Interview With Carol Donsky Newell

Carol Donsky NewellCarol Donsky Newell is the sister of a local Women's Book Review reviewer, Ava Shuster. When I learned that Ava had a sister who was a published author, I asked if I could interview her for this website.

Carol, tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up and where did you go to school?

I was an army brat and we moved every year. In some ways it was tough, but I learned how to be flexible and how to face and overcome fears (new schools, an invisibility that is hard to maneuver, saying goodbye, etc.). I went to college as a journalism major through a special program at the State University of New York. I had two toddlers at the time. I got my graduate degree at the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University.

At what point in your life did you know that you wanted to become a writer?

I started out in a nursing program, but we had to take courses like literature and English the first year. By the end of the first year, I knew I enjoyed writing and literature more than nursing, but I quit both to marry at the age of 19.

I understand that Flight of the Kiwi" is your first book. Tell us a little bit about the book --- where did you come up with the plot and characters?

Flight of the KiwiThe book is about a woman who is floundering after her mother dies. She doesn't know who her father is and she can't seem to commit to a relationship without finding out not only who he is but why her mother refused to tell her anything about him. Itís a love story with some mystery elements to it as she begins to search for the answers. The story began with the last few sentences of the novel. I began to imagine how the character got to those final sentences. I set it in the Washington D.C. area in the 80s because I worked as a film critic for a daily Washington newspaper during that time period and I find the era an interesting bit of history now that I can look back on it.

Was it difficult finding a publisher?

It is always difficult to find a publisher. The industry is driven by huge profits and easily defined genres. Many publishing houses are owned by huge corporations. They receive thousands of unsolicited queries and manuscripts. Itís nearly impossible to be published without an agentóI had a good one and then he retired and I was without again. Agents usually want you to send query letters first (takes months to get an answer), then send the manuscript (more months to get an answer). Most agents discourage multiple submissions. It can take years to find an agent unless you get lucky. Getting an agent, of course, doesn't mean getting published, but you have a better chance. The good news is that, like independent filmmakers and self-published music CDs, many artists are finding other venues. One for writers today is print-on-demand presses like the one I chose. They donít pay a fee up front , but you don't pay anything either. You get profits from book sales right away . They accept, I think, about 25 percent of what is sent to them---so you have a better chance to get published. The down side is in the marketing and editing departments. They edit, but not the way big publishers do. And they market, but very little, so you are on your own pretty much.

Are you working on a second book? If so, can you give us a hint as to what it is about?

I just finished my second novel, A Perfect Spring Day. It began as a story about what happens to a family when their four-year-old son is kidnapped. I wanted to explore how the most extreme situations affect family dynamics and love. Sometimes, though, characters you create won't disappear, and that was the case here with the villain. I meant for him to show up in the beginning and never be heard from again, but that isn't what happened. So this novel has turned into a literary thriller, challenging me to figure out why the child was taken and what happened to him - and his abductor - and to plot a very different ending than I had intended when I first began work on it. I enjoy those challenges, though!

Do you have a day job, too, or are you a full-time writer?

I once worked as a journalist, film critic, college instructor and tutor. I also published short stories and articles in magazines. But for the last four years, I have become a full-time writer. I work at home on childrenís picture books, novels and a book about movies that I have been tinkering with for many years. My first picture book, Blue Lewis and Sasha the Great came out three years ago.

Do you have an overriding message that you try to relate in your books? Do you gear your books to a particular audience, such as women?

All writers have ideas they want to share. For me, it differs from book to book. I don't think I gear my books to a particular audience, but my viewpoint is female and I think women relate more to my work than men. Men who have read my novel seem to enjoy it, but I don't know that they would have read it if they hadn't known me. That hasn't been true of the women who have responded.

Any words of wisdom for others who might be considering their first attempt at writing a novel?

I will tell them what I told my students---just write. Read the books you love and try to determine how the writer worked magic. Then write. It may seem overwhelming to begin a novel, but if you write three pages a day, in five days you have 15 pages. In a month, you have 60. In four or five months, you have a first draft. Once that is done, the editing and rewrites are easier. Itís not daunting that way. If you like to write, keep a journal. Some day you may use your journal entries in the novel you never thought you would start!

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