Friday, February 4, 2011

C - Interview with Author Don Carey

When he was eleven years old, Don Carey moved with his family to the Hawaiian town of La’ie, where his father taught at BYU-Hawaii. Don is a graduate of Kahuku High School where, when he wasn’t in the band room, he could be found in the library with his nose in a book.

Don was awarded the David O. McKay scholarship to attend BYU-Hawaii, where he met his lovely wife, Kara. During college, he scratched his creative itch by participating in a number of musical organizations, including the Polynesian Cultural Center Brass Band, and added a music minor to his degree in Computer Science.

Once the responsibilities of work and family took over his life, Don found the creative itch was better handled through writing fiction, and has enjoyed working to develop this talent.

Don currently lives in a small town outside Fort Worth, Texas with his wife and two daughters. His day job involves writing computer programs, which is almost the same as writing fiction, but with a lot more semicolons.

Deirdra: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?

Don: I’ve always enjoyed storytelling, although I started out wanting to be a filmmaker. Becoming an author kind of grew out of that film and video interest.

Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?

Don: In high school made a couple of abysmal attempts at writing a novel. The results were so bad that it scared me away from writing for years. I focused my creative energies on music and computer programming, and got a degree in Computer Science from BYU-Hawaii.

Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?

Don: My imagination has always been hyperactive, and I’ve always loved reading and learning new things and playing out “what if” scenarios in my mind. Writing goes hand-in-hand with that curiosity. Also, now that I’ve lived a bit more of my life, I feel like I have experiences and insights that I can share through my stories.

Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?

Don: I work full time from home and have a wonderful high-maintenance family to care for, so I have to be very aggressive about scheduling my writing time. There is a kind of magical hour for me between the time the kids get on the school bus and when I need to start my day-job where, if all goes well, I can write. It’s usually 30-60 minutes. After school and evenings are just too hectic for writing. I also travel occasionally for work, and I can get a lot written at 35,000 feet.

Deirdra: Where do your ideas come from? How do you know the idea is good enough to write a book about it?
Don: Ideas come at me from all over—news stories and blog posts; movies and books with a great hook but poor execution; conversations with my kids; fascinating historical events. I’ll usually mull an idea around in my head for a long time, playing with it and following the concepts to their natural conclusion. After a while, some ideas fall apart like dried-out salt dough, but others hold together and actually look pretty good. Those I write down for future projects.

Deirdra: When did the idea of writing a book first come to you?

Don: A number of years ago, I was looking for a creative outlet and dusted off the idea of making movies. I researched what was involved in amateur filmmaking, and realized that the only part of the process I could do at the time was the writing. So I studied screenplays and storytelling, and wrote a few short scripts before starting on a longer piece.

After several months of work, two things became clear to me. One was that I liked the characters and story I had created. The other was that the screenplay would probably never be made into a film. It might, however, make a decent book. So I shifted into novelist mode and never looked back.

Deirdra: What do you hope readers will get from you books?

Don: I want to give my readers an entertaining story that also helps them see the world a little differently than what they usually do. I like the idea of challenging readers to explore and embrace ideas that they might not otherwise notice.

Deirdra: What is your process of brainstorming a story? Do you just sit down and write, waiting to see what happens next? Or do you outline first?
Don: Outlining is my friend. I set up calendars and character sketches and chapter-by-chapter summaries. Sometimes I’ll even outline the main points of a chapter. And then I’ll sit down and write the chapter that interests me the most. I usually write out of order.

The characters will often surprise me, and I treat my outline as a living document, constantly revising it as the story takes on a life of its own. But I need that structure at the beginning, or the infinite possibilities just paralyze me.

Deirdra: Do you ever experience a snag in a story, a form of writer's block? If so, how do you deal with it?
Don: When I get writer’s block, it’s usually because I’m bored with the scene I’m writing. So I’ll try to figure out what is needed to make the story interesting. And if I can’t think of something interesting at the moment, I’ll move to a different chapter where the story is interesting and let my subconscious work out what the boring section needs. It will usually tell me within a few days.

Deirdra: Do you need absolute quiet to write? Do you listen to music when you are writing?
Don: I do best without distractions. I’ve tried writing to music, and I find it feeds my imagination a little too well, and I can’t keep my mind focused. This is probably one reason I write first thing in the morning, once the house quiets down and before work.

Deirdra: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods?
Don: I have to admit, inspiration comes to me mostly during physical activity that requires little thought to accomplish. Some of my best scene ideas and plot twists have come when mowing the lawn, loading the dishwasher, and driving through south-eastern Utah.

Deirdra: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
Don: There are so many people who have helped me, given me support and encouragement, and helped me become the writer I am. I could easily name nearly every member of LDStorymakers here. If I have to pick one person, it would be Tristi Pinkston and her quarterly writing challenges. Her first one, in October of 2007, came just as I determined to get serious about finishing this story. The structure of doing that writing challenge gave me the momentum I needed to finish up the first draft and see myself as a “real” writer.

Deirdra: What’s your secret to making the character’s in your books come to life?

Don: Most of my characters start out pretty stock, almost clich├ęd. I then try to get the characters to evolve by giving them histories and motivations and personalities that defy the stereotype. I think this really helps give the characters extra dimension.

Deirdra: Which of your books is your favorite, and why?
Don: I’d have to say Bumpy Landings, because, um, it’s the only one (so far) that has been finished. Plus, it has tropical flowers, airplanes, and pretty girls—what’s not to like?

Deirdra: What is your favorite snack to have while you are writing?

Don: I usually write first thing in the morning, so if I eat anything it’s a bowl of cereal. I’m pretty fond of chocolate as well, though. And grapes.

Deirdra: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?

Don: Be willing to make the tough choices and do the work. It’s easy to think, “That part of the story really doesn’t work, but changing it now would affect so many things and I just can’t do it.” Make the time, put in the effort, and fix the things you know are wrong. A writer’s intuition is usually pretty good, and if something doesn’t feel right, that’s probably because it isn’t.

Deirdra: What are you working on now?

Don: Into the Wind is the sequel to Bumpy Landings. I wasn’t planning a sequel, but my characters talked me into it.

Deirdra: What is the most difficult thing about being an author?

Don: For me, it’s making the time to write. I have a high-maintenance family, a full time job, an old house and two old cars that seem to be constantly falling apart, and three church callings. Plus all of the marketing tasks related to the release of Bumpy Landings next month. Making time to write is never easy.

Deirdra: What is the best thing about being an author?

Don: For over forty years I’ve had an over-active imagination, filling my mind with crazy ideas and “what-if” scenarios. As a writer, I’m able to channel those thoughts and ideas into something that has form and meaning. Not everyone loves my stories, but enough people do to make it all worth while.

Second best is the people I have met as I’ve networked with other writers. Most of my life I’ve been a little bit of an outsider. Gathering with other writers, I feel like I’ve come home, and that I’ve finally found “my people.”

Deirdra: What are your goals as an author for the next three years?

Don: I have a number of ideas for contemporary and historical LDS fiction, primarily dealing with the Saints from Polynesia, and I’d like to write at least two of those by the time 2013 rolls around. My first literary love is science fiction, however, and in three years I also want to have a SF novel ready for the national market.

Deirdra: Where is your favorite place to write?

Don: I work from home, so most of the time in my office is spent writing computer programs. I also use my office for writing, but I almost prefer taking my laptop just about anywhere else, such as the library. I’ve gotten some good writing sessions in airports and airplanes, too.

Deirdra: How do you come up with your character’s names?

Don: I like to use the Social Security baby name index for first names. I figure out what year a character was born, and pick from among the 100 most popular names for that year. I also look at popular names for different countries, as many of my characters have international origins.

Deirdra: What is the best complement you could receive from a reader?

Don: I love it when people tell me they like my characters, and care about them and their situation. But the biggest compliment is when I hear my book kept them reading well past bedtime. That is fun to hear.

Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?

Don: “No matter where you go, there you are.” We each hold the future in our hands. We can’t end up where we want to be if we don’t put forth the effort to actually go.


Don's book Bumpy Landings will be released January 8:

more info here:

And a fun teaser trailer:


  1. Terrific interview! I had to stop while reading to jot down some notes and a plot that had come to me yesterday. Thanks for the inspiration, Deirdra and Don!

  2. Great interview. Good luck wiht the release, Don!

  3. Thanks for doing these interviews, Deirdra. It's been fun.

    I was traveling on Saturday when this came out, and I just now realized I forgot to thank you!


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