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Donna Murray: “Never count on anything”

Never count on anything. I had wanted to write my grandparents remarkable story for over thirty years. On a dark and rainy night, I stepped into a deep pothole and broke both my feet. With months of recuperation ahead, I was given the gift of time. It would be my opportunity to write my novel, […]

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Never count on anything. I had wanted to write my grandparents remarkable story for over thirty years. On a dark and rainy night, I stepped into a deep pothole and broke both my feet. With months of recuperation ahead, I was given the gift of time. It would be my opportunity to write my novel, or so I thought. But it wasn’t that simple, it took years, not months, before I considered it to be finished.


As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Donna Murray.

You could say Donna’s life has been anything but conventional. She always called herself a gypsy, traveling to many places and reinventing herself many times. She has worked with iconic legends like Martha Graham and Elizabeth Taylor, and lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Bali, Indonesia.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

It was happenstance. After stepping into a deep pothole and breaking both my feet, I called my daughter from the hospital emergency room. She said, “Now you can write your novel.”

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

When I had my company Elan, I was contacted and asked if I would be interested in working on an Arabian Horse Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona. I jumped at the chance because my daughter was going to boarding school there and it would give me time to spend with her. Little did I know that I would be working with Elizabeth Taylor. After the event, she offered me a position as Director of Public Relations and Special Events for AmFAR, the AIDS foundation that she had just founded with Dr. Matilde Krim. This was a life changing opportunity.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

My biggest challenge was inexperience. I had written a few published magazine articles but never thought of myself as a novelist. It was an interesting journey because many things happened that I considered to be acts of fate. First breaking both of my feet, finding my first editor who was instrumental in helping me to get started on the right path, discovering two family historians that provided the information and documentation that brought my story to life, my second editor who so brilliantly helped me to become a better writer, and finding my publisher in the most unexpected way. It was like someone was watching over me to get my story told. I would say to aspiring writers, believe in yourself, never give up, and accept what comes.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It wasn’t a funny mistake, but an awkward moment. When I met with my editor for the first time, I took with me a Non-Disclosure Agreement. Before telling her about my book, I asked her to sign it, With a puzzled look, she said, “Well, I’ve never been asked this before, but sure, I will sign it.” We both broke into laughter. After that day, I had to trust that no one was going to steal my story.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am writing my second book, another I had been wanting to write for many years. It will be my memoir.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

The most interesting was when my grandmother, the protagonist, was forced to do the unthinkable in order to protect herself and her children in a final act of survival.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

No matter how severe the hardship, a woman’s power of strength will triumph.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.

Never count on anything. I had wanted to write my grandparents remarkable story for over thirty years. On a dark and rainy night, I stepped into a deep pothole and broke both my feet. With months of recuperation ahead, I was given the gift of time. It would be my opportunity to write my novel, or so I thought. But it wasn’t that simple, it took years, not months, before I considered it to be finished.

Research can change your course. My first manuscript was written before I began to even think about an editor. When we started working together, she strongly advised me to research deeper into my family roots and the logging history in the Southern Missouri Ozarks. By chance, my research led me to two family historians. One had been collecting information and documentation for over 60 years. With all that I had uncovered, a second manuscript was formed.

Listen to literary criticism. At the suggestion of my editor, I submitted my second manuscript to her publisher in New York. She generously took the time to read it and give me her feedback. The story she loved, but thought it would be more compelling if written in my grandmother’s voice. Her words struck a chord, and to her I am indebted. I wrote my third, and final, manuscript, which made all the difference.

Your instinct knows best. There were many times when I was faced with a dilemma. One was when I wrote three different intro chapters and couldn’t make a choice. Before going to print, I gave a copy to my daughter and four friends for a final proofread and review. Each came back with different opinions. This brought second thoughts . . . what to change, what not to change. I had to trust my instincts and move on.

Getting published doesn’t happen overnight. Being a first time author, I had no idea what was involved after contracting with a publisher. This was a learn-as-you-go experience, and so much more than I could have imagined. I didn’t realize that it would take nearly one year before my book would actually be launched. Before reaching that stage, I had to build a website, manage my social media accounts, and begin working with the publicity team: writing blurbs, articles/various contributions. Pre and post launch was taking over and and time management became essential. I had to establish a new rhythm.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

I would have to say both perseverance and discipline. Perseverance because I wrote three manuscripts before I got it right. Discipline was writing four to five hours per day, starting in the early morning, and taking the weekends off. I found this to be most productive.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I love biographies, from Winston Churchill to Keith Richards. I find their life stories both fascinating and inspirational. One of my favorite authors is Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez for his magic realism and romanticism. His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Pema Chodron, the American Buddhist nun, for their teachings of compassion.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I have always felt connected to my grandmother and our Cherokee roots. She was my inspiration for writing Wolf Den Hollow. The amount of good to the most amount to people would not be my focus. I would like to start a movement for Native American women, because their voices are seldom heard.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Website donnajmurray.com

Instagram wine_country_writer

Facebook donnamurrayauthor

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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