The Tideline: Q&A With Author Donna Kaulkin

Reprinted with permission from The Benicia Herald

By Kristine Mietzner

September 17, 2013

kaulkin-flyerFINISHING A BOOK PROJECT takes talent and persistent effort. Author Donna Kaulkin and I shared many hours in the same writing group a few years ago, at a time when she was starting “Brenda Corrigan Went Downtown,” a novel she completed earlier this year.

Donna’s work of fiction is set in an imaginary suburb near San Francisco, a place not unlike our town. She will read and sign copies of her debut novel next month in Benicia, and she answered my questions about her intriguing tale.

What inspired you to write “Brenda Corrigan Went Downtown”?

The idea for the story evolved over a long period of time. I suppose the final catalyst to sit down and write the novel came on Super Bowl Sunday 2009, when I was walking alone on a nearby trail and found that no one was around. I felt vulnerable. I recalled that a woman had been raped and murdered on one of our trails a few years earlier. In my book, Brenda is attacked on Super Bowl Sunday, but not murdered. The story that evolves encompasses many subjects that interest all of us: family dynamics, friendship, romance, violence against girls and women, violence generally, and PTSD.

How much of the story is drawn from your life experiences?

“Brenda Corrigan Went Downtown” is fiction. It is not autobiography. I certainly never knew anyone like the psychopath who attacks Brenda; I’ve never been to Rwanda or Saudi Arabia; I never traveled on a posh Boeing 747 owned by a sheik; I was never a secret agent, nor did I ever sleep with one, to my knowledge. That said, we write what we know. I have been in aviation since 1984 — aviation is what I know — so Brenda and her husband are in aviation. There are other instances drawn from my experience, but more are drawn from what I have observed in the lives of others. For instance, I never had a daughter, so this mother-daughter relationship grew out of what I’ve noticed in friends’ interactions with their daughters.

How do you find time to write? Do you write on a schedule or wait until the muse inspires you?

I am at my computer by 8:30 each day to do a monthly newsletter covering the aviation industry. I spend my mornings doing that, then take a break and work on creative writing in the afternoon. I am blessed with an ability to concentrate deeply on my work. My friends and family respect my deadlines and I get a lot done. As for the muse, in retrospect I understand that she has been with me since I was a little girl, tapping my shoulder impatiently, urging me to write write write. I have always been a writer, for work and for my own pleasure. I always kept a journal. My poems and stories have appeared in anthologies, and two plays were performed in staged readings. “Brenda Corrigan Went Downtown” is my most ambitious project.

In regard to the woman losing her beauty/the facial damage in this story, what are your feelings about plastic surgery for an accident or assault victim?

Plastic surgery is a necessity for people with damage due to assault or accident, and thankfully there are so many new methods that can help an injured person live a normal life.

Why did you decide to go with self-publishing instead of looking for an agent and a traditional publisher?

I am an impatient sort and realized I could publish my book very quickly. I also like to be master (mistress?) of my own universe, and by self-publishing I could choose my own cover, my own title, my own editorial style — in traditional publishing the average author has little say in those matters. The publishing industry is changing rapidly. Self-published books are selling well, even appearing on bestseller lists. The stigma of self-publishing is a thing of the past.

Where do you get your ideas?

For most of the writing on my blog, “Donna Tells Stories,” my ideas come from prompts in a weekly writing workshop. The Amherst Method is used; we are given a word or sensory item, then we write for 20 minutes. The pieces that result are terse, alive. The workshop, called Hummingwords, is led by Cynthia Leslie-Bole in Orinda.

Are you writing another novel?

So many of my readers say they didn’t want the story to end, so there is a temptation to continue to write about some of these characters — I know them so well and love them. But I probably will try something new. I suppose one day the perfect theme will appear to me, the timing will be right and I’ll be at it again.

Donna Brookman Kaulkin will read from her novel, “Brenda Corrigan Went Downtown,” Oct. 13 at 2 p.m. at Bookshop Benicia, 636 First St.