Embracing Adventure “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” ~~Hellen Keller

Visiting Author: Clare Dunkle

Clare Dunkle at her computer. Photographed by Joseph R. Dunkle.

Around the time we were getting ready to move to Kaiserslautern, someone told me about a monthly writer’s group that meets at the Vogelweh library on the first Thursday of every month. At the time, it was called Authors’ Emporium, but the name has since been changed to Write Club. The first time I went was last October. That month it was actually held on the second Thursday due to the government shutdown being in effect on the first Thursday, and there was a guest author: Clare Dunkle.

I had never heard of Clare before, which I suppose is not surprising since she’s a YA author and I don’t read many YA books. She has published several novels and has a set of memoirs coming out in 2015. Elena Vanishing is a YA book co-written with her daughter Elena Dunkle about Elena’s  experience with adolescent anorexia nervosa, and Hope and Other Luxuries is an adult book written by Clare on her experience as the mother of a daughter with anorexia nervosa. I look forward to reading both.

During her visit, Clare talked about a variety of topics and engaged the group in conversation. She told us she had started writing while she was in Germany and her husband was stationed over here. They moved back to the States for awhile but came back to Germany after retirement. She shared a lot about her writing process, which is similar to mine (I don’t do outlines. I can’t do the religious hour a day that some do. I like to just go on writing splurges) except she actually gets things done. I do too, sometimes, but I also let a lot of other things get in the way.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) was also a topic of discussion. I think everyone there pronounced NaNoWriMo differently. Clare, who is probably correct, pronounced it using the same sounds as the beginning of the words from which it’s created. Makes sense. Personally, even though I’m aware the Wri comes from Writing and thus it makes sense to pronounce it that way, I end up tripping on it when I try, so I pronounce the Wri like Ree because that’s what makes sense to me when I read it as one word. (Similarly I mispronounce the word meme. I know it’s pronounced meem, but to me it looks like the beginning of member smashed against the word me, so I hear it in my head as meh-me). I know there are some people who get bent out of shape about the pronunciation of NaNoWriMo, but I don’t see it as worth agonizing over. We all know what you mean.

The winner badge from my 2011 round of NaNoWriMo

Anyhow, Clare said she had never done NaNoWriMo, but she talked about why she encourages it, and of course I can’t remember the exact phrasing, but her point seemed to boil down to that NaNoWriMo encourages people to get in the frame of mind of getting immersed in their writing. She talked at one point about how one can get immersed and end up having dreams about the characters and thinking about them while driving only to realize one has missed an exit and that this immersion can be a good thing. However she did caution that if you write just to meet a word count then there is a danger of just writing filler and needing to cut a lot, so it’s better to write quality work than to write things you’ll need to cut later.

On a level, I agree with that. I am sure a lot of what has ended up in my NaNoWriMo projects was filler. That’s probably why I wasn’t terribly busted up when I lost the draft I worked on my second year. (I mean I was a little aggravated but, too be honest, I don’t think it was that good a sequel. I would have been a lot more upset if I had lost my first one, which I am fond of). On the other hand, some really surprising things happened in my first NaNoWriMo novel that I am not sure would have happened if I hadn’t been trying to hit the 50k word mark by midnight and hadn’t been so immersed in what was going on with the character that she got to take everything in a new direction or if I’d had too much time to think about where I thought things should go instead of where the characters were meant to.

Although I enjoyed my first go with NaNoWriMo, the resulting draft, and writing the sequel even though I didn’t get to keep it, I haven’t done NaNoWriMo in the last few years. I signed up last year, but it was too overwhelming to commit to between working full time and having class, so I didn’t end up starting. This year, I didn’t even try as I couldn’t even keep up with my blog between my practicum and the final paper for my degree. I will probably participate next year though. I haven’t decided for sure, but I am leaning toward being a rebel and working on expanding on some works already in progress. In any case, I know at least a few people in the writer group will be participating too.

Another thing Clare told us about was how she got published and got an agent, both of which were kind of one in a million shots. She sent the draft of what became her first published novel to a publisher who accepted unsolicited manuscripts at the time. An editor there pulled it out of the slush pile and offered to work on a revision with her, and it went from there. She got an agent three books in when she won the Mythopoeic Award for The Hollow Kingdom. At the award ceremony, she got to meet Neil Gaiman, and he ended up hooking her up with his agent. After a few more books, she decided to go in a new direction and contacted a friend’s agent who had openly commented about enjoying Clare’s work and who then became her agent.

The two Clare Dunkle books I own: The House of Dead Maids and By These Ten Bones.

I wish I had written down some of the things Clare said because there were some lines that really stood out to me.  One thing that was interesting was that she talked about planting false memories in the heads of readers and how readers in different countries were walking around with her characters in their heads. I never really thought about it that way, but that is what fiction is. She talked about some of the reader comments it has been gratifying to hear such as one from a reader who said that he literally locked himself in his bedroom while reading The House of Dead Maids and couldn’t go out of the room for glass of water.

She also mentioned how she dropped Freudian references into that book, which I thought was interesting. On the way out the door, Clare told me a bit about how she uses Jungian imagery as well and suggested that the more I learn about psychology the more I’ll be able to use what I learn in my writing. She recommended that I read Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle and said that I will probably be able to tell what she is doing in it. The only thing of Jackson’s I have read is The Lottery (which had a messed up lottery way before Hunger Games), but I noticed she also wrote The Haunting of Hill House which I hadn’t realized was a book before it was a movie. I’ll have to check them out some time.

Overall, it was cool getting to meet Clare Dunkle and hear about her work. I ended up buying two of her books later: The House of Dead Maids and By These Ten Bones. I read The House of Dead Maids several months ago. I managed to read it mostly in one sitting and found it entertaining. The book is intended as a prelude to Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, so I wonder if I might have appreciated more aspects of it if I had read Wuthering Heights at some point. I still haven’t had a chance to read By These Ten Bones, but I hope to do so soon. Clare actually ended up coming back to the writers’ group a few months later, but I managed not to draft a post about it. As might be expected, there was a lot of repetition of the previous visit, but it was still interesting and was nice to see her again.

If you’d like to have Clare come visit your group, school, library, etc., you can find more info on how to do that here. That page also has some links to Q&As on some of her books. Clare also keeps a blog here.


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