- Professor of Communication and Media Studies and author of thrillers with science fiction and paranormal elements
Readers! Let’s give a good, hearty welcome to Barna Donovan!
Barna William Donovan is a graduate of the film school of the University of Miami and he earned his Ph.D. from Rutgers University. Before turning to fiction, Donovan wrote three nonfiction books on the topics of film, fandom, and popular culture: The Asian Influence on Hollywood Action Films, Blood, Guns and Testosterone: Action Films, Audiences and a Thirst for Violence, and Conspiracy Films: A Tour of Dark Places in the American Conscious.
In 2018, his debut novel, Confirmation: Investigations of the Unexplained was published, called “A captivating examination of humanity’s fear of the unknown, with hints of sci-fi and fantasy,” by Kirkus Reviews.
Barna, thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most interviews start off with bios and such, and while I’ll get to that as always, let’s start with the important stuff!
If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?
I think I would like to have the super-smart golden retriever, Einstein, from Dean Koontz’s Watchers.
If I could choose several – can I do that? Can I have more than one? – and since my dream house would be somewhere in the desert Southwest, then the property would also be patrolled underground by a giant Arakkis sandworm from Dune. Or maybe a couple of graboids from the Tremors films.
But if you want a pet to keep an eye on threats from above, nothing beats a dragon. Especially if it talks in Sean Connery’s voice like the dragon in Dragonheart.
Puppies are popular for a reason, but I see no reason not to pick several. A dune worm is a very unexpected choice! But, we all know we want a dragon.
What do you write?
I’m usually drawn to telling stories where the world we know gets disrupted by the appearance of something unexplained, where something from the realms of science fiction or the supernatural suddenly leaves characters grappling with a new reality.
I guess suddenly grappling with a new reality is the new reality of 2020.
I set both of my novels in very real worlds that are disrupted by something otherworldly. In Confirmation, the cast of a cheesy paranormal reality show – imagine one of the ghost-hunting shows that have taken over the Travel Channel – gets to document a global unexplained event and its societal ripple effects. In The Cedar Valley Covenant, no place is as serene and normal as a small Southern Illinois town. That is until something from an alternate realm shows up and takes pleasure in instigating paranoia and discord.
After years of analyzing films and entertainment made by other people, I realized that I needed a new challenge of getting my fiction published.
It’s always fun to look for a new mountain to climb. But I always used to love telling stories, going way back to the time in junior high when I started writing fan-fiction based on the 1980s miniseries V for an English class. An invasion by reptilian aliens set off some kind of a storytelling urge in me that still hasn’t left.
I can only imagine that years of film and entertainment analysis set you up to know a lot about pacing, scale, and self-analysis into exactly what you like to see in your own works. What a great background for becoming a novelist!
What do you like to read?
I like various genres, from science fiction to horror, thrillers, mysteries, and action/adventure stories.
I especially like a novel that is able to balance intense, dire, apocalyptic scenarios with a sense of humor, with an appreciation for the absurdity of the world. Stephen King can do a fantastic job of this, but Dean Koontz has taken the blending of humor and horror to another level. In fact, I’m planning on setting up a bookcase where I will keep all of my Koontz novels in a sort of a shrine. I will come and worship it regularly and offer it sacrifices.
I’m also a fan of big genre mashup novels. I love Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series that combines vampires, the Cold War spy thriller, alternate dimensions, and big, colorful alien world-building.
Some of my other favorites are the Dune series, anything Michael Crichton wrote, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s work, and Richard Laymon’s quirky horror to name a few.
An excellent selection that suggests to me that your stories are likely packed with adventure and horrific mystery.
Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you.
You don’t have to outline.
I know a lot of writers like to start writing and seeing where the story goes on its own and “where the characters want to go,” but that doesn’t work for me.
Even before I sit down to write, I think about where the story eventually ends up, what I want to say with the story, what messages I will try and convey, what the characters will accomplish and learn along the way.
So when I sit down with pen and paper I will first need to outline the story. I want to get the main plot points down, the major incidents that will propel the plot forward, the main obstacles the characters will have to deal with.
I guess it’s kind of like a filmmaker needing to storyboard a film before shooting it. I like to get my thoughts in order, the big picture all decided upon before I actually start to write. I remember reading once that before shooting “Psycho,” Alfred Hitchcock storyboarded everything with obsessive, meticulous detail. Afterward he said something to the effect that “the film is done, now all I have to do is shoot it.” I feel like I need to be that meticulous with the big picture, the outline of the story before I start to write.
Now sure, sometimes scenes might change along the way, but the end result of the story will stick pretty close to the original outline. Even the characters might once in a while think of going somewhere they shouldn’t, kind of like wayward children. But father always knows best.
I’ve always suspected that mysteries and suspense would require more outlining than I do. While I’m not a plotter like you are, I do like a very high-level outline. It’s easier for me to write when I have an idea of where I’m going and what might happen on my way. Plus? Despite not being a script writer, I do like to use beat-sheets.
Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that they can pry out of your cold, dead hands.
Keep punching, but keep learning
As the philosopher Rocky Balboa said, “You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
Well, even life won’t hit as hard as a literary agent or an acquisitions editor who thinks you’re very talented but they’re “just not falling in love with your story.” Those who want to be published will get hit hard. They’ll get a hit a lot. The process is one of constant judgement and rejection over and over again, so it requires tenacity, a thick skin, and a pretty muscular ego not to give up.
However, a smart writer should also look close enough at the rejections to see if any common themes emerge. If you have agent after agent or editor after editor telling you the same reason for the rejections, then it behooves you to listen and learn from the feedback.
I completely agree. Being a writer requires tenacity and a strong sense of ego– a belief in your own writing. But, it also requires the ability to take criticism and grow.
Shameless Self-Promotion time!
THE EVIDENCE OF ANOTHER WORLD IS HERE…
In Mount Shasta City, California. In New Jersey. In San Diego. Then in Scotland, in Italy, and Cairo. In dozens of locations around the world, 20-ton granite globes suddenly appear. They usually turn up overnight, sometimes in remote locations and other times in the middle of cities in places no one could have put them without detection. For the first time, the world is witnessing a truly unexplainable phenomenon.
AND THE THREAT IS REAL…
As Rick Ballantine and Cornelia Oxenburg, cast members of the low-rent supernatural reality show “Confirmation: Investigations of the Unexplained,” quickly realize, the globes’ greatest effect is the way they make people speculate about their origins and purpose. Some think the globes are placed by aliens. Others think it’s all a hoax. Many more fear sinister government conspiracies behind it all. But each of these points of view believes they’re absolutely right…and others who disagree are dead wrong…and dangerous…and must be dealt with by any means necessary! Before the true, incredible origin of the globes is finally revealed, the “Confirmation” cast comes to see the extremes people are capable of when their beliefs are challenged and threatened…even in their own group.
A TOWN OF BRILLIANT MINDS…
Jessica Lafayette, best-selling relationship author and soon-to-be radio personality, had a near-perfect life. But she dreamed of reconnecting with her estranged father. Then an accident along a dark stretch of highway shattered everything. Instead of making peace, Jessica comes to attend a funeral in the idyllic Southern Illinois college-town of Cedar Valley.
A PACT WITH A MIND-BENDING EVIL…
After claiming her father’s ashes from the local funeral home, Jessica begins to suspect the unthinkable. The urn she had been given does not contain ashes, and the remains of the dead might be used in the savage rites of an otherworldly power that has taken control of the town.
Pursued by a murderer in thrall to the evil controlling the town, Jessica finds herself involved with an esteemed scientist and shadowed by an enigmatic outsider, all the while struggling to understand the corruption haunting this town. From eminent thinkers to a rising political power broker, Cedar Valley’s best and brightest should have the resources to fight back. Except somehow, some of them have chosen to collude with an Apocalyptic force that will soon alter the course of all life on Earth. With no way out, Jessica must find a way to fight back and uncover the devastating secret of…The Cedar Valley Covenant.
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