By Ian Walkley
Despite fifteen years in the making, Donna Galanti’s A HUMAN ELEMENT is a debut novel that brings a fresh approach to paranormal fiction. The book was released in March as a paperback original by Echelon Press. The New York Times best-selling author, Jonathan Maberry, has described A HUMAN ELEMENT as “An elegant and haunting first novel. Unrelenting, devious but full of heart.”
Donna has lived from England to Hawaii, owned a campground in New Hampshire and worked as a photographer in the U.S. Navy. With a background in marketing, Donna operated a resume writing service for years until she closed up shop to write novels. If she couldn’t write she would bike, hike, and kayak every day. Visit her on her website.
In A HUMAN ELEMENT, Laura Armstrong’s friends and adoptive family members are being murdered, and despite her unique healing powers, she can do nothing to stop it. The savage killer haunts her dreams, tormenting her with the promise that she is next. Determined to find the killer, she follows her visions to the site of a crashed meteorite–her hometown. There, she meets Ben Fieldstone, who seeks answers about his parents’ death the night the meteorite struck. In a race to stop a mad man, they unravel a frightening secret that binds them together. But the killer’s desire to destroy Laura face-to-face leads to a showdown that puts Laura and Ben’s emotional relationship and Laura’s pure spirit to the test. With the killer closing in, Laura discovers her destiny is linked to his and she has two choices–redeem him or kill him.
A HUMAN ELEMENT is your debut novel, Donna. The obvious question is: why that particular story?
The story of A HUMAN ELEMENT came to me in a vision fifteen years ago while driving to work. I wrote the entire synopsis on a notepad (crookedly) before I got to work. I shelved it for fifteen years and was driven (literally) to pursue it when I decided to write my first novel. I believed there was something there.
Why the paranormal genre?
I am fascinated by the power of the brain and how little we use. We are not even close to tapping our potential of brainpower. Writing in the paranormal allows me to tap into the “what if”. What if we possessed the power to do the unbelievable? Like telepathy, telekinesis. And what if we could use those powers to heal – or to kill? Some people like to imagine that aliens would have such powers, as eluded to in A HUMAN ELEMENT, but what if it was inside us all along and we just had to tap into it?
You once assisted people with resumes. If you were to write a two-sentence resume about your protagonist Laura Armstrong, how would you describe her?
Idealistic woman with feisty spirit seeks to harness her supernatural powers to do good. Possesses a brave heart and hopeful outlook, willing to sacrifice to save those she loves.
Is there a theme in A HUMAN ELEMENT?
Laura Armstrong holds strong to the idealistic belief that we all have a redeemable human element inside us, no matter the evil we’ve done – or that has been done to us. She believes this about the antagonist and about Ben Fieldstone, the man she comes to love, who thinks he is not worthy of love, due to his tainted past.
Also, four characters that cross in the book all grew up parentless at some point. The interesting question raised is whether environment plays a larger role than genes in what defines a person? Since I am adopted and can connect with this issue, I am fascinated by it.
Laura’s antagonist X-10 sounds pretty evil, from the reviewers’ comments. Does he have any good in him at all?
X-10 is his own breed, and one shaped not only by his genes but his imprisoned environment. In creating X-10’s traits, I tapped into primeval survival instincts. Kill or be killed. Enforce pain or endure pain. We see a glint of possibility he may have good in him that Laura believes he possesses, but he may also be too far gone for redemption.
Sounds like there might be some romance in the story?
I like to call A HUMAN ELEMENT a paranormal mix of murder and mystery with a dash of steam. With Laura and Ben in survival mode, the only way to cling to hope at times is to turn to one another. Writing love and violent scenes both come easier to me than other scenes. I enjoy writing them equally as both are passionate in different ways. Love and hate come from the same place, that well that soothes our thirst and fuels our will to live.
Do you find there’s scope for humor in dark thrillers?
I enjoy a spatter of humor in thrillers. It lightens the moment. In real life we can experience those humorous moments in dark events. I enjoy creating humorous banter between characters that breaks up that tense moment and brings us to a softer place. It can be used to create memorable characters as well.
Did you research much for the book?
While A HUMAN ELEMENT is filled with the places and careers I’ve experienced, I did conduct research to fill in the blanks. One such area, was Oahu and the local dialect of Hawaii I had experienced first hand when stationed there as a U.S. Navy Photographer. What happens in Hawaii influences how life shapes the unlikely hero, Ben. I also had to create my own explanation of how extraterrestrials could travel to Earth from millions of light years away. In researching this I was able to concoct my own version that could seem possible.
How do you balance action with the details of character and place?
I try not to write section after section of fast action or slow narrative. I like to mix it up and leave a cliff hanger at the end of a chapter, whether it’s slow or fast paced. Like white water rafting (which I love!), it’s not all excitement. You need that slow water to appreciate the landscape around you and catch your breath. I aim for that blend and sometimes it’s hard to attain especially with that “sagging middle” threatening.
Readers will naturally wonder whether there is likely to be a sequel.
A HUMAN ELEMENT is a standalone but opens the door to a sequel, which I am currently writing. A HIDDEN ELEMENT. There is even a third in the series down the road. A HEALING ELEMENT.
Have any other writers influenced your style?
Dean Koontz has influenced my style in some ways, however, once I found my voice as a writer that propelled me forward. I write in the style that I would want to read. So I write for myself first and hope that others will enjoy it too. For me it’s all about entertaining. A story to me is all about the characters; who they are, what drives them, what happens to them, and how they deal with it. I can forgive a lot in a book if I love the characters.
Some authors plan, others just…
I do outline but when I over-outline I can’t get started. I tend to write an 8-10 page preliminary synopsis, bulleted chapter outline, and a 1-page worksheet detailing each character. If I do more than that I find I get bogged down in too many details and can’t write the story.
What are the priorities for you in marketing the book?
I am focusing on online efforts right now vs. getting A HUMAN ELEMENT into every brick and mortar bookstore. This involves a slew of tactics to “be seen” via promotional events and giveaways.
You seem to have an incredibly well planned “Blog tour” of promotional activities on your website.
My marketing background has definitely aided me in the process, as well as being a former business owner and finding a way to blend the right amount of selling a client with connecting to a client. One way that being an author is similar to operating a service business is that there is a “likeable” quotient. If I could build a rapport with a potential client I could book them as a client. As an author, if an audience likes you as a person via social media or other avenues then they will find their way to your book more so than if you force it upon them.
How easy was it to find a publisher?
I spent six months submitting A HUMAN ELEMENT to agents and publishers and waiting on feedback from manuscript requests. However, I knew my premise was a harder sell for a debut author as it crosses genres in a blend of paranormal, romance with a smidge of horror and sci-fi. I met my publisher, Echelon Press, at the beginning of my six-month quest. Karen Syed, the president, worked with me on developmental edits before I even signed so she was invested. I believed in the story and so did Echelon Press, a small press with a solid 10 years in the industry, and decided to sign with them after offered a contract.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
We may write alone but we can’t get published alone. Join a vibrant writer organization you can become involved in. Take workshops. Go to writer conferences. Keep improving your craft. And share the love. All authors started out alone at some point, so help ease the transition of a new writer emerging by mentoring them. And get on Facebook, Twitter, and create a blog.
How have your husband and family inspired you in your writing?
I like to say my husband is the greatest provider of alone time there is (he often wonders why I write what I do!). He does not enjoy reading but supports me in all other ways. My son has inspired me to write a middle grade adventure fantasy book for him. He even helped me name some of the magical creatures in the book and well-advised me on the plot.
What’s the process you use for editing?
I like to work on sections at a time across the book first for the technical edits; eliminating adverbs, weak words, echo words, dialogue tags, etc. Then I work on a chapter at a time to see if I met the chapter arc goal and measure it against the story arc goal. I then check for tension in dialogue, information dumps, and consistent references. Finally, I review to see if I’ve truly pulled all the power out of the story I can. I rely on advanced readers as well to point out any issues.
Are there any writers’ resources that have been particularly helpful for you in the writing or editing process?
I often reference Donald Maass’ WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL HANDBOOK and FIRE IN FICTION when revising, and SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS by Browne and King. I also re-read ON WRITING WELL by William Zinsser a couple times a year. I always have my trusty thesaurus and big Webster’s dictionary by my side that I’ve had since I was a teenager.
Donna Galanti is the author of the paranormal suspense novel A HUMAN ELEMENT (Echelon Press). Donna has a B.A. in English and a background in marketing. She operated a resume writing service for years until she closed up shop to write novels. She is a member of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group and Pennwriters. If she couldn’t write she would bike, hike, and kayak every day. She lives with her family in an old farmhouse in PA.
To learn more about Donna, please visit her website.