Author Interview: Dianne Greenlay

Autumn is drawing to a close, the days are getting noticeably shorter, and a tractor is disking the field outside my office window. He hasn’t touched the strawberry field yet. Despite the limited sunlight, the berries are still growing and they’re still sweet. That’s life, isn’t it? Like the wise man once said, there’s a time ordained for all the chapters of life, whether that be the genesis of a galaxy, the dying of a star, or strawberries ripe and ready to be picked. I find a certain melancholy in that, but there’s also a great deal of practicality. Everything in its place, and though we might rage against the dying of the light, or rejoice at the birth of a baby, each thing should be taken with grace.

It appears that I am in a serious frame of mind. That said, let’s welcome writer Dianne Greenlay to the blog.

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Hi, Dianne. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and visit.

Hi Christopher, Thanks for this opportunity!

I’d like to hear about your journey as a writer, of course. First, however, can you tell us about yourself, where you’ve come from and where you’ve gone?

I was born in the small city of Swift Current, SK, in the southern Canadian prairies, the first of two children, into a family that was struggling financially at that time. Education was important to my parents, however, and they scrimped to buy a set of encyclopedias for our home. I loved those big heavy books and I can still remember the magical feeling when the dark little squiggles on the pages became letters, then words, and then ideas, for me. I could read by the age of four or five by which time someone (I don’t remember who) introduced me to the Magical Hall of Free Squiggles – The Public Library! It became an internal challenge for me to read a book a day (we’re talking picture books and Children’s First Readers here, not War and Peace) and I went routinely every Saturday to sign out my armload of another 7 books for the week.

How odd that trips to the library, due to changes in technology and how children spend their leisure time, are rapidly becoming a nostalgic thing for a great many people. I have fond memories, myself, of the weekly trip to our local library (the John Steinbeck library, complete with a statue of Steinbeck out front, politically incorrect cigarette in hand). With such an early background of books and reading, where did you go from there?

Fast forward 12 years and I graduated from High School and was accepted into the University of Saskatchewan’s School of Physiotherapy. I moved to an even more remote place on the prairies ( Shaunavon, SK) and became a sole charge physiotherapist as well as an EMT. By the time I had three biological children and three step-children, my husband and I were avid travelers and took the entire family to as many travel destinations as we could afford -  Europe, Caribbean, Mexico, several states and Canadian provinces – and on each holiday, there seemed to be an adventure waiting for us of epic proportions (being swamped in a small Zodiac boat a few miles off the Pacific coastline of Vancouver island by a massive Orca (killer whale), or being stung by a large swarm of small-sized (thank goodness) jellyfish off a Mexican beach, for instance). We are an active family and have hiked in rainforest, rockclimbed, ziplined, parasailed, cave spelunked, and eaten fish that sat out in the hot tropical sun for a few hours before being cooked up by local fishermen, and lived to tell about it all.

That’s a great way to raise your family! It’s all well and good for children to sit in school for hours on end, learning their letters and numbers, but there’s a great deal of insight to be had from jellyfish stings and all that. I think you would get on well with my wife. She sailed all over the South Pacific as a child with her family. With the sorts of experiences you’ve had, I imagine you found a large store of inspiration waiting to be tapped for writing. How did you get started?

Even as a child,( just before fire was discovered), I had a strong imagination – I was the self-appointed leader of the neighbourhood (may I use the Canadian spelling?) group of kids for a game we called “Thinking Circle”. We would gather round and come up with ideas as to what to play that day. Often there were so many ideas, that I began to write them down and we would put the slips of paper into a “genie’s bottle” (aka pickle jar with various rocks, bits of coloured macaroni and sparkles glued onto it) and withdraw a slip whenever we wanted a theme or idea to follow up with – lost at sea, Roman charioteer, jungle girl, etc. I have always kept several notebooks of writing ideas around but it was a couple of years ago that I was googling a medical condition and in the search results, up came “women pirates”. No idea what the connection was, but sometimes the universe works in mysterious ways, and obviously the little gremlin that lives inside my computer has a direct line there. I didn’t even know that there were such things as female pirates so I read about them, only to find that not only were there many of them, but that they were very well documented and several were quite famous. I read some more and researched their lives, taking notes (gruesome stuff, living back then), until several notebooks later, I had the basis for my novel, Quintspinner – A Pirate’s Quest. It was during the following conversation with my grown children that I was spurred on to actually get started on the manuscript:

Me: I would like to snowboard. I’ve always wanted to do that. Maybe you could teach me how this winter.

(Stunned and uncomfortable silence greets me)

Them: Really Mom? You know, snowboarders fall a lot and umm, well…  Say! Do you know, you’d make a GREAT lawn bowler.

At this point I realized that there were things on my “Bucket List” that had been there so long that they were no longer age appropriate and that I had better get going if I wanted to check any of the items off. So, I wrote a novel. I completed a marathon. And I learned to dance on pointe ( OK, maybe not dance, exactly,but I can lift my entire bulk up onto the tips of my pointe shoes and carefully step, side to side, without falling down. Pouring myself into a body suit and tutu is another thing altogether.)

I have a lot of sympathy with the idea of things no longer being age appropriate. My knees aren’t what they used to be. However, I’ve found that encroaching mortality is a fabulous inspiration for focusing in on the right things and discarding the used-to-be-right things. Now, on to your book. How did you come up with the name Quintspinner?

The title came about after reading about the origins of “spinner rings”, which are readily available even today throughout tropical locales. They are fashioned after Tibetan prayer wheels, which were apparently used in meditation and manifestation rituals long ago. Spinning objects are thought to promote higher vibrations, offering the user a clearer path to bringing about healing, powers of prophesy and so on. (I suppose rings are much more portable than items carved from stone). I couldn’t decide which power to include in my story, so I thought, “Why not include several?” Again I researched, this time numbers and found that the number “5″ was, and still is, considered to be a very powerful number – 5 oceans, 5 continents, 5 senses, 5 planets visible to the naked eye, many religious references to 5 – so “Quint”, sounding much more exotic than “Five”, became my choice and I invented the term, “Quintspinner”.

That’s a great explanation, and certainly adds a layer of richness, in addition to just sounding poetic. Can you give us a rundown of the plot?

Quintspinner – A Pirate’s Quest takes place in the early 1700′s. A young woman, Tess Willoughby witnesses a murder and comes into possession of a legendary Spinner ring, which leads her to uncover a shocking family secret. Even so, she never imagines, as a direct result of being the ring’s new owner, that she will find herself on a merchant ship bound for the pirate-infested waters of the West Indies and forcibly betrothed to the murderer who covets her ring. Longing to be with William, a press-ganged sailor, and with her life in jeopardy, she must make decisions – dangerous, heartbreaking decisions – as she is faced with her Quintspinner legacy. A spin of her ring could result in her freedom … or her death. It’s a tale of pirates, secrets, magic, betrayal, and romance on the seas of the West Indies.

An editor that I worked with briefly, suggested that I drop Tess’s age to 16 or 17, so it would be a Young Adult contender, as well as being geared towards an adult audience. William is a strong secondary character, and I have heard from several male readers that they liked this. It seems to fit into several genre categories, as reviewers have described it as an adventure, a fantasy, an historical novel, and a romance. When I was writing, I didn’t have any particular genre in mind – I was just wanting to write a fun and compelling story – so I have probably broken several accepted rules of genre writing. ( And hopefully have therefore provided a satisfying read for a wide variety of readers).

How’s the response been so far for the book?

So far Quintspinner has been shortlisted for the 2010 Sask Book Awards for Best First Book, placed First for Reader Views Best Historical, and thereby earning the Tyler R. Tichelaar Best Historical Award, placed Third for Reader Views Best Young Adult, been nominated as a finalist for the Montaigne Medal, placed Third for Creative Arts Council Book Awards, earned an Honorable Mention in the YA category of Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards, and has been chosen as finalist for Foreword Reviews Book Awards in Best Young Adult category. I’m a bit in awe over this but absolutely thrilled and relieved to have the affirmation that it’s not just my friends and family who like my book. There are obviously many armchair adventure-seekers out there and I’m so honoured ( there’s that Canadian spelling again) to have them along for my imagination’s journey.

Quintspinner sounds like a book that would easily lend itself to a sequel or two. Do you have any plans to continue with the characters?

I knew that there was too much story to tell to fit it all into one volume, so I am presently at work on the second installment. The Quintspinner story will be a trilogy when it is all done. Already my characters have taken the plot in directions that I hadn’t intended, but boy, is it exciting! I attended the Surrey International Writer’s Conference a year ago, and picked up this great tidbit from New York agent Donald Maass: when plotting an adventure, think of the absolutely worst thing that could happen to your character(s) … and then MAKE IT WORSE. And it’s so effective – makes for absolutely riveting scenes. :-)

That’s good advice. I’m currently working on a new fantasy, and I’ve been trying to make things worse in each chapter. I suppose I’ll have to start apologizing to my characters pretty soon. Writers learn from other writers, of course. Are there any in particular that have influenced you?

I loved Sidney Sheldon’s Master of the Game, for all of its twists and turns, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, for her historical detail and injection of humour into her characters, and Dr. Seuss’s books, for proving that imagination and short-n-sweet make a winning combination.

Dr. Seuss was a master at what he did. Despite being a children’s book writer, I can honestly say (or, rather, I’ll confidently defend my assertion) that he was better with character and dialogue than a great many novelists. The fellow who refuses to eat the green eggs and ham? He has a superbly articulated character and an excellent emotional arc. Speaking of other writers, do you have any advice for those coming up through the ranks?

Writing and publishing has changed at nearly the speed of light in the past two years. Self-publishing is coming into its own and there is an endless amount of discussion of the pros and cons of traditional vs. self-publishing. Personally I see a way for the two to have a symbiotic relationship. An author can now make her/his own platform, and test a book’s interest from the buying public in terms of reviews, awards, and even initial sales, which does a lot of the footwork for the traditional agent, helping to select those books most likely to be profitable with a wider distribution.

I am a new author and have very limited experience but would advise others to remember that we are writing in the age of the Internet so read, read, read: writing and publishing newsletters, blogs, Twitter feeds, web pages, books in your genre and also outside of it, and make contact with those who know more than you do. Such technology is a gift. Don’t fear it – learn how to use it and embrace it. There is a whole world out there of others who, besides being authors, editors, agents, publishers, reviewers, and bloggers, are wonderful people in their own right. No one has ever refused to give me words of advice when I asked, and I have made many new friends in the process.

Like you point out, it certainly is a brave new world out there. I only hope it isn’t a Huxleyian sort of world. It’ll be interesting to see where publishing is, a couple years down the road from now. Though, like I said before, there’s a time for everything, whether it be disking the strawberry field or publishing.

If you don’t mind, I’d like to steer a bit farther off-shore from books and ask some other questions. I always love asking about food. I love the creativity of food and cooking (for those of you wondering, I’m as thin as a rail). It’s fairly similar to writing a story in my estimation: setting, characters, details, timing – it’s all there. Anyway, do you have a favorite meal?

My favourite meal would have to be a cardiologist’s nightmare: T-bone steak barbequed to medium rare, baked potato and pan-fried mushrooms smothered in sour cream, butter, and salt, steamed asparagus sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice (see, it’s not all bad) and strawberry shortcake with real sweetened whipped cream for dessert. OK, now I’m salivating in spite of my chest pains…

That sounds superb. I like the lemon juice touch. It’s interesting how even a tiny touch of lemon juice can greatly modify the flavor of a dish. Speaking of cooking, do you have any interesting hobbies, or the like, that you care to share?

I am a founding member and actor and director of Darkhorse Community Theatre. We do an annual dinner theatre production that draws audiences from as far away as large cities such as Calgary and Vancouver. Nevertheless, when you can make a hometown audience laugh and even more so, cry, you know that they aren’t just seeing their friends up there on stage – they are totally into the characters and the story! I guess being involved with live drama helps with building characters and plot when writing fiction.

Still in the creative vein, I play piano, guitar, and djembe (African drum, shaped like an hourglass), I have built a three foot high raised stone patio onto the front of our house, and my husband and I renovate old houses as a hobby (I can drywall and shingle with the best of ‘em).

I’m trying to steer clear of using the word “wow,” but I’m afraid I just used it. I think you’re following more of the da Vinci model, rather than the niche creative specialist. That’s marvelous. I’m a firm believer in the idea that creativity easily flows into a multitude of channels, if given the chance and encouragement. You’ve obviously proven that for yourself.

Well, I think I’ve taken up enough of your time. Before you head back to the colder climate of Canada, let’s circle back to your writing. Do you have any goals you hope to achieve?

It is my hope that my readers will be transported into an imagined world of adventure, leaving the humdrum and worries of everyday life behind, if only for a short time. If my stories can make their stresses take a back seat, then I am satisfied. Of course, wealth, fame, and obscene amounts of adulation would be nice options, too.

Pirate wealth, preferably. Minus the cannon-fire and walking the plank, of course. Thanks again, Dianne, for stopping by. I wish you the best of luck with your writing and all your other creative endeavors.

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Dianne Greenlay maintains a website where you can learn more about her writing. Also, you can visit her at her blog, Write on the Way to Somewhere, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook. Her book, Quintspinner – A Pirate’s Quest, is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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One Response to Author Interview: Dianne Greenlay

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