A couple of weeks ago I got to sit down with one of the editors for Stitched Smile Publications. Her name is Donelle Pardee Whiting. She’s smart and witty and funny. She’s also a superb editor and has just recently gotten back into writing fiction. We sat down, as always, at a computer screen and chatted. I had my coffee and a comfortable seat on the couch. I’m not sure where she was sitting. What I am sure about is she surprised me with some of her answers.
AJ: Donelle, tell me a little bit about you.
DPW: Oh you would start with the question I hate the most. Well, let’s see. I am married with one son and three (soon to be four) grandkids.
I love to read, but I go in cycles. I don’t stick to one genre. I read horror, sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, suspense, mystery. I guess it would have been easier to say everything except straight up romance.
I like to spend time outside. Skiing, camping, hiking, sitting at the beach. Wherever my mood takes me. I absolutely love being out on the Harley with my husband.
And I enjoy traveling. I have been blessed with a mom who likes to take me with her on trips.
AJ: Hold the phone: Harley? I would have never guessed that. Tell me more about how you got into that.
DPW: I didn’t always love Harleys. But I did like motorcycles. In college, I had a few friends who rode. When we were dating, my husband had a Kawasaki, but he always wanted a Harley. So, through his eyes (I let him keep those), I started to see the appeal. They’re growly and tough. And if treated right, they last a long time. There is a long history behind them. Although my husband is more knowledgeable about that than I am.
DPW: While the only truly important thing to me is my husband is the one in the “driver’s seat,” I would definitely choose to have the Harley. A few years back I took a class to get my motorcycle license. Now I have to save my pennies so I can get one of my own.
I love to ride on the back, but unfortunately, I only get to ride when my husband is able. I won’t take his out. That’s his baby. I didn’t even want my name on the registration when he bought it six years ago.
I almost forgot. We had a Suzuki Katana before the Harley. I still prefer the Harley.
AJ: Most folks I know love their Harleys. Let’s step back a minute and talk about your reading preferences. Anything except romance?
DWP: Right. I have nothing against people who like a good romance. I have, in the past, read a few. When I was younger…by several years. And occasionally, in the past, I have read works by Nora Roberts, but I prefer her books under the name J.D. Robb. I have nothing against romance; I just don’t need to be romanced. It’s nice when there is a spontaneous gesture, but I don’t expect it, so to me getting lost in a straight up romance novel is akin to getting lost in what a person feels is missing from their life. I could be wrong, but that is what it feels like to me. Plus, a lot of those books are formulaic and predictable. I don’t even really enjoy romance movies. I will watch some rom-com films, but I have to really like the actors. I prefer movies that are in line with my reading tastes.
I think I just figured out something else. I don’t like meek, subservient, female characters. I am not saying the character has to be Xena, the Warrior Princess. She can have weaknesses or a softness to her, but I don’t like when a female character is portrayed as needing a man to rescue her or to make her feel like her life has meaning. I like that I can count on my husband to be there for me, and to help me. I don’t need for him to, but I like that he is there. Especially, those rare times when there is something I can’t do like fix my car.
AJ: You hit on something very deep here. Getting lost in a straight up romance novel is akin to getting lost in what a person feels is missing from their life. I’ve said something similar to this when referencing erotica and romance and have been blasted for it. Since reading is essentially losing yourself in a book or story, do you find that sometimes people really do read certain types of books to fulfill something missing in their lives?
DWP: Oh boy. I opened the door, so time to step through. I get lost in a good story. And I am perfectly okay with getting lost in a story. But, is it always a matter of it being a case of something missing in real life? It can be, and it can’t be.
Let me explain where I am going.
I love reading fantasy stories. A high school friend introduced me to The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and I loved them. It opened a whole new world of reading material for me. Until then I read the typical girl young adult fare. But, those books, and starting to read my mom’s Stephen King books, really grabbed me. I learned I didn’t have to lock myself into one writing style, one genre, or even one author. It wasn’t just the books either. My dad was a huge sci-fi fan. He and I would stay up late and watch The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Tales From the Darkside together. He introduced me to Doctor Who and Star Trek and Star Wars. Getting lost in a good Doctor Who episode doesn’t mean I feel like traveling through time and space is missing from my life. Would it be fun if the Doctor was real and came to sweep me into an adventure? You bet.
But, romance to me is different. It is similar to the soap operas that began airing in the…what, 60s? In my opinion, they target lonely, dissatisfied women. There is nothing wrong with reading them. They are not my style. The problem becomes when they become a substitute for what is really out there waiting. Very much like video games. It becomes all encompassing. There is a difference between losing oneself in a good book for a bit, and getting completely lost and missing what life has to offer.
AJ: Wow. That is deep, Donelle. I get what you mean completely. I have heard a lot of women mention before that they love their romance novels because of the fantasy feel to it. It’s not always bad to fantasize, but to get caught up in that fantasy and not live is another thing all together.
Where do we go after that answer? What is your favorite style to read?
DWP: Now that is tough.
I mentioned I loved The Hobbit and LOTR, and I have read the Game of Thrones books. And while I love Tolkein’s work and like Game of Thrones, they are a bit ploddy – I know, not a word – in spots. I do enjoy a descriptive, easy going style, I guess. Honestly, I never really thought about it much. But thinking about it now, I really do enjoy a more conversational style. As if I were sitting with the author in a coffee shop and he/she is telling me a story. Just me. It draws you in. I do not really enjoy lengthy, preachy styles. I have a hard time with non-fiction because there usually is no lightness to it. Working on Strigoi: The First Family with Michael Freeman was interesting because there was the historical element to it. I love history, and I did not want to lose that. I feel like I am rambling, but you asked. I guess I don’t really have a favorite. The style has to fit the story. Some stories are meant to be told in a light-hearted way, or a conversational way, or a more straight forward manner. What is important to me is it is done well.
AJ: Personally, I love the conversational style. Speaking of Strigoi, tell me about that.
DPW: Strigoi is a re-imagining of the Dracula origin mythos. It is written in a historical fiction style. There is a historical background with fictional elements weaved in, similar to the way Hollywood presents their “based on a true story” films. Some examples would be Titanic, Pearl Harbor, and 47 Ronin (my favorite). We know from history those three events happened. But did they happen exactly that way? Were all those characters really there? Same with Strigoi. We know Vlad Dracula’s lineage, and we know what happened to his family. We also know the Bram Stoker version. So, Michael and I *tweaked* the myth, although he did all the, as I say, heavy lifting.
AJ: You came to be co-author of this book, correct?
AJ: How did that happen?
DPW: There were actually two books I eventually co-authored with Michael. The other is Strychine, a werewolf story. Anyway, after joining Stitched Smile Publications as an editor – shout out to David Youngquist, a freelance editing client, who put me in touch with Jackie Chin of Zombiepalooza Radio fame who put me in touch with SSP’s CEO Lisa Vasquez – Michael’s two books were given to me for editing. Unfortunately, both books required a lot of reworking through no fault of his. I mean, you’ve seen his writing.
It is my understanding Strychnine was slated for a film, but whoever was going to do the film wanted to make too many changes, so Michael pulled it and submitted it to Lisa. Strigoi was submitted for re-release under Stitched. The previous editor, in my opinion, dropped the ball. Michael said he trusted me to be thorough. After some discussion, he decided we should team up, and I should go ahead and do the corrections and whatever rewrites I thought were needed. He put a lot of trust in me. I have to admit; it felt good. I mean, he is extremely talented in both writing and with his film work, and I was the new kid to the party. We agreed to continue a writing partnership. There are three more screenplays he wrote that I will be converting to book form. I enjoy working with him. However, I am not giving up on the editing. That is what got me where I am now. And, I have some other projects, as well.
AJ: So, then you guys pretty much hit it off so well the collaboration works. It is hard to find a good writing partner these days.
How has the editing phase of your job with SSP gone?
DPW: Busy. But also very rewarding. I am enjoying myself immensely. I love what I do, and the people I am getting to know are fantastic. It’s like everything I have done before has led to this. This is what I am meant to do.
AJ: Why do you say that? Why do you say this is what you are meant to do? I always find it intriguing when someone says that.
DPW: Because even in school as a kid, I would help classmates with their papers. Plus, when I was a kid I would write stories using characters from movies or shows I saw. And I have never given up on my dream to be a published author. Put it aside for a bit but never lost it.
AJ: So, then you have always been the helpful type?
DPW: When I can, yes. There are times I have to say no. But, if it is in my capabilities and when I can I will.
AJ: So, let’s turn back to Strigoi and Strychnine. Both books were released at the same time. Why did you and Michael go with a dual release?
DPW: As far as I know it was a publisher decision. To be honest, I never asked.
AJ: Okay, how about a break from the seriousness? Give me one-word answers for the following questions:
Vampire or Werewolf?
AJ: Beer or wine?
AJ: Are you a fan of Darth Vader?
AJ: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?
DPW: That’s tough. Near a beach, but not too far from the mountains. I know, more than one word.
AJ: That is okay–I knew that one would be.
AJ: Okay, now let’s get serious again. Are you working on any solo writing endeavors right now?
DPW: Always. I have a book with dragons that has been back burnered since 1995. I like to say the dragons were too young, so they were maturing in their caves in my head. They are awake now. Plus, I have some short stories in need of being written. Thought of one today while out and about. And I have another co-author project with someone else, but her identity is currently a secret until she chooses to come out of the veil and into the light.
In a way, it is still sinking in that I am published as an author and not just as my previous “identity” as a journalist.
AJ: I understand that. I think it should always continue to sink in. That way you keep working hard at it.
DPW: Yep. Finding my rhythm.
AJ: Rythm. That leads us right into my next question. I’m a music guy, so with that said, recently Prince passed away. His manager said this about him: “His music did the talking.” He did some amazing things in the music business. As a writer, what do you wish to accomplish with your writing?
DPW: A very good question. I don’t write for others, so to speak. I write what is in my own head, my own imagination. However, when I share that part of me, I hope people join me for the ride and are able to put aside their own worries and such and just live in that moment, to be a part of my world.
AJ: Have you been reading my notes?
DPW: Ahahaha. Nope. We just think alike.
AJ: Okay, let me throw this at you: I am a reader. I have never read anything by you. Sell me on you, not just you the writer, but Donelle, the person as well.
DPW: I am not afraid to admit I am human, I am not perfect. However, I am willing to step out of my comfort zone and take some chances. I love to have fun and I like to share the fun. And I am more than willing to fly my Geek Flag. And, if I can get one person to join every so often I am a success. Especially if we can share a laugh.
AJ: And you know I like to laugh.
DPW: Very much so. I am even willing to laugh at myself. I prefer not taking life too seriously. More fun that way.
AJ: What, if anything, would you do different with your writing or editing?
DPW: When I edit, I go through more than once. I approach it like a treasure hunt. There are corrections to be made and I want to find where they are. With my writing, I am a firm believer in self-editing. I will go over it with a critical eye before saying it is done. And even then, I know it needs another set of eyes because I miss things because I know what it is supposed to say and I auto-correct in my head.
AJ: Are you sure you are not looking at my notes?
AJ: Okay, one or two more questions and I will let you go. If you could sit down with any living writer and have a conversation with him or her, who would it be and what would you talk about?
DWP: Stephen King. He has overcome challenges in his life. He never gave up. And he doesn’t let his critics beat him down. He marches to his own music. So, I guess that, in addition to finding his rhythm, his routine. Keeping balance in his life and, well, his dogs. One is Molly the Thing of Evil. The other is the angelic one. Can’t recall its name, though.
AJ: I would have said King as well.
DPW: Great minds.
AJ: I’m sorry–you have slipped a notch if we are thinking alike.
DPW: Nope. Means you have been elevated.
AJ: Hahahaha—nicely done.
DPW: Thankee, sai.
AJ: Donelle, Is there anything else you would like to tell the readers out there?
DWP: Never stop reading. Never stop dreaming. And, thanks for joining me on the ride. I’ll see you on the next page.
AJ: The next page is a good place to meet.
As always, until we meet again, my friends, be kind to one another.