Like many of my interviewees, I first met author Donna Norman-Carbone on Instagram when I put out a call for authors subjects. She’s patiently waited a long time for her slot, and in a way, I’m glad she did. Why, you ask? Because since that first correspondence, not only has her debut novel, All That Is Sacred, been published, but it’s been the recipient of several awards! Congratulations to you, Donna! The book is women’s fiction that features “forever friends,” and readers are truly enjoying it. Author Lainey Cameron wrote, “An innovative and unusual read that will appeal to fans of What Dreams May Come (of course!) but also any reader who enjoys a thought-provoking read that makes them stop to question—and appreciate—this short life we are gifted,” and this inspirational fiction has inspired many more! This time of the year can be very hectic, especially teachers like Donna, so many thanks to her for providing thoughtful answers to my questions.
Christina: Congratulations on the publication of All That Is Sacred, a work of women’s fiction that was released earlier this year. What does that term, women’s fiction, mean to you? What draws you to writing women’s fiction?
Donna: Women’s fiction encompasses so many sub genres, but at the heart of it are women evolving, learning, experiencing, growing…. I’m committed to representing strong women at various stages of their lives, addressing from where their strengths derive. I’m reminded of a Hemmingway quote, “The world breaks everyone, and, after, we are stronger at the broken places.” My goal is to address how women have been broken and found the fortitude to overcome.
Christina: Among other themes, the story features friendship. What relationships did you look to for inspiration in crafting the friendships in the story? Did anything surprise you as you started forming this group of five women?
Donna: I used an amalgamation of features from my various friend groups over the years as inspiration for the “fab five.” People often ask if I fashioned a particular character after a real friend of mine. The truth is these women were born of many people I know. Chief among them is the inspiration for this book and the one I dedicated it to: Donna. She is a friend I met in fourth grade and she died too soon in a car accident, leaving a husband and two young daughters behind. So, while Lynn, my main character, is fictitious, many odes to Donna can be found in her composition.
Christina: Speaking of friends, on Instagram, you ask, “Which of the fab five [Lynn, Jules, Helene, Riley, or Annie] are you most like?” Can you answer that question for us?
Donna: Interestingly enough, I connect to all of the five characters. Like Lynn, I’m the cohesive one, planning various ways to get my friends together. Like Jules, I am a writer and fiercely independent. Like Annie, I’m motherly, always trying to take care of others and being the voice of reason. The facet of Riley I connect to is that I’ve dealt with addiction in my family and have experienced an actual intervention for a loved one. Helene is the most unlike me; although we do share the wanderlust gene, and I’d love to live in Europe, even just for a summer. When I respond to the actual quiz, however, I come up most like Jules.
Christina: In the story, Lynn is “stranded between the physical world and the afterlife.” What resources did you use to imagine someone who might be stranded there? Were you worried about making it believable?
Donna: At the heart of this story is the friendship and the strength of the women’s bond–through literally everything (life and death). Creating the afterlife posed so many challenges, but it was a necessary vehicle to tell this story. I’ve always been interested in metaphysics. I began studying it during my college years through readings and workshops on various topics: dream interpretation, reincarnation, past life regressions, psychic abilities, etc.. I’ve read books about near-death experiences and have seen psychic mediums, tarot card readers and the like. So, through my beliefs, in addition to the many losses in life I’ve experienced, I was drawn to this curiosity about what happens after one dies. Can they see us? Hear us? Influence us? When I decided to craft Lynn as the narrator, mostly stuck “in-between,” I had to create the rules for her reality. To what extent could she see, feel, hear her loved ones? How is her setting and abilities affected by the status of her loved ones on earth? I drew upon my own knowledge and researched further, watching documentaries, YouTube videos and movies about this subject. I found a lot of good material from those who passed briefly over; their accounts were strikingly similar. These led to the version of heaven I created for Lynn.
Christina: All That Is Sacred is your debut novel, and I love hearing about an author’s journey to publication. Would you share a little about yours?
Donna: My journey has been a “long and winding road.” I have been writing for as long as I can remember. It’s been a comfort, a necessity, a way for me to figure out the world and my place in it. In college, I took as many writing courses as I could and began to think about one day publishing a novel. I’d written four novels before All That Is Sacred, but none of them were query worthy. After my friend passed away, I was compelled to write this novel, at first, to work through my grief, and eventually to honor the sacredness of friendship. When I finished the first draft, I queried it to one agent and one publishing house and was rejected by both. I went on to another project, and life. As a high school English teacher and the mother of 3, I wrote in bursts, mostly over the summer. As a NaNoWriMo project, I wrote a rom com for fun, and I liked it a lot. I queried that for about a year, got some bites, but nothing stuck. It was at that time, about seven years ago, that I was drawn back to All That Is Sacred, then entitled Affinity. I worked on it for five years (with a book coach, critique partners, intermixed with sending out queries) because I felt the necessity to publish this book. After about fifty rejections, I got the one phone call I’d hoped for: an offer from Red Adept Publishing. Getting through the process is tough, but the reward is incredible.
Christina: The tagline on your website says “writing from the heart.” What does that mean to you? How difficult or easy was it to come up with the tagline? Did any other taglines come close to making the cut?
Donna: The tagline for my “brand” came to me during a phone call with my publisher who asked me very pointedly: What is your brand? I was stymied because I was just beginning to learn what a brand was. I hadn’t yet thought of creating a tagline for myself. She asked me to think about all of my work and the singular component common among it. I came up with it immediately. I write from the heart. Every single thing I’ve ever written comes from a place of passion, emotion, empathy, love–everything visceral.
Christina: Writing spaces are so important, and you have one of the most inviting that I’ve seen. How long have you had this space? How long did it take to put it together? Is it missing anything?
Donna: Thank you for that! My writing space is my sanctuary, the place I go when I need to unwind and shut out the world. For me, that is creating in many forms. My room features a graffiti wall filled with my favorite quotes, a desk, my laptop, my many many journals (different kinds for different purposes: writing, travel, dreams and journals for each of my children) and, most often, my Siamese cat who is my writing companion. I created this space about ten years ago; it had been my eldest son’s bedroom. I was on the heels of becoming an empty-nester and taking that reality very hard. After my son graduated from college, he announced that he’d be moving across the country. With another son in college and a daughter about to begin, I was at a low point. For the last twenty-two years, my life had revolved around being a mom, and I was feeling very empty. I thought: What’s next for me? That was the catalyst to put my time and energy into becoming a published author; hence, I created a space for me to work and filled it with all of the words that reflected me in various ways.
Christina: Let’s talk about your podcast! You host Authors Talking Bookish with Hope Gibbs. What do you hope to accomplish? How did it come about? What’s it like having a podcast?
Donna: As if working full time as an English teacher, and arguably full time as an author wasn’t enough, I decided to start a podcast with my friend and debut author of Where the Grass Grows Blue, Hope Gibbs. Our podcast addresses everything we learned the hard way in hopes of clearing the path for others on their writing journeys. It broadcasts twice a month on Wednesdays, across many podcast platforms, and each episode focuses on a different facet of the writing, publishing and marketing process. Because we are both published by a small press, and the same one, we quickly learned that marketing lies solely upon us. We’d often joke about it, which materialized into the idea of creating a platform for other writers, and interested readers, to learn from. This also presented a learning curve, in that neither of us knew a thing about podcasting. With the help of a mutual mentor and teaching ourselves, we got it off the ground. We are still learning, but isn’t that what life is about? It’s what keeps us alive.
Christina: What comes next?
Donna: I’m in the process of getting my second novel ready for publication. Of Lies and Honey is a women’s historical fiction, featuring three women, two different time periods, all consumed with some aspect of motherhood, and their lives collide based on a singular locale, a home for wayward girls. This novel has gone through developmental edits and I’m waiting to receive line edits. Right now, I’m filling out a “wish list” for my cover which is one of my favorite parts of the process. It will be out some time in 2024, so stay tuned.
Thanks to Donna for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an author or artist who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.