Donna Galanti is the author of A Human Element and A Hidden Element (Imajin Books), the first two award-winning, bestselling books in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, and the middle grade fantasy adventure series Joshua and The Lightning Road (Month9Books). Donna is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers the Big Thrill magazine and blogs at Project Mayhem. She lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. Visit her Website, Twitter, and Facebook.
Interview by BWG member Kidd Wadsworth
Bethlehem Writers Roundtable: Your YA novel Joshua and the Lightning Road begins with a
fantastic inciting incident: Joshua's best friend is kidnapped. Can you talk a bit about writing this first chapter? Did it come to you quickly, or was it the product of hours of revision?
Donna Galanti: The first line of this chapter came to me literally like lightning. "I never knew lightning could zap you without burning you to a crisp. If it hadn't been storming something wicked that August day I never would have found out." From this, the first chapter was written fast and while revised many times, it essentially remained the same scene.
BWR: Your writing often utilizes the sense of smell, something many writers almost ignore, for example: "...a stench, like something half-eaten, crawling with maggots and buzzing with flies, wafted over me." and "He smelled like a wet dog that had been swimming in sour milk and burnt grease." What advice can you offer those who struggle to get beyond simply describing how something looks?
DG: This speaks to world-building, which enriches any story whether fantasy or contemporary romance. I actually present to writers on just this subject and how important it is to utilize all five senses in writing fiction. Interning for a literary agency and reading the slush pile helped me see areas in my own work, like world building, that could be improved.
Smells can hold powerful memory triggers. I wanted readers to see Joshua's world as he experiences it. When you first smell a new scent, you link it to a person or event. Like the scent of fresh cut grass can remind you of a summer day, even if it's the end of autumn. And when you happen upon that smell again, the link is there, ready to pop that memory open.
Most importantly, when it comes to describing how something looks we need to see it from the character's eyes – not the author's. How does that character see his world? Write from that.
BWR: Do you employ a particular tool or device to help you plot?
DG: For plot, I use exercises in my favorite resource books such as Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell and Wired for Story by Lisa Cron. Both are excellent in taking your new idea and finding out if it has sea legs! I have also written about the evolution of my writing process on my blog. First off, I need to know what the premise of the story is and the story arc of the main character. This sets me off to tie his arc into the plot points. If I know what the character needs to go through in his transformation then I brainstorm plot points that could make each step in his journey happen.
BWR: With Joshua and the Lightning Road you used an agent and traditional publishing. Your adult books, A Human Element and A Hidden Element from the Element Trilogy, as well as Deadly Dozen: 12 Mystery/Thriller Novels, were all published by Imajin Books an ebook and trade paperback publishing house. The Dark Inside: A Short Story Collection and Letters From Boot Camp: A Memoir of Navy Basic Training were self-published. Donna, you've done it all. Please tell us how you'd do it differently if you had to do it again. What were the blessings; what were the curses?
DG: I am grateful to have experienced so many avenues of the publishing industry. It's helped me navigate different paths and learn which ones best fit each project. I actually would not change a thing! Every path and learning experience (and setback) has gotten me here to where I am today. My writer toolbox is full and with all my knowledge gained I can set out confident on my next path. Read my post on my 8 Steps to an Agent, a Publisher, and a Two-Book Deal.
BWR: Please describe the process by which you and Bill Contardi of Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents, Inc. decided to team up. Did you meet him at a conference or send in a query letter?
DG: I queried Bill who was super fast in getting back to me. I sent him the manuscript at noon on a Wednesday, by that night he'd read half and finished over the weekend, and we had a call Monday where he offered me representation. He is so great to work with, offering advice and choices and then letting me choose my path.
BWR: Book #2 of the Lightning Road series, Joshua and the Arrow Realm, is due out in winter 2016. Donna, from start to finish how long does it take you to write a book? Do you set goals for yourself such as 'I will write six hours a day,' or 'I will write 1,000 words a day?'
DG: I set goals, over and over, but I find each project is different and requires a different process. Some need a tight plot, some need to be written more organically. With Joshua and the Arrow Realm, I had to set word count goals each week in order to meet my publisher's deadline. I wrote that fast, within a few months, and spent two months revising it. I had a tight plot from the book proposal and the world was in place already from book two, so I was in good place to write strong and fast. 1,000 words a day seem within reason, and I do aim for that. However, sometimes deadlines can really throw you for a loop!
BWR: Your work spans several genres from YA to adult thrillers to memoir. Is there a genre you've yet to publish in that beckons? What can we expect in the years to come from Donna Galanti?
DG:I am toying with a YA contemporary right now, so that is something that is definitely different. When people ask what I write I boil it down to "thrillers for kids and adults". I like to write on the dark side with a taste of suspense in any genre so that will always remain, even for a YA contemporary novel.
BWR: THANK YOU!
DG: Thank you for having me on!