Donna Galanti is a middle grade author who loves writing adventure and mystery books. Her new book ‘Unicorn Island’ will be releasing this week ( February 9-15 ). To celebrate her new release Donna has agreed to answer some questions about writing and books! Donna has even kindly provided me with an excerpt of her book that you can read at the end of this blog post. If you would like to learn more about her visit Donna at donnagalanti.com.
What advice would you give about coming up with new ideas and how to start writing?
Coming up with new story ideas is one of the most fun parts about being a writer! I am a nature lover and walk in the woods each day. Being in nature is where I get new book ideas 99% of the time. There’s something about clearing your mind with the natural world all around you.
With creating Unicorn Island, it was also a collaborative effort with my critique partner and editor as well. I started with the simple nugget of an idea—to write a story about a girl who has to take care of a unicorn. The nugget grew from there into a world with a secret island and a family legacy. I love using the Pomodoro technique for writing, especially when I am stuck. I set my timer and write non-stop for 25 minutes then take a 5-minute break, and start the cycle all over again. Giving yourself sprints like this under time pressure can help unleash the words!
What steps do you take to develop your plot, world, and characters?
Brainstorming ideas with another writer is a fun way to help stretch your own creativity and enrich plot points and characters. It helps to have writing peers or a critique partner, like I do, to collaborate on ideas. I also love to take from my own life and fictionalize it. For example, in the Unicorn Island series I created Sam, an only-child main character, who doesn’t know who all of her family is—just like I didn’t know my family growing up being an adopted, only-child myself. In both the Unicorn Island and Joshua and the Lightning Road series’, I include my love of woods and woodland life to enrich the stories.
For me, worldbuilding is a favorite part of writing. I get lost in creating fantasy worlds. I teach students how to do this in author visits with a brainstorm activity. One creative way, is to borrow from history and take places and people and mix them up—like throwing a medieval knight into an Amazon rainforest. I did just this with the Lightning Road series where I put a unique twist on Greek mythology. In the books, the Greek gods are real, but they’ve relocated from Mount Olympus and in their journey have lost their powers along the way—and invented a dark way to get them back. I also brought a new spin to unicorn mythology in Unicorn Island where a secret family legacy helps protect these magical and mysterious creatures.
What does your writing space look like?
I have lots of desks in my room for all sorts of books! It’s a good space for holding my numerous notebooks I scribble in, craft books, and my to-be-read pile of books. I also have 14 framed prints on the walls of my Great-Uncle Elmer’s through-hike of the Appalachian Trail from the 1960s. At 67, he walked all 2,200 miles alone. He was a fantastic nature photographer and his journey inspired me to include an Appalachian Trail adventure in my current middle grade work-in-progress.
What is your favourite genre to write in?
I love writing contemporary with a fantasy flair. Generally, this means I love writing fantastical and magical realism elements set in a real-world setting. I never really grew up and writing and reading middle-grade books helps me stay in that magical young world between being a child and a young adult. It’s a place where you can imagine anything—and the possibilities are endless.
EXCERPT OF UNICORN ISLAND:
“Foggy Harbor, coming up,” the bus driver called.
Sam clutched her backpack and stared out the dirty bus window. Dark woods had raced by for hours with only a house or farm here and there as she dozed. No one else remained on the bus but her. They’d all gotten off in big towns like Wilmington and Myrtle Beach, along with Mrs. Shaw and her granddaughter. Delia had tried to make friends, but Sam wasn’t in the mood. She’d finally given up and left Sam alone for the long bus ride.
The bus followed a curve and rolled along Main Street. All of the shops were dark, and it was only 8 p.m. A full moon cast the town in gray shadows that crept down the uneven sidewalks. On the left, the Atlantic Ocean spread like a black carpet, a wall of mist sitting heavily on the water.
In New York City, lights twinkled across Sam’s ceiling all night long. She had never felt lonely there,
knowing the city was awake with her. She could already tell Foggy Harbor was different. It looked like
the loneliest place ever. Why would anyone live here on purpose? she wondered.
The driver pulled into the bus station. A neon sign that should have flashed Foggy Harbor Parking
was missing most of its letters. BOR . . . ING. Some sign, she thought. I’m already bored here.
“You got someone picking you up, Miss?” the driver asked as he pulled her suitcase from the luggage compartment.
Her t-shirt clung to her in the heavy, muggy air. Sam checked her phone for the address Mom had given her: 1 Foggy Way.
“My uncle lives a block from here,” she said, pointing at the street sign.
The driver nodded and pulled out of the station, leaving her under the broken sign. Sam texted Mom one word out of duty: ARRIVED. With no choice but to find her new home, she adjusted her backpack and popped up her suitcase handle, dragging it along. It clickety-clacked all the way down the quiet street.
Uncle Mitch’s stone house sat at the end, alone and secluded, hugging the ocean. Its sloped roof pierced the murky sky. One light glowed in a back window. Crickets trilled around the house, creating an eerie buzz as waves lapped the shore.
Sam crunched over the walking path made of shells, then thumped up the front porch steps and rang the doorbell, eager to escape the empty night.
After a few minutes, the door was yanked open. A tall man with curly black hair and a bushy mustache loomed over Sam, the porch light deepening his frown. “Yes?”
Sam swallowed hard. “Uncle Mitch?”
His eyes grew wide and he pulled her inside, slamming the door. “Samantha? What are you doing here?”
Cool air washed over her from a ceiling fan that whirred above, and she shivered, shrinking under his glare. Then she remembered what Mom had said: He’s the only family we’ve got.