Katia Raina

The Magic Mirror

Dana Walrath, Part 2: “Doubt Is A Natural if Not Vital Part Of The Creative Process

Dana Walrath in ArmeniaContinued from last week, I bring you more Dana Walrath, a Fulbright scholar, anthropologist, artist and author of the upcoming Stone Pillow, a YA novel about three siblings on the run in Armenia during the genocide of 1915. The story was recently acquired at an auction by Delacorte Press.

Can you walk us through your story’s evolution? When and how did you first conceive of it? How long did it take for you to write it? Was it the first story you ever attempted — the third — the tenth? 🙂  Dana Walrath in Armenia

DW: Evolution! One of my favorite subjects as an anthropologist! This story was a long journey. It was close to the first story I started writing but I was working on many other things simultaneously, perhaps a symptom of fitting my writing into hours stolen from other tasks. Originally what is now Stone Pillow, existed as memories within another story, Life it Gives, about a first generation immigrant in New York City, in the 1940s, whose parents both survived the genocide.  As that story came into its own, these memories became a separate story. It became clear to me that the father in New York City could not be the adult Shahen, I was coming to know through Stone Pillow. Separating them was the key to finding each story’s essence, but now they may well fit back together. While working on them, I also got through drafts of other very different stories which are in various stages of completion. For me, it has worked to have different projects ongoing so that I can return to something with a fresh eye and work on exclusively and intensively. It is kind of like the writing version of serial monogamy…

KR: I’d love to know more about your writing journey. When did you decide you’re a writer? When did you decide to attend Vermont College of Fine Arts and what prompted that decision? I am getting ready for my first residency, as you know. So of course, I am curious: how did your experience in Vermont shape your evolution as a writer?

Dana WalrathDW: I was always a voracious reader but never thought of myself as a writer until very recently. On the other hand I had  long thought of myself as an artist.  It was only the act of writing my dissertation holding that completed bound volume in my hands that made me think I might try some writing. I went straight for picture books because of my art background.  As I was working on those, snippets of the novels I now have in process began to seep out.  But still I didn’t think of myself as a writer till I went to VCFA in the summer of 2008, originally to do the picture book certificate program and to give myself some structure and support.  I had just taken a leave of absence from my work as a medical anthropologist at University of Vermont’s College of Medicine in order to care for my mother through dementia. The first days of that residency were transformative. I was overwhelmed by the quality of the lectures and the readings by the faculty not to mention those of graduating class. The community was open and without the competition of many learning environments. Instead everyone was unified and working towards getting more good books out into the world. Before 72 hours had even passed I was already working with the director to enroll in the entire program.  My faculty mentor in the picture book program, the wonderful Julie Larios, also looked at Stone Pillow and another novel, The Garbage Man, that I was just starting, as well as some extra literary criticism from me in order for me to make this path work.  Everything about VCFA exceeded my expectations. Each semester of working with a faculty mentor was a gift. Every residency I soaked up new approaches from lectures on craft and the writing life and workshops. The program equipped me with the tools and the support to push each story as far as it can go and to start thinking of myself as a writer. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

KR: Can you tell us about your publishing journey? Did you snag your agent right away?

DW: This too was a long journey. Because I had so many different projects in the works, I was slow to get out there and only queried a very limited number of folks.  Good thing, too, because I made the classic mistake of sending things out before they were ready!!  Still I was lucky enough to have entered into revisions with agents on two different projects.  This took time, but I learned so much from the process.   To have someone take your work seriously and give you feedback is an incredible gift.

 KR: Was the book snapped up just like that, though?

DW: Once I signed with the wonderful Ammi-Joan Paquette, I did a final set of revisions with her guidance.  When she sent it out, the book was snapped up.

 KR: Yay! 🙂 I know my readers are going to be intrigued by the fact that your story was sold at an auction. That must have been wild! Can you tell us about that experience?  Dana Walrath

The auction was very exciting but more than anything I was aware of what a privilege it was. I had the opportunity to speak with different editors about my story and get a sense of their vision of the book.  For someone to get inside of your manuscript and to think about it with you is such a generous act. I am so grateful to have been able to get to know these editors through the auction process.

KR: Have you at any point experienced any typical doubts and worries of a struggling writer who thinks she must be crazy to keep dreaming? 

DW: To doubt is a natural if not a vital part of the creative process. We open ourselves, make ourselves so vulnerable by sharing our deepest work.  Trust the worry and the doubt and the dreaming!

KR: Thank you, Dana, for the fascinating glimpse into your creative process, your search for your roots, your evolution as a writer, and so much more.

DW: Thanks so much for this chance to share my work with your readers!



December 24, 2012 - Posted by | Interviews | , ,


  1. It’s great seeing Dana again and reading about her publishing journey.

    Happy holidays, Katia. I hope you’re enjoying your trip.

    Comment by Medeia Sharif | December 25, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks! Having a great time — the days are flying by, can’t believe it’s almost over. Hope you’re enjoying your break, too.

      Comment by Katia Raina | December 25, 2012 | Reply

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