10 Questions for DeAnna Julie Dodson
DeAnna made her start as a CPA, but boredom led her to begin writing. And once she got hooked, she knew she’d never stop. DeAnna has written a medieval trilogy and a new book, A Dinner of Herbs, a story of the American Civil War, that will be out in 2007. Let’s see what makes her tick…
1. Tricia: You’ve written three medieval themed novels. Where did you get the ideas?
DeAnna: After mostly avoiding Shakespeare in high school, I truly discovered his work through a requirement in a college humanities class. My first real taste of Shakespeare was an open-air production of “As You Like It,” and from then on I was hooked. I devoured the comedies and then the tragedies with the help of the BBC’s television series of the complete works (borrowedfrom the public library) and lots of heavily annotated scripts. When I got through those, nothing was left but, as I thought at the time, “the boring old histories.” I couldn’t believe what great stories they were and that I had missed out on them for so long! Yes, they were based on the lives of medieval English royalty, but they were also intense family dramas, stories of love and loss and betrayal and atonement. These were real people with real emotions playing out their lives on the national stage, a stage filled with all the dazzling pageantry of the middle ages and Shakespeare’s dramatic genius.
Once I had absorbed the plays, I wanted to know about the real people that had been the basis for them, the historical kings and queens and nobility. I found that the truth was better than, and often stranger than, fiction. I was particularly interested in young King Henry V, his troubled relationshipwith his usurping father, and his rule over a kingdom he may not have felt was rightly his. This became the jumping off point of my first novel, In Honor Bound. The other two books in the series, By Love Redeemed and To Grace Surrendered, were continuations of the first story. Since I didn’t want to be tied to English history, I created a fictional kingdom for my characters, but it is firmly grounded in the reality of medieval England.
DeAnna: As much as I love the chivalrous knights and fair ladies of medieval times and would love to write more about the kingdom of Lynaleigh, I enjoy many eras of history. The American Civil War was a time of great upheaval, tremendous loss of life and property, and sweeping social change. That makes it a perfect setting for a book. Of course, my latest novel, A Dinner of Herbs, isn’t really about the war itself. I think it has only one battle scene. It is more about what change does to people and how adversity reveals one’s true character. Of course, the chivalry of the southern gentleman is in itself legendary, so maybe this wasn’t so much of a switch after all.
My work in progress is more of a change. It’s a 1930’s murder mystery. Won’t that be fun?
3. Tricia: All your novels include an element of spiritual growth. In what ways do these elements flow from your own experiences?
DeAnna: They always say to write what you know, and I feel that a scene is more convincing and more moving when I follow that advice. Of course, a lesson I learn in real life will be presented in a different context in my fiction, but the lesson itself is the same. My characters have learned things about the superabundant mercy of God, the value of faithfulness, and the need to extend forgiveness as well as receive it because I have learned them, whether by personal experience or by the experience of those close to me. And, as I am still learning, my characters are, too.
4. Tricia: Readers look for a story which immediately grips them and touches their hearts. What tips can you give to new writers on how to do this?
DeAnna: The most important thing is to know your characters. Did your main character raise his dog from puppyhood and, due to the dog’s age and illness, recently have to have him put to sleep? Of course he’s going to cry when he watches “Old Yeller.” Is he a Gen-Xer who plays violent video games and never had a pet? He might snicker at the same movie and think it’s hopelessly smarmy.
My writing really takes off when I set people I “know” in a situation that threatens what is most valuable to them and then let them go. If I allow them to be true to their personalities and past experiences, they will almost write themselves. I also read all of my dialogue aloud. It helps me make sure that it “sounds” natural, and that helps readers see the characters as real people.
5. Tricia: Do you have any writing rituals you perform before starting your writing day?
DeAnna: I usually check my e-mail and my Amazon blog to see if I have any new comments from readers or any business to attend to. Then I usually play the Merriam-Webster On-Line word game of the day (“Dictionary Devil” is my favorite) to get my brain going. Then I watch the latest “Simply Quilts” while I eat breakfast, so I can feast my eyes and my tummy. Then, if no crisis arises, I get to work.
6. Tricia: How do you write your books? Do you just start on page one and keep going?
DeAnna: I tend to start with a main conflict and vague road map to the resolution. I really need to have an idea where I’m going even if it changes before I’m through. And it usually does change. It tends to get simplified as I work through things. I generally like to write the exciting scenes first, the dramatic set pieces that I can build the story on. Those tend to come fairly easily. Then I have to tie it all together so it makes sense as a whole, and that part is hard, hard work for me. I know people who just start with an opening line and go from there, but I don’t see how they do it.
7. Tricia: Who is your biggest cheerleader in life?
DeAnna: There have been lots of people who have been wonderfully supportive of me and my writing, but as far as life-long encouragement, support and unconditional love, no human being can beat my dad.
8. Tricia: If you had to just any other state to live in (except the constant state of confusion), which would you choose?
DeAnna: I’m a great fan of hockey and not a great fan of hot weather. So, if I had to leave my beloved Texas, I think I’d like to live in Oregon or Washington State. The politics up there might drive me crazy, but at least I’d be cooler and close enough to pop up to Canada once in a while to catch some NHL games.
9. Tricia: Clean desk or clean kitchen?
DeAnna: Both, though I must admit that my desk isn’t usually as clean as my kitchen. Unless I’m actively cooking something, which isn’t all that often, my kitchen is usually pretty clean. My desk goes through periods when it’s more or less untidy, but if it gets too bad I have to stop everything and clean up. I can’t stand too much clutter and not knowing where things are. Having lived and worked with pack rats, I am determined not to become one.
10. Tricia: What is one photograph you absolutely cherish? Can you describe it for us? Why does it mean so much to you?
DeAnna: For a family gathering several years ago, my sister took some pairs of cheap sunglasses and embellished them with all kinds of crazy decorations. Then she gave a pair to each of us, my parents and the four of us kids. My brother-in-law took a picture of us all posing like divas in our “designer” glasses, and I just love it. It just shows my funny, quirky family to