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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Author Interview: Doralyn Kennedy

The Long and the Short of It is pleased to have Doralynn Kennedy with us today. Doralynn's debut novel, Sleeping With Skeletons, was released by The Wild Rose Press last fall.

She's currently working on a crime book she's absolutely in love with called Spiders and she thinks it's the best manuscript she's ever written. "I consider it a cross between Tami Hoag and Stephen King," she told me. "I don’t want to give anything away, but I can tell you that the crime my villain commits in this book has never been done before."

She admits her favorite author changes frequently, but said that, currently, her favorite is Tami Hoag.

"I have a law enforcement background and many of her books center around characters who are in law enforcement. She has a great grasp on how cops think and act. Her characters are completely convincing," she explained. "I swear they’re in the room with me. It takes a real talent to bring characters to life in such a vivid way. She also writes an engaging mystery that keeps me turning the page. But mainly, I think I just love the leading men in her books."

Mr. McIntyre, her 8th and 9th grade English teacher, started Doralynn writing. He gave his students contracts at the beginning of the year, and the students could choose which grade they wanted to earn. The options were A, B, or C and each option required a different commitment. One of the things Doralynn had to do to earn the A she wanted was to write several short stories.

"That's when I discovered I could write," she said. "Mr. McIntyre started reading those stories to the class. It was exciting for me to hear my fellow students laughing at all of my jokes and cheering my characters on. One day I turned in a story, and he shook his head and gave it back. 'I know what you're capable of, and you can do better than that. Never do anything less than your best.' It was the best piece of advice any teacher ever gave me."

By the time she finished his class, she knew she was a writer and has been writing ever since.

"I’ve never been very practical, I’m afraid. Very few people actually succeed in this profession. There are so many hurdles to overcome. Not just the hurdle of writing something that’s good enough to be published. In some ways, that’s the easy part. It’s the hurdles you face after you’ve written the book. It’s so difficult to find an agent. And, the way things are now days, you can’t find a publisher unless you can find an agent first. But agents, if writers can get them to respond at all, typically turn away most queries with a form rejection letter. 'It doesn’t meet our needs at present.' Really? How would you know? You haven’t read it! It’s so frustrating. I just want to scream. It’s why so many writers are turning to small, print-on-demand publishing house—or just self-publishing. I’ve read some self-published work recently that was 10 times better than some of the books coming out of the big publishing houses by well-known authors."

Doralynn is very much a "pantser." She told me she doesn't really develop her characters or plots—they develop themselves.

"With me, a first sentence pops into my head, and then I start writing," she told me. "Within a few paragraphs, I have a general idea of what is going on, who my characters are, and what the plot is. But the story mostly writes itself. I just jot down the action as it plays out in my head. It’s almost like watching a movie and then telling others what I saw."

She sees writer's block as not really, in her case, a problem, but more just a natural rhythm in her writing life. "I don't really do anything," she said. "I enter into a long ice age where I just can’t write. Eventually the ice starts to thaw, and I start to write again—fast and furious."

"What, in your opinion, are the most important elements of good writing?" I wondered.

"I think that’s a blend of the writer’s voice and the characters. If the characters don’t leap to life and jump off the page, then the book doesn’t work for me. But it doesn’t work if the writer’s voice doesn’t have a certain magic to it either. Some writers just have a writing style that pulls me into their world. A successful writer is almost like a snake charmer. They draw you into their story, and all you can hear is their music until you close the book. And if they’re really good, you still hear the music after the book is closed."

Agatha Christie is the writer who most influenced Doralynn. She would walk to the library almost every day after class when she was in middle school and check out books. Usually, it was an Agatha Christie mystery she picked out.

"Her books gave me a love for mysteries that has lasted my whole life. They have also influenced my own writing. Generally, when I sit down to write, I’m sitting down to write a mystery," she shared.

On a personal note, I asked Doralynn, "Do you really, really want a dog?"

"Well, I’m getting one—whether I really, really want it or not. My niece can’t take care of her dog anymore, and since my last cat just died, I’ve agreed to take Tequila. (Tequila. What kind of name is that for a dog? I’m not sure why, but all young girls nowadays name their pets after alcoholic beverages.) But I don’t really consider Tequila a dog. She’s a Chihuahua. She shakes constantly, weighs less than a pound, and reminds me of a terrified mouse. She’s incredibly sweet though, and she loves me. It’s hard to resist something that loves you—even if it is one of the strangest things you’ve ever seen."

She hates how she looks in pictures. "I used to steal cameras from my friends and remove the film if I was on it," she admitted. "I curse the invention of cell phones because someone is always taking my picture."

"Do you have any strange handwriting habits, like capitalizing all your R's or dotting your I's with heart (or anything like that)?" I asked.

"Maybe, but it’s hard to tell. I can’t read my handwriting. I often look at it and think Who on earth wrote that?"

She claimed to be completely normal and without any strange habits, but when she was young (before the invention of Skittles and Starburst) she thought anything with a pretty color belonged in her mouth.

However, the strangest thing (besides crayons) she's eaten would have to be octopus.

"That was an accident. I was traveling in Italy and stopped at a cafeteria. I thought I was getting some kind of chicken noodle dish," she explained. "When I got to my table, I stuck my fork in, lifted the first bite, and stopped in mid-motion. Long, dangly legs like rubber bounced off my fork. There were little hairs and suction cups on my noodles. I turned to my traveling companion and asked what kind of noodle it was, and she informed me that it wasn’t a noodle. It was a squid. I decided to be very brave and try a nibble—which turned out to be a mistake. I gave it to my friend. Fortunately, she liked squid. I can honestly say that I prefer crayons to squid."

"Have you ever made a crank phone call?"

"I grew up before caller ID, so yes. But they were silly little pranks that never terrorized anyone. We’d call, giggling, and ask stupid questions, like, 'Say, is your refrigerator running?' If they said 'yes,' we’d laugh hysterically and say, 'Better go catch it!' Then we’d hang up and our neighbor would call our mother and tell on us."

Finally, I wanted to know what advice Doralynn would give to a writer just starting out.

"Not to give up and not to stop believing in themselves," she said." I think it’s important to study the craft—take classes, read books, join groups. Writing is like any other profession. It requires study and serious work. All of us, no matter how much innate talent we possess, can always improve. I know there are a lot of people who dream of being published, and many times they give up their dreams. Don't do that. We miss out on so much because of that. I think the best advice I can give to aspiring authors is, 'Don't give up. Keep everlastingly at it.' And remember what Mr. McIntyre told me, 'Never do anything less than your best.'"

You can keep up with Doralynn on her blog,

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