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ADELAIDE Independent Monthly Literary Magazine / Revista Literária Independente Mensal, New York / Lisboa, Online Edition  

 

 

 

 

 

DONNA STRAMELLA
author of the COFFEE KILLED MY MOTHER

 

 

 

1.Tell us a bit about yourself – something that we will not find in the official author’s bio?

Deciding what I wanted to do for a living was easy. As a young child, Santa brought me a small desk and a manual typewriter—best Christmas ever! In grade school Sister Madeline Cecilia encouraged my writing, and I later became co-editor of the school newspaper. I knew I was on my way! I spent the majority of my career as a writer—government communicator, video scriptwriter, journalist—but the title “author” evaded me until this year.

2. Do you remember what was your first story (article, essay, or poem) about and when did you write it?

I don’t remember the first story, but I do remember a number of memorable subjects. As a journalist, I was honored to bring the stories of others to life, including a Holocaust survivor who spoke to middle school students about the importance of inclusion. I’ve also published some short pieces about strong women in my family who influenced me, especially my grandmothers Josie and Lilly. I came to know them more deeply when I wrote their stories.

3. What is the title of your latest book and what inspired it?

The title of my novel, Coffee Killed My Mother, actually came to me before the storyline. I’m a serious coffee lover, and one day I was making a drive-thru stop for a cup and a car nearly hit me. My daughters were with me and one of them said, “Coffee is going to kill you, Mom” and it stuck in my mind as an interesting book title. The book is primarily about a mother-daughter relationship, although quite unlike the relationships I’ve had as a daughter and a mother. In the book, I wanted to explore the dynamic of two vastly different personalities and the impact of long-held family secrets.

4. How long did it take you to write your latest work and how fast do you write (how many words daily)?

I wrote the first chapter of my book while finishing my MFA in Creative Writing at University of Tampa. My mentor John Capouya gave me some encouraging feedback, so I continued. The book took about a year for the first draft and another year for rewrites. I aim for a writing pace of 20 pages a month.

5. Do you have any unusual writing habits?

I like to change the settings where I work. My husband is in multiple bands that all practice at the house, so the quietest location is a converted bedroom that I’ve taken over as a writing room. When the weather is nice (Maryland spring, summer, and fall are lovely), I like to write outside. Laptops are wonderfully portability. The sunroom is also one of my favorite places to work.

6. Is writing the only form of artistic expression that you utilize, or is there more to your creativity than just writing?

I spent a chunk of my career as a video writer/producer so I still dabble with one or two charity projects each year. With a musical husband, I decided I should take up an instrument, so I learned a few (mostly Beatle’s) songs on the ukulele and decided it wasn’t as easy as I thought!

7. Authors and books that have influenced your writings?

Growing up, I read the classics like Steinbeck, Hemingway, and the Bronte sisters. Some of my current favorite authors are Tim O’Brien, Elizabeth Strout, and Coleson Whitehead (who was a guest reader/teacher at my MFA program). My taste in books is pretty eclectic, but recent reads that influenced me in different ways are Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Where the Crawdads Sing, and Little Fires Everywhere. I wasn’t so much inspired, but rather intimidated by All the Light We Cannot See. Anthony Doerr’s writing is precise, purposeful, and lyrical. No wonder he won the Pulitzer.

8. What are you working on right now? Anything new cooking in the wordsmith’s kitchen?

I’m about 90 pages into my next novel, Among the Bones. The book is set in a unique community in the Pacific Northwest. The story explores each resident along with the relationships that grow between neighbors. There’s a mystery that starts in the background, but continues to grow until it reaches the forefront.

9. Did you ever think about the profile of your readers? What do you think – who reads and who should read your books?

The demographic for Coffee Killed My Mother is largely female, ages 45 and over. Although I’ve heard from several men who said the book gave them a new perspective on their own mothers. Some of my readers identify with the mother, Jacqueline, while others identify with the daughter, Anna Lee. But more often, readers tell me they relate to both characters--at different stages in their own lives.

10. Do you have any advice for new writers/authors?

Have a plan, but don’t be afraid to deviate from your plan. I start with an outline, but at some point the story should have wings to exist on its own. Don’t be surprised when the story takes you to an unexpected place.

11. What is the best advice (about writing) you have ever heard?

Do something everyday to elevate your writing. That could be writing itself, but could also be listening to a craft podcast, exploring a new writing technique, talking to a fellow writer, or reading/analyzing the works of others. Another piece of advice actually came from a documentary film-school teacher—make people laugh before you make them cry. I’ve tried to use that approach both in creating videos and books. Laughter tends to be an easier emotion to draw out. Once the reader is in touch with their emotional state, they’ll feel both the happiness and the sadness more deeply.

12. How many books do you read annually and what are you reading now? What is your favorite literary genre?

Typically, I have a couple of books going at one time, and I average 2-3 a month. Although in the summer, I’ll  breeze through a couple books a week because I love to read outdoors. I recently finished Telling Sonny, a lovely, engaging book by another Adelaide author, Elizabeth Gauffreau. I’m just finishing The Paris Wife, which is equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking. It’s a must for Hemingway fans, and author Paula McLain is absolutely brilliant. My favorite genre is upmarket fiction, which falls somewhere between literary and commercial fiction.

13. What do you deem the most relevant about your writing? What is the most important to be remembered by readers?

I strive to create realistic, complicated characters. We are all flawed people, and I hope the reader finds that in my characters. I also aspire, in some small way, to help readers see their own relationships in a new way.

14. What is your opinion about the publishing industry today and about the ways authors can best fit into the new trends?

I think more people have a voice due to independent publishers and even self-publishing. I see that as a good thing. But it’s still important that writers present their best voice possible, to distinguish themselves in some way from the rest of the market.

15. What are you doing when you’re not writing?

I still do some consulting work and volunteer in my community. My husband and I enjoy both international and domestic travel, and we’re close to checking off all 50 states, with Montana and North Dakota left on the list. We’re enthusiastic hikers. I listen to a lot of live music—my husband’s bands and others.

Relationships are important to me, so I love spending time with all my loved ones—my husband; strong, independent daughters and son-in-law; my sisters; other family members; and the most incredible group of friends. We’re currently in the midst of unusual times that necessitate quarantine. I miss my walks/talks and conversations over coffee, but I’m thankful for virtual group chats and long phone conversations. Maybe this situation will help us all be even more grateful for the relationships in our lives.

 

 

 

     
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