Today I want to introduce Donna Leach, another one the contributors to Leaves from the Valley Oak. She’s a longtime member of Visalia-Exeter Writers.
Question: Tell us a little about yourself, Donna.
I am a lifelong Tulare County resident. I enjoy traveling whenever I get a chance, but no place feels like home to me, except the valley. I’ve held many jobs over the years and owned my own business, but after four or five years I get restless with the same routine and move on to something new. I wish I could be one of those people who are comfortable spending twenty or thirty years with the same company, but I get too bored. I need challenges and mental stimulation. I try to keep myself busy learning to do new things. My newest hobby is growing exotic plants and propagating trees from seeds. I’ve also started oil painting.
The one area of my life I don’t get bored with is my marriage to my husband, John. We are celebrating our twenty year anniversary this year and are planning a getaway to St. Thomas in the eastern Caribbean. We love going on adventures together.
Question: How long have you been writing?
I’ve written non-fiction, reports, and press releases for various jobs over the years, but I didn’t get serious about writing fiction until I joined the Visalia Writers Critique group. Since joining, I’ve learned so much. I had an article published Lifestyle Magazine and was paid for it-a big thrill. I’ve written web contents for two websites, written online product reviews, I have a book Frightful Family Tales on sale on Amazon, and I have three stories in Leaves from the Valley Oak.
Question: As I remember, you’ve entered online short story contests. Do you still do that?
Yes. I just submitted a short story to Glimmer Train. One day, I hope to place in their contests. They are a challenge that I am determined to conquer.
Question: What inspired you to write Grave Secret, which is featured in Leaves from the Valley Oak?
Good question. I don’t recall which publication I started that story for, but during the writing process the story took off in a different direction on its own, which happens quite often for me, and I didn’t submit it because it no longer fit the contest criteria.
Question: How do you develop your characters?
I don’t do it the way books tell you to. I don’t sketch out an identity for each character from the start. I begin writing about one character and along the way another one pops up on its own. It is sort of a natural process that occurs in which I contribute little conscious effort towards. If it didn’t happen that way, and I had to labor over it, I probably wouldn’t enjoy writing as much.
Question: Why did you choose a particular setting and time period?
For Grave Secrets, those events were easier to imagine happening during the early 1900s. I think country people during that time had a naive innocence about them, kind of like The Waltons. For other stories, it depends on what kind of plot I have in mind as to what setting and era I drop the story into.
Question: What books and authors influenced you?
I have to admit, I don’t take the time to read much. The last book I bought was Water for Elephants two years ago. When I have time to read it’s usually non-fiction, a how-to book of some sort so I can teach myself how to do something new. However, I occasionally like to read historic non-fiction or satire, some mystery and an occasional horror story as long as it isn’t satanic.
Question: How did your upbringing color your writing?
My mother married at age 15 and had 5 children by the time she was 23. I, being the second born and oldest daughter took on the role of entertainer to my younger sister and two little brothers so Mama could do the laundry, cook, and clean. I suppose that’s how I developed such a vivid imagination. We didn’t have much money and usually lived in the country with few neighbors, so I made up stories to tell my siblings or games for us to play. Most of the games had a challenge or risk involved and all were funny as heck. One game, the Throne of God, consisted of me (God) judging the talents of my younger sister while sitting on the john. She had to perform a dance or some acrobatic feat to my satisfaction, otherwise if she failed I pushed the button and an imaginary trap-door opened beneath her feet dropping her out of heaven. Then, we switched places. This also may be the reason I developed such an odd sense of humor.
Needless to say, we spent most of the time allotted to us in the restroom playing games instead of showering. Outside games consisted of tree limbs becoming our ships at sea and my two little brothers were hungry sharks that we had to evade in order to get the treasure box and get back into our tree ship. Dirt devils were tornados and we were the Wizard of Oz gang.
And the list goes on. I also had horrific nightmares occasionally because of my active imagination. I definitely believe I rely on that imagination developed during my childhood to conceive a storyline now. Most of my stories include people with little resources, or humorous characters, or stories with a twist at the end. If these are influences from my childhood, I can’t wait to see what the twist at the end is going to be in my life.
Question: What is your latest project?
I decided to tackle script writing. It is a lot different than fiction writing for books because on the screen the actor must speak or use body gestures to tell the story. There are no internal thoughts or author narratives, usually. The show-don’t-tell rule works on the written page, but in scripts the opposite is true. I started one story, but came to a block in which I’m still working out. I always have other projects going simultaneously to bounce between. I like writing short fiction because I can finish it before I get bored with the story. Someday, when my life slows down, I’d like to complete a novel.