Posted by: nancyisanders | December 1, 2007

Author Interview: Marilyn Donahue


Meet Author Marilyn Donahue!
Editiing Service: Contact Marilyn at for information on Writing Unlimited, her editing service.
Blog: Lines in Time

I have been writing as long as I can remember. First, I was fascinated by the shapes of letters, then excited to discover that I could link them together and make words. Later, I became fascinated by the miracle of sentences. My sentences! My thoughts! Right there on paper where I could see them.

I was ill for many months when I was a child. Somebody gave me A Child’s Garden of Verses, and I found that I could create the “land of counterpane” with my own sheets and blankets, making mountains and valleys where imaginary characters lived and had adventures. I credit Robert Louis Stevenson for showing me how to create believable worlds and my mother for reading tons of library books to me — and showing me there are worlds beyond my own.

Featured book: Straight along a Crooked Road
Q: Describe a highlight for you personally while you were writing this book.
A: This book is the story of a group of families who travel from Vermont to California in a wagon train. The characters are fictional, but the events really happened. While describing their journey across the mountains and prairies of America, I realized that, in the beginning, the goal was clear to them. It was California, their destination, their promised land. Everything good, they believed, would come at the end of the road, and they were moving straight along it. But the way was not straight, nor was it easy. The “crooked road” symbolizes their necessary detours, their ups and downs, their successes and failures. Luanna, my main character began to realize that every day was another beginning, that the end of the trip was not as important as what she (and I) learned along the way.

Q: Do you ever base characters in your books on people you know or have known in your past?
A: Everyone I have known has influenced me in some way, positive or negative. All these people are part of my memory patterns. I’m sure that I have created characters from composites of these. Even when I feel positive that a character leaps from my own imagination, I later recognize bits and pieces of a real person.

I come from a family of story tellers. As a child, I sat on many laps and heard tales of the pioneers when other children were listening to the adventures of The Little Engine Who Could. The characters from these thrilling tales are etched deeply in my mind. I know them as well as real acquaintances. I have never used a specific character in a story, but I have used an amalgam of characteristics.

Now I am working on a collection of “A Gathering of Voices,” a collection of family stories. I’m sure that this will be my chance to make these characters from the past come alive for future generations.

Q: What writing project are you currently working on?
A: My latest fiction project is finishing the final chapters of The Trouble with Arnold, a middle-grade novel. I’m enjoying recording the adventures of Corrie (Coriander) as they evolve, seeing how she reacts to the beautiful Doreen, and watching her discover that Arnold is no trouble at all. This is a fun book to write and something of a relief from Moonstone Summer, which dealt with a heavier subject.

Q: Share one tip you would like to give to a children’s author about developing the setting in a MG or YA novel.
A: I always “quick sketch” the setting. This doesn’t mean creating a work of art, but getting something down on paper that shows you where the plot unfolds. I always sketch an overview; for example, Main Street, complete with houses and back alleys. Often I find it helpful to sketch other locales, such as the cemetery and swamp in The Trouble with Arnold. One single thing I try to remember is: “Nothing happens nowhere.” Eudora Welty said that before I did, but I’ve adopted it as a quote to remember!

Please note: If you’re an author, illustrator, or editor and would like to be considered for an interview on this blog, please contact Nancy and let her know.


  1. Marilyn – I so enjoyed reading your interview! In the short time that I’ve known you, you have taught me a great deal. It seems that we both lived in “another world” when we read books as children. I can just see you making the mountains and valleys with your blankets and sheets! I did the SAME THING. I would have been driving you crazy with my made up melodies to the poems I read. We would have made great friends as little girls. (o;

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: