Author Mini-Bio: Donna Anastasi

I love all things small and furry and travel the country doing small animal education, including judging at 4H and small animal shows. I wrote a still-popular gerbil care book (Bowtie Press) in 2005 and, in 2008, authored a chinchilla guide (Bowtie Press) promoting these charming, engaging creatures as companion animals, not coats. Spin the Plate published May 2010 and re-released July 2011 (Black Rose Writing) is my first novel. One thread in this contemporary, urban love story is the role of animal rehabilitation as a first step in healing from one’s own abusive past.

My day job is as a user experience and interaction designer for web-based applications. Writing proposals, technical reports, and user guides has helped in trade book and fiction writing, as well as in writing query letters and book proposals to publishers. Design is a highly collaborative process requiring the combined expertise of many different skill sets. In my writing, I take the same type of team approach, providing ideas and drafts to a wide and diversified audience and improving the content and writing through many iterations. In fiction writing I use a “mosaic” style to bring realism to the novel by tapping into first-hand experiences of others and then writing the characters into their stories.

My home is north of Boston in the woods of Hollis, New Hampshire where I live with my husband, two teenaged daughters, and an ever-changing menagerie.

What compelled you to write your first book?

Donna Anastasi:  For my first non-fiction book (on gerbils), the publisher contacted me after seeing a number of on-line articles I’d written about gerbil cares and asked whether I could recommend someone to write the book. I’ve read just about all the other gerbil books out there and they are either inaccurate or incomplete. So I responded with 10 reasons why I would be perfect and shortly after provided Bowtie press with a 10 page chapter listing, chapter samples, and a market analysis.

“Compelled” is a fitting way to describe the writing of my first novel Spin the Plate. The story and main characters came to me all at once in a day dream one morning on my 65 mile commute into work. This was a first-of-a-kind and exhilarating experience – it felt almost like recounting a really great movie that I’d just seen.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

Donna Anastasi:  Truthfully for me, “I only write when I have to write.” Sometimes there is something that needs to be said and the thought of it strikes me and hangs on. Only filling my obligation of putting it to paper provides relief. Writing is laborious for me; I envy people who love to write, for whom the words flow naturally and easily.

I told very few people that I was writing a novel during the two year period that I was working on it after first being struck by the story. Namely I told those who I wanted to help me with the writing or to review a draft. Once I found an indie publisher for the book, I started to let people know about it. I was surprised to find how many people have a story kicking around in their head or jotted down on paper and long to publish it. It made me feel a little guilty to have completed a novel when I’d never dreamed of or even considered doing so.

Tell us a little bit about your book/s. What are their titles; which is your favorite if you have more than one, and briefly let us know what they are about. Pay particular attention to your most recent book and/or your first book:

Donna Anastasi:  Spin the Plate is my first novel. It is a story about a now-adult woman who was used to satisfy her father’s sexual urges through her childhood. She has emerged as a physically intimidating figure prone to violence against “men who deserve it.” Her animals and work rescuing them from the streets of Boston are just about the only companionship in her life. Francis, an unlikely hero with a back story of his own, is the one man who refuses to be scared off by Jo. He pursues her with dogged determination, putting into play a series of life-changing events.

Disclosures: This novel contains descriptions of child sexual abuse, profanity, and Christian-themes.

Are you currently working on any writing projects our readers should watch for release soon?

Donna Anastasi:  I’m writing a short story called “In God’s Name” which in a nutshell is about misguided obedience. It is a 10 minutes look into the life of a child who is an artist/child prodigy, much like child prodigy Akaine. However, rather than having parents who nurture her talent hers are strict conservative Christians. Her father sees “Hannah’s” artwork as frivolous, even sinful. I hope to have this story ready for a flash-fiction contest this week.

I am also co-authoring a book with Libby Hanna of Shawsheen River Rescue on establishing an in-home, small animal rescue.

Have you ever won any writing awards? If so, what?

Donna Anastasi:  The novel Spin the Plate has received the following recognition:

  • Gold Medal Winner, Women’s Fiction, 2011 Living Now Book Awards
  • Silver Medal Winner, Contemporary Romance, 2011 Readers Favorite Book Awards
  • Finalist – International Book Award, Romance
  • Finalist – International Book Award, Women’s Literature
  • Finalist – USA Best Books 2011 Awards, Cross-Genre Fiction

The new cover design was featured on Five Alarm Book Reviews “Shelf Candy” spot:

My first published book (nonfiction) – The Complete Guide to Gerbil Care – has been the top selling gerbil product on Amazon since its release in 2005. Bowtie Press is interested in a 2012 second printing with a completely redesigned style and some new content – likely a chapter on training gerbil agility (oh yes, they can: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G-HUFPO-Bek)

And finally, when I was seven my poem was selected in a poetry contest from the second grade classes, here it is:

The Fog

The fog is coming with grey clouds,

It makes the world look weird.

I wonder what is back there.

Nobody knows at all.

I wrote my second poem, titled “Beloved” at 47 and hope to release it soon.

Who is your favorite author and what is your favorite genre to read?

Donna Anastasi:  I read a wide variety of materials and authors. My novel Spin the Plate is cross genre touching – part contemporary love story, part abuse-survivor/inspirational, part animal rescue, women’s literature, and Christian-themed. Some of my favorite books on these various topics are works by C.S. Lewis, Pensees by Pascal, The Man who Listens to Horses, Tuesday’s with Morrie, Sounder, Wicked (the play, not the book), and The Perfect Joy of St. Francis. If you want to know more of my favorite books (and films), you can see my reviews and lists on Amazon.com.

Tell our readers what genre your book/s is/are and what popular author you think your writing style is most like.

Donna Anastasi:  The style of this book is somewhat like one of my favorite short novels, Sounder. Though Sounder is a young adult book, I first read it as an adult and re-read it every year or few. I pretty much start crying from the first pages until I finish the book. When I wrote the first draft of my story (available as a free ebook Spin the Plate Short Story), no one except the main human/animal characters were named. In Sounder only the dog (Sounder) is named. The main character is called “the boy” throughout, the mother, “the mother,” the teacher “the teacher,” etc.

A similarity in the style of Sounder and SPIN THE PLATE is that the story is character focused versus having extensive dialog, narrative, or scenic descriptions. Both stories read a bit like a screen play. Common themes are main characters that have gone through extreme hardship/abuse yet do not waste any time on self pity.

The book Sounder does an amazing job making the reader experience the animal-human bond and has a major theme of steadfast, unwavering loyalty and unconditional love. The dog and father with the great toll hardship takes on them are never portrayed as “damaged” or thought of in that way by the boy. The major difference in the two stories, of course, is that the father in Sounder is a hero-figure and the father in SPIN THE PLATE is far from it.

Is there anyone you’d like to specifically acknowledge who has inspired, motivated, encouraged or supported your writing?

Donna Anastasi:  Thank you for asking! The novel would never have come to be without extensive support of my husband Tom Anastasi, playwright and a master of dialog, Libby Hanna who let me know the novel was crying out for a street fight scene and then wrote one, those who shared their own stories and allowed me to put Jo and Francis into them: Janet Morrow, Ellen Bellini, Jon Bellini, and Valerie Baier, and those who read countless versions of the story in various drafts and provided invaluable fixes: author Holly Robinson, Vicar Pat Henking, Libby Hanna, Marta Cerda, Sharon Thibault, Jule Pattison-Gordon, my father-in-law author and grammar guru Tom Anastasi Jr., Amy Anastasi, and Steve Saisi. Mountain Ash web works for the cover art and Lee Libro for the second printing cover design. Creator of Black Rose Writing Reagan Roth, who is a pleasure to work with. And, Deacon John LeSuer for allowing me to use excerpts from his “Spin the Plate” sermon and upon which this novel was titled. The sermon in its complete and original form can be found here: http://spintheplate.org/spintheplate_sermon.pdf

Many authors have said that naming their characters is a difficult process, almost like choosing a name for their own child. How did you select the names of some of your lead characters in your book/s?

Donna Anastasi:  I love this question! Though I find that writing in general is a difficult process, I love the naming of characters and places. This is the one piece of writing that comes quickly and naturally. Poorly named characters will take a reader out of a story when either the name doesn’t fit, e.g., “Judith” for a trampy character, or it is too obvious like “Trixie.” My somewhat trampy character was named “Deidra.” Using appropriate-sounding names augments realism and helps the reader remember who is who. It can, as well, be a way for an author to honor some of the favorite people in his or her life (if their names fit the characters). Lauren Green (the first tattoo customer) is a merging of two of my sister’s names (Laurie Green and Ellen). The gardener’s physical description and name (Valerie) is from my mother who is a gardener and wrote the tour-through-the-garden scene for me, by the way.

I wanted the main characters of Spin the Plate to have gender-neutral names, as challenging preconceived notions of what it means to be feminine versus masculine is a strong underlying theme of the novel. The heroine’s name is in part from a work acquaintance whose name was Juliana Orsiano, but who signed all of her emails JO. It made me think that if I had a beautiful name like that I’d use it and made me wonder why she didn’t. I also have a long-time friend named Jo, a real-life professional horse whisperer, who is very private about her past. I still have no idea what her given name is.

As for the animal characters, Muzzy and the rest of the rattie boys are named after a boy rat-pack I once had. “Titan,” the street name for Jo’s enormous Rottweiler-mix, is the name of my pug (who is that size/dog in his own mind).

The café – “Teedo’s Outdoors Café” – was named for my brother Steven who we called Teedo when he was very young. I’m not sure why, perhaps that is how he said his name?? And I called it “Outdoors” café because my little Italian nana would always add “s” to words that should be plural but aren’t in English, for example, “shrimps.”

Anyway, I could go on and on because there is a story behind every character’s name as well as his or her description, but will stop here. Can you tell I love naming things?

Is there any lesson or moral you hope your story might reveal to those who read it?

Donna Anastasi:  My role in authoring this book is that of a messenger, passing along a story that struck me one day. I think the novel will touch and speak to different people in different ways. Perhaps when people read this book they will experience one or more “plate spins,” i.e., a new way of thinking about or experiencing the world around us. Readers may come away with a very different reaction and response to the main character Jo than when first introduced to her in the book. Another “plate spin” that can occurs is a broad re-thinking of what it means to be feminine, strong, beautiful, and “of great value.”Finally, some readers take away the idea that making it through a past life pain may be used as a strength; it may enable a person to be uniquely qualified to help out another in some way for example in escaping or healing from a similar circumstance.

Anything else you want your readers to know? How can a reader learn more about you and writing?

There is a book website: www.spintheplate.com, if you want to know a bit more about me, the novel, or planned book events, including a virtual book tour in November and December 2011.

Here is my book blog: Blog: http://spintheplate.org/?cat=8

The ebook can be purchased for $2.99 at Amazon, B&N, or iTunes

Amazon:  Spin the Plate on Amazon.com

Smashwords: Spin the Plate on Smashwords

iTunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/spin-the-plate/id455610563?mt=11

The paperback is available at Amazon, B&N or directly from the publisher:

http://stores.blackrosewritingbooks.com/-strse-85/Spin-the-Plate-by/Detail.bok

There is a free short story version of the novel. This was the how the story first struck me and how I first put it to paper. It is available on Amazon, B&N, iTunes, Sony, Kobo, and Smashwords.

 

 

 

 

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