Readers have asked questions about me and my work, and I have answered some of them below. If you have a question of your own, please click on the Contact the Author button to the right, and I'll do my best to answer it.
ARE ANY OF YOUR BOOKS BEING MADE INTO A MOVIE?
DID YOU WRITE LITTLER BOOKS OR SHORT STORIES WHEN YOU WERE YOUNGER, BEFORE YOU ACTUALLY BECAME A WRITER?
WHICH CHARACTER FROM YOUR BOOKS DO YOU FEEL MOST LIKE?
WOULD YOU SAY YOU HAVE MORE FUN WRITING CHILDREN'S FICTION, YOUNG ADULT FICTION, OR ADULT FICTION?
DID ANY OF YOUR CHARACTORS REPRESENT ANYONE IN YOUR LIFE?
I WAS CURIOUS AS TO WHAT RELIGION YOU PRACTICED?
I KNOW SOME SCHOOLS USE YOUR BOOKS AS TEACHING MATERIAL, AND I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW IF YOU KNOW WHERE I CAN FIND THIS MATERIAL.
THE WEBPAGE SAID AT THE BOTTOM THAT IT WAS OKAY TO PRINT IT FOR PRIVATE USE IF YOU WERE NOTIFIED, SO I'M NOTIFYING YOU.
HOW MANY OF US DUNKLES ARE THERE??
WHEN IS YOUR BIRTH DATE?
WHAT ELSE DID YOU STUDY WHILE YOU WERE IN COLLEGE AND GRADUATE SCHOOL?
WHAT DID YOU DO AS A MONOGRAPHS CATALOGER?
DO YOU SPEAK GERMAN?
WHAT ARE YOUR DAUGHTERS' NAMES?
I SAW A COUPLE OF PICTURES WITH YOU AT THE BOOK SIGNINGS, AND I CAN'T HELP BUT THINK THAT MUST BE SO EXCITING.
DO YOU HAVE MANY FANS?
IS THERE A WAY I CAN BE NOTIFIED AS YOUR FUTURE BOOKS ARE PUBLISHED?
WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHARACTER OF ALL?
WHAT IS IT LIKE BEING AN AUTHOR, KNOWING THAT YOU'RE FAMOUS AND THAT YOUR BOOKS ARE SITTING ON SHELVES RIGHT NOW?
ARE YOU REALLY CLARE DUNKLE, OR A FAN CLUB LEADER?
NOW THAT YOU'VE FINISHED THE TRILOGY, ARE YOU PLANNING ANY OTHER BOOKS?
DID YOU HAVE ANY SIBLINGS, AND DID YOU FIGHT WITH THEM? I FIGHT WITH MINE ALL THE TIME.
YOU SAID THAT YOU DELETED SOME SCENES FROM YOUR BOOKS AND THEN PUT THEM ON THE WEBSITE, BUT I WONDER WHY?
I READ YOUR WEB PAGE ON AUTHORIAL INFLUENCES, BUT ARE THERE OTHER AUTHORS THAT YOU READ/RECOMMEND?
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO BECOME A WRITER?
WHAT GOT YOU INTERESTED IN FICTION?
HOW DID YOU MEET YOUR HUSBAND?
WHY DO YOU LIVE IN GERMANY?
DO YOU PICK THE ARTISTS WHO DRAW YOUR BOOK COVERS?
HAS ANYONE EVER TOLD YOU THAT YOU ARE TOO OLD TO COME UP WITH THESE SORTS OF IDEAS?
WHERE DID YOUR EDITOR DISCOVER YOU?
HOW MUCH MONEY DID YOU MAKE FROM THE HOLLOW KINGDOM?
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR BOOK IDEAS?
No. I enjoy watching movies very much, and I have a lot of respect for certain directors and actors, but I don't ever intend to allow one of my books to be made into a movie. A film production company has to have complete control over the making of a movie because a lot of money goes into the process. No one can afford to give the author much of a voice in it.
But, as the original creator of my stories and characters, I'm responsible for what they say and do. I'm responsible for anything they may teach an audience, and that's something I take very seriously. I can't risk letting a director or production company have control over something that I view as my own responsibility.
I made up stories in my head for decades before I became an author, but I never wrote any of them down. And when I did start to write, I went straight to novels: I sat down and started the first chapter of The Hollow Kingdom. They say it's best to start with short stories if you want to learn to be a good novelist, but I had no ambitions when I wrote The Hollow Kingdom. I was just having fun. My mind is drawn to more complicated plots, so it was novels for me from the beginning.
That character would have to be Seylin. Like Seylin, I was a little freak when I was young; my schoolmates were always suspicious of me because of my book reading and the odd clothes I wore. I was more comfortable with fiction than real life when I was growing up, like poor Seylin in Book II.
I identify with the adult Seylin, too. Seylin sympathizes with opposing sides, something a novelist needs to do. As the King's advisor, he doesn't have much real power: he can only present what he thinks and hope others take him seriously. He wants the best outcome for everyone involved and refuses to change his opinions to please others.
As a writer, I don't have much real power, either. I can only tell the story as I see it, knowing that I can't please everyone, not even my fans. In Book III, Seylin serves his own sense of right and wrong, rather than blindly serving his King. I think he makes the right decision, and I try to do the same.
I have never written children's fiction. I have never written adult fiction, either, and I don't think I would care to, although some adults enjoy my books. I think that good YA (young adult) fiction should be able to appeal to any adult: that is, it should be sophisticated and interesting, and it should assume that the reader is intelligent. YA writers are producing literary works as worthy of praise as any adult novel. Teachers and librarians as well as teens and parents study what we write. I am proud to be a YA author.
My characters don't exactly represent anyone from real life, although I get ideas for aspects of their character from the people I know. My characters live in times other than ours, so they can't be like us. They've had a completely different upbringing. They have grown up with different ideas from ours about what it means to be a citizen, a daughter or son, a sibling, a parent, or a child of God.
But, in a way, my books are like my life. They're like parables: if things are going well, my books are happy, and if things are going badly, my books are grim. I think only a psychiatrist could tell exactly how and where they resemble my life, though. They're like a map of my subconscious. There's some comparison there, but even I can't say how much./p>
I am a Roman Catholic who attends the Latin Mass. However, this does not mean that my characters automatically share my views of God and of the world. Kate, for instance, is low-church Anglican and has been taught that people like me are evil; she would probably be horrified if she knew about her "popish" creator. Marak and the goblins believe in God but believe that God merely tolerates them; they believe that our religions are just for humans. Maddie and the people of her village share my religion, but they also believe in many pagan superstitions at the same time. The Catholics in Maddie's book are like any group of people anywhere: some good, some bad, some ignorant and poorly educated, and all of them dangerous when they get together to form a mob.
It is true that some schools are using my books in their reading programs under the reading comprehension packages calledScholastic Reading Counts, Accelerated Reading, and Lexile Metametrics. Those programs include tens of thousands of books, though, so mine aren't unique in being included. I was contacted to provide input on articles about me in the two reference series Something about the Author and Contemporary Authors, so those can give you information about my books as well. Some online library catalogs provide extensive book review information for the books they hold, and since they hold all of my currently available books, you can get accurate review material there.
I try to provide anything a teacher might need on these webpages. The best overview to the educational themes in my books are the Background Notes pages. You will find these in each book's section on my website. Here is the one for By These Ten Bones.
You don't have to let me know you've printed the story for private use. Acknowledging the author on the printed copy just means that my name needs to be on it somewhere as the author.
I had never heard of the Dunkle/Dunkel family before marrying one. They're not that common in the South, and I'm from Texas. But my husband came from Ohio, and there are quite a few of them there. And in Pennsylvania, someone told me, they're as common as Smiths.
Apparently, the Dunkles left Germany from the Palatinate region (modern-day Rheinland-Pfalz) in the 1600's, during a devastating war with the French. (During that war, the French blew up every single castle along the Mosel river, which is a major tributary of the Rhine.) The Dunkles moved to Pennsylvania, where they multiplied over the years, and successive generations have seen them move west from there.
How we got the name Dunkle, I'm not sure. Dunkel is
simply the German word for "dark," and the spelling
varies depending on how "English" the word has
become. But I've read somewhere that a group of Italians
had—long years before—emigrated into the Palatinate
region of Germany. These people were surnamed Dunkel because
they had darker hair and eyes than their neighbors. So that
may be how the name came into existence.
My birth date is in June.
I went through college in three years because that was the cheapest way to do it, so I took very little besides my major and minor courses. I started in the Russian program for my graduate degree, and this ruined my handwriting for good: at one point, I could take classroom notes in Russian as quickly as I can take notes in English, and now my brain never seems to know which alphabet to write in. Then I switched to library science, largely because the library science students seemed so happy and normal (they are, too!) I studied all the courses to qualify for children's librarianship before switching to become a cataloger. Those courses been very helpful to me in my career as an author. Besides cataloging, I studied indexing and classifying.
During my time working in the Trinity University library, I was the monographs cataloger. Monographs are anything that is released just one time, in one complete package, like a book or a DVD. Magazines aren't monographs, they're serials: in other words, they keep showing up month after month. Catalogers put together the description of the book (or movie or game or whatever) that you read in your library catalog. These are done according to manuals full of rules: Exactly what is the title? What form of the author's name should be used? etc. We also use a special computer code, so that the right fields will show up in the right places in your online catalog.
Catalogers classify, too, meaning that we assign the call number to a book, matching the book's content to the huge outline of human knowledge that exists in the classification tables. Classification is fun, like a game of solitaire: where does this item fit best? The scheme I used, the Library of Congress Classification, fills about thirty books. You can look at them here on the Library of Congress website.
Among other special projects, I cataloged all the DVD's and VHS's. Did you know that the "real" title of a DVD (as far as library catalogs are concerned) is whatever shows up on the screen? Not what's on the box, which is often different. For instance, the real title of the thriller "Seven" is actually "Se7en." I'd swear that movie companies do this just to give librarians a hard time.
But mainly, I worked with computers. In my days at the university, libraries were slowly switching from having no computers to relying on them for everything. When I arrived, we only had two computers in the entire building, and when I left, there were dozens and dozens of them, many of them having been replaced several times.
I like foreign languages, and learning about computers was like learning another foreign language: if youtalk to them properly, they do things that make sense. So I became the one who took the computers out of the box, set them up, helped staff get comfortable with them, and taught people how to use them. I went around and installed the patches and updates when there were patches and updates to install (in other words, all the time). I sat in on all the meetings about which programs to run, which machines to buy, or which printers to choose. I pioneered my library's use of a special program that could set up computers automatically, with exactly the same options and programs on every one. That's common now, thank God. I liked my job because cataloging gets a little boring, but the computers were changing all the time.
You would think that I do. I can sit and chat in German for hours. I can talk to my non-English-speaking friends, have meetings with teachers, call up utility companies and find out what has happened with my latest bill, handle a trip to the emergency room, or call my Internet provider and follow computer troubleshooting directions in German. The other day, my former landlady (who doesn't speak English) asked me to explain to her new tenant (who doesn't speak German) just where the two satellite dishes are in the attic and how one has to stay turned so that it receives her channels, and not our Armed Forces Network channels instead.
This all means that I probably speak German better than many college graduates who have majored in it. But that doesn't mean I'm fluent. I've never put in the time to expand my vocabulary beyond what's needed for everyday use. I can't sit down and read a German book with ease; I need a dictionary at my elbow.
My daughters don't need dictionaries. After three years of German school, they walk around with massive German novels, enjoy their favorite German television shows, and think that my German is pretty pathetic.
My daughters are Valerie and Elena.
Book signings are actually pretty dismal. I write terribly (that is, I print terribly), and I'm always a nervous wreck that I'll misspell someone's name. Writing books is much more fun than signing them!
I have a fair amount of fans, I guess, and they come and go in my inbox. About ninety new people a day come to the website (many more if you count repeat visitors). At the moment, I'm answering between forty and sixty fan letters a month, and the number keeps increasing. Sometimes a fan will read the books and ask questions for several weeks in a row. I can track his or her progress through the books from the questions. Sometimes, a fan will write just once, disappear for months, and then show up again. So there are all kinds. Reader letters never annoy me, but sometimes I'm too busy to write much. I try to write my letters on the weekends and answer the week's mail all at once. Fifteen or twenty letters can seem like a pretty big stack!
I'm afraid that I have no newsletter to send out to notify you when books are published, but if you check on my website periodically, you can easily find out.
It's hard to pick a favorite character. Marak was great fun to write, a real classic. I love Maddie and Paul from By These Ten Bones because they're so sweet and humble and so much in love—brand-new first time love. I've always been fond of Seylin because he's so honest, and Miranda was wonderful to write because she's so complicated: her upbringing has left her very guarded and sophisticated, ready to say the right thing to the right person and not even ask herself what she really thinks deep down.
But my favorite character of all may be Nir. It's so hard to do elves justice because they're almost a cliché, and that made Nir a very special challenge. Also, Nir's so badly damaged by his past and his magic. He's seen so much pain—caused it, too—and he's morbidly sensitive because elves are sensitive. He can't just tell himself to get over it.
Writing Nir was very difficult, like shining a searchlight on a fox. It was touch and go whether I'd be able to capture him on paper. He's one of my problem children, and that makes him special to me. But whenever Catspaw showed up, it was such a relief to go back to writing goblins again—they're so wonderfully straightforward!
Well, I don't think I'm actually famous. It's true that The Hollow Kingdom is going into its third printing now, which is more than many authors ever get to, but I'm over here in Germany, so I've never seen my books in a bookstore or library outside of my own little air force base, and it's not as if people rush up to me on the street like I'm Brad Pitt. And my teenage daughters certainly aren't impressed by me. "Look!" I pointed out to them not long ago. "HK is on a list of books that appeal to Goths! That means I'm cool!"
Valerie ran an appraising eye over me. "You're not cool, Mom," she said kindly but firmly.
So there you have it. That's what it's like being famous!
I really am Clare Dunkle! I do all my own web work, including answering the email, and my husband does all the camera work for the site.
I've already written another manuscript called The Sky Inside, a futuristic Pied Piper story, and a Wuthering Heights prequel. I went to England to do research for that book, but while I was there, I got interested in a charming Victorian ghost story that seemed to go with a house I visited, so I'd like to write that book, too. And my daughter Valerie is annoyed that I'm only one-quarter finished with a fantasy set in ancient India about a guild of wandering storytellers. So there are lots of things to write about: more ideas than time for them.
I have two older brothers and two sisters (my brothers' wives). My oldest brother is five years older than I am and is a computer science professor specializing in graphics. His wife, my goddaughter, is the one of the few women and possibly the first Hispanic woman ever to receive a Ph.D. from the computer science department of the University of Texas. My middle brother is four years older than I am and is both a master electrician and an electrical engineer specializing in cellular communications. His wife, also an electrical engineer, is rumored to have had an even higher GPA in their engineering school than my brother did. We are not the sort of family against which you would want to play Trivial Pursuit, although when we get together, we usually play Forty-two instead, which is a Southern version of Dominoes.
When I was young, I didn't fight with my brothers. I was just too young; they more or less ignored me. My oldest brother is the inspiration for the character of Marak: from Day One, he has been a restless, energetic genius loaded with schemes and absolutely the master of his destiny. No one could argue with him, and no one has ever tried for very long. He simply will not argue. He will discuss, calmly and rationally, and then he will do whatever it was he intended to do anyway. It always makes perfect sense. My middle brother is less single-minded, but he is quiet. He and I have always been quite close, and I can't recall a time when we argued, either. Perhaps it was my oldest brother's influence on the household because he hated fights so much, but the way it worked was this: everyone just did his or her own thing, and no one else really interfered.
Working on a book is like putting together a movie. Sometimes, a great scene can still make part of a book drag on, even though by itself, it doesn't seem slow. Also, sometimes a scene will change the mood at the wrong moment and dilute the effect I'm aiming for. It's something I can't always tell until I reread the entire draft at once. Then I can see that the scene is all wrong for where it comes in the book, and it needs to go.
As I learn more about writing books, I'm learning which scenes to write down and which scenes just to leave in my own head. This is why By These Ten Bones and In the Coils of the Snake have no Deleted Scenes: I didn't wind up writing any extra scenes for those books.
Aside from the influences I mention on those pages, I do have many favorites, although not as many as you might think. Because I tried for so long to control my imagination, I starved it and kept it away from fiction; and now that I write novels, I read very little fiction. But I can say that I love the haunting description and very intriguing storytelling style of Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen). Her prose style is so lovely! I am just now becoming acquainted with Diana Wynne Jones, whose writing I very much enjoy as a holiday from my own: I love the different moods of her books and the affection she feels for her characters.
I have frequently found science-fiction writers to be important to my thinking—much more so than fantasy writers, to be honest: Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov (who can't handle dialogue or characterization all that well, but who really knows how to work a fascinating idea to its conclusion), Harlan Ellison, Orson Scott Card, and Ursula K. Le Guin. I love The Hitchiker's Guide books for their tweaking of science fiction traditions. I've never really cared for the bleak, grim SF worlds, though, so I harbor a real fondness for the writing of Cordwainer Smith. Anyone who can conjure up an immortality serum out of the secretions of mutated, gigantic, and very unwell sheep has proven himself to be a true creative genius.
C.S. Lewis wrote a series of science fiction books that I love even more than I enjoy any of his Narnia books; if you haven't read them yet, you might enjoy them. The first one, Out of the Silent Planet, is my favorite. I've read it many times. The second one, Perelandra, has some lovely moments, but I never reread it. And I've never actually read the last one! Our library didn't have it.
The Neverending Story is a magnificent book, although you'd never guess that from the movie. It tells how a writer becomes a writer--the white princess is the brand-new page with no writing on it yet. Developing that idea, it spells out exactly what dangers a writer encounters. We can become obsessed with our stories and go crazy trying to live inside them, we can use them to forget all about the real-life obligations we have, or we can give our stories to others in order to bring healing and happiness. We also have a grave responsibility to the characters we create to view their lives fairly and not try to force our own wills on them. That book is exceptional fantasy.
Honestly, nothing decided me. All my life, I've made up stories for my own enjoyment (and wasted a lot of time in the process, I might add). I just happened to have plenty of free time when my husband asked me to write The Hollow Kingdom, and I was lucky enough to find an interested editor at the very first place I sent the manuscript. My writing career has involved just as much discipline and effort as good writing ever does, but it has not involved much hardship on the "business" side. From the start, my editor has been like a fantastic penpal: she reads my stuff, makes sure I get regular checks, and mails my Microsoft Word files back to me as beautiful hardcover books.
A writing career takes a lot of time away from loved ones. When my daughters were in boarding school, writing was easy; now that they are finishing high school at home, they need my time. Each day, I have to decide whether I will "be a writer" all over again. I try to write for a couple of hours, but if my daughters need me—even just to talk—then they get me first. I know that these are the last years I will spend with these two bright young women. The writing will still be there when they are gone.
I'm a storyteller by nature. When I was quite young, I read Marguerite Henry's Misty of Chincoteague, and in Chapter 4 of that book, Grandpa Beebe explains the proper way to look at facts and legends: "Facts are fine, fer as they go, ... but they're like water bugs skittering atop the water. Legends, now—they go deep down and bring up the heart of a story." Those words immediately hit home with me and have stayed with me ever since because I was a big folktale reader even then. I realized immediately that if we humans tell a certain story over and over, it contains some truth that is very important to us even if the facts aren't quite right.
Why do we humans tell stories? Because they help us grow in ways that we can't explain. Why have we told certain stories over and over for thousands of years? We can't explain that, although some people have tried. All I know, as a writer and a storyteller, is that truth can come out of fiction. When I have created "real" characters, with strengths and failings both; when I have honestly recorded what those characters could and would do in a difficult situation; then I have created an experience that can help me and my readers grow. I don't have to face death myself to experience courage if I can live through that experience in a book, and maybe the memory of that "book" experience will help me if I ever have to become a real-life hero.
After I got my B.A. in 1985, I moved to Bloomington, Indiana, to go to graduate school there. Sam, my next-door neighbor in the apartment complex, was Joe's closest friend at work: they were both young engineers working for the Navy, their first job right out of college. Sam showed up on my doorstep the day I moved in to offer me a ceremonial "welcome-to-the-neighborhood" beer, and he introduced me to Joe soon afterward. At 21, I thought I was too old and cynical for love at first sight, but I was wrong. Joe and I got married four months later, and we've been married for almost nineteen years.
As an author, then, I have a real advantage—I've lived through mutual love at first sight. This means I can write about it fairly, and I do just that in By These Ten Bones.
Because Germany is beautiful and wonderful. I love my German neighbors, and I have the chance to speak the German language (rather badly, I'm afraid) every single day. My husband Joe works for the Air Force at one of the air bases in Germany. You can find out more about Germany if you click on the button to the left called Photos of Where I Live.
No, I don't have any say about who draws the book covers. My editor takes care of that, working with the art director and the publisher. But because my editor is very good about including me in everything, she always sends me an email telling me whom they have in mind and asking me for my thoughts. And she sends me the artist's sketches, too, and listens to what I think.
I try not to get too wrapped up in this aspect of publishing. After all, the cover isn't there for the writer, it's there to hook the brand-new reader, to make someone pick that book up for the first time. I'm not a marketing expert. I respect those people at my publishing house who deal with this kind of thing.
One reader asked me if I have ever been angry over what has appeared on a cover. No, I haven't. I enjoy seeing what the artists create from my words. I think it's interesting that there are works of art in existence now based on things that have come out of my own personal head.
Not so far; but then, not very many people who read my books know how old I am! I don't like to put photographs of myself on my website or in my books. What comes out of my brain doesn't have much to do with how I look, after all. And even though some of my characters are young, others are not. Marak is much older than I am.
My teenage daughters think that I am ancient, but they still enjoy my books—sometimes. Although they have never told me that I am too old to write them, my daughter Valerie was rather shocked when she read By These Ten Bones. "I didn't want to know that my mother could create things like that," she said.
I love this question because it makes me sound like a lost continent, or possibly a missing set of luggage. But it's a fair question, and it has a fair answer. My editor discovered me in the "slush pile." Charming, isn't it? I hadn't yet chosen an agent, and I learned that Holt was willing to evaluate a manuscript that came straight from the author. So I sent The Hollow Kingdom to that publishing house while I was researching literary agents. Six weeks later, my editor contacted me about the manuscript.
I don't know the answer to this one yet. An author earns a percentage of the cover price on each book that's sold—this percentage is called a royalty. In addition, the author also earns money when a right is sold: these may include the right to bring out an audio edition, the right to reprint a book chapter in an anthology, or the right to publish a translation of the book in a foreign country.
Because I keep earning money as long as people keep buying books or rights, I won't know how much money I have earned from The Hollow Kingdom until my book goes out of print. It's been over ten years since it came out, but it's still earning money.
My brain spends a lot of time telling stories to itself. I entertain myself with little scenes and dialogues whenever I have a few seconds' peace—driving a car, waiting in line, brushing my teeth, etc. Each of my book ideas has emerged in this manner. Before it is a story for someone else, it is a story for me.
Usually, I start with one really exciting scene and a couple of characters. I become interested in the situation and work out a little background for it. Then I begin to get to know the characters and develop their ideas and appearances. The plot progresses from that.
Thus, even though one of my written stories may appear to a reader to start at one spot and move forward, like a line, that story has actually formed from one central spot and spread outward in all directions, like a puddle. J.R.R. Tolkien went through this same process in his own writing. In the short story, "Leaf by Niggle," he likened his creation of The Lord of the Rings to a painter who first paints a leaf, then a spray of leaves, then a branch, then the tree, and finally the land all around that tree, both the foreground and the distant horizon.