot bows and arrows well, have lean bodies and pointy ears [but so does Mr. Spock}) and added things. Emerlindians are born with alabaster skin and as they age and gain wisdom they darken. They read minds.

Grawligs are mountain ogres. I actually had pictured in my mind the monsters in Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.

Which comes first? The characters or the world? In my case, the characters.

CR: How do you keep all the details straight?

I use a plain notebook. But I also have files of glossary words and geographical facts, etc. on the computer.

CR: Dragonspell's web site is one of the best book sites I think I've seen. Do you come up with all the ideas, like Libretowitt's library, the games, etc? Or is it the publisher or a combination of people?

I came up with the basic concept. I bought Front Page and Front Page for Dummies. Spent about thirty minutes delving through them and threw up my hands in defeat.

My son-in-law laid out the groundwork and then I hired a gal from our church who does the church website and happens to be in my Tuesday night crit group.

She comes up with some good ideas all the time. The Tag board is very popular and that was her idea. Also the news column on the front page. And, she found the set of games that don't cost us a thing, are clean, and the viewers seem to like them. She also helps me do my newsletter. So, Be sure to sign up for the drawing on the web site which automatically puts you on the list for the newsletter.

And, if anyone is looking for a webmaster, Dianna's clientele list is still pretty short, so you don't have to wait forever for her to get to your project, plus she is reasonable both financially and to deal with. No artistic dramatics. End of commercial. <vbg>

SM: So, I know that you got your start as a published author by writing romances... how did you make the shift to fantasy?

The shift to fantasy was made when my mother challenged me to write something different, bigger, deeper.

You should always listen to your mother.

My first attempt at fantasy got a thumbs down from my crit group. They said the first scene sounded more like sci-fi. I tried again. I got another raspberry from my loving group. The third time was the charm.

I've always said that I just take real characters, put them in a real situation, and watch what happens. In the case of fantasy, I learned that my characters and situations are still real, but the setting is fantastic.

SM: Do you plan to continue writing in both genres?


SM: How long have you been writing (you may have answered this one already), and how did you break into print?

I wrote as a child. I took the Childrens Institute correspondence course when my kids were toddlers. So i've always been attracted to the idea of writing. However, when I was disabled by a flesh-eating streph in my leg, I had to come up with something to keep me busy. I read about three months of heartsong presents club books and said to myself, "I can do this." I submitted a novel I'd done for my daughter when she was 13 and they bought it.

So how do we count up how long it took?

from childhood, about 40 years.
from the time I took the course, about 30 years.
from the time I wrote the novel for daughter, about 9 years.
from the time I submitted it, about 2 years.

SM: How many hours a day do you write?

That's a hard one to answer because I plot while I'm washing dishes or folding laundry or vacuuming. I sit at the computer for 2-6 hours a day. Sometimes while I am sitting at the computer I am playing solitaire.

SM: Do you tend to be a seat-of-the-pants writer, or an outliner? (Or the third category, the Snowflaker... <g>)

Definitely seat of the pants. I got to the end of one scene recently and reread it. Discovered I'd misplaced one of the characters. So the next chapter was about where that character had gone off to. Worked beautifully.

SM: Do you edit as you go, or just plunge through a first draft to the end, then go back and revise?

I'm a constant editor. I edit yesterday's work before I get started on today's. I reread constantly. And as many of my friends know, I read aloud as if I have an audience. My dog is used to it and doesn't get excited anymore.

SM: What books on writing do you recommend/have found particularly helpful?

Anything by Jack Bickham. Dynamic Characters by Nancy Kress. The Key by James Fry.

SM: And if you have time, I'm sure some of the others here would enjoy hearing some of your experiences as a speaker at the recent DragonCon... since this is the Christian Fandom list. :-)

I don't think the people who came to the Young Adult panels were as hardcore "weird" as some of the other sectors. Most of the people were pleasant and didn't get huffy about my obvious Christian stance. Honestly, Bryan Davis is better at witnessing from the hot seat than I am. I came away with a great appreciation for that homeschooling dad.

It was also obvious that steering young readers toward wholesome literature was not a biggy among these people. One panelist didn't think fiction should teach morals. There was a sign on the wall about the dangers of censorship. Well, I believe that parents, and, to some extent, schools should keep an eagle eye on what students are reading. No books on making bombs and hating peers.

Also, some of the books that were named as good literature were not. They were literature, but not good.

I actually had a wonderful time and would go again if asked.

SM: Did you happen to talk to many Christians attending that Con?

Yes. But I also talked with some very lost and hurting people. It amazes me that God would use me to be a light.

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[David R. Beaucage][Kathy Tyers][James BeauSeigneur][Jefferson Scott][Walker Chandler][Alton Gansky][Ray Hansen]

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Rich Christiano[Jeff Gerke]

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