Dona Cook graduated with a creative writing degree in 1995 but did not discover fantasy until 2002 when the popularity of the Harry Potter books was too much for her to ignore. She fell in love with the whimsy and adventure of the genre and began working on Gift of the Phoenix shortly thereafter. Gift of the Phoenix released in 2012 and has won several awards.
Donna Cook is an Arizona native transplanted to Boise, Idaho, where she delights in the change of scenery. When she’s not writing she spends her time chasing the kids, exploring delicious eateries, and dancing with her talented husband.
Welcome, Dona Cook
Your real name and pen name?
Dona Cook is my first married name and the name I had when I wrote Gift of the Phoenix. I’ve since remarried, but my three boys still have the last name, Cook. I decided to write under Donna Cook as a way of keeping a name that’s connected to them. My boys are also the ones who inspired the three brothers in my book. The sequel, The Lost Branch, is dedicated to them. 🙂
About your education?
I attended Knox College, a small, private, liberal-arts school in Galesburg, Illinois. I chose my school because of their creative writing program. It was a great program, and I learned a lot, but there was a heavy emphasis on literary work and a subtle disdain for anything genre. It kind of sucked all the fun out of writing for me. I graduated and didn’t write a thing for almost ten years. Then the Harry Potter craze happened and I remembered what drew me to writing, to begin with. The funny thing is, I didn’t read fantasy when I was younger. I totally missed the boat! I have so much fun writing in that genre, though. The only limit is your imagination. My literary training has paid off, though, and you’ll see it in my writing style. I think it’s a good blend between lyrical and accessible.
Dona Cook on Education
What career did you plan during your education days?
Although I entertained different career options when I was a kid (Ballerina! Graphic designer! Cut-throat journalist!), I’ve always wanted to be a novelist. Sometimes I still can’t believe how fortunate I am to be able to live my dream.
What languages you can speak and write?
A little bit of Spanish, but I’m usually too shy to use it.
What is your biggest source of inspiration in life?
The people I love. I either want to emulate their good qualities or make myself a better person because they deserve the best.
Dona Cook on hurtings
What hurts you most in this world?
The fact that there are so many serious problems that we’ll never fully be able to fix. There will always be poverty, war, violence, racism, and oppression. Collectively, we can improve things, and we have. Individually, we can make a tiny dent. I have a problem common to many writers, and that’s a heightened sense of empathy and an ability to put myself in another person’s shoes in a very real way. This is what we do when we’re writing a scene, so it comes in handy that way. But when I watch the news and hear about beheadings or human trafficking or homeless individuals freezing in winter, my mind tends to imagine that very vividly, against my will.
When I read Little Bee (heartbreaking, and brilliant, and important, and something everyone should read), I had to put it down halfway through because I couldn’t stop thinking about how many people are really going through that. It took me a couple months to work up the strength to finish it. It really breaks my heart to think about how many people suffer in this world. I want to fix it all, but of course, I can’t. So, I have to pull back and do what I can do (including for the human beings in my life, like my children), and tell myself I am only one person and it is enough.
Dona Cook on Challenges
What is the biggest challenge you have faced? How did you overcome it?
I could write a book on that. I’ve been told many times that I should.
What is your favorite genre and why?
I honestly don’t have a favorite. I read widely, and I intend to write widely too. In addition to fantasy, I’d love to try my hand at historical fiction, hard-hitting young adult (think Laurie Halse Anderson and Marcus Zusak), contemporary romance, and (yes) literary works. I actually already write in one of these under a pen name. My hope is to hit all of them before it’s all over. 🙂
When did you start writing? What is the purpose of your writing?
I’ve been writing for as long as I remember. I suppose I could say I have this grand purpose behind it like I want to send a message or leave the world a better place. But the truth is, something deep within me is driven to do it. If I go any length of time without writing, I start to feel a little fractured. When I write I write to please myself, and my reader. I want to bring my idea to life on the page in such a way that someone else can experience what I’m imagining. There’s truly no greater joy for me.
Dona Cook on her work
Which of your work has been published so far? Would you like to share a synopsis of your work?
I love writing but I hate talking about my own work. I think because then you’re leaving storytelling mode and going into marketing mode. I’m not a good salesperson. But I write good books, so I tell people to read the blurb and the first few pages and find out for yourself if it’s a story that’s right for you.
What are your forthcoming writings?
I have a list a mile long. There will be another book in the Phoenix series, as well as another Nashua book. I have a couple more fantasy series in mind, both at various stages of development (one has a draft). Plus all the other genres I want to explore. I’m excited to see how many I can get written in the next decade or so. 🙂
Dona Cook on Project Management
If Writing a Book is taken as a project, What are the key essentials you take care of in Project Management?
Brainstorming (usually by hand, in a spiral notebook)
Plotting and structure
World building (even if you’re writing in the real world)
An initial outline
First draft (this is the messy one, the one where you’re just getting everything in your head onto paper)
First round of edits (a quick read to assess big-picture stuff)
Second draft (fixing plot holes, structural issues, pacing issues, and any other big-picture element)
Second round of edits (another quick read, hopefully, to give a green-light to go ahead with the final draft)
Final draft (this is actually many, many drafts and is where I fine-tune the language, pay attention to deep character motivation, illuminate details, and breathe life into the story)
Final round of edits
Dona Cook on Beta Readers
Beta readers (by now the book should be in good shape, so this is to make sure my editor and I haven’t missed anything major and to make sure readers are in love with the story as much as I am)
Final edits based on beta reader comments, if needed.
All along the way, I’ll utilize character lists, timelines, scene outlines, and other notes (which I keep in a binder) to keep things straight and make sure everything’s working correctly.
Sometimes I edit on the computer, and sometimes I’ll print pages out and make corrections by hand. I save everything. Every time I start a new stage of the draft, I’ll save it with a new title so I have copies of the different drafts for reference. It comes in handy sometimes. In addition to weekly computer backups, I email myself a copy of the manuscript at the end of each writing session or (at minimum) the end of each writing day.
Once I’m finished with the book, it goes into production (proofreading and formatting).
Dona Cook on Planning
How do you plan, schedule and monitor your writing commitments?
Well, isn’t that a loaded question? It’s a challenge, and sometimes I manage things better than other times. I struggle to find a balance between self, family, writing, marketing, publishing, and freelance editing (though the writing is going well enough I should be able to retire from freelance editing later this year). I frequently reassess my goals and take a look at the big picture of my life, then try to make sure my schedule reflects that. To answer your question about writing commitments specifically, I think the biggest thing is scheduling blocks of time to write and guarding that time with your life. Make it a priority. Make everything else work around it. However much you can get, claim it. When the bulk of my living came from client work, I was doing good to get in 1-2 hours of writing a day.
Sometimes, I couldn’t write at all (and it was painful). Now, most of my days are writing days (5-6 hours) with the occasional client work thrown in. I also have to calendar time for marketing and business management. Recently, I’ve been working really hard to keep my evenings and weekends free for family and self, instead of letting work creep in. That definitely makes me a happier person, and my family is happier too. I also switched from a paper calendar to Google calendar. My rules are no overlapping, schedule everything, and be realistic. That, alone, has greatly reduced my feeling of overwhelming, which used to be constant.
Dona Cook on e-books
What is generally your preference in reading – a paper book or ebook? And why?
It depends on If it’s a non-fiction book I think I’ll only read once, or if it’s light fiction (contemporary romance), I’ll read those digitally. If it’s fantasy or something with more weight, like a literary book, I’ll read the paper. Ditto if it’s a non-fiction book I think I’ll refer to again and again.
How much real life goes into a fiction writing?
It depends on the genre. With my fantasy, it’s all so make-believe, I don’t consciously pull from real life. Even my world is invented, so it’s all just living in my head. Once I finish the first draft, though, I’ll see how my real life has seeped in any way. With Gift of the Phoenix, I noticed themes of secrecy and betrayal, things that were going on in my life at the time. With the sequel, The Lost Branch, there was grieving, healing, and openness. In all my books, and in all great fiction, the characters reveal the truth about what it means to be human and to have relationships with one another. Loyalty, love, friendship, sacrifice, fear, trust, determination.
The stories I write under a pen name take place in a contemporary setting, so I find myself more deliberately inserting real situations or places into those novels. For the first time, if I see something interesting or overhear a fascinating snippet of a conversation, I have a place I can use it if I want to. It’s a fun change of pace for me as a writer.
Dona Cook on Imagination
Is a high level of imagination important to have for an Author?
I’m inclined to say yes, but I think it depends on what you’re writing. I think it’s most important to have a highly-developed sense of story and to be willing, to tell the truth.
Your dream destination on Earth?
Italy, Italy, Italy. Oh please let me make it to Italy before I die! 🙂
Your favorite book and why?
Sooo many. When I was younger, it was Bridge to Terabithia. That was the first book I truly fell in love with. What I like about that book (and others like it), is that it’s a kids book that doesn’t talk down to kids. Kids have more depth of thought and feeling than some adults give them credit for. Kate DiCamillo has several great ones, but her most brilliant work (and one I think every author should read and study) is, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Then there are books like The Book Thief, The Name of the Wind, The Fault in Our Stars, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Hunger Games, The Pearl, These Is My Words, Jane Eyre, The Thief, and… okay, I should probably stop now.
I appreciate stories that don’t forget to be stories. I don’t have patience for some of the modern, literary stories that have gorgeous language and great insights but zero sense of story. It just feels self-serving to the author after a while. I want books that have great writing, great characters, and a plot.
Dona Cook on Driving Force
What is the force that drives you?
I don’t know. It’s hidden way down deep in my core. I’m afraid if I pull it out and examine it in the light, I’ll strip it of its power. I’m content to let it drive me and be grateful that it does.
What comes to your mind when you think of India?
Is there any one thing? It’s such a grand, complex country. I do think of the beautiful, bright colors and the sharp scent of spice, but I also think of the people. India is an appealing, fascinating place.
Some quickies: Sun or Moon, Laughter or Smile, Morning or Evening, Coffee or Tea, Mountain or Sea, Long Drive or Short Drive, Silence or Conversation, Water or Fire, Air or Earth, Mars or Jupiter, Tulip or Rose, Red or Blue, Left or Right, Glance or Stare, Fame or Money, Boy or Girl, Day or Night, Tree or Plant, Love or Passion
Sun, Laughter, Morning, Tea, Sea, Long Drive, Conversation, Water, Jupiter, Rose, Red, Right, Glance, Money, Girl, Night, Tree, Love.
What three words come to your mind for each – Technology, Life, God, Humanity, Terrorism, Racism, Childhood Abuse, Love, Parenting, Old age
Technology: exciting, fast-paced, amazing
Life: miracle, wonder, joyful
Humanity: compassion, excellence, love
Terrorism: hate, fear, caged
Racism: perplexing, outdated, wasteful
Childhood Abuse: cruelty, damaging, painful
Love: happiness, peace, safety
Parenting: challenging, rewarding, entertaining
Old age: inevitable, opportunity, acceptance
First thing you do in the morning after waking up?
On my best days? Write. Seriously.
The title of your autobiography would be…
The Heart of the Matter
Gift of the Phoenix
Website book page: http://donnacookauthor.com/book/gift-of-the-phoenix/
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B009ERRF5I
The Lost Branch
Website book page: http://donnacookauthor.com/book/the-lost-branch/
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Branch-Donna-Cook-ebook/dp/B017JOLH9C
Website book page: http://donnacookauthor.com/book/nashuas-choice/