Interviewed by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
In childhood Doranna Durgin was a writerly sort of tomboy. When people suggested she put down her book or notebook and go outside and play, she did indeed go outside—and climbed a tree to quietly continue her reading or writing. Her odyssey into professional writing has produced over 40 novels, in genres such as mystery, SF/F, action-romance, paranormal, and franchise worlds such as Star Trek and Angel. Durgin has also written more than a few essays and short stories.
A Compton Crook Award winner for Dun Lady’s Jess, Durgin currently lives in the wilds of New Mexico with her Lipizzan and several talented dogs, including ConneryBeagle, a MACH2 champion agility beagle who has his own Facebook page. She also commits art, including drawing her own characters. Her next book for a major publisher is Claimed by the Demon, available October, 2013.
1) Where did The ChangeSpell Saga start for you? Did the plot come first, and then the characters? Did you see the world first, and its magic, and then meet the people who belonged there?
A.) It was all a dream….
No, seriously. It was. I dreamt the beginning of Dun Lady’s Jess in vivid color detail. I had no idea why this man and his horse were in flight, or the mechanism through which they shifted worlds and then she changed shape and was separated from him… that stuff came later, after I woke up. So I guess first it was the two main(est) characters, and their high concept. Then I had to figure out the world they came from, including its magic, and why they were running, and the people who take the journey with them, one way or another.
I can still remember the dream, twenty years later—and the moments of writing those first pages are etched in my memory with tremendous clarity.
2) Do you think your “voice,” the thing that stamps your writing as uniquely yours, changes from book to book, story to story–or can you already see themes that reoccur in your work?
A.) We-ell, I think voice and theme are two different things. I think my voice changes somewhat according to the needs of the book, while there are definitely reoccurring themes. Animals, obviously. Environmental issues—even my Nocturne paranormal romance frontlist often carries an underlying conversation, shall we say, about environmental issues. Strong women, definitely (there’s a reason I was invited to help launch the Bombshell line!). And a certain tendency for fish out of water stories.
None of that is truly a surprise, in retrospect. I am, after all, a pre-veterinary drop out (damn you, calculus!) turned trained environmental educator. I’ve spent most of my life living remotely or rurally with animals more than people for companionship—and I’m devoted to advanced behavioral and performance training with my dogs. Not to mention the horsie. The things that drive and inform my life also drive and inform my fiction, however I frame them.
3) Do you use different styles for short versus long fiction? Is this deliberate?
Partly the answer is the same as above—my voice changes according to the needs of the piece. But I do find myself much more willing to experiment when it comes to short fiction. I think that’s the marvelous thing about writing short stuff—it provides that freedom. There it is, standing on its own, with no need to mesh into previous books of a series or even particular genre expectations.
4) Has writing taught you anything you didn’t expect?
A.) It teaches me more about myself than I expected. I’ve always resented—and still do—the people who insist that one of my female characters is ME because she has dark hair (heaven forbid she have truly long hair, as mine used to be!). Or because she likes horses… or because she is a horse.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t draw on myself to become those characters in the writing. I’ve always thought of it as method writing.
What, I got off the topic? Well, I think that drawing on myself so consciously does teach me about me.
The other thing that I’ve learned over the years is that writing has taught me Zen space, and it literally changes my brain for that day. It is my Zen drug.
5) I have noticed a reoccurring theme in many of your books—animal senses, shape shifting, trusting other senses… where did your interest in these themes begin? What do you love so about them? Do you think you will return to them in the future?
A.) I’m sure I will, because it feels an endless well of coolness to me.
Early on, I had no particular awareness of what I was writing or why. Now I understand that such things appeal to me because of the sensory integration syndrome that I’ve always had (but which wasn’t defined until a handful of years ago), which is to say that because my brain doesn’t filter input normally, I see, hear, and smell things that others persistently don’t.
So for me it was natural to write stories from a point of view that put the main character on the outside looking in. Because I have a connection with animals, it was natural to find ways to work through them.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I do have that connection with animals. I think it’s a lot easier to put myself in their place when I already feel on the outside of what most others experience.
6) You have chosen to live out—out where you and your horses and dogs can walk, run, and breathe free. How much does this impact your writing? Do you write better “out” as opposed to within a city?
A.) I don’t know that I write better as an end result. But I live better, and that means I write more easily. Making myself into something of a hermit is the way I keep my peace. It’s the reason I hike, train the dogs to track at strange wee hours in single-digit weather in the high plains transition zone, and ride the horse through quiet arroyos. If I could be more remote than I am, I would be.
7) Fantasy, mystery and romance… and many hybrids of these areas. Did you fall into writing romance as a job, and discover you were good at it? How did your relationship with Nocturne begin?
A.) I was writing fantasy when I was invited to help launch the Bombshell line, based on the strengths of the female characters in my existing work. I loved it there, and loved my editor—though there certainly were some adjustments to make when it came to working in that genresphere. The Bombshells were a line apart, however—we were given a tremendous amount of latitude relative to most romance lines. Boy, did we mourn when it was cancelled.
At that point, there I was—looking for some way to combine my current (suddenly extinct) career path with my writing druthers. Pitching to Nocturne was a natural. At the same time, I was working a variety of other potentials—I never meant to leave fantasy behind, and I still don’t. I just went through the door that opened next.
The unfashionable truth is that as a career writer with no potential for outside employment due to health issues and no spousal income backup, I made the decisions that led to the most stable income. I’ve never written anything I couldn’t fall in love with, but I did have to walk away from on-spec projects that I still ache to bring to life. Joining BVC is—I hope!—the first big step toward doing just that.
8) Does a romantic thread demand an appearance in most things you like to write?
A.) I never thought about it, but… looking back at my early work, there was always something there. It’s sometimes quite subtle, and oftentimes has taken me by surprise. Barrenlands, for instance. I had no intention—!
It’s really not surprising. Writing is about exploring ourselves through the experiences of others; it’s about catharsis. Relationships are a huge part of our world, and that makes them part of the exploration.
9) Some writers branch into other avenues of the arts for their hobbies. You do performance training with your dogs and learn dressage with a Lipizzan. What do these activities give to you—and to your four footed companions?
A.) I would say I also do art—first with oils and now with cover art, although I’m always learning. But the animals are simply a huge part of my life, and always have been. They teach me about myself, and training with them gives me something ineffable and beautiful, a conversation that I can’t get any other way. It’s very “in the now,” and is one of the few things that can take my head completely out of the office. The animals and the activity anchor me in a critical way.
(Also, all that activity is a great way to stay fit! Or, er… fit-ish.)
For the animals, I hope they’re better off for being with me. Most of them are animals who have defied expectations and odds, and who have done it by finding joy in our activities together. That’s a whole ’nother blog, though!