René Donovan: A Writer’s Journey
In the mid-1990s when Cape Cod author and artist René Donovan wrote her first novel, the world of publishing offered limited opportunities for first-time
writers. The road was long and hard, strewn with obstacles, barriers and disappointment.
“It was a Catch-22 situation,” Donovan recalled. “A publisher wouldn’t
look at a book unless it came via an agent, but finding an agent willing to take a risk on an untried writer was nearly impossible. I remember feeling as if I needed an agent to find an agent.”
But Donovan believed in her book and refused to let barriers stand in her way. She chose instead to leap over them. Her tenacity paid off when a publisher in Arizona published Me ’n God in the Coffee Shop in 1998 to popular acclaim.
“I used to go to a local coffee shop to write. One morning I was sitting there thinking ‘what would happen if “God” walked in, sat down and we started talking?’ That
was the seed of an idea that would not let go of me,” said Donovan.
Me ’n God in the Coffee Shop is a spiritual journey, a lullaby and an awakening that “blends
magic, mystery, and ancient beliefs that carry readers to a place of tenderness and joy, a place that whispers, ‘You are a miracle,’” Donovan explained. Her readers agreed.
“The plot and commentary push open the mind’s windows and let some new light in, and like a draught of fresh air, rejuvenates the mind,” wrote one reader while another observed, “…Donovan offers her readers more than a
great story: she gives the gift of the divine.”
Donovan, 74, is also an accomplished artist. She has long been interested in philosophy, metaphysics, the spiritual, the human mind
and soul and believes that “we all have far more ability and insight that we realize.” She does not look at the world with a critical, overly practical eye but views it through a prism of possibilities with a “what if…?”
openness to new ideas, ways of seeing and self-expression.
The new idea and vision for her second novel, The Daughters of Time, came while visiting friends in Virginia some
“We were driving around the countryside, going along back roads into what struck me as a different world. I felt that we were drifting in a time warp as we moved from
the present into the past,” Donovan said. “Then we came to an abandoned Victorian house set amid overgrown fields. It was a derelict place, overgrown, weather-beaten, and looking lonely. But I started to wonder about the people who
had once lived there, what their lives were like, how they had lived, what they did, what caused them to leave.
“Then I thought, ‘What would it be like if someone could go
back in time to another era, one far removed from the present, and become involved in the lives of those people?’” As with Me ’n God in the Coffee Shop, another seed began to germinate in Donovan’s mind. However,
it was not the people of rural Virginia that Donovan ultimately chose as her subject; it was Concord, Massachusetts, in 1842 when Emerson, Thoreau, the Alcotts, Hawthorne, Margaret Fuller—the writers and transcendentalist luminaries of the day—lived
“I have always been interested in Concord and would often drive there just to visit the homes of those people, to wander along the shore of Walden Pond, to visit their graves
at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, to imagine myself in their place in time. It was easy because there is a quiet magic and tranquility about Concord that invites one to ponder the past,” explained Donovan.
“I was determined to do more than write a novel about a woman in the present meeting the past in the most unexpected way. Having the idea and basic plot for The Daughters of Time was not enough. I knew
that first I had months or even years of serious research facing me,” said Donovan. “Not only did I want my characters to breathe from the page, I wanted to recreate their world accurately and I wanted the transition in time to be believable.”
As The Daughters of Time unfolds, readers meet Lizzie Chetwyrd, a woman in her forties who is living very much in the present, and her elderly Aunt Maggie, a wise woman nearing the end of her
life in a nursing home. Aunt Maggie gives her the family ancestral home in Concord, a place full of happy memories for Lizzie who spent childhood summers there.
When Lizzie visits the
old house for the first time in many years, she is startled by its rundown appearance, yet there is something about the house that draws her irresistibly to it. Her aunt, “a spinner of tales” has told her that Concord has “places of deep
power” and that the house rests upon one of them. Lizzie tends to dismiss these tales until one day during a visit to the house, she finds herself stepping through a fold in time where she meets
the Chetwyrd women of the past along with Emerson, Thoreau and others.
Donovan did her research with the care of an archeologist uncovering layers of the past and with the curiosity
and patience required of a biographer. As a result Lizzie’s journey into the past sparkles with realism.
During the writing of the book, Donovan often found herself so immersed
in 1842 that she had to snap herself back into the present. One day she wrote a check and dated it 1842.
Donovan did not waste any time wondering about finding an agent or a publisher.
Her sole purpose was to write the story that was deep within her, and then think about how it would reach the public.
“There I was with another book finished but the thought of
spending what might amount to years trying to find an agent or a publisher left me cold. I had spent years working on this book, a book I believe in, and I didn’t want the manuscript to sit on a shelf in my studio gathering dust. With one book to my
credit along with good reviews I thought the road might be easier this time but that was not the case.”
Donovan began exploring possibilities outside traditional publishing before she
decided to form her own imprint, Enchanted Cottage Publishing, and began the long, arduous task of making The Daughters of Time available in paperback as well as a Kindle edition. Learning how to transfer a manuscript to a printed book requires
a great deal of study and patience. “At times it was frustrating beyond endurance but I stuck with it,” she admitted. While learning the process she also did the photography for the book cover and, as a former graphic designer, created the
Although Donovan encountered frustrations, she is pleased with the professionalism of Amazon’s staff who do the nuts and bolt work required to create the downloaded
manuscript as a printed book as well as on Kindle.
“We hear complaints these days about the lack of editing, fact-checking and proofreading of books that come out of traditional
publishing houses,” Donovan observed. “A writer is expected to present perfect copy so it appears that little is done once the book lands on an editor’s desk. In publishing with Amazon I felt that I was in control but I also knew that
there were people behind the scenes watching out for me to insure that my book reflected me at my best.”
Although Donovan is a ruthless self-editor, she knew that others needed
to read the book before she set it up for publication so she sent the manuscript to people who had experience as professional editors.
“All writers should do this and should be
willing to put their egos aside when someone comes back with suggestions or legitimate criticism. Yes, it can be annoying to have someone tell you that there is a problem that you need to fix,” she admitted. “I would rather learn about an error
or something that is unclear this way than to discover it after the book is out.”
Now that The Daughters of Time is available worldwide, what is Donovan planning next?
“I have just finished publishing (now available on Amazon Books) my third book, The Stone Children, a novel that begins at the end of World War II with the liberation of Buchenwald Concentration
Camp and moves through time to the devastating events of 9/11,” Donovan explained. “Without giving too much away, it is the story about a man who is transformed by what he has witnessed at the Camp; how his transformation ultimately affects others,
and brings a healing message for all humanity through some exceptional children born just before the new Millennium.”
Donovan’s books and her art
reflect her own positive view of our complex world. “I observe the interconnection of all life and see that if you destroy one part all parts are adversely affected,” she explains. “Each of us is encompassed within this
interconnection. If we can know and feel that there is something wonder-filled in this astounding universe and in us, we can experience joy and peace. We will be able to drop our fears and doubts and flow in the stream of life. This
philosophy surrounds both my art and my writing.”
For the past year René has been working on her fourth novel, The Field, which she plans to publish in 2017.
Like her other three books, the pages of The Field are filled with magic, mystery...and a very special love.