Interview: Donna Migliaccio

Donna Migliaccio, familiar to AWers as mrsmig, is a professional stage actress with credits that include Broadway, National Tours and prominent regional theaters. As a writer, Donna Migliaccio’s short work is featured in the anthologies Medusa At The Morgue and The Art Of Losing. She has just re-published Kinglet, the first novel in her epic fantasy sequence The Gemeta Stone. She kindly set aside some time for an Absolute Write interview.

What’s your elevator pitch for Kinglet? (Or for the Gemeta Stone books as a set)?

A gentle young prince must recover his courage and his family’s legendary talisman to free his kingdom from a powerful magician.

Man, that seems so . . . bald. The overarching theme is about how Kristan Gemeta has to learn to balance his compassionate nature against the sometimes terrible things he has to do to achieve his goal. It’s about his external conflict with the bad guy, yes — but his internal conflict is just as vital to the story.

Did you have a playlist for Kinglet (Or for the entire Gemeta Stone sequence)?

I had a playlist for the first couple of books in the series that was heavily Celtic, but as the series progressed that playlist has spread into other genres: a lot of world and ambient music, or more recently, no music at all. I find I can delve into the story without needing a “score” now.

Were there any surprises for you as you wrote Kinglet? Character developments or plot twists that you didn’t expect?

The character of Heather Demitt was the biggest surprise. I conceived her as the love interest for the main character, but she was so interesting that she developed into a co-MC. She’s the yin to Kristan’s yang: impulsive, outgoing and hopeful, compared to his more introspective and less self-assured character.

I was also a bit taken aback at how dark the story got. At its heart it’s still a story of hope, but the ordeals the characters, especially Kristan, have to endure . . . well, my mother, upon reading the third book, said “Isn’t this poor guy ever going to catch a break?” (The answer was “yes, but it takes a while.”)

Kinglet is the first book in the five-book Gemeta Stone series. Did you start out intending to write a series?

Well, I certainly didn’t think it was going extend through five books (plus a prequel)! I thought I’d have a trilogy, maybe.

You originally sold the rights for The Gemeta Stone books to a small publisher, and you’ve recently regained your rights and are republishing as your own publisher. What advice can you offer other authors who have decided to self-publish after regaining their rights?

I’m still learning the self-publishing game myself, so I’m really not in a position to advise others — but the one thing I’ve learned is that you have to be patient. It takes time to gain traction, and without the marketing and promotional advantages a good trade publisher can provided (and I emphasize the word “good”), the onus is on you and you alone to get the word out there about your books. Do what you can to promote, but remember that your primary job is to write.

What’s your writing process like?

I’m slow and meticulous. If I produce a thousand words a day, that’s big progress for me, but the result is closer to a second or third draft than a first draft. I’ve never been able to just spew words onto the page and say “I’ll fix it later.” The spelling, punctuation, grammar and construction all have to be correct, and the paragraph as polished as I can make it, before I can move on. If I get bogged down, I’ll write out of sequence. And I always try to make myself stop for the day when I want to keep going — that way I’m eager to begin again the next day.

What’s your writing environment like (your work area and tools of choice)?

I prefer to write at my desk, on a full-sized computer, but I also have a tablet that I’ll carry with me to rehearsals or keep backstage during performances so I can write during my downtime.

You’re also an accomplished professional actor; how do you see your two careers influencing each other?

They’re both about telling a story, aren’t they? About motivating a character’s actions; about finding the truth in what they say and do. As a result of my stage work, I think I’ve developed both a good sense of pacing and an ear for dialogue, and as a writer, I’m able to flesh out a character’s backstory and give it some extra veracity.

From the popular Foxy Visitors thread on Absolute Write, I know you set up some trail cams and have gotten some wonderful shots and video of foxes. How did that start?

I had been in NYC for almost all of 2017, understudying Patti LuPone on Broadway in the musical WAR PAINT. When the show closed in November I was exhausted from the whole experience, frustrated with my then-publisher and burned out on my writing. I went home and spent a lot of time looking out my deck window, usually at the birds visiting my feeders, but then I noticed foxes visiting the yard, fairly regularly. In years prior I’d see them occasionally — just a glimpse now and then — but this time I had a trio of regulars. I think they were attracted by the gray squirrels, who were in turn attracted by the bird feeders. One of the foxes was infected with a terrible case of sarcoptic mange. She was so pitiful – basically denuded of fur from the ribcage down — that I wanted to help. I started researching, figured out what medicine to provide and how to deliver it, and in the end was able to get poor little Wisp through the winter. She ended up having a pair of kits in the spring, and so I had more foxes to watch. My husband gifted me with a pair of trail cameras, so I’m better able to tell them apart, not just by their appearances but by their individual quirks of behavior.

What have you read lately (in the last year or so) that you really liked?

Robert McFarlane’s The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, which is a series of essays on exploring old footpaths in the UK and Europe. It sounds like a pretty dry topic, but it was actually fascinating, and McFarlane’s prose is both evocative and lyrical. Gorgeous book. I’ve also read and enjoyed The Urban Bestiary: Encountering the Everyday Wild by Lyanda Lynn Haupt and Bird Sense: What It’s Like to Be a Bird by Tim Birkhead. I read both of them because of my interest in wildlife, but the latter especially because I have a shape-shifter character who’s introduced in the third book of my series, and I wanted a little more grist for that particular character’s mill.

Do you have any particular favorite books about writing?

I found Stephen King’s On Writing and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft to be particularly helpful.

Is there a question that you’ve never been asked that you’d really like to answer?

Not so much a question, but I’ve always wanted to go in-depth about my experience with my publisher — more as a cautionary tale than anything else. But that would take way more time (and room!) than we have here. I may eventually do a blog series about it.

What’s your favorite charity?

In lieu of opening nights gifts for my shows, I usually make a donation in the company’s name to a classroom project via DonorsChoose.org. When I was doing a production of The Music Man I donated to an Iowa school’s music department so they could buy band supplies; when I was doing a world premiere musical in which a guitar was destroyed onstage every night, I donated to a local classroom wanting ukuleles so their students could learn to play.

What’s your current projected schedule for publishing the books that follow Kinglet in The Gemeta Stone sequence? (I really enjoyed Kinglet and am looking forward to the rest of the story).

I am guesstimating that Book 2 in the series, Fiskur, will be re-released in mid-June. I’m hoping to get the other two books out before the fall, and then publish the prequel soon after that. And I’m praying to have the first draft of the fifth and final book finished by October!

You can find Donna Migliaccio on Twitter, and at Donna Migliaccio’s Website, as well as on AW as mrsmig. Kinglet is currently available on Amazon.

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