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Interview: Donna Galanti, Author of ‘A Hidden Element’

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DonnaGalantiDonna Galanti writes murder and mystery with a dash of steam as well as middle grade adventure fiction. She is the author of books 1 and 2 in the paranormal suspense Element Trilogy, A Human Element and A Hidden Element, the short story collection The Dark Inside, and Joshua and The Lightning Road (Books 1 and 2, 2015). She’s lived from England as a child, to Hawaii as a U.S. Navy photographer. She now lives in Pennsylvania with her family in an old farmhouse. It has lots of writing nooks, fireplaces, and stink bugs, but she’s still wishing for a castle again — preferably with ghosts.

Congratulations on the release of your latest book, A Hidden Element. When did you start writing and what got you into paranormal suspense?

I have been writing since I could hold a pencil. I knew I was born to be a writer. It’s all I ever burned to do. I began writing plays and acting them out with neighborhood kids when I was seven and moved to short stories as I became a tween. Not good stories, you understand, but still it was writing. I had a career in writing for marketing and communications and ran my own resume writing service, but it wasn’t until my mother died five years ago that I began writing novels out of my grief. Eventually that grief turned to peace and then at discovering what I love to do, be a true storyteller.

I write from the dark side with a glimpse of hope and am drawn to writing the tormented hero’s journey – and tormented villain’s. I enjoy creating empathy for both by blurring the lines between good and evil. And I especially enjoy using the paranormal elements of mind control to shake the foundation of my character’s world.  The fantastic thing about writing paranormal is that there are so many avenues of paranormal to write about including psychic powers (my favorite!) or ghosts, time travel, or vampires. 

Did you have any struggles or difficulties when you started writing?

One area I struggled in for a long time was to slow down my writing. I can be a very fast writer and would write pages and pages of words that often would need to be trimmed down. I have since learned to slow down my writing and craft my words with care as I write them, so I don’t have to spend so much time on revision. I still struggle with this, but am succeeding! I also struggled with how much of my real life to bring to my characters. I share some secrets here about my life that have played into my fiction.

How do you keep your narrative exciting?

I try to set the mood and provide a suspense setting that creates feelings of heightened anxiety and give the reader the portent of doom. The setting of a scene can make a large impact on its mood using sensory details to build on those feelings – a sudden wind, a stormy sky, a rising stench, a jarring noise.

Here’s an example of how I aimed for this in A Hidden Element:

She drew on her robe and looked out the tiny window. A fierce wind whipped the trees. Gray sky hung heavy like a blanket waiting to smother her. The promise of Indian summer had been snatched fast by winter calling. The weather was tormented here as well, conflicted over who it obeyed—and unable to escape its master’s bonds.

Hate seethed inside Laura as her energy grew stronger within her healed body. She watched the woods as the angry wind punished it. Laura would find a way to do the same to Adrian.

Do you think something bad is coming? 

Do you have a writing schedule? Are you disciplined?

One thing that inspires me is a local group of women writers I write with. There are eight of us that meet at Wegman’s Café each week for one day to write. We don’t all meet every week. But ?????????????????????????????????????????????when we do we write, we share advice, we laugh, and share lunch together. And many days I set the alarm for 4:30am to get my word count in. I’m writing a book now under contract and know I need to write 1,000 words a day to get it done in time. Punching the clock is what works for me, especially in the dark dawn hours when the world is asleep and my brain is not yet filled with life’s daily details. 

How do you define success?

My made-it-moment is a twofold one. One private, one public. The death of my mother propelled me to finally write the novel I always wanted to write. The story came to me in a vision fifteen years ago and my mother was the first person I told it to. I wrote two chapters, but then life got busy and I shelved it. After my mother’s death, I sat down and finished writing book one in the Element Trilogy, A Human Element. I did it through grief without looking back. Writing The End was a private made-it-moment for me. I could do this. I could write a book.

Connected to this was the defining public made-it-moment when praising reviews started rolling in for my debut novel, A Human Element – and they were by unbiased strangers! I continue to be amazed and overwhelmed that people I don’t know like my book and have been as touched by my characters as I am. It’s like getting a surprise gift each time I see a new four or five star review.

I wish my mother were here to celebrate the praise I’ve been blessed to receive. It is a bittersweet feeling, knowing that I would not be a published author today if it were not for my mother’s passing. She drove my made-it-moment of writing the novel I always knew I had inside me to the made-it-moment of knowing I had written something that touched others. I hope I can do it again. 

What do you love most about the writer’s life?

So many wonderful things counteract the tough days. A favorite love is the camaraderie amongst writers to help each other and lift each other up. This isn’t a competition. We all can be successful and are eager to share what we know and pay it forward. Then there’s the times I hit a low in my writing and think “I can’t do this! Why am I a writer?” Well, every time I think this – I remember how I sat down in my grief and wrote my debut novel A Human Element without knowing anything about writing a book. And I remember how it came from my heart and came from the deep places inside me where I most love, where I most hurt. And then I think about all the wonderful reviews I’ve gotten for A Human Element and how people love the story and I KNOW. No matter how much I think I suck at times – I KNOW that I am a true storyteller. And this is what I was born to do. 

What is your advice for aspiring authors?

Let go – of your ego that is. Accept constructive criticism and be open to improving your writing. I truly believe this is the biggest reason why I now have a wonderful agent as my champion and I have four books coming out in the next year. And this is the biggest reason I see writer’s fail because they do not accept criticism and are not willing to do the hard work to make their writing better.

To succeed you cannot think your writing is perfect or that first draft is perfect or that your story can’t change. You cannot take it personal when a developmental editor tears apart your manuscript for you to re-work. I love it! Help me be a better writer. Why? Because I want to write a good book and then a better one and a better one. This writing business is HARD. If it were easy everyone would be doing it. This writing business is not GOING to be easy – it’s going to be worth it! Visit my Writers Corner for inspiration, advice, and resources on writing. 

George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon that one can neither resist nor understand.” Comments?

Yes! If we didn’t have demons chasing us to write, why would we? Knowing what I know now about being an author I have to wonder if I would have gotten in this business at all. If someone told me all I would have to go through to get here I would have said “I can’t do that! It’s too hard and takes far too long!” I’m grateful I was ignorant about it all when I started. It was just me and my story then, being written on a whim of imagination with no thought of what would come of it.

 


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About Mayra Calvani

Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, and Bloomsbury Review, among many others. Represented by Serendipity Literary.
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