Despised by her mother’s people and demeaned by her absent father’s legacy, Meridia has one friend—Damon, an eccentric photologist. When Damon shows Meridia a stone he discovered in an old photo bag purchased from a vagrant peddler, she is transfixed. There’s a woman, she says, a dancing woman. And a song. Can a rock hold a song? Can a song contain worlds? Oblivious of mounting political turmoil, the two set out to find the old peddler, to find out what he knows about the stone, the woman, and the song. But marauding zealots attack and take Damon captive, leaving Meridia alone. Desolate. Terrified. Yet determined to carry on, to pursue the stone’s extraordinary song, even as it lures her into a journey that will transform her world.
When and where do you prefer to write?
I prefer to write in a place I find invigorating and inspiring! And I’m definitely a morning person. Mostly I write on my big iMac computer in my downstairs study, facing a window onto the back porch, a window that also offers a reflection of sky and trees from the window behind me. I like the perspective. Before the pandemic, I also went at least once a week to a coffee shop (or wine bar, depending on time of day) where I could write on my laptop for a couple of hours. Then, of course, there are the trips where I cart off my laptop to distant states and countries!
Do you have a certain ritual?
Coffee comes first (after I’ve greeted my bird with our usual exchange of “Good morning!”), followed by a quick check of email and social media. Then I review what I wrote the day before and off I go! If I get caught at any point, I may go for a walk…or make a cup of tea.
Do you like a drink or something to nibble on while you write?
First morning coffee is essential, but I usually end up with one or more cups of tea later in the day. I have been known to nibble on a chocolate chip cookie or a few jalapeño lentil chips. During the pandemic, Alexa started asking me, “Is it time to order more jalapeño lentil chips?” They had apparently become a staple!
Do you consider writing a different genre or do you already do that?
Four of my five published novels are science fiction. The other one is contemporary fiction. That one does make reference to a tourist space flight, but that’s not science fiction anymore!
What is/are your favourite book(s)?
That question always stumps me. My most recent favorite book is Elizabeth Moon’s Remnant Population. I identified so strongly with her main character, Ofelia! I also adore The Telling by Ursula Le Guin and N.K. Jemisin’s entire Broken Earth trilogy. And having recently read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera, I must confess that I am residually haunted by images from that story.
Do you sometimes base your characters on people you know?
I’m sure I do, since people I know constitute a huge part of whatever I know about what humans might look like and how they behave. But I never do it consciously or
intentionally—never a whole character where you could say, “Oh, that’s your cousin Millicent!” My characters kind of compose themselves out of whatever’s there in my mental cabinet of curiosities.
If you had the chance to co-write a book. Whom would it be with?
I wouldn’t. Really, I wouldn’t want to. I’m too much of a control freak to share such a personal act of creation with anyone else! I relish the input of beta readers and editors, but I draw the line at a co-author.
Do you take a (digital) notebook everywhere in order to write down ideas that pop up?
I keep a physical notebook beside my computer for jotting down those side notes and questions about characters and story and setting. (Where was X while this was happening? How did Y feel about this?) When I’m out and about with my laptop, the notebook comes along. At other times—for instance, when I’m taking a walk—I pull out my phone and record voice notes. (People just think I’m talking on the phone, so not weird at all. Right?)
Which genre(s) do you not like at all?
Now you’re trying to get me in trouble! The only genre I really don’t like is (hold your breath) Romance. (Exhale.) Sorry, but at my age I’m like, “Been there. Done that. Yeah, that, too, and it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.” There are deep interpersonal relationships in my books, but very little that would satisfy the popular appetite for Romance. Horror is another genre that I don’t seek out, though when I occasionally run across it and it’s well done, I don’t dislike it.
If you should travel to a foreign country to do research, which one would you chose and why?
As an anthropologist, I’ve done a fair amount of traveling to do research! Since retiring from anthropology, I’ve taken a few trips specifically for novel research, including to Belize and Costa Rica. I capitalized on previous travel in India while writing the second book of my Recall Chronicles. With respect to my current EarthCycles series (and this may be the tiniest bit of a spoiler) I would go to Peru and Bolivia. In fact, I had such a journey in the plans pre-pandemic. Thank heavens for Google and Google Maps!
Thank you, Donna Dechen Birdwell and Pump Up Your Book
About the author
When Donna Dechen Birdwell was about ten years old, she became obsessed with the idea that if she was thinking with her brain, she ought to be able to think how it works! She’s been trying to wrap her mind around reality (and how humans experience it) ever since. She made a career out of anthropology—that utterly boundless science of humankind and how we got here—and then sidestepped into Buddhist philosophy and then art and photography and writing stories that tend to fall somewhere in the neighborhood of speculative and/or science fiction. She’s a big fan of Ursula LeGuin and N.K. Jemisin.
In her EarthCycles series, Donna imagines a far, far future world in which pockets of survivors of a global apocalypse have evolved new ways of being human. “Not altogether new,” she says. “More like rearrangements of certain aspects of our inherent human potential.” The first volume of EarthCycles, Song of All Songs, received the 2020 silver medal from Self Publishing Review. The book introduces a mixed-race main character making her unique way through a deeply conflicted world. The second book in the series, Book of All Time, is set for release in August of 2021.
Donna’s first trilogy (Recall Chronicles) is set in a hauntingly familiar 22nd-century world in which nobody grows old, an achievement that turns out to be not nearly so utopian as one might expect. Each volume tells the story of a different character’s experience of that world, but the stories are intertwined and some of the same characters turn up in all the books.
A stand-alone contemporary fiction book, Not Knowing, explores intergenerational PTSD in the life of an archaeologist working in Belize. Donna worked as an ethnologist in Belize for many years, so there’s a lot of her heart in this one.
Before anthropology, Donna worked as a newspaper reporter, and beyond anthropology she studied Buddhist philosophy (and practice) and then became an artist and photographer. Her paintings are done in acrylics on handmade Nepali lokta paper. Her primary photographic interest is in Miksang contemplative photography.
Donna earned her Ph.D. in anthropology from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and previously taught at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.