Danika Dinsmore is an award-winning author, performance artist, and educator. Over the past 25 years she has developed content for the page, stage, screen, and web. Danika currently works and plays in speculative fiction with an emphasis on juvenile & young adult literature. Author of children’s fantasy adventure series Faerie Tales from the White Forest, she often takes her interactive Imaginary Worlds Tour on the road, performing and teaching world-building & creative writing at schools, conferences, and festivals across North America.
Narine of Noe, the fourth book of Danika Dinsmore’s middle-grade fantasy series Faerie Tales from the White Forest, follows the adventures of young Narine, who finds herself in the middle of a worldwide catastrophe. Narine should have had her whole life to train to take her father’s place as High Sage. But when a mysterious force falls from the skies, sending the world into elemental chaos, the fate of every living being lands on her shoulders . . . even that of the Eternal Dragon. Without the Dragon to maintain the Balance of All Things, an elaborate plan to save Faweh must be hatched, and Narine is forced to take charge in a world gone mad. Before the White Forest was born, before the Great World Cry, the story that started it all …
Thank you so much for hanging out at 4 am, Danika. Help yourself to some monkey bread, my specialty. Coffee or tea?
How about an Americano if we want to be fancy?
Coming right up! I am a huge fan of your Faerie Tales from the White Forest series. I’ve read them all, and so has my daughter, who is almost 13. What I like best is that your writing isn’t dumbed-down, even though you write for middle-graders. We get lost in your words because of your vivid descriptions, unique characters, and intricate storylines.
How do you approach your storytelling?
Thank you so much, Kate. The idea of readers getting “lost” in my worlds tickles me to no end. That’s exactly why I read as a kid. To get lost inside of stories.
The process is a bit different each time, but over the years I’ve developed an approach that works for me. When I start a story, I tend to first figure out where I want to end up. The journey of the story is from where I see it starting to where I want to leave readers at the end.
Before I even start writing my outline, I do a copious amount of exercises and stream of consciousness writing by hand. This relieves the pressure for it to actually be anything, and I get to explore and experiment with ideas. Then I use my own technique of sequencing out the story. During the sequencing (my own form of outline), if I have questions about where I want to go, I do more hand-written exercises.
Generally, my screenwriting background automatically kicks the outline (and later the story) into a dynamic structure with effective reversals and reveals. (I think the key to great storytelling is in how to reveal information). My first form was actually poetry. Poetry taught me rhythm and language, screenwriting taught me story structure, and both taught me about writing imagistically.
I think all novelists would do well to read books on screenwriting or take a screenwriting class. It forces one to set aside all the details and flowery language and focus on character development/arc and plot/story structure.
When I sit down to write the actual story, I follow my sequence/beat sheet and do the first draft from start to finish in the quickest amount of time possible. I only rewrite what I wrote the previous day, and them move forward every day until it’s done. This is extremely important! Some people don’t realize the magic is actually in the rewriting and editing. The first draft is generally a hot mess.
My poetic background made me extremely picky about language. So, during editing, I read everything over and over again to make sure the rhythm of the sentences work and that the descriptive words are the right ones. Is a creature lumbering or tromping? The description needs to not only fit the vision of it in my mind, but must work rhythmically with the other words around it.
What made you decide to tell the fourth story as a prequel?
I just knew it was the right time to tell that particular story, and I tend to trust my intuition. My publisher was skeptical. He didn’t think it was a good idea to take everyone away from Brigitta’s story for so long. But, lucky me, he trusted me when I said it connected to the story.
What differences and similarities did you discover between Brigitta (the heroine in the first three books) and Narine (the heroine in the fourth book)?
Both are faced with a destiny that feels too big for them, and they are also both quite clever. Brigitta is definitely more in the question at the beginning of her story, more inexperienced and naive, whereas Narine’s path has already been determined. Brigitta is more of a loner, she sees no allies at first, doesn’t fit in or believe anyone understands her. And even though the tasks asked of Narine are monumental, I see her as understanding her place in the world better. She is also surrounded by faeries (and other beings) of influence, although her relationship with her mother is strained.
You recently wrote a blog post about “Trusting the Process” and that you had discovered Narine of Noe is a story about trust. Can you elaborate on that?
Yeah, that was kind of funny because my whole journey writing it was about trusting the process. I was certain it was the suckiest piece of suck that ever sucked and at one point considered calling my publisher to tell him I couldn’t finish it! I kept telling myself: trust the process, you’ve done this before! Then one day I was just standing in my kitchen thinking TRUST and realized that was what Narine’s story was about and I suddenly realized I could do it.
Narine’s not only entered unknown territory for herself, she’s entered unknown territory for her entire world. Not even her father, the High Sage, has any experience dealing with such apocalyptic events. The only way she could move forward was to trust that she would know what to do when the time came, and to trust her father when he said she had all the tools she needed.
You’re a talented and experienced writer, with several titles and projects to your credit. What has been the biggest risk you’ve ever taken in your career?
I think choosing this career in itself is one big risk. Any time one pursues a passion for which they might not make a living for a while (or ever), they take a risk. What I’ve learned is that I have to love all of it, the entire journey, and not expect a certain outcome. If I become obsessed with a certain outcome, I am bound to live in disappointment. Instead, I remain open to possibility. And luckily I was so naïve I didn’t realize how hard it would be until I was doing it, and by then I couldn’t stop.
Can you share with us how you try to balance life with your creative pursuits?
In the book The Tools by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels they talk about the “myth of balance.” They say there’s actually no such thing as “balance” and instead it’s more like a pendulum and we’re continually adjusting. Sometimes we must over-focus on one thing for a while to get something accomplished, but then we swing back the other way. I love this, because this is exactly what happens. The key is not swinging too far and staying there for too long.
I’ve been extremely lucky to do project-based work in the film industry to support myself financially. So, I would sometimes work 3 months on a film and then have a few months off. Of course, there have been times where I found myself waking each morning at 5 am to write before I went on set just to meet a deadline.
I also have an accountabilibuddy (an actor friend) I check in with once a week to make doable and winnable goals. We take a holistic approach and focus not only on our careers, but our health, domestic tasks, family, and relaxation time.
You maintain a useful and informative blog that helps writers through the writing process. I absolutely love your writing workouts, and I’ve used them for my own projects as well as in my writing classes for children. Can you talk about “timed writing.”
I’ve been doing timed writing since my 7th grade journalism teacher started each class that way. But it was really driven into me in Jack Remick and Bob Ray’s most amazing Dramatic Writing class at the University of Washington. It is such a useful tool because I find there is always a surprise when I keep moving my pen instead of waiting for the words. I mentioned the lack of pressure above, as well, which allows the thoughts to go in whatever direction they are pulled.
If I’m writing and I ever get stuck, I simply pull out my notebook, set my timer, ask myself a question at the top of the page, and write until I have an answer. It works every time.
What projects are in the works?
A YA novel called Winterspring and Summerfall, which sounds like another fantasy, but it’s actually literary fiction. It’s about a socially awkward girl growing up in the 80’s whose first intimate experience is with another girl who later turns to bullying her. I was originally pitching it as The Perks of Being a Wallflower for queer girls. I’m also working on a book of flash fiction just for the heck of it. I love flash fiction because, at least for me, it blurs the boundaries of poetry and fiction.
One-word answers only:
Horse or Cow? cow
Palm or Pine? pine
Ocean or Sky? ocean
Pepperoni or Cheese? cheese
Chabon or King? Chabon
Paper or Computer? both!
Anyone interested in writing a review for any of the White Forest books may contact Danika at firstname.lastname@example.org for free ebook copies. Mention you saw this posted on Kate’s site. 🙂
You can connect to Danika in the following realms:
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/authordanikadinsmore
Facebook Fantasy Series Page: https://www.facebook.com/whiteforestrealm
GoodReads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/617200.Danika_Dinsmore