WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO BECOME A WRITER?
I wrote as a hobby when I was young and dabbled with my first novel in college just to see if I could do it. My real passion was performing, and I majored in Theater Arts. I really got hooked on writing after taking a class called “The Literature of Fairy Tales” my senior year in college. I was inspired to write my own original fairy tales and then was eventually hired to write an original fairy tale for a children’s theater company in Los Angeles. After that I started pursuing writing, particularly writing for children, as a career.
WAS THERE A TEACHER OR OTHER MENTOR WHO INFLUENCED YOUR WRITING?
I didn’t have a writing mentor. When I was first starting out, I read Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, and I followed a lot of his advice. I read (and continue to read) a lot of middle grade and young adult books to see what works and what doesn’t. I also have been a member of SCBWI since 1999 (Midsouth region since 2004) and learn so much from their conferences and workshops.
HOW DID YOU GET THE IDEA FOR YOUR AWARD WINNING BOOK?
No One Needed to Know is based loosely on my personal experience of being the younger sister of a brother with Developmental Disabilities. He is four years older than me, and we always had lots of fun playing together when we were kids. When I hit about twelve-years-old, I lost interest in playing pretend, but my sixteen-year-old brother did not. That’s when I first really noticed how different he was from other boys his age. This book is based on that time in my life. I also was bullied (for different reasons) in sixth grade, and so was my brother throughout his life, so I used those experiences to create this story.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LINE FROM YOUR AWARD WINNING BOOK?
So, in this book, Heidi’s best friend Bobby has moved away. Since his departure, Heidi had gained a little popularity with the girls in her class, but when they find out about her brother, they tease and bully her relentlessly. Life has gotten hard for Heidi, and she writes to Bobby about it. He writes a sweet letter back to her. This line comes right after his letter.
“I hugged the letter to my chest after reading it several times, grateful that we made a pact to write real letters instead of emails. You can't hold and hug an email.”
It’s my favorite line because I have a love of real mail and handwritten notes. Another one of my books, Passing Notes, is about the art and importance of writing letters.
WHICH OF YOUR CHARACTERS FROM YOUR AWARD WINNING TITLE DO YOU BELIEVE ARE MOST LIKE YOU?
As I mentioned above, this book draws from my real life. So in a lot of ways, Heidi is me at 11. That said, she is good at sports, and I was not. She is bad at spelling, and I am not. The way she handles her bullying was similar to mine, but the way she confronts it was not something I ever thought of back then.
WHAT MESSAGE DO YOU HOPE READERS WILL GLEAN FROM YOUR AWARD WINNING BOOK?
Treat people kindly. There’s never a reason to bully, but you should especially not bully someone who has special needs. They are already having a tough time. Why would you want to make it tougher?
I do school presentations about anti-bullying and autism awareness (and I’m willing to travel).
TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A WRITER:
When I was younger, I was better about writing whenever and wherever. Now, I need more structured time. That said, I used to have a tutoring job in an after school program for gifted students in Los Angeles. I worked primarily with a group of 4th-grade boys. At the time I was writing a historical fiction middle grade novel about the California Gold Rush. When the boys were done with their work and had some free time to play and hang out with each other, I would get out my notebook and add to my novel. The boys liked giving me ideas to add to the story. I wound up using a lot of their names, but the funniest addition was when one of the boys insisted I add a monkey to my story. Well, I did it, and the monkey wound up being essential to helping my main character solve a puzzle in the mystery I’d created. (I haven’t thought of this book in a long time. It was published and went out of print back in 2008 when the publisher went out of business. Maybe it’s time to dust it off and put it out in the world again.)
IF YOU COULD BE COMPARED TO A WELL-KNOWN AUTHOR WHO WOULD YOU MOST WANT THIS TO BE AND WHY?
Well, (blushing) a review from Kid’s Book Weekly compared my writing to Katherine Patterson and Paula Danziger. I’ll take that.
I was a huge fan of Judy Blume as a kid, and Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy was my favorite book when I was in 6th grade. I feel like if you like those authors, and Wonder by A. J. Palacio, you’ll like No One Needed to Know.
WHAT BOOK INCIDENT HAS HAD THE GREATEST IMPACT ON YOUR LIFE?
Two things come to mind. In 6th grade I stayed home sick from school one day. My boyfriend called me that afternoon to break up. The next day, I went to school ready for all the sympathy, and instead, I got hate. Apparently the day I was out everyone decided I wasn’t deserving of friendship anymore. I got mean notes passed to me and was bullied and picked on for the next two years. I lost all of my friends. To this day I’m still not clear why that happened.
The other thing that was the greatest impact was that I joined Musical Theater class in 8th grade. I met a bunch of Drama nerds, and we became best friends. We stayed like that all the way through high school, and I had an amazing, unforgettable high school experience.
Being bullied was a terrible experience, and I don’t wish it on anyone. It did, however, change my life, opening me up to the possibility of meeting better people, and it taught me to value real friendship.
HOW DID YOU GET PUBLISHED?
With regard to No One Needed to Know, it was published once before, back in 2004 by a tiny press in Florida called Denlinger's Publishers, same publisher as that historical fiction book I mentioned before. It was titled Special back then. That publisher went out of business, and the rights reverted to me. In 2014, I learned that Schoolwide Inc. was looking for books to fill their Zing! digital subscription book service and were open to books that had been previously published. I did a major rewrite of my book, gave it a new title, and submitted it. It was accepted and went through several edits before they published it in December 2016. They only bought the ebook rights, however, so I took the book they’d professionally edited for me and published it in print through Create Space and Ingram Spark. If you prefer to read the ebook version, I have information about that on my website at or you can visit Schoolwide.
IF A CLOSE FRIEND OR LOVED ONE WANTED TO WRITE A BOOK, WHAT GREATEST PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE THEM?
Take your time writing the best book you can. It isn’t a race. Also, really investigate your options with traditional publishing versus self-publishing. There are pros and cons to both, and decide what fits you better.
CAN YOU OFFER ANY ADVICE FOR WRITERS ON HOW BEST TO PROMOTE THEIR BOOK?
I try my hardest, but I’m not the best at promotion. What’s helped me the most is joining groups of other hardworking authors with similar kinds of books. I pay attention to what they are doing and take advice. I also read, read, read everything that comes my way about what sells and what doesn’t.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST LITERARY ACCOMPLISHMENT?
That’s a hard question to answer. I have several different kinds of published books, and each has had its journey. I’m very proud of the nonfiction work I did for Morgan Reynolds Publishers (writing as Donna Getzinger) because it was challenging work and all of those books got great reviews from the big presses like School Library Journal. Those credits also helped open a few doors for me as a writer. My YA environmental fantasy trilogy The Juniper Sawfeather novels concluded this year, and that was a long journey close to my heart. That said, No One Needed to Know is my most personal book to date, and I’m thrilled at the honors and reviews that it is receiving.
WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST LITERARY ASPIRATIONS?
What I dream of is to be the kind of children’s author in demand for school presentations, writing conferences, and book festivals. I’m an actress and a teacher, and I love getting up in front of people to talk about writing and my books. I’d like to see my books in libraries everywhere and have kids doing book reports on them. This is what keeps me writing.
TELL US SOMETHING PEOPLE MAY NOT KNOW ABOUT YOU THAT THEY MIGHT FIND INTERESTING: Funny enough, I’m assuming most people reading this don’t know much about me at all. That said, I’ll share something super random. I have a freckle on the tip of my left ring finger. My daughter has one on the tip of her left ring toe. Weird, huh? We also like to celebrate each other’s half birthdays, because they are exactly six months apart from each other.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE WITH OUR READERS? No One Needed to Know is about bullying and autism awareness. If you know a tween that suffers from bullying, or you know a school or class that might like a book to help them start the conversation to stop bullying and be kinder to those with special needs, please recommend this book.
WHAT (IF ANY) OTHER BOOKS HAVE YOU PUBLISHED?
The Juniper Sawfeather Novels: YA fantasy with environmental themes
Cry of the Sea
Whisper of the Woods
Echo of the Cliffs
Passing Notes: YA sweet romance novella
I have short stories in the anthologies Fantastic Creatures, Second Chance for Love, Kick Ass Girls of Fire and Ice YA Books, A Tall Ship, A Sail, and Plunder, Tomato Slices, and Winter Wonder – an anthology of children’s Christmas stories.
There’s more, and you can learn about it all, read excerpts, and find purchase links at my website.
DO YOU HAVE ANY NEW BOOKS IN THE WORKS? I’m currently working on expanding my novella Passing Notes into a full-length book titled All the Love You Write. It will be a collection of three related stories about love letters. My hope is that my publisher Fire and Ice Young Adult Books will put out this new book next year. When I finish that book, I plan to work on another middle-grade novel about special needs to be a companion for No One Needed to Know. If you follow me at Facebook or on Twitter you can keep up with when I have new projects in the works.