Quill Hawk Publishing talks to Donna Koros Stramella of Hanover, Maryland (between Baltimore and Annapolis), Author of Among the Bones and Coffee Killed My Mother.
QHP: What inspired you to write this book?
DKS: My inspiration started with a desire and a dream. Ever since I read Elizabeth Strout’s novel, Olive Kitteridge, I’ve had a desire to write a book about community. I’ve always found community to be such an essential social construct, and as an author, I wanted to challenge myself by writing about people in a different kind of community. While I was starting to imagine an overpriced town in the Pacific Northwest that somehow engineered a way for non-affluent people to live in a new construct, I had a dream. When the alarm sounded, I remembered a single image: tiny houses in a graveyard. And I realized that was the community I’d been seeking.
QHP: Wow! Any advice for people getting started with their book project?
DKS: I think it’s helpful to start with an outline. I’ve done that for both of my novels, and I’m already outlining for my next project—a mystery series. I’m not strict with my outlines. Sometimes my story takes a life of its own and I don’t worry about changing scenes or subplots along the way. For me, it’s a useful way to start writing and continue the momentum.
QHP: Characters and plots have a way of taking over, don't they? They don't always follow a script or outline and drive the story. How did you get your start?
DKS: I’ve always earned my living as a writer: video scriptwriter/producer, journalist, corporate and government writer. As I started to get serious about publishing a novel, I enrolled in an MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Tampa to refine my skills.
QHP: Incredible. I'd say you're an NBW - Natural Born Writer! What have you found is the biggest challenge in writing, publishing, or promoting your book?
DKS: My first novel, Coffee Killed My Mother, was published by a traditional publisher just as COVID-19 emerged. Unfortunately, all my in-person events were canceled. Through that experience, I learned to build my social media presence. Eventually that publishing company started failing, so I was fortunate to publish a second edition with Quill Hawk Publishing. It’s not a natural fit for me to promote my book, but I didn’t work so hard on my book for it to sit on a shelf. So I stepped outside my comfort zone. I’m also extremely fortunate to have family, friends, and readers I don’t know personally who have championed my books for me.
QHP: It goes back to community, doesn't it? Do you have any favorite moments in your writing or self-publishing journey that you'd like to share?
DKS: After publishing Coffee Killed My Mother, which focuses on a mother-daughter relationship, I heard from readers (men and women) who said the book helped them to better appreciate their own mothers. One reader shared, “I understand now that she was doing the best she could at the time.”
QHP: I love it when readers share how impactful the book is to them personally. What are some interesting facts about yourself?
DKS: I’ve become obsessed with two non-writing/reading interests--my first grandchild, Frankie Jean, and pickleball. I hope I’m better at being a Nana than a pickleball player!
QHP: Aww! Do you have any organizations or nonprofits you work with you’d like to highlight?
DKS: I’ve volunteered on and off for many years with my county’s Literacy Council, which teaches adults to read.
QHP: How wonderful. Is where you are now where you thought you’d be?
DKS: After retiring from the government, my plan was to retire to a new career as an author, and I’m grateful to be here!
QHP: Where did you study at?
DKS: My undergrad degree in Communication/Journalism is from the University of Maryland Global Campus and my graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University and University of Tampa.
QHP: Who is your favorite writer, and what do you find interesting about their work?
DKS: I have many favorites, but since I’m working on a mystery series next, I’m impressed by Sue Grafton, who published an engaging, well-written, and fun series of books about a female private detective. The series is often dubbed the alphabet series; Grafton made it all the way through Y, but she passed away before writing Z. She’s a New York Times best-selling author many times over.
QHP: Do you have a favorite book, screenplay, or script?
DKS: Although I don’t generally enjoy books about war, my favorite book is The Things They Carried (Tim O’Brien). In the last few years, I’ve added Cloud Cuckoo Land (Anthony Doerr) and Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead) to my favorites list.
QHP: Thank you, Donna, for sharing with us!
About the Author:
Donna Koros Stramella is a Maryland-based writer who holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Tampa. She is a previous award-winning journalist and video screenwriter and producer. Her novel Coffee Killed My Mother tells the story of a revealing mother-daughter road trip. She was featured in a recent anthology, Distant Flickers: Stories of Identity and Loss, and recently indie published her novel, Among the Bones, with Quill Hawk Publishing. When not writing, she enjoys hiking, pickleball, travel, and live music—especially one of her husband’s bands. Donna Koros Stramella (donnastramella.com)