Join us as we spotlight various members in the Savvy Authors community. We’ll introduce you to recently published authors from Our Authors, our hard working volunteers, members active in the Savvy writing community, editors, and agents.
This week the Spotlight shines on paranormal romance suspense author Donna June Cooper. Donna’s debut novel scored a big hit right away, earning a feature in USA Today’s HEA blog. Set in the beautiful Appalachia Mountains, the story features a heroine determined to protect her heritage pitted against an undercover cop committed to finishing his last case. Add in just a touch of mysticism and “More Than Magic” will cast its spell over romance fans everywhere. Grab a seat and join us while we celebrate the appearance of Spring (finally!) and talk about mountains, magic, writing and furry co-authors!
Your debut novel, “More than Magic” (Samhain Publishing), the first story in The Kindling series, hit the shelves February 4, 2014. Tell us about this story and where the inspiration for it came from.
“More Than Magic” is the first book in the Books of the Kindling, which focus on Woodruff Mountain, the ancient power beneath it, and the family that has hidden its secrets for centuries. The book and the series are hard to fit into a specific genre, but when pressed, I tend to say they are “not your normal paranormal romance”.
As to the inspiration, I have always believed what Toni Morrison said is true, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” That is how “More Than Magic” began. I wanted to read romantic suspense that was set in my mountains and had a touch of mountain magic. I also wanted to write something that highlighted the fragility of our environment, especially the wilderness areas like those very mountains, because it’s going to take some substantial magic to save them—to save us.
“More than Magic” got first billing in USA Today’s Happily Ever After blog. Quite impressive for your first book! How did you find out and what was your reaction?
I found out completely by accident, actually. I use Twitter to stay in touch with fellow authors and reach out to potential readers. And, now and again, I check to see if More Than Magic has been mentioned by anyone in their tweets, so I can retweet or thank them for the tweet. I follow USA Today’s romance blog—@HEAusatoday—on Twitter and when I did my search that day, I found their tweet “Check out newer paranormals incl More Than Magic by Donna June Cooper & Night’s Promise by Amanda Ashley” with a link to the blog article. Nathalie Gray’s—@NathalieGray— gorgeous cover played a huge part of USA Today featuring the book. The title also lent itself to a great blog title—“You’ll find more than magic in these newer paranormals”. I was thrilled, and so was Samhain, of course.
“Mostly Magic” (Samhain), the follow up story will be out this summer. Will it pick up where “More than Magic” left off and can you give your fans a peek?
Actually “Mostly Magic” does pick up only a few months after “More Than Magic” with the story of Grace Woodruff’s brother, Daniel, who made a couple of appearances in “More Than Magic”. The book and all the publicity blurbs are still being edited, but I can give you a bit of a hint. You know how Samhain does those great “Product Warnings”? Well, the one for “Mostly Magic” is probably going to go something like this—“Reluctant seer of a bleak future meets petite force of nature who lights up the heart of his darkness. Where there’s smoke, there could be an unpredictable blaze of passion, but the rewards are oh, so sweet…” I’ll be doing a cover reveal a bit later this month in my newsletter and then on my website.
Who are your favorite authors and what influence have they had on your writing?
The list of my favorite authors is so long and varied, that I find it difficult to pick out only a few. I think we are influenced by every book we read, whether they are award winners or best sellers or comfort reads or cheesy DNFs—as a writer, I learn something from all of them. My tastes vary from J.R.R. Tolkien and Lois McMaster Bujold to Loretta Chase and Jill Shalvis to Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Jayne Ann Krentz (in all her personae). This month has been heavenly with new releases from Kim Harrison and Patricia Briggs, as well as J.D. Robb, and my audiobook player is full of Jeaniene Frost and Kresley Cole and Darynda Jones. But that’s just part of them! I really love books that teach me something new or take me somewhere new, and I particularly appreciate the amazing world building skills of Lois McMaster Bujold and many of the urban fantasy writers.
One author I have to acknowledge as influencing me from a very young age is Gene Stratton Porter, the author of “Freckles” and “The Harvester”. Her romances are sweet and inspirational, but the love of nature is the true heart and soul of her books. As she once said, a book is beneficial for a reader if it “opens his eyes to one beauty in nature he never saw for himself”. Jamie Lynn Campbell in “More Than Magic” is my own little homage to the Little Scout in Porter’s “The Keeper of the Bees”.
What part of writing comes easy for you and what do you struggle with in terms of plot, character, dialog, etc?
Dialog is about the easiest thing to write for me. I think if you understand your characters and their circumstances, when you put them in a situation where they are in proximity, whether it is family around the dinner table at home or two people who just met in a crowded tourist destination, their dialog just flows out naturally. (Although my editor would say I play fast and loose with the grammatical issues of dialog!)
In terms of struggle, I have a horrible time with revisions. I cannot seem to get myself far enough away from the book to see it objectively. As the author, I am often blind to my biggest writing blunders until someone else points them out to me. I really hate for that person to be an editor or agent so I am still looking for a brutally honest critique partner who will help me out with that aspect.
Appalachia is a stunningly beautiful landscape, still wild and untamed in many areas. The area faces many challenges and threats, can you talk to our readers about that and why you believe it is important to preserve the land and heritage of the mountains?
As John Muir said, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” The health of the planet and the people on it depends on preserving its lungs—the ancient forests—and the biodiversity of its wild places.
The Appalachian Mountain region is one of the most biologically diverse in the temperate world. Nearly 10,000 species exist in the southern Appalachians, with many found nowhere else in the world. These mountains are considered to be one of America’s great ecological treasures. Despite the lessons learned from the damage done to these ancient peaks by the initial invasion of Europeans—hunting species to extinction, destroying nearly all the original ancient forests, and decimating the Native American populations—we are at it again. Between industrial logging and mountaintop removal, in addition to the encroachment of human development and the resulting air, water, noise, and light pollution, we are rendering species extinct and causing entire ecosystems to collapse. In addition, misguided forest management has resulted in the threat of super-fires, pine tree monoculture where diverse tree species once reigned, and the introduction of destructive non-native species.
As Logan “Pops” Woodruff once said (paraphrasing some other smart folks): “We are all just strands in the great web of life. We didn’t weave it and we can’t see all of it, but it connects us all—fauna and flora, past and future, great and small. Whatever we do to any part of this intricate and delicate web of life, we do to ourselves.”
The culture of Appalachian mountain communities is steeped in local beliefs and practices called granny or folk magic. Grace, the heroine of “More than Magic” has her own magic in addition to her herbal knowledge. Do you believe in magic and if so, how do you describe it?
The interesting thing about Appalachian Granny Magic or the folk “magic” the Appalachian Granny Women used, is that no one really seems to completely agree on the details of the practice. Since it wasn’t a written tradition but an oral one, and a very secretive one in some cases, it is understandable that there would be disagreements and few written facts available.
But Grace is correct in her description of Granny Magic in “More Than Magic”. The Granny Witch was a practitioner of folk magic—basically folk medicine and, in some cases, water witchery. The “old magic” in the books is not the magic of the Appalachian Granny Witch. In “Mostly Magic”, Grace and Daniel and Nick actually get into what they call a “beware mountains bearing gifts” discussion about the “old magic”. Grace believes it is preternatural—currently unexplainable by ordinary means— but natural, not supernatural.
Personally, I always leave room for something to exist outside of the realm of scientific explanation. But always keep in mind, as Isaac Asimov said: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
It would never do to end an interview without mentioning your “dear friend, companion and co-author”, Caliente D. Cooper, aka “Cali”, the resident Jack Russell terrier. How is your collaboration going and is she still making sure to take you for your daily walks? Any plans for a “sibling” in the future?
Cali absolutely ensures that we get our daily walk, unless it is actively raining or sleeting (we don’t really do snow in Texas). The only time it becomes contentious is when I am in the middle of a particularly tough editing session. Then she REALLY has to get persuasive to get me out of my chair and out on the sidewalk. She does talk to me, using all sorts of different sounds to denote what level of aggravation, or enjoyment, I am causing her at the moment.
Cali turns 15 this month and she is definitely a spoiled-rotten only child. Adding a sibling at this point in her life is possible and I might consider it for the right fur-baby, but with Cali’s personality, it would be an iffy proposition, because she will always be the Empress of All She Surveys. I wonder if they have a t-shirt her size with that on it?
Thanks so much for this opportunity, and for everything Savvy Authors, and folks like you, do for authors and others in the writing world!
The granddaughter of a coal miner and the great-great-granddaughter of one of the Muscogee people, Donna was raised in the shadows of the Appalachian Mountains, in the beautiful hills of East Tennessee.
After getting a couple of college degrees, she was lured away from her mountains by an admittedly gorgeous Italian guy, who married her and carried her off to Texas. Donna has made her living doing a little bit of everything, including a stint as an IRS tax auditor, a few years managing a bookstore and a career in the corporate world.
Donna enjoys being walked by her Jack Russell terrier (if you know Jacks, you understand), belly dancing (excellent exercise and lots of shiny costumes), reading (three books at once, at times) and travel (with family in Italy and England, who wouldn’t?). Like any child of the Appalachians, she can’t stay away from “her mountains” for long, and visits as often as she can.
DEA agent Nick McKenzie is sure magic exists—a dangerous drug called Smoky Mountain Magic that’s wreaking havoc on the streets of Atlanta. He’s also sure that locating and eliminating the source could mean his death.
When he arrives undercover on Woodruff Mountain, the beautiful owner’s anxious attempts to scare him off tell him something’s afoot, and it’s not her secret patch of a rare, ancient species of ginseng.
As her dream of seeking medicinal plants in the Amazon fades into the distance, Grace Woodruff struggles to come to terms with an inherited magical gift she didn’t want, and searches desperately for the meaning behind her late grandfather’s final, cryptic message.
The last thing she needs underfoot is a handsome, enigmatic writer recovering from a recent illness. Until an accidental touch unleashes a stunning mystical force and Grace senses the wrath of a malicious blight at the heart of the mountain. Now she must choose between her need to hide her gift from the world…and her desire to save Nick’s life.
Warning: This book contains a fiery redhead whose magic cannot be contained and a handsome DEA agent whose final case might give him a second chance at life.
Ria Boulay writes contemporary and paranormal romantic comedy as well as dystopian YA/NA. With Savvy since 2011, she is the Editor of the Spotlight On column. The Spotlight is dedicated to acknowledging the work of our member authors and volunteers, as well as informative interviews with editors, agents and publishers. You can connect with Ria on Twitter and Goodreads.