The Gift of the Phoenix by Donna Cook

I’m thrilled today to share my interview with Donna Cook, who recently self-published her debut fantasy novel The Gift of the Phoenix. This is an increcibly impressive book that grips you from the very start, where we meet Nashua who is taking part in the ceremony to receive the gift of the phoenix. However, it goes terribly wrong but Nashua manages to salvage something from the ashes. It’s not until twelve hundred years later that she is able to pass on these items to three men, strangers to begin with, whose job it now becomes to protect the phoenix and their land from great evil. There is plenty of action in the story, some wonderful characters and magical, atmospheric settings. Donna has created a fascinating realm in this story which, even if you don’t consider yourself a fantasty fan, you’ll definitely enjoy.

Donna is a shining example to other indies with not only a fabulous book but also her energetic marketing. Donna has an impressive website and a lively Facebook page. She’s created an excellent book trailer too and is doing all the things indie authors need to do, and doing it really well. Be inspired by Donna!

But now let’s here from Donna.

What inspired you to write The Gift of the Phoenix?

Oh, lots of things! I come from a traditional literary background and wasn’t exposed to fantasy until the Harry Potter series was already a phenomenon. I read the four books that were out at the time and fell in love with the genre. I wanted to make up my own fantasy world, so I did! That was one thing. When my kids were little, my oldest son asked for a story. I ended up telling a story about three boys on an adventure. Nothing really stuck from that story except for the idea of three male protagonists, and one other element that’s a spoiler so I won’t say what it was here. That story I told my son was a key source of inspiration. I’ve always loved the myth of the Phoenix. My idea for this story took off when I read the Egyptian version of the myth (I actually made a YouTube video about that experience). That was another thing. An eclectic album by Lorena McKennett contains a few songs that inspired either a minor plot element or scene in the book. Music inspires me a lot, actually. A rousing section of the theme song from Forrest Gump inspired the horse racing scene between Marcellus and Janus. Then there are all those thoughts and ideas that well up from some secret source within us. The creative process is such a delightful mystery.

Was it an easy story to write?

It was a joy to write, but I can’t say it was always easy. As you know, Gift of the Phoenix has an intricate plot. It took time, effort, and a small amount of writerly ranting to get the plot and pacing just right. Then again, some things did come easily. There are two chapters around the middle of the book that are told solely from Janus’ point of view. I wrote them in a creative rush while waiting to pick up my children from school. Those chapters made it into the novel with almost no edits and contain some of my favorite scenes.

Donna and Kevin

Did you design the cover yourself?

My husband, Kevin McCain, happens to be a professional artist and illustrator. My publishing company very legitimately hired him to create that fabulous Phoenix illustration for the cover and I absolutely love it. We both work from home and share a large space in our basement, with his studio on one side and my office area on the other. It was such a thrill to watch him bring the Phoenix to life. For the curious, I have a few process photos on my website:  Having a professional cover was really important to me. I was lucky to have the perfect illustrator right under my nose. Although he currently concentrates on his Impressionist landscapes and art teaching career, he had done some fantasy illustration work previously and I knew he would create the right cover for my book. He once overheard me tell someone that I wouldn’t have hired him if I didn’t think he could do a good job. He was surprised and said, “Hey!” I said, “Well, it’s true. I worked hard on that book and I need a cover that’s worthy of it.” I think he did a great job.

Which character from the book are you most like? Janus? Corren? Aradia? Marcellus?

That’s a tough one. There are things I share in common with many of the main characters, but they also have key aspects of their personalities that differ from mine. One person did tell me she thinks I’m like Janus. I suspect it’s because Janus is stubborn and competitive, however I’d rather think it’s because Janus is a strong heroine who rocks the house. 🙂

Who’s your favorite character and why?

That’s like asking who is my favorite kid. I love the three boys, of course. Also Janus and Clement. If I had to pick one I’d have to say Nicolai because of his humble strength and goodness. One of Nicolai’s greatest characteristics is a trait I borrowed from my grandmother. Nicolai treats everyone the same. Pauper or Prince, he sees the human being behind the label and that’s who he interacts with. My grandmother was the same way, and yes, she did have opportunities to mingle with those of high status.

What are you working on now? Will it be out soon?

I’m working on a Gift of the Phoenix-related short story titled Nashua’s Choice. It’s about what happens when the Phoenix brings the egg of ash and its unexpected contents to Nashua. The magical community reels in the aftermath and Nashua gets caught in the middle. She feels the Phoenix wants her to go into hiding, but she’s married and has a small child. She has a tough choice to make. I don’t have a firm release date, other than “soon, I hope”, but I can tell you Kevin is already working on the cover. After I’m finished with Nashua’s Choice I’ll get back to work on the sequel to Gift of the Phoenix, which is still untitled.

Which authors or books are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading Les Miserables for the first time. I’m completely enchanted by the story, even with its many tangents. Yes, I’m reading the unabridged version and no, I haven’t skimmed anything yet. I want to enjoy every sentence. I’m also reading Little Men to my sons (ages 9-13). I thought the old-fashioned language and story structure might put them off, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see how much they’re enjoying the story.

When did you first realise you wanted to be an author?

I remember first learning to read and being in love with the whole reading experience. I vividly remember my mother explaining where books come from, that there are these people called authors who get to make up the stories. My eyes grew wide and I thought, “I want to do that!” I’ve never looked back and even majored in creative writing in college.

What one snippet of advice would you give to aspiring self-published authors, adults or children?

Write something you can be proud to claim. Don’t sacrifice quality. Make it a story you would love as a reader. I think that’s the most important thing, because once you have a story you believe in, you’re less likely to take shortcuts elsewhere. You want that fabulous story to find its readers, so you make sure it’s well edited, has a professional cover, and gains exposure everywhere possible. You fight for it. That’s what it takes to succeed as a self-published author.

OK, enough of the serious stuff. What are the three favorite things in your wardrobe?

Black heeled boots, a white fuzzy scarf, and a red ribbed top.

What food can’t you resist?

Chocolate. Fresh bread. Mexican food. Wait, did you mean just one?

And finally, please describe your perfect day away from writing!

My husband and I are in a luxurious hotel where we sleep in and have breakfast delivered to our room. We spend the day on the beach. He paints (maybe I can’t write in this perfect day, but he can paint) while I lie on the warm sand, soaking up the sun and being lulled by the sound of the waves. We have a delectable dinner that includes hot bread dipped in olive oil and herbs, homemade noodles and pesto, and something chocolate for dessert. We spend the next two hours on a dance floor somewhere and top the evening off with a soak in the hot tub. Ahhhhhh, heaven!


Here’s Donna’s Facebook page.

And Donna’s website.