This month, we’re talking with DeAnna Julie Dodson, author of the Chastelayne Trilogy and A Dinner of Herbs.
Welcome to The Bookshelf, DeAnna! I have a few off-the-cuff, just-for-fun questions, but first, let’s find out who you are. Tell us about DeAnna Dodson, the lady next door.
Well, let me see . . . I officially work for an attorney, but I get to work from home most of the time, and that gives me a lot of flexibility for my writing projects as well as letting me keep an eye on my three cats, Elliot, Emily and Eloise. It also lets me sneak in some quilting and cross stitch from time to time. Many people find it surprising, but I’m also a rabid hockey fan. Go Stars!
Love your cats’ names! Now let’s talk about your books. How many do you have published?
So far I have my medieval trilogy, In Honor Bound, By Love Redeemed and To Grace Surrendered published. They’re getting somewhat hard to find anymore, unfortunately, and I hope that a new publisher will want to print them in the future. I think the basic theme that God loves us even when we don’t love Him is something we can’t hear too much about. My agent is still finding a home for A Dinner of Herbs, a story about reconciliation, both personal and societal, during the upheaval of the Civil War. I’m quite eager to get that one out to my readers who have been so patiently waiting for something new from me.
We’ll all believe that it will be placed soon. What are you working on now – can you talk about that?
I’m pretty excited about the book I’ve just finished. It’s a 1930s cozy mystery called Rules of Murder. I’ve been a big fan of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers for some time now, and I wanted to try my hand at something similar. And, because I couldn’t help myself, I tried to throw a little P. G. Wodehouse in there to make it fun. I think my hero, the very stylish and very British Drew Farthering, has many more adventures in him, too, along with his American sweetheart, Madeline Parker. As soon as I give it a few more tweaks, I’ll send the manuscript off to my agent for her opinion.
Good luck with that – it sounds like a great story! How long have you been writing? Was there an “aha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
I have always been an avid reader, even when I was a very little girl. I got good grades, but the only way I really learned was by reading the textbook and figuring things out for myself. Lectures never really helped me. So, when I was in high school, once I had taken note of the assignment for the next class, I pretty much tuned out and wrote. At first, I wrote drippingly melodramatic ”episodes” of my favorite TV shows. Then, when I was in college, I wrote scenes that tried to mimic Shakespeare. Finally, I just started writing a scene. I knew it was set in medieval times, and I knew the main character was a prince who had been gravely wounded in a disastrous battle, but that’s all I knew. In Honor Bound grew from there. I worked on it for a long time, never letting anyone read it. Then I finally let a friend of mine see one short scene. It wasn’t until she said I should finish up the book and try to get it published that I even considered that I might be a writer. Obviously God knew way before I did and knew that all those books and TV shows and Shakespeare plays would teach me about story and craft even when I wasn’t aware of it.
God is so awesome like that! He has our best interests in heart, knows who and what kind of person we will be even before we draw that first breath, according to Jeremiah 1:5 (Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee.)
Now that you’re doing what He planned on all along, how much time do you devote to your craft?
It’s hard to put a specific number on that. I read a lot of books on craft, especially if I’m having a particular problem getting a manuscript to behave properly, but I may read just a specific chapter that deals with the problem at hand. I belong to two online writers groups, one is ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) and the other is made up of multi-published Christian authors. Between the two, I am constantly learning and reinforcing what I already know. When I get a chance, whether at a conference or online, I take workshops. They always motivate me to work better and harder.
Any advice for new and aspiring writers?
Read, read, read. From my own experience and from what others have said, I firmly believe writers absorb much of what they need to know about writing just from reading well-written books. However, don’t be taken in by the idea that something is well-written just because it has been published. Some experienced writers break the rules and get away with it because they clearly know what they’re doing. Some inexperienced writers break the rules and get away with it because they don’t know any better and because they have passionate and wonderful stories to tell. Learn from both of these. But be aware that some books, the ones you read that don’t touch your heart or your mind or your spirit, the ones that you can set aside and never think about again, are not the ones you want to emulate. Writing is a delicate balance between art and craft. Slavishly following the rules won’t guarantee a good book. Neither will ignoring them.
Of course, besides reading, a writer must write. Writing is wonderfully forgiving. You can start over as many times as you need to. You can change and improve and reconstruct again and again and again, and truly the only way I know to “grow” a book is by rewriting. I have to just get something down, whatever it is, before I can start shaping it into what I hope it will become. That takes time. That takes tenacity. Anyone can say he wants to write a book. How many people actually do it? Only the stubborn ones.
And get into a writers’ group of some kind, whether it’s local or online. As the Bible says, iron sharpens iron. Other writers have experience that can help you, and you have experience that can help them. And there is no one who understands writers more than other writers. It’s good to know you’re not alone and that you’re not entirely crazy.
Excellent advice - all of it. Now for that off-the-cuff stuff I mentioned.
If you could ask any person, living or dead, a random question – what question would you ask of whom?
Goodness, there are tons of things I’d like to know straight from those who were actually there, everything from asking Shakespeare if he really, really wrote all those plays himself to asking Michelangelo or da Vinci how in the world they did what they did. It’s hard to narrow it down to just one.
Hmmmm . . . on a good day it would have to be a breezy lemon-yellow, nothing orangy, just light and fresh and tangy. On a bad day? I don’t know what the color would be called, but it would be a muddy, gray-green-black mess. I don’t have many of those days.
Thank God for that – it sounds awful! What books are on your bedside table right now?
Road of Vanishing by Robin Hardy, From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury, Shadows of Lancaster County by Mindy Starns Clark, Ring for Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse and, of course, The Holy Bible.
What would you do today if you knew you had only a week to live?
I don’t know. There are certainly many things I’d like to do and see before I leave this world. I’d love to explore the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress and the
What would be the most important thing for me, though, would be to make sure my cats had a good, loving forever home, and that my family and friends knew how much I love them. And I’d want everyone to know that this wasn’t the end for me because of Jesus Christ.
What word annoys you more than any other?
Not a good word, I agree. What “super power” would you like to borrow for awhile?
I’m not sure it’s actually a super power, but I’d love the ability to not need sleep for days or weeks at a time. Think of how much I’d get done!
Share a grammatical pet peeve … go ahead, sound off.
I guess one that really grates on me is when someone uses the subjective case rather than the objective case. “John and I gave it to you” is correct. “You gave it to John and I” is incorrect. If you would use “me” as the object, then it would still be “me” when including others: “You gave it to John and me.”
Another big one for me is when someone uses the reflexive pronoun improperly. Only “you” can perform an action on “yourself.” So it’s proper to say “See the pastor or me after the service.” It’s not proper to say “See the pastor or myself after the service.” You can say “I saw myself in the mirror” but not “He saw myself in the mirror.”
I like the way you explained that – it’s sure to be a help to someone else who has difficulty deciding how to use those words. Now share a societal pet peeve…here’s your chance to blast ‘em.
It seems to me that, more and more, failure is rewarded by the government through subsidy, and success, through taxation, is punished. That encourages dependence and stagnation rather than independence and creativity.
Amen and amen! Thank you for hanging out at The Bookshelf for awhile, DeAnna. Where can my readers find your books?
At this point they can be a bit hard to find, though I believe you can still get them through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I hope to have one of my new books out before too much longer.
We’ll be watching for it. Thanks again, and we hope you sell a million!
Step into time . . .
HISTORICAL FICTION by DeANNA JULIE DODSON
DeAnna has always been an avid reader and a lover of storytelling, whether on the page, the screen or the stage. This, along with her keen interest in history and her Christian faith, shows in her tales of love, forgiveness and triumph over adversity. A fifth-generation Texan, she makes her home north of