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Donna Sundblad, author of Pumping Your Muse

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Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

I’m the oldest of seven children. I entertained my siblings with stories and games of my own making. I don’t recall when I started actually writing. My first published work was poetry, each about a specific person elected by my eighth grade class such as “Most Likely to Succeed” and “Class Clown.”

My parents and teachers encouraged me to write. In fact, my father wrote poetry. I treasure the words he left behind.

What do you see as the influences on your writing?

Life in general influences my writing. Something as basic as seeing a nicknack in a store window has generated a story. My past leaks into plots and scenery. I’ve experienced farm life and city life and had the benefit of knowing my great grandparents, grandparents and parents into my adult life. I’ve gone through good times and difficulties. It helps round out my writing.

Can you share one or two main points of Pumping Your Muse with us?

Pumping Your Muse is a collection of interconnecting exercises which strengthen world building skills. The process forces the imagination down unpredictable paths while pulling elements of the real world in to offer balance and realism. Pieces of the world come into focus, producing characters, plots and an alternate world to emerge. Following the exercises in Pumping Your Muse generates multiple story lines.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

I work a full time day job and co-own and edit for Team Spirit Critique and Editing. Juggling my time to make room for my passion is a challenge. I think the question my writing peers ask me most is, “How do you get all that done?” I’m goal oriented and it helps keep me on task.

What will writers gain by reading your book?

They’ll hone skills to build fictional worlds with believable details without slogging through long descriptive passages that bore the reader. It also teaches organizational skills to pull scenes together, develop plots with continuity and creative thinking to look at it all from another direction.

What are the top three writing mistakes from beginners?

1. Waiting for time to write.
2. Writing in a passive telling voice.
3. Rewriting and editing extensively instead of finishing the manuscript. On the flip side, submitting something fresh without editing or getting feedback from other writers.

How can someone find time to write?

I wrote sporadically most of my life. Working full time, raising a family and other obligations clamored for my time. My first novel took over five years because I worked on it when I felt like I had time. When the going got rough, I put it aside. By the time I picked it up, I’d have to read it again to refresh my mind as to plots and character traits. When I decided to buckle down and take my writing life seriously, I set a goal to write 20 minutes a day at least four days a week. This discipline taught me to push through difficulties in a storyline, and the experience watered the seed of my need to write. Twenty minutes grew into an hour or more a day. Today, I don’t keep track of my time, but instead I set goals to manage the projects I need to accomplish each week.

That first novel taught me a multitude of lessons. I’d written a story using trademarked characters and that manuscript now sits in my closet. It has a good storyline, but I’d have to develop my own characters to make it my own. Right now, I have three other novels in various stages, so that one will wait.

What is an editing technique for catching passive telling voice?

Learning the difference between passive and active is actually simple when you boil it down. The subject performs the action in sentences written in active voice. Subjects in sentences written in passive voice receive the action expressed by the verb. One gives, the other receives. Watch for words like “is, was, were, will be, has been and have been.” Not in every case, but most times rewriting the sentence without these words breaths life into the sentence so that is shows the action rather than telling about it. For more suggestions on how to move from passive to active voice you can check out my article, Warning Flags – Words to Use with Caution.

How can a new writer avoid endless re-writing and editing?

It’s easy to get caught up in a rewrite and editing loop, especially on longer projects. Pumping Your Muse helps writers push beyond this trap. It allows you to make scenes better but takes you beyond this to the development of new information in the process and forces the storyline to move forward. Scenes emerge out of order which helps the author to look forward to what happens next instead of dwelling on what needs to be changed. By the time exercises in this book are completed writer’s have a collection of scenes put in order on a timeline with enough information to know where the story starts, what happens during the course of the book and how the story ends. The trick is to write the entire story before you start to edit and rewrite extensively.

What are other current projects?

I’m finishing three novels, an anthology of bizarre short stories, and write a monthly column. Recollections a collection of regional true stories from southwest Florida involves interviews and writing. My freelance articles cover an assortment of topics from pets to inspirational.

Is Recollections stories from your extended family?

No, Recollections ~ An Oral History of Boca Grande captures colorful tales of life in a fishing village nestled on a barrier island off the southwest coast of Florida. Only seven miles long, Gasparilla Island is known as the “Tarpon Fishing Capital of the World.” A sample story can be found at U. S. Legacies. People that have lived on the island for generations gradually disappear, and their stories with them. Some die, others no longer remember and many relocate because they can no longer afford to pay taxes on property now valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Recollections also covers other islands in the area. The Old Timers light up when they talk about the old days. Life before refrigerators, going to market, the school boat, and watching pilots train in the Gulf of Mexico from the schoolhouse window during World War II gives you a glimpse of the recollections. Other trivia has to do with historic buildings or places no longer in existence such as the phosphate dock, the four-cell jail, the Albatross or Boca Grande Hotel. Information is in story form, based on people’s recollections capturing the original flavor and voice of the teller.

One man I interviewed tells of life as a child of the constable. “We lived upstairs of the jail. It had a porch, a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom. No bedrooms. Us kids lived on the porch. It was a wood porch. That’s where my daddy shot the guy that night. Shot him three times.” Some stories are funny and others serious, but all of them carry you back to another time and place.

Have you written much about your extended family?

Not directly, but glimpses of their real lives show up in my writing. My great-grandmother’s first husband was a drinker. During one of his drunken rages, he threatened her with a gun. She ran out the door to get him away from the children and cut through a field as he fired the weapon. The bullet grazed her and she stumbled and went down. Her husband thought he’d killed her and turned the gun on himself, leaving her with four children to raise. My grandmother recalled that her sister Opal went to live with a nice family, while the family she stayed with was mean. A couple of years later my great grandmother married a hard working Polish immigrant and the family was reunited. Telling this slice of the story leads me to think I will write about it.

What do modern day families miss from their separation from the extended family?

They miss knowing and learning from the past and most of all the love. We grow up in isolation. Children each “need” their own room instead of learning how to share and get along.

I remember living in a two bedroom house with one bath as a child. At that time, I was seven with three younger siblings. My grandparents fell on hard times. Grandma and her two daughters moved in with us while Grandpa looked for work. My parents didn’t complain.

I cherish the relationships and recall stories, like when my sister and aunt came down with a rash and had to be quarantined. The sense of dread was much worse than the inconvenience.

Our family vacations took us to my Great-grandparents’ farm in Michigan. My parents with seven kids, my grandparents with two, my aunt and uncle with two, and a single uncle would all congregate. Nearby relatives showed up too.

Today, visiting family is considered a duty. What a loss. My daughter, her husband and two kids have been living with us for almost two years, and it’s just fine. What a blessing to know my grandchildren on a daily basis!

Donna Sundblad’s monthly column, Birdie’s Quill, appears in T-zero Expandizine under the pseudonym Birdie. She enjoys history, and her true “Good Old Days” stories regularly appear in U. S. Legacies where you’ll find her among the recommended freelance writers.

Donna conducts Pumping Your Muse workshops, is available for freelance work and co-owns and edits for Team Spirit Critique and Editing . Current information can be found at her website “TheInkSlinger” at www.theinkslinger.net. Contact her at donna@theinkslinger.net. Purchase a copy of Pumping Your Muse.

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About Parker Owens

  • http://selfaudit.blogspot.com Aaman

    Great interview, thanks

  • http://www.theinkslinger.net Donna Sundblad

    Glad you enjoyed it.