I first met Idaho author Donna Cook when she spoke at a noon gathering for a local writing group. She graciously answered numerous questions with such warmth and encouragement as her lunch grew cold. A few years later, I’ve grown to know her more via other writing circles. It’s a pleasure to bring such a helpful and hardworking author to the readers of Word Bank’s blog.
Official Bio: Author Donna Cook is an Arizona native transplanted to Boise, Idaho, where she is delighting in the change of scenery. Her fantasy novel, Gift of the Phoenix, has won numerous awards on both the local and national level, including First Place Fantasy in the North American Book Awards and Best New Idaho Author. When she’s not working as a freelance book editor and writing her next novel, she spends her time chasing the kids, exploring delicious eateries downtown, and dancing with her talented husband (Salsa, baby!). She also makes a mean Navajo taco.
1. Please provide a brief synopsis of the first book in your Realm of the Phoenix series.
A nation’s fate rests in the hands of three strangers, thrust together by their common destiny to protect the Phoenix, and their world, from destruction. The Three must learn to unite in spite of what separates them, and unlock the magic of three stones that seem to harm as much as they help. But uniting will not be easy for Nicolai, the simple peasant with a powerful secret; Marcellus, the warrior prince who’s no longer heir to the throne; and Corren, a gifted wizard whose ambitions threaten to ruin them all.
Their journey leads through unexpected doors. Along the way they encounter a cursed people, a haunting vision, a woman on the run.
It all begins and ends with the gift of the Phoenix.
Magic, mystery, adventure, strong characters, and a touch of romance, this book has it all. Written as a stand-alone, Gift of the Phoenix is an epic fantasy adventure that takes the reader deep into the heart of a wondrous world and the Three who are destined to defend it.
2. Tell us a little bit about what motivates or inspires your writing.
I’ll be honest, my motivation is selfish. I absolutely adore the process of creation, and live for those moments when I can sink deep into a story and let the world slip away. Modern authors are business people, and with that comes a lot of tasks I didn’t dream about as a little girl: marketing, production, business logistics. But it’s all worth it for those hours I get to spend every day living inside a world of my own making.
3. As an Idaho resident, what do you most enjoy about living here?
I come from the Phoenix area, and am a city girl at heart. Boise wasn’t originally in my plans, but it’s a great place to live. It offers almost everything you could want from a big city, while still having a small town feel. People are so friendly here! My husband and I love exploring the downtown area, which has such fantastic character. As a family, we frequent the Valley’s many parks along the Greenbelt. I haven’t quite warmed up to the snow, or any of the activities people like to do in the snow, so while I consider the Boise mountains a beautiful asset, I feel they’re best enjoyed from a distance! We’ve also gone gallivanting through other parts of the state: Sun Valley, Grimes Creek, Bruno Sand Dunes, Coeur d’Alene, and Shoshone Falls to name a few. Idaho never fails to delight.
4. Describe some highlights of Idaho’s literary community.
The Treasure Valley has a remarkably vibrant literary community. There’s something for everyone, from The Cabin to the Idaho Writers Guild to smaller groups. Writers in this community are eager to help one another out and have a wonderful camaraderie with one another. If you’re looking for support as a writer, you don’t have to look far.
5. What is the name of your blog and what can readers expect to find there?
I’m both an author and editor, so I have different websites for each. My editing website is primarily a resource for the many aspiring writers I meet. I found myself answering the same questions and sending people to the same websites over and over again, so I gathered everything into one place on my website so I’d have an easy way to share that information with others.
I have separate websites for each of my pen names (I also write contemporary romance) but don’t have a lot of time to spend blogging. Sometimes I feel guilty for not blogging more, but trying to do so inevitably cuts into my writing time. I’d rather save that time for the actual books, and connect with readers in different ways. My fantasy novels release very slowly, so I’ve focused on developing a relationship with readers in person. I do a lot of shows and signings, and touch base with people from time to time through my newsletter. My romance books release much more quickly, so I stay connected with my readers through an active Facebook fan group, as well as my email newsletters.
6. What does your drafting and/or editing process entail?
I’m pretty disciplined with my writing time. I write two to five hours a day, depending on what stage of the book I’m in. While I’m crunching on a deadline, it’s not uncommon to work ten to twelve hour days, for a handful days until the book is done. I’ll usually take a week or so off in between books.
My process is different with the two genres. For fantasy, I write the rough draft and send it to my editor to check the storyline and make sure there aren’t any significant plotting issues. The second draft corrects any major issues that may have been found. The final draft takes the longest, as that’s when I polish my prose, flesh out scene building, etc. This draft goes to the editor as well, and this is when she does any needed line edits. Each stage is so intense that I usually have several months break in between each one.
The romance novels come together completely differently. I work from beginning to end, revising as I go. Once I get to the end, it’s pretty much done and there’s very little I have to fix. I’m able to do that partly because I’m getting more and more experienced and able to tackle all the different elements of storytelling at once, and partly because these stories are more straightforward, with conversational-sounding prose that I’m able to pretty much nail on the first pass.
For both genres, I only use beta readers only when the books are done. I’m mainly testing reader response. I want four and five star responses across the board, or the book isn’t ready. The only time I’ve had to make major revisions after a beta round was with my first novel.
7. Are you traditionally published or self-published?
I’m an Indie author, and so glad I chose that path. My career is mine to control. I decide what I’m going to write, and when. It helps if you have a good head for business, or are able to learn. I’m pretty evenly balanced between right brain and left brain, so it works great for me. It’s a challenge to get everything done, and marketing is not my natural gift. It doesn’t help that the market is constantly changing. But ultimately I’ll take the challenges of being an Indie over the challenges of being traditionally published any day.
8. Can you offer one or two helpful tips for fellow writers when it comes to marketing and publicity?
I’m definitely not an expert in this area! I’ll say, learn as much as you can, and never stop learning. Pay attention to who’s giving the advice, and make sure they actually know what they’re talking about. There are a lot of successful authors willing to share what worked for them. Take advantage of that, just be aware of what strategies are dated, and which ones still work. Remember there’s no one magic thing you can do to help your books sell. There are many factors involved, and it can take time to get them all right. Be patient and persistent.
9. What future projects can we look forward to?
There will be another novel in the Realm of the Phoenix series, The Seventh Dragon. I can’t wait to share it with everybody!
10. Is there anything else you want your potential readers to know? What passions drive your life?
No, I think this long enough!
You can connect with Donna Cook and her social media websites via her author website.
Is there anything else you’d like to know about Donna Cook?
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2017.