Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Interview with DeAnna Julie Dodson, Part 2

We're back today with more from author DeAnna Julie Dodson.

Describe for us, if you will, your writing style, as in plotter vs. seat of the pants, and do you put more time into developing characters or plot or are they equal?

I’m not sure how to describe my writing style. I like to write the big dramatic scenes first and then tie them together. That’s the hardest part of writing for me, the tying together part. The big scenes are fun to write and they just seem to flow, but those connector scenes can be very slow to come. I tend to know fairly certainly where I’m going to start and where I’m going to end up, but of course any of that may change depending on how the book develops.

For me, character and plot are generally pretty equal to begin with. I head out with a destination in mind, but as I write more and more of the story, the characters begin to take over. They tell me how they would react in certain situations, and I pretty much let them do what comes naturally for them. Sometimes they surprise me, too!

Hmmm again. You and I sound so much alike it’s scary. What balance would you say there is for you between doing the research and doing the actual writing?

As I mentioned before, it’s very easy for me to get so caught up in the research that I don’t get any writing done. Since my first three books were set in a fictional place, there really wasn’t much to research. Of course, since they’re not sword-and-sorcery-type fantasy, I did want to make sure I had a good grip on realistic medieval life in general. I couldn’t have my hero facing the opposing army with an M16 or anything.

Once I got into my Civil War research, I had a terrible time finding and verifying just the right facts. I mean, it’s easy to find out the details of the Battle of Gettysburg, but ferreting out the name of the general store in Petersburg, Virginia, 150 years ago is a little tougher. Of course, my book isn’t really so much about the war as it is about the people who have to survive the war and its aftermath. I wanted to give it a lot of historical detail so it would seem real to my readers, but not so much that it would burden the story.

At some point, a writer has to write.

Oh, boy, do I relate. I could bury myself in research forever. Do you find yourself returning repeatedly to certain themes? If so, what are they, and why do you think these particular themes are so meaningful to you?

I think unconditional love, love that stays true despite circumstances, whether or not it’s returned, is a big one for me. Another one is faithfulness and honoring commitments. I think these are important to me because one sees so little of this in the modern world. It’s the kind of love and faithfulness God gives us and wants us to give in return.

Excellent! What do you do when you find yourself overwhelmed with all the stuff that goes along with writing and publishing?

Other than praying for grace and direction, I tend to make lists of the things I need to take care of so I don’t forget to do something vital and so I can use my time to its best advantage. I haven’t gotten to the point where I have enough books under my belt to really be overwhelmed with this kind of thing, though I do try to meet self-imposed deadlines and always try to take time to answer reader mail and related requests. I do expect things to be a bit more challenging once A Dinner of Herbs is in production, but I’m really looking forward to it.

In my experience, the self-imposed deadlines are the ones that make me the craziest. LOL! Can you name a novel (preferably historical) that has stayed with you, that you couldn’t shake, and that changed you in some way?

I don’t know if this counts as a historical since it was contemporary when it was written and it’s not really a novel, but I am always moved by Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I make sure to read it at least once every Christmas because it makes me examine my life—how I am treating my fellow man, what kind of chain I am forging for myself year after year, what kind of legacy I will leave behind me. Best of all, it reminds me that it’s never too late to change for the better. Of course, love, forgiveness, and redemption are eternal themes present in just about every great book.

Those are the biggies, aren’t they? What do you struggle with the most in your writing? What have you learned from the struggle?

I would like to be a faster writer, but that’s not something I do well. Sometimes stories have to simmer for a while before the flavor is right. Sometimes the solution to a plot problem is very elusive and I have to walk away from it for a while before I can solve it. What this has taught me is that I need to use my time wisely. No, I can’t force a story to happen, but I can be diligent about working on the book, writing the parts I’ve already figured out, researching details when the creative parts of the story don’t want to come, and making sure I have crafted the best book that I can, however long that takes. I have also learned that, in my writing as well as in other aspect of my life, God knows best when I should have the things He wants me to have. Sometimes I’m not really ready to write a story until I have dealt with some of the same issues in my own life. Sometimes I think God just wants me to remember that He is my source—for writing and everything else.

Ummm … we really DO have a lot in common. Do you have a life verse or a mission statement that guides your writing? If so, will you share it with us?

I don’t know if this is really a mission statement as such, but I feel that the Lord has given me a heart for husbands and wives. I think that, in many respects, we have lost the idea that marriage is meant to be a lasting, loving, exciting relationship. Marriage is often seen as the end of the road, and too many books show the story ending at the altar. I think the altar is just the beginning. Marriage is what God has given us as a picture of His love and faithfulness, and despite their human weaknesses and failures, I want my characters to reflect that image.

I’ll say a hearty amen to that! DeAnna, thank you for your time and for the privilege of interviewing you for Favorite PASTimes. We’ve enjoyed getting to know you better!

Thanks, DeAnna and Joan, for that great interview. Readers, don't
forget to post your comments for a chance to win DeAnna Julie Dodson's In Honor Bound.


Mara said...

A terrific interview with DeAnna. I've been a fan of DeAnna's for years and have recently had the privilege of re-reading her trilogy, which I cannot say enough positive things about. To me, she is a prolific writer and has a gift from God. I enjoy how she weaves His message into her books without cliches and "preachy-ness." Keep your eye out for anything written by DeAnna! She is a force to be reckoned with and a total enjoyment. I am eagerly awaiting the release of A Dinner of Herbs!!

Cherie J said...

Thanks again for yet another wonderful 2 day interview!

Cherie Japp

DeAnna Julie Dodson said...

Thank you so much! It really is great to be able to participate in things like this.

I'm a historical fiction reader as well as writer, and I love meeting others who love "dress up stories" as much as I do.

sheina said...

What was the first historical novel you've read that inspired you to write in the genre that you are in now? Do you have favorite classic authors?

DeAnna Julie Dodson said...

Well, it was Shakespeare and not really any novelist that inspired my medieval books, but I do very much enjoy books like Scott's "Ivanhoe," Malory's Arthurian works, and even some of Jean Plaidy's Plantagenet novels (though I don't know if you could really call them classic works).

Regarding books set during the American Civil War, "Gone With the Wind" is a story I read in my very early teens and is still one of my favorites.

And, for the 1930s mystery I'm working on now, there is no greater "writer's classroom" than Agatha Christie's Poirot and Miss Marple books (and others) and Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter books.

And, though I have only written a few snippets of scenes and made some general plot notes so far, I would like to eventually write something set during the French Revolution. "A Tale of Two Cities" is one of my very favorite books.

Debbie Lane said...

How do you find time to do all the normal day-to-day stuff, write and read Ivanhoe? Hmnn, I may try that one again after Monmouth... a little light summer reading. I would read your trilogy yet again, but I did that too recently. Anxiously waiting...