|Donna R. Wood|
After a two-month reprieve from this series, I’m pleased to be starting up my monthly guest writer feature once again, starting with a local writer with whom I’ve crossed paths both in cyberspace and in person over the past years.
The more I learned about Donna R. Wood, the more I discovered our many commonalities. Perhaps most significantly, we both grew up on reservations, as non-Indians, just a state apart. As such, we understand living in one culture, being of another, and feeling connected to both. We also came into the world around the same time, graduated high school the same year, and eventually came to claim Fargo, ND, as our home. We are mothers, faith-seekers, and writers. And I would say we also share an affinity for the youth of our world and a passion to help them rise to new heights.
Thank you, Donna, for gracing Peace Garden Writer with your presence!
Let me start by asking the significance of your blog name – Butterfly Phoenix. Can you explain to readers how you came to choose that name?
My whole life I have loved butterflies. Butterflies are indigenous to every country in the world; much like people. Butterflies must go through distinct phases of maturity; much like people. Many years ago I sat at the feet of an Arikara elder, my friend’s grandmother. She told us many stories and traditions of the Arikara people. She told us about the butterfly (saawiitakaá’), how they came to be, and their significance to the world: they bring happiness to children and lift the spirits of those who have experienced sorrows in life. I wanted to be a butterfly. I wanted to bring joy to those around me. It would be many years after this sitting that I would know the life of a butterfly.
Overcoming adversity and challenge has been a significant part of my life. Somewhere along the line I began to identify the part of me that held my strength to rise out of the ashes and live again as the phoenix. I suspect it was sometime between learning Egyptian mythology in the fifth grade and the loss of my longtime friend in the tenth grade.
ButterflyPhoenix.com is a definition of where I have been and how I came to be the person I am today. As I state on my website there are two parts of me: the Butterfly who longs to float effortlessly on the summer breeze; and the Phoenix who consistently rises from the ashes when life happens. I believe that is a commonality we all have as human beings.
So take us back a bit. When did you start writing? And when did writing become more than just a hobby for you? When did you decide to take it to the next level? What prompted that?
I started writing in earnest when I was in the tenth grade. I had a tablet that I carried with me everywhere. I poured my heart and soul into this chalice that would receive all the hurt and pain I felt after losing my longtime friend and childhood playmate. It resulted in the first full length manuscript I ever put on paper. The story was of a teenage runaway — symbolizing my inner-most feelings of wanting to run away from all the hurt and pain in my world; not just the death of my friend, but life as it was in the 1970s recession on an Indian Reservation. It was then that I knew I wanted to be a writer someday.
As the old saying goes, ‘Life happens’; and happen it did. So much so, my dream of being an author was put on the back burner until well into my thirties. Sporadically I had started the manuscripts that were carefully filed away for completion – someday.
“Sticks and Bones” was started when I was a 36-year-old, single mother of three teenage girls. I would work on this single story for nearly five years before completion. I don’t want to expand into the details of the manuscript as it is a murder mystery. No spoilers.
During this time I began blogging on AreaVoices.com as “PrairieWoman” and met other writers, including you. And as you well know, we developed an exchange based on many of our historical commonalities that developed into a friendship. You encouraged me to take a leap of faith and pursue my dream of becoming a fiction writer. And the rest is history.
Glad to know that the nudge worked, Donna! But it was your initiative, still. How did you change your life in order to make room for this newly forming passion?
Interestingly enough, I didn’t really need to make many changes to make room for writing as I have been writing my whole life. I will concede that being on the verge of the proverbial ‘empty nest’ helps a lot. My youngest daughter is a senior in high school this year and will be leaving late this summer; then I’ll have the castle to myself.
I know that you were fortunate to have landed an agent, fairly early in your time of becoming a more serious writer. Are you willing to share a bit of that experience with us here? And in doing so, offer some tips on finding an agent, and some of the pros and cons of having one, based on your personal experience?
I was extremely excited to have an agent. I was just as shocked as everyone else. Then the big letdown happened. She was lazy, not as well connected as she claimed she was, and well, you can imagine where that went. I ended up terminating the contract as I was doing all the work and she was doing nothing. She did not show up on any of the predator websites so I entered the contract with her. I have not heard from her since. Always check the predator websites for literary agents and agencies. There’s a lot more of them out there than you would think.
Having an agent is going to be the most important part of an author’s career who wishes to continue on the traditional publishing path. As you and I both know, the U.S. and U.K. markets are tough to break into right now due to the economic climate. I wouldn’t say it’s impossible, but it’s going to be tough.
Self or vanity publishing are options for any author, however, it’s not the path I choose to take. I would rather have someone advocating for me who already has a foot in the door with those who know the world of publishing.
What are some other ways you’ve nourished your writing and writing habits?
Blogging is the number one way I have nourished my writing and my writing habits. I also spend a lot of time on linkedin.com with published authors, publishers, editors, and those seeking to be published learning the art of fiction writing.
I would offer that those who write also read. One of my goals in 2011 is to read more. I was an avid reader in my younger days, but today I read less books and more research. I need to get back to the creative element of writing.
You’ve written several full-length books, correct? Can you tell us a little bit about them? Where are they at in the process at the moment? Ready for publication? Still being refined?
I have completed two full length books: “Sticks and Bones” and “The Ten Thousand Hands Project.”’ I am currently marketing “Sticks and Bones” to agents and publishers – again. ‘The Ten Thousand Hands Project’ is in the editing process.
There are a total of four manuscripts associated with “The Malakai Chronicles” which “The Ten Thousand Hands Project” is the prequel to the series. The series is fantasy based, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it Science Fiction. I hope to have all four manuscripts completed by the end of 2012.
There are three manuscripts associated with “Battle for Ramondy” which is a middle-earth based fantasy novel series. I don’t anticipate the completion of this series until late 2013 if not later.
You are drawn to writing about young people and people who have traversed difficult challenges? Why is this?
In high school, my English teachers were passionate about literature and introduced us (my class) to a myriad of authors; both classical and contemporary. My favorite author of all time is Charles Dickens. Mr. Dickens wasn’t afraid to bare the truth of societal ills in the face of the general public and used his skill to do just that. I was captivated by his stories and how they related to the happenings in my own life.
So what does that have to do with why I am drawn to young people or people who have traversed difficult challenges? They say the best thing to write is to write what you know. The challenges and adversities of youth is something I know all too well. As a young person I read voraciously. Like many young people today I read for escapism.
We didn’t have many books then that involved vampires or other mythical creatures. We had V.C. Andrews, Danielle Steele, and Judy Blume; all of whom brought issues and problems in society to the forefront of people’s minds in their own ways. There are a couple of other books that stick out in my mind that I would recommend to young girls “Where the Lilies Bloom” by Vera and Bill Cleaver and “Cee Cee and Me”. I read the book “Cee Cee and Me” in the eighth grade and I have never been able to find it since. It was one of the best books I had read as a child and it left a significant imprint on my life.
When good triumphs over evil it seems to give a spark of hope to someone who may be experiencing the same issues as the character in the story. Hope is a sparse commodity in today’s world and people need that to survive.
Can you offer advice to new or growing writers, based on what you have learned?
Never ever give up. Network yourself as much as you can. Never do anything in your private life you wouldn’t want made public if you should become famous.
Besides writing, what would constitute your dream job?
I don’t really know. I guess I’ve never given it much thought. As someone who has worked since she age 13, I’ve been a lot of things in my life. I guess if I had to choose something it would be a motivational speaker. Not sure if I’m ready for that yet, but I keep the option open just in case the breeze blows me that way.
What is the one thing you really want to say most in your writing, and that you feel will make a difference in the world if it is received?
We are all human and to be human requires recognition of the common thread that relates us all.
Donna, thanks so much for sharing your insight with us today. Your time and thoughts are very much appreciated. Best of luck to you in your work and writing goals! I’ll see you at the coffee shop!
Q4U: Your turn to fire away at Donna. Any questions to direct toward her? Oh, and don’t forget to visit Butterfly Phoenix!