Donna Cooner was born and raised in Texas. She is a three-time graduate of Texas A&M University. A former teacher and school administrator, she is currently a professor of education at Colorado State University. She lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, with her husband and chocolate labs.
Donna’s debut novel, “Skinny,” was named an ALA’s Best Young Adult Fiction Award, BEA’s Young Adult Buzz Book, and a Bankstreet College’s Best Children’s Book of the Year. Her book, “Can’t Look Away” was a Teen Choice Nominee and an ALA Top Pick for Reluctant Readers. “Skinny,” “Screenshot” and “Fake” are Colorado Book Award finalists. Her books have been translated into Norwegian, Swedish, Russian, French, Spanish, and Finnish.
The following is an interview with Donna Cooner.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
What inspired you to write this book?
In “Fake,” I wanted to explore identity in the online and real life world. Recognizing and appreciating our own personal potential is a struggle for teens and adults. In today’s world full of social media pressure, that search for our own unique identity becomes even more complex. I was an overweight teen who struggled with my own body image, so Maisie was a main character close to my own heart. I understood her anger and resentment, but I also admired her creativity.
Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole and why did you select it?
I knew the main character, Maisie, was going to do something terrible and I wanted the reader to understand why she took such a drastic step. This excerpt captures her thinking and motivation—right or wrong. The section also captures how I envisioned Maisie thinking of transforming online much like a superhero might don their costume to battle evil.
Tell us about creating this book: any research and travel you might have done, any other influences on which you drew?
Maisie dreams of becoming a graphic artist and it was integral to the storyline. I loved researching the world of comic book creators for this book. The vocabulary and creation process of creating graphic stories was new for me, but I enjoyed exploring that world and reading some amazing titles in that medium.
When “Fake” published in the United State last fall, I was honored to be invited to present in Paris at the international conference of the Groupement d’Intérêt Scientifique – or GIS – at the Sorbonne for the first interdisciplinary and international conference dedicated to the game and its stakes. Bringing together teachers, researchers, practitioners and gaming specialists from six countries in the fields of medicine, literature, social sciences and humanities, my session, “A Game of Social Thrones: The Influence of Social Media on Young Adults’ Self Esteem,” addressed social media and the concern with growing social media addiction in teenagers. Visiting Paris and the Sorbonne was a dream come true, but the icing on the cake was having “Fake” published in France this past March.
What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?
Ironically, my own addiction to social media was a huge challenge in the creation process. In our quickly changing world, it is hard to concentrate on completing a manuscript and spending focused, uninterrupted time in my fictional worlds. Now, more than ever, the struggle to create is a worthy battle. Artists, writers, musicians and creators of all kinds are needed in our society in ways we’ve never experienced before. I hope I can rise to the challenge.
Another challenge in completing this book was finding the fine line between inspiration and intimidation. Inspiration pushes the envelope. It challenges in a new and different way that makes me want to try. It opens up the possibilities in ways that seem approachable. Intimidation is something quite different. It shuts down the creative process and freezes all forward motion.
And yet, sometimes, they are so close.
I believe there are times I need to listen to the voice that tells me NOT to do what I’m dreading. The thing that is completely stopping me from creating.
Don’t go to that event.
Don’t send my manuscript to that particular critique partner.
Unfollow that person on Twitter.
Don’t worry. It can change. What’s completely intimidating at one point in the writing journey can become the biggest inspiration around the next corner. But, for now, it’s OK to give myself permission to say no to the people and things that intimidate me. Even if, especially if, the perception is in my own mind. After all, it is from our heads that stories take shape, so nurturing and protecting that creative mind is critical.
Walk us through your writing process: Where and when do you write? What time of day? Do you listen to music, need quiet?
I don’t have a set schedule for writing. In addition to my writing career, I am also a professor of education at Colorado State University, so my writing time has to squeeze into my week alongside my teaching time and other work responsibilities.
When I’m drafting a project, I set a goal for a word count each day and often make a playlist to compliment the mood of the scene I’m working on at that moment. If I’m stuck, changing writing locations—coffee shop, outside, dining room table—helps.
I also have an amazing writing support group who is always there for me when I’m desperate for an honest, supportive check in. We met almost 10 years ago at a writing conference in California before any of us had agents or book deals. Even though we live in many different locations across the country, we text almost daily and try to meet up in person at least once a year for a writing retreat.
6. What’s your next project?
My next book—”Offline”—is about three teens who take a vow to stay off social media for one month. It’s a lot of fun to explore how they spend their new-found time offline and if they can keep their promise.