Thursday, March 1, 2012

Author Spotlight:Debi O'Neille

In the "Author Spotlight" today is Debi O'Neille, a talented writer from "the land of 1,000 lakes."

About Debi:

For over three years, Debi worked as one of the editors of My Little Magazine, a quarterly print publication which was distributed to school and aspiring young writers during 1997 - 2002. She has also given workshop conferences to young writers through community events in Blue Earth, Minnesota; Mapleton, Minnesota; and a Young Writers' Conference at Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minnesota.

She was an Honorable Mention recipient of an annual Writer's Digest Competition, children's category, for her short story "Kitten-Sitting with Poopsie;" an honorable mention recipient in the 79th Annual Writer's Digest Competition, mainstream fiction category; a first prize winner of The Stella Wade Children's Fiction Award sponsored by Amelia magazine; and a third place finalist for a story competition through Storyteller Magazine.

Her work has appeared in Woman's World, Midwest Living, Writer's Journal, The Storyteller, and other magazines, as well as in a number of newspapers. She is a member of SCBWI and studied writing at Minnesota State University and through workshops of the Iowa Summer Writing Festivals. Writer's groups Debi belongs to include Washington Avenue Writer's Group, Albert Lea, Minnesota; RochesterMNWritersGroup, Rochester, Minnesota; the Internet Writing Workshop (IWW); and the Deep Valley Writer's Group of Mankato, Minnesota.

From Debi: When Inspiration and Motivation Meet

The inspiration for one of my current works in progress, The Curse of Zorphan Island, came namely from daydreaming during college when I was supposed to be listening. The motivation for the novel came largely from Terri DeGezelle, author of over 60 great nonfiction books for children.

Her site:

During a writer’s meeting we had discussed writer’s block. Terri semi-jokingly suggested I attempt writing a novel, plowing straight through without pausing for any niggling writer’s block moments. (This was before we knew of NANO.)

To me, using my first thought each morning or any object in my line of vision seemed the best way to combat the threat of writer’s block. Naturally, what I see the second I open my eyes might not serve a storyline well. But it would get me going, and revision could take care of the rest.

As an “older” college student, despite my daydreaming, I did pay attention. Through a variety of literature courses, I was learning about Plato’s Republic; John Milton’s wonderful Paradise Lost; Spenser’s heart-teasing epic, the Fairie Queene; and the art of writing fantasy. I was also reading Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, not only to my children, but as an assignment for another class.

Good and evil played a dominant theme in Milton and Spenser’s work, as well as in Marlowe’s and the other greats I studied. I soon noticed the thread of the seven deadly sins in their work, and in Charlotte’s Web.

During class, students sighed at the difficult language–all the thus’ and wherefores and hence’s, and the nouns and verbs and breezy style the earlier great literary minds used.

I asked a classmate if she’d ever read Charlotte’s Web. She replied with something like, of course, every kid has, which made me smile, since it was my favorite book. So I mentioned that everything we needed to understand the literary giants was laid out in simple fashion with entertaining humor in Charlotte’s Web.

In Spenser’s Fairie Queene, Una was the selfless one. In Charlotte’s Web, that would be Charlotte. I suggested that when my classmate read our upcoming assignment, if any character confused her as to how the character played into the plot, she should analyze if the character was selfless like Charlotte; greedy, like Templeton the rat; or wavering between the two indecisively, like Wilbur, the adorable pig in Charlotte’s Web.

She looked at me with suspicion, but thanked me after her first test score. My advice might not work for every student; but it did for her.

It soon occurred to me that a student might benefit if made aware of this easy, comparative way to analyze characters in difficult literature right when they are first introduced to the elevated language. If they could grasp the concept while studying the classics in high school, they’d have it down pat before ever committing to a college class.

My daydreaming dug further into the seven deadly sins as symbolized in Charlotte’s Web, and then paralleled in Paradise Lost. So when Terri DeGezelle tempted me to write a novel in nearly one sitting, knowing full well I’d see it as a challenge I couldn’t resist I knew the story should: (1) involve characters between the ages of 14 and 15, just when teens were expected to understand the seven deadly sins through required reading; (2) be an adventure fantasy with a fast pace to complement young minds (3) explore the seven deadly sins in situations these readers could relate to.

That gave me the structure, and knowing jealousy was one of the major sins, it was a given that I should sprinkle the novel with the wonders of a budding romance. See hints on my main character Tara’s first kiss at:

Now getting back to "how did I utilize the first thing I saw or thought each morning?" Simple. I ate a peach for breakfast -- peaches became pertinent to the plot in the novel. Even the day my house seemed overly quiet became relevant. Quiet can be intriguing, eerie. I used it. Also, my daughter, Amanda, crafted a potbellied, turquoise vase on a pottery wheel. The vase showed up in Chapter One and served as an important element through all chapters.

I only slept a few hours a night during the first draft of the novel. Whenever
I paused during my writing, I honed in on my immediate surroundings. What did I smell, see, hear, taste?

The challenge Terri put before me forced the need to write fast, write what I already knew or was learning, and use my surroundings to lug me through moments lacking ideas. True, I used some details or objects later weeded out, but that's to be expected in any writing. Still, the method saved me from wasting time with writer's block, and it can for you, too. Use what's at your fingertips, and keep writing. Don't stop and don't worry. If your breakfast or the grade-school art project your child made doesn't work in your plot, that's what rewrites are for.

Oh, and one more thing to help get your novel start: find a mischievous but inspiring friend like Terri.


  1. Deb, You took the game and ran with the challenge. I applaud you. Not many people would write every spare minute. I've seen the fine example of the story that came from your experiment and it worked. You didn't get sidetracked. When I'm writing, I type as fast as ideas come. A pause for breath usually involves some body movement when I'm right into a character's persona. I tend to use that to break up his or her words or thoughts. I guess I use a similar method although a story will take more than a month because I'm a stickler for routine.

  2. Hi Deb,

    My direct surroundings are too bland to inspire my writing while I'm at it, but I love to watch people, their gestures and facial expressions when I'm out and about. Sometimes these make it into my writing.

    Can't wait for The Curse of Zorphan Island to be published. Best of luck to you!