Author Spotlight: Donelle Knudsen

Who is Donelle Knudsen?

Donelle Knudsen was born in Portland, Oregon, the beautiful City of Roses, but has lived in Eastern Washington since 1988. She has written short stories, poetry, and memoirs, and owes her love of books and the craft of writing to her late father, who was never too busy to read to her or make visits to the “big” library every Saturday. She earned a B.S. in Arts & Letters from Portland State University and is a four-time finalist in the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s literary contest in the memoir category. Her first book, “Through the Tunnel of Love, A Mother’s and Daughter’s Journey with Anorexia”, was published in 2011. Her Young Adult/Women’s Contemporary novel, “Between Heartbeats” Book I of the Heartbeat Series, was published in 2015. Donelle Knudsen is a wife, a mother, and grandmother of five.

What motivated you to write your first novel?

My writing journey began in 2003 when I wrote my memoir about growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, a world vastly different from today, more innocent perhaps, but filled with heartbreaking and uplifting experiences that influenced my life’s journey. I gifted Rose City and Beyond to family and close friends. The next year I wrote a short story which evolved into the book length memoir, Through the Tunnel of Love, A Mother’s and Daughter’s Journey with Anorexia. I submitted a sample to Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s 2004 literary contest and it was named one of the finalists in the memoir category. Encouraged by this, I submitted three short memoirs over the next few years to PNWA’s literary contests and they also earned the finalist status. Through the Tunnel of Love, A Mother’s and Daughter’s Journey with Anorexia, a true story about our family’s experience with anorexia, was published in 2011.

My first publishing experience spurred me to think about writing a novel, a departure from my writing genre. The basic idea of a teenager’s “Coming of Age” story fermented in my mind for two years, but the one thing I needed was a title. I wanted to write about a young female protagonist who experiences a life-changing emotional trauma. I pitched my idea for a Young Adult novel to a publisher in May 2014 while attending a writers’ conference; and so Between Heartbeats was born. It was published and released in August 2015 as Book I of the Heartbeat Series. Between Heartbeats was originally written for the Young Adult audience, but reader feedback has shown women of all ages enjoy it.

I have completed the Book II of the Heartbeat Series, Heartbeat Interrupted, and my goal is to have it released before the end of 2016.

What strange things do you do when you write? Do you listen to music? Watch television? Eat Cheetos?

I find it beneficial to listen to music or the background noise of a café while I write. But not a word will be written without a cup of hot tea or an iced tea, depending on the time of year. However, when I edit or do re-writes, I need as close to complete silence as possible.

What was your greatest challenge writing this story and how did you overcome it?

I suppose the greatest challenge was taking a basic story idea with a couple of characters and then with no outline but a known ending, allowing myself write on my laptop fluidly, freely; to just let it happen. I have heard and read outlining is important, but I limit it to general plot ideas and characters’ personalities and backgrounds. I allow one year to eighteen months to complete a novel. This timeline includes submitting most of the book to my critique group for their feedback, which is a step that has helped me immeasurably.

If you could spend the day with one of the characters in this book, who would you choose and what would you do?

I definitely would spend the day with my protagonist, Diana Baker, who at the opening of the book is as a contemporary seventeen-year-old living in Boise, Idaho. She lives with her mother and visits her father, who lives in the mid-west, twice a year. I can relate to Diana as my parents were divorced when I was nine. It was difficult to lose the caring, involved parent and live with someone who wasn’t much interested in my life. I’d compare notes with Diana and find out how she coped with the upheaval and about her dreams of becoming a writer and finding the forever love that brings a husband, children, and the promise of a fulfilling life.

What’s next for you and your writing career?

I have completed the first draft of Heartbeat Interrupted, Book II of the Heartbeat Series, which continues where Between Heartbeats leaves off. The next steps are to send it to my editor, beta readers, and then to the proofreader. I have a publisher, so I hope to have the book out before the end of 2016. Book III of the Heartbeat Series is about one-third complete and I will run most of it by my critique group as I have done with my first two novels. I plan on writing until I run out of ideas, or am too old to type, but maybe by then I’ll have a dictation-style computer.

What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas?

I am inspired primarily by reading thrillers, classics, some young adult novels, and books with strong female characters. My inspiration also springs from personal experiences and observing life. To take Mark Twain’s quote in his book, Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World: ‘Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t…’  I don’t stick with the “Write what you know” camp. I write about what interests me and about subjects I want to explore and share. I like to imagine the impossible is possible.

What is something you are not good at doing?

I’m terrible at outlining before I write and realized early on that I am a Discovery Writer; that is, I discover where the characters are heading as I write. I have the general plot in my head, know the ending, and so the journey begins. It’s an exciting way to write. I am the author and often feel like the reader who discovers the story along the way. I have control until my characters take over and show me where they want to go.

What message do you want readers to get from reading the book?

Without giving away too much, in Between Heartbeats I set out to take the reader on a journey in which a young woman decides to unravel the mystery of her childhood and the reason for so many secrets. As Diana searches for her family heritage, handles stresses in friendships, family, and her first romance, she grows emotionally and learns to accept help from unexpected sources in multiple generations. My stories are about people and everyday events I believe most readers can identify with and care about. I like to create tension and then let the characters find resolution with issues that matter most to them. I’m a sucker for happy endings.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I carve out time every day to write and if possible, I read daily, but my passion is spending time with family. We are fortunate to have our grown children and five grandchildren within driving distance, so we visit with them, and have the grandkids over for a few hours or a few days if time allows. Growing up, I have fond memories of time spent with my grandparents and learning how to garden, bake, ride my bike, hang clothes on the clothesline, play the piano, and read. My husband and I travel and I love to take photos with my Nikon and iPhone, which takes pretty good pictures.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Study the rules of writing and don’t be afraid to break them once and a while.

What are your favorite characters that you have created?

Besides Between Heartbeats’ heroine, Diana Baker, I had fun with Zoë, a quirky fortune-telling/psychic advisor and loyal friend who helps people as best she can with a loving heart and charming naïveté. I stepped out of my comfort zone when I created and developed Big Stan, ex-military/law enforcement, turned private detective, who has an uncanny ability to solve crimes.

What is one piece of advice you would give to your teenage self?

I’d say, set positive goals beyond your comfort zone and keep moving forward despite any roadblocks that threaten your journey. View negative experiences as lessons learned and discover how to overcome the hurt and disappointment. Forgive those who have wronged you and try to live the kind of life that would make your parents proud. Don’t sweat the small stuff, but cherish the simple things in life: a sunset, a baby’s laugh, a soft, fragrant rose petal, the sound of the ocean, and a soothing breeze that ruffles your hair and stirs your soul.

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