Could you share a little about yourself and what led you to become a writer?
I didn’t plan on being a writer when I was a kid. I was always planning on being an actress/singer. I even majored in Drama in college. All the while, though, I was writing as a hobby: stories, poems, songs, plays and one fairly horrible horror novel in my spare time. Around the time I graduated college I had finished that first novel and was starting a series of romantic fairy tale novellas and children’s novels. When I finally sold a story and got a play produced I was hooked, and I’ve been writing (with intention) ever since. Eventually, I gave up pursuing acting in Hollywood and turned all my creative focus on writing. Now that I’m a little older and living in Tennessee, I do an occasional community theater musical to satisfy that theater itch, but I’ve really had to pull back on those to make more time for my writing career. Quite an interesting evolution.
Do you write full time? How much of your life is set aside for writing?
I have a full-time teaching job, and I’m a wife and mother. My writing happens in the evenings after work (when I can fit it in) and mostly on the weekends in writing sprints. Most of my weeknight time tends to go more toward marketing than writing. I get that. I am sitting here going over the interview, wearing my field dress (combat) uniform, taking advantage of the available time.
Could you tell us a little about your novel?
Passing Notes is a young adult romance novella. It’s not terribly long, but it’s very sweet with a paranormal twist to it. In this story, Mark is a senior in high school and has been in love with Bethany for years. She’s finally given him a chance, but he’s pretty inept when it comes to flirtatious texts or romantic emails. He begins finding little handwritten notes giving him advice about how to write the perfect love letter. Who is haunting him with this advice? And if he follows the suggestions, will it work and win Bethany’s love?
Would you take us on a brief tour of your novel and the world you’ve created?
Mark isn’t a great student, and he’s planning to join the Army when he graduates. He’s not in any of Bethany’s classes, because she’s one of those really smart girls in the Honors classes. The story takes place in the realms of his life: school, his fast-food job, and his home where he lives with his parents and Alzheimer’s-stricken grandmother. While this is a high school love story, Mark’s relationship with his family is also important to the story and something that has attracted adult readers.
Where does the inspiration for your main character and story come from?
This novella began as a short story. One of my step-daughters was in a relationship where they only texted each other, never talking, and all of their texts were silly and nonsense. There was nothing personal or romantic about it. Not surprisingly, the relationship didn’t last. Around the same time a lot of the elementary schools were beginning to drop cursive as a course of study. I thought that was terribly sad. So, I wanted to write a story about reviving the art of the handwritten romantic love letter. Who would have no idea how to write one? Someone like Mark. Who would appreciate one? Someone like Bethany. Who would teach him how to do it? Well, that is the question, isn’t it? Ha! Love it.
What do you think makes a good romance story?
I like to see how characters meet and connect. That’s my favorite part of romantic stories. I like when two people are able to get past all the nonsense and see each other as they really are. I’m a sucker for happiness and romantic gestures. Which is something we could all use a dose of.
How do you handle the emotional side of romance writing?
Whether the story is a romance or not, it should have an emotional side. I’ll admit to having wept while writing a sad scene and clenching my jaw through stressful ones. I definitely experienced some of that when writing Passing Notes. I agree. So much of our everyday life is emotion-based, so it's important to be able to bring out emotions in our readers.
Which elements do you think are more important in this type of writing?
I’m not a romance author per se. I’m a YA author, so my focus is more on writing authentic teen characters even if I put them in slightly fantastic situations. So far my YA books have focused on blooming romances. First love. That said, I think an author needs to write characters the reader cares about, or they won’t care if they fall in love or if the guy gets the girl. Agreed. I think writing characters that the readers can relate to is a must to draw them into the story.
What is the message behind the story? Was it something you specifically wrote a story around or did it develop as your characters came to life?
Passing Notes is about being genuine. It’s about being expressive. It’s about being true to yourself and caring for your family. Did I plan this ahead of time? No. It all came from Mark and his relationship with the ghost sending him notes. I’m going to have to read that.
Do you work from an outline or just go with the flow? If you use an outline, how detailed is it?
Normally I do write from outlines, but not this time. As I wrote above, this story began as a short story. I wrote it to enter into a contest. It didn’t win, so I put it away for a while not knowing what to do with it. Then one day I got an idea of how to stretch it out into a longer format. I never did an outline for this story. I just started adding to it like adding shadows and highlights to a painting. Fire and Ice YA Books (who had published my novel Cry of the Sea earlier in the year) agreed to publish this novella as an ebook. That’s great.
What is the time span in your novel, weeks, months, years?
The story takes place over a week – the first week of the 2nd semester of school. I always find it fascinating how a hundred years can fill a few pages and a few days can fill an entire novel.
How does this book differ from what you have written in the past?
I like to write contemporary fantasy or magic realism, so this story fits into that genre because of the paranormal aspect of it. My other fiction tends to be more plot-driven adventure, however. Whereas Passing Notes is a quiet, romantic, character-based piece.
How have the changes in present-day publishing impacted your schedule as a writer?
Social media and marketing take up a tremendous amount of time. I feel the urge to constantly be posting on my pages or updating the blog, finding new reviewers, places to guest blog, etc. With my limited time, my writing time evaporates quickly. I used to write a lot faster than I do now. I actually do better writing if I take my laptop somewhere where there is no wifi. Even if it means sitting in my car at the park. I am not a self-published writer, so I don’t have a hand in how my books are produced. I do want to try to put out at least one book a year, if possible, through Fire and Ice as long as they’re into it. I am shopping manuscripts around to agents too, mostly my Middle-Grade fiction. Marketing can be overwhelming for sure. I look at others who have completely self-published, doing things I cannot do because I have a publisher behind me as well, (you know, like having they one typo corrected, lol). I am completely satisfied with Ravenswood Publishing and couldn't imagine going at it alone.
How do you handle marketing? Do you have a plan, a publicist or just take one day at a time?
Sadly, I don’t have a plan. I have slowly but surely been making connections with bloggers and other authors. We help each other out. I really do take this all one day at a time. It can be some overwhelming; I think that pacing yourself through the process is best. Sadly, what works for one does nothing for another, so there is not 'right' way to go about it.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Don’t rush. Take the time to make a good quality story. It’s not a race. Really, it’s not. The book will sell more if it’s awesome than it will if it’s so-so because you were in too much of a hurry to get it on the market. Sound advice. I always wonder how some authors manage to pump out books several times a year.
Could you tell us what you’re working on now?
I’ve just finished plotting the 3rd book of my Juniper Sawfeather series. Cry of the Sea and Whisper of the Woods are the first two books about a teen daughter of environmental activists who discovers mythical creatures during her efforts to protect the natural world. The first book involved mermaids, and the second book involved an ancient tree spirit. I can’t say what she’ll find in the 3rd book yet. It’s a secret. Learn more about these books at my website: www.dgdriver.com
I am very excited to share a character interview with you from Passing Notes. I'll go whip up a few steaming mugs of that awesome hot cocoa from Snow Job while you read on. Enjoy!
Interview with Mark Dowd from Passing Notes by D. G. Driver
Tell us a little something about yourself.
I don’t know what there is to know. I’m 17 and almost done with high school, thank goodness. I’m in ROTC, so I’ll be joining up right after graduation. I used to be on the hockey team but had to quit when my grandma got Alzheimer’s and had to move in with us. So, now I just work at the Sonic drive-through after school. I guess I’m kind of an ordinary guy.
But something extra-ordinary has happened to you, hasn’t it?
Yeah, I guess you could say that. Over Winter Break, Bethany Rivers started going out with me. I don’t know if we’re for sure boyfriend/girlfriend, but I thought it was going that way. She’s been pretty distant since we got back to school, though. I think her friends are telling her not to be with me.
Yes, that’s interesting and sweet, but that’s not the extra-ordinary thing I was asking about? Care to share?
Oh, about the notes? Is that what you’re asking about? I kind of was keeping that a secret. I thought only Jill Pietenpol knew about them. Did she tell you? She’s such a busy-body. I should never have asked her to read that first one for me. It’s just that it was in cursive, and I couldn’t read it very well.
Mark, just answer the question. What’s going on with the notes?
Well, I keep finding them. Sometimes they’re in my desk or my backpack. They’re all in cursive and have annoying messages about how letters need to be sweet, polite, private and written in nice handwriting. Stuff like that. Thing is, they always seem to show up right after I say or do something awkward around Bethany. I send her a dumb text and BAM! there’s a note telling me how stupid I was and how I should try again with more romance and tact. I’m not good at that kind of wordy romantic stuff, and whoever’s giving me the notes is kind of getting on my nerves.
Do you know who it is?
No. At first I thought I was finding notes from long ago that someone lost. Next I thought someone was being sneaky or playing a trick on me. But then the words on the paper changed in front of my eyes, like they were being written by an invisible person. Now I’m wondering…. You’re going to think this sounds stupid.
Just say it.
I think it might be a ghost.
What do you think this ghost wants?
For me to write a great love letter to Bethany, I guess.
But why? Doesn’t sound like a typical haunting, does it?
I don’t know. That’s what I keep asking myself. Why would my love life matter some old ghost? But hey, I’ve got a question for you, interviewer: do you think I should do what the ghost suggests? Should I follow his advice?
Couldn’t hurt, Mark. I know if I got a beautiful love letter, I’d be pretty tickled.
Aw, that’s what I thought you’d say, but then again, you’re a writer, aren’t you?
Is Bethany a writer?
No, but she’s super smart and on the debate team so she’s great with words. She reads a lot of books. I’m not even close to being as intelligent as her. Plus, she’s really pretty and has always been nice to me. I’ve known her for years.
You really care for her, don’t you?
Yeah. So much.
That ghost might be onto something then. What are you going to do?
I don’t know yet. I definitely don’t want to embarrass myself any more than I already have. I’ll think about it and get back to you. Okay?
A sweet YA romance with a paranormal twist!
Mark has finally gotten the attention of the girl of his dreams. Only, his lame attempts at romance through texts and emails seem to be turning her off. When he gets put in the back of the room in an over-full class at school, he begins to discover old notes giving advice about how to write a great love letter. At first, he thinks he’s stumbled on some long-forgotten notes passed in class ages ago, but every time he reads them they seem directed specifically to him. They also appear at the perfect moment each time he needs more advice. It’s like someone is haunting him. How do the notes keep appearing? Who’s writing them? Why?
And if Mark follows the ghostly writer’s advice, will he win Bethany’s love?
Ready to find out more about our guest author? Well then you're in luck, I just happen to have her bio on hand. Read on...
Author D. G. Driver has been a published author for 21 years. She has several award-winning, critically acclaimed nonfiction books as Donna Getzinger. Through Fire and Ice YA Books, she has published three Young Adult contemporary fantasies: Passing Notes, and the Juniper Sawfeather Novels, Cry of the Sea and Whisper of the Woods. In addition to being a writer, she is an actress/singer and a teacher in Nashville, TN.