Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Blog Book Tour -- Gone From These Woods

Today I'm participating in my first blog book tour! I'm really excited because I know the author of this book personally and the book is truly fantastic. And, as an added bonus, I'm going to be giving away a signed copy of the book to one lucky commenter! Just leave a comment by 11:59 p.m. EST (8:59 p.m. Pacific) on Friday night (9/18/09) and the winner will be selected by random number generation. (Rules totally cribbed from Contest-Leader Extraordinaire, Mir, over at WantNot).

I first met Donny Seagraves about two years ago at a local writers' conference. At the time she was still working on her novel, but she told me the premise and it sounded really intriguing. And just a few months later, Donny emailed me with the great news that Random House had just purchased her middle grades novel Gone From These Woods!!

Gone From These Woods is the story of eleven-year-old Daniel Sartain and how his life is forever changed after a tragic hunting accident. It is a heartbreaking story, but one that will ultimately leave you with a sense of hope.

Donny is a native of Athens, Georgia, and still lives nearby in a small town called Winterville. Donny studied journalism at the University of Georgia , was a newspaper columnist for seven years, and has published fiction and non-fiction in many regional and national publications, including Athens Magazine and the Chicago Tribune. Gone From These Woods is Donny's debut novel. As part of the Blog Book Tour, Donny agreed to answer some of my questions.

What was the first thing you ever wrote, where you consciously sat down and wrote a story? How old were you?

The first things I remember writing were poems. I was in the fourth grade, in Mrs. Clara Doster’s class. I started school when I was five, so I would have been eight years old when I began writing. I started writing short stories as a teenager. One in particular that I remember and think I still have a copy of was a story about a girl named Jude. One of the things mentioned in that story, which was set in the future (maybe in our current time now), was that we had our first black president, Julian Bond. I was right about the first black president but wrong about the name!

How important is place in your story? Could the same story have been told in another locale?
I think my story needed its rural North Georgia setting. The setting, which I came up with while doing early morning exercise walks around the area where I live, is very much a part of the story. The woods, the birds, the lake, the small house where the Sartains live, the tiny town of Newtonville, all feel right for this story. Interestingly enough, most of the books I’ve written before Gone From These Woods, (about nine) were set in places that were not distinct or particularly Southern. I was told many years ago that I could not sell a Southern book to a NY publisher. So I worked hard on taking the South out of my books. But I am a native of Athens, Georgia and a long time resident of the tiny nearby town of Winterville. So writing Southern comes more natural to me.

How did you get in the mindset of an 11 year old boy?

Good question! I’m obviously not an 11 year old boy but I felt that this story needed to be told from the inside in the first person voice of my main character, Daniel Sartain. To get into Daniel’s mindset, I had to remember my own son Greg and my younger brother Mike -- how they looked and moved and behaved. Also, I observed my nephew, Joseph, when he visited from Tenn., and the boys down the street, Brian and Michael Adler. These boys, past and present, in no way modeled what happened in the book. But they did show me “boyness” that I could observe and incorporate into my book.

With those models in mind, as I wrote every scene and line I tried to imagine that I was Daniel, the young boy in my book. Of course this wasn’t easy, but I have always liked a challenge and did the best I could to put myself in Daniel’s situation and try to imagine his thoughts and feelings and actions.


You tackle some very sensitive topics in this novel. What age group do you think is your target audience? The protagonist is eleven. Do you think that an 11-year-old can fully appreciate the emotional depth of this book?

Technically, this book is labeled a children’s middle grade novel for ages 9 - 12. But it’s also being marketed by Random House to the teen and young adult market and has been picked by Brodart for their young adult McNaughton List, which is a “best of the best” standing order list for librarians. I think some 11-year-olds can appreciate the emotional depth and intensity of this book. But others, probably not. Middle school kids? Definitely.
Even though this story is partially based on real life events, did you have to do a lot of research for this novel?

Actually, though I acknowledge that the real life event that happened in the family of my second grade teacher as the source of inspiration for my story, that event was only a starting point or jumping off place for me. My characters, setting, and the story are all fictional, but inspired by real people, a real place, and the bare facts of my teacher’s story. So, that said, yes, I had to do a lot of research. For starters, I’m not a hunter or a gun person, but to tell a story that includes hunting and a gun, I needed to know more about these subjects. I did a lot of reading, on the Internet and in books and consulted with Nick Jenkins, a ranger with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, to find out about hunting in Georgia. I also reenacted the accident scene, first with a fellow writer in my house, and then later with our former Winterville Police Chief, Eric Pozen, out in the woods of Oglethorpe County (a place I thought of as I wrote GFTW). Eric showed me how to fire a .410 and I must say, there’s really nothing like actually holding a gun, firing it, hearing the sound, smelling the gunpowder etc. I put all of this in to my scene. I also did research on children's who consider or actually commit suicide and on stages of grief. I used the stages of grief in my book, though Daniel did go through some stages rather quickly. It varies from person to person and I did have to cut out a couple of chapters towards the end to stay within my editor’s word limit (about 40,000 words). When my editor suggested that Daniel needed a counselor to help him through his grief, a writer friend of mine, Gail Karwoski, suggested that I visit Becky Kelley, a guidance counselor at Malcom Bridge Elementary School in Oconee County. Becky was kind enough to give my fictional boy Daniel a hour or so of her time. This included some excellent fictional counseling. I used Becky as the basis for Mrs. Hardy, the counselor in GFTW, and also borrowed some details from her office.

Why did you choose to write a Young Adult novel?

I’ve been writing for many years and actually started out writing for adults. Somewhere along the way, I shifted to children’s middle grade novels. My first published book is about the tenth book I’ve written. I fell in love with children’s middle grade novels while working in a school library many years ago. The last five or six novels I’ve written have been for middle grades. I think young readers are the most important audience of all. An author has a chance to make a difference in their lives and maybe create readers for life.

Will you continue in the YA genre or do you plan to write for other genres as well?

I will continue in the children’s middle grade and/or YA genre and fortunately, those categories of books are still selling in this tough economic climate. I may also write novels for adults, if I have time.

How long did it take you to get published?
I worked on this manuscript for about two years before I took it to a SCBWI Southern Breeze writer’s conference in Atlanta in Feb. 2007. After Michelle Poploff of Random House bought what would become GFTW, we worked on the book about eight more months. Then there were some months of waiting as the book went through production. So this was about a four-year project for me.

Did you ever feel like giving up? What words of wisdom do you have for aspiring writers about the publishing process?
Oh, absolutely! I actually did stuff the manuscript in progress into my file cabinet a few times to see if I could forget about it. I couldn’t. So I pulled it back out each time and continued working. Of course my advise to aspiring authors is to never give up. Keep writing and submitting your work. Go to conferences and meet published authors plus agents and editors. Have faith in yourself. Someone gets published. I’m proof of that.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on the book I wrote right before the one that sold. It’s different -- lighter and hopefully humorous.

EDITED TO ADD:There are a couple of other bloggers who are also participating in Donny's Blog Book Tour. You can check them and see their questions at the following dates and blogs:

Lynn Coulter's blog, Seedlings on September 16th.

Elizabeth Dulemba's blog on September 18th, and

Eddie Suttles' blog, Georgia Books and Water on September 21st.

Also, I neglected to mention one VERY important fact. Gone From These Woods is available for purchase now. You can find it at any of these fine retailers: IndieBound, Amazon.com, Amazon Kindle edition, Random House, Borders, Barnes & Noble, or if you want to give someone a signed copy, you can order it from Junebug Books!

Thanks, Donny, for letting me be a part of your book tour and getting the word out about your book! You can check out Donny's blog at wintervillewriter.com. There Donny writes about what she's reading and writing. So go say hi! Tell her I sent you!

Book cover art: Random House, Copyright 2009 by the artist, Blake Morrow.
Author's photo: Barry Mobley, photographer.


Leslie said...

This sounds terrific! I'll look for Gone From These Woods when it comes out. Thanks for highlighting this writer!

AndreAnna said...

This is so awesome!!! You don't need to include me as one of the possible winners since my kids are too young to truly appreciate this and I'd rather it go to someone who has a kid in the age range. But thanks for this post; it was great!

Beth said...

Thanks for the giveaway. Please enter me.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Donny really is a great example of "What To Do" when it comes to publishing a book! I'm intrigued by her story and would like to see how she handles such a sensitive topic for this age group. And as I live down the road from Athens and love reading Southern fiction, I've just got to read this book. Maybe I'll bug our librarian if I don't win...

And P.S. I HAD to stop by a blog called Madame Queen...my mom used to call me that when um, I got too big for my britches.

rubynreba said...

Oh, this book would be great! Thanks!

Katie in MA said...

I have a very strong addiction to young adult fiction, so I would LOVE the chance to win a copy! I'm definitely going to check out Donny's other work. Great post!

Shooting Stars Mag said...

YA is one of my favorite types of books to read and this sounds very interesting. never heard of it before. the cover is great too. count me in!!!

lauren51990 AT aol DOT com

Pam Brooks-Crump said...

My 10 year old son and I read Gone From These Woods a few weeks ago. We could not put it down. He would read ahead, so I would have to catch up. We are wanting a sequel!!I shared it with a friend of mine who is in her 40's like me. We (40+) may not be the target market; however, the book really kept my interest! Loved to read more about Donny and her process of writing this GREAT book!

Sue said...

This one looks great. Thanks for the giveaway.

s.mickelson at gmail dot com

Bingo said...

What a great giveaway...thanks!

kdhaney (AT) gmail ((DOT)) com

Laurel said...

Great interview. I'll be on the lookout for the book. I am so impressed that she has written 9 books before getting this one published. Talk about stick-to-it-ivness! Bravo to Donny!

mindy said...

sounds terrific thanks for the giveaway

That Chick Over There said...

This book sounds great. I'd love to win. I think the Boy and Girl child are about the age to enjoy this.

Little Murray Sparkles said...

Can't wait to read it!

Abby said...

This book sounds right up my alley!

Paula said...

This sounds like a book my son would really like.

Please enter me!!


Lindsay's Photographys said...

I would LOVE to win this!!
Thankyou!! :D:D:D



Lucyinthesky said...

I'd love a chance to win this for my son. The topic is very intriguing so I will probably read it as well. Thanks for the chance!

espressogurl at hotmail dot com

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