Friday, June 12, 2020

Interview with writer Donna Koros Stramella

Today’s special guest is Donna Koros Stramella. She’s chatting with me about her new women’s fiction, Coffee Killed My Mother.

Donna Koros Stramella is a writer from Maryland whose fiction and nonfiction pieces have been published in Adelaide Literary Magazine, Scarlet Leaf Review, Columbia Magazine, and the Baltimore Sun. She is a previous award-winning journalist and a graduate of the University of Tampa MFA in Creative Writing. Currently, she is working on her second novel, Among the Bones.

Welcome, Donna. Please tell us about your current release.
Coffee Killed My Mother explores the story of an unusual mother-daughter relationship, told through the eyes of an anxious 17-year-old Anna Lee. Her life is stuck, largely because of her strained relationship with her mother Jacqueline, a quirky recovering alcoholic who is now addicted to coffee. The two take off on a trip to explore independent coffee shops along the east coast, but Jacqueline's real agenda is an opportunity to reveal a series of disturbing family secrets to Anna Lee--a twin who died in utero, a fatal drunk driving accident, an abusive parent, and her mother's betrayal of a woman Anna Lee holds dear.

What inspired you to write this book?
As a mother and a daughter, I’ve always been interested in the special relationships between mothers and daughters. I wanted to examine how the relationship between two wildly different individuals would be affected by long-held secrets.

Excerpt from Coffee Killed My Mother:
In this excerpt, a young Anna Lee uncovers one of her mother’s secrets:

When I was 11, the city of Northern Beach started curbside recycling. The earth-conscious residents of the town no longer had to separate their plastic and paper and tin, then drive it to the large white bins near the library. After my mother’s nail snagged on the corner of the plastic, the curbside responsibility was passed to me.

On the first night of my duty, I discovered a secret. As I pulled the heavy square bin behind me, I heard the sound of rolling, then glass clinking beneath the flattened cereal boxes and newspapers. At the end of our two-car-length driveway at the curb beside the mailbox, the street light and crescent moon gave me just enough light. I moved the cardboard and paper back to see what made the sound. Wine bottles. A dozen or more. Maybe my mother had saved them up, I’d reasoned. Maybe she’d planned to do something with them and had them stashed away. I never saw her drink wine, although occasionally, I’d see a wine glass in the sink or drying on a countertop towel.

The next week, I figured the bin would be lighter. But it wasn’t. Each week at the mailbox, I’d get a sick feeling in my stomach as I pulled back the stuff on top. And there they were. Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen wine bottles. The most was eighteen. I turned them over to read the labels: Pino Noir and Pino Grigio. Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon. And lots of Sangria. The yellow price stickers revealed my mother’s top criteria for her selections—nothing over $10.

Week after week, I’d drag that bright yellow bin to the curb, the bottles rolling around like bowling pins that had been knocked down.

What exciting story are you working on next?
I’m about one-third into my next novel, Among the Bones. Set in the Pacific Northwest, the story features a group of diverse residents in a wildly unusual community, all looking to escape something from their past. There’s a series of murders that simmer in the background of the story, but ultimately move to the forefront.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I wrote for a couple school newspapers, starting in grade school. I think the first time I saw my story in print, I knew I was a “real” writer. Although I’ve been blessed to work as a writer for most of my career, the title “author” eluded me until this year.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I worked full time while writing my first book, which was a challenge. I started the book during the last term of my MFA program at University of Tampa. My time in that program not only greatly improved my writing, but also helped me develop a dedicated writing schedule. Now I’m only working part-time, which gives me more time for the new novel. Since my “outside” work has also been as a writer, I sometimes found it hard to sit down and dedicate myself to creative work after I’d been writing all day at my job.

On the days that I’m writing, I get up early and work in a quiet space that I’ve set aside. On a good day, I’ll write for a full eight hours. On a day when the warm weather and sunshine is calling me outside, I’ll work for a minimum of three hours. I write most weekdays and sometimes on Saturday.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I have a couple of candles on my desk from my daughters—one labeled “rich coffee aroma” and the other “bookstore.” Even if I don’t light them, I’ll open the lid and sniff when I need a bit of inspiration! When I’m really stuck, I’ll take a short walk and send up a prayer. If the candle doesn’t work, the prayer always does!

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
For as long as I remember, I wanted to be a writer, so much so that when I was young, I asked Santa for a desk and a typewriter—which I received. I’ve always had an active imagination, always thinking—what if this situation had gone in another direction? My nightly dreams are colorful and vivid and I’m often jotting them down when I wake. I see those dreams as gifts from above.

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Like most authors whose books were recently published, I’ve had to switch gears. My marketing strategy was based mainly on events in New York City, Baltimore, and DC. I’ve had to transition quickly and have been so fortunate to receive support from others—especially bloggers (thank you, Lisa!). I’ve had reviewers suggest my book is a good fit for book clubs, and I’d love to provide discussion questions and “zoom in” to virtual meetings.

It’s a great time to read something new, and I’ve been opening myself to read new genres. I try to do my part by promoting the work of other authors on my FB page. It’s a big supportive community, and I’m glad to be a part of it!


Thanks for being here today, Donna!

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