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Author Interview: D.L. O’Neil Chats about Reach Past the Shadows

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Get ready to learn more about the book Reach Past the Shadows in this discussion with sapphic author D.L. O’Neil.

Join us for an exclusive peek behind the scenes as we quiz D.L. O’Neil about Reach Past the Shadows, writing, reading, and more.

This book is part of the Starting Over Romance category in the 2024 IHS Reading Challenge.

Why did you write Reach Past the Shadows?

This is the second book in the Fieldston mystery series and the women in the first book told me we weren’t finished. Not everyone’s story had been told. Happily ever after isn’t minted with a first kiss–its path is complex and messy. D’Shea and Evie had more to experience, Sarge and Quinn needed to heal, and Camp Richland had more secrets to reveal to readers.

Who is your favorite character in the book?

D’Shea is continues to be my favorite character, though that’s a bit like naming my favorite pet. I find myself reflected in her, especially in her constant war between outward confidence and inside self-doubt. On the other hand, D’Shea is more focused on getting what she wants in contrast with my own go with the flow/trust the process momentum. I’d say perhaps we are two sides to a single coin.

What was the biggest challenge writing this book?

The decision to expand my first book to a series proved much more complex than expected. I needed to introduce new characters while deepening readers’ knowledge of those from the first book which proved daunting. The hardest part was balancing continuity with just the right amount of repetition to refresh readers’ memories. Thanks to my beta readers for their help.

What is your writing process like?

Given the options, I guess I’m a pantser. I start with a general idea of where my book is going but the details are seriously cloudy. I rarely know ‘who done it.” As I move forward the story evolves and its complexity deepens. That gives me room for creative and surprising plot twists. The unfortunate side effect of that process is a lot of rewrites to find where I got sidetracked! I can’t live without the sticky notes on my closet door that help me organize plots and timelines.

What animal or object best represents you as an author or your writing style?

Hmmm…I’m a squirrel! Some days I can focus for long periods on a single idea without noticing that the house is falling apart around me. I look up and it’s time for bed. Other days I bounce from idea to idea, looking for the perfect word, image, or plot line. I also bury nuts (easter eggs?) for my readers to find, just for fun.

What is the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given about writing, and by whom?

“You are a writer,” a wise friend told me over dinner. Seems simple right? But those words push me to continue to record ideas, mold story lines, and jot plot twists on the backs of envelopes. Her simple advice about being a writer was really about trusting myself and enjoying the process. I offer Reach Past the Shadows to readers who will hopefully enjoy the tale.

What do you do to get inside your character’s heads?

Before writing I select pictures who physically manifest my characters. That helps me visualize each one as I build the story. Deepening characters like Sarge or Quinn requires conversations with them aloud in my living room. (Yes, I do live alone!) Quinn and I talked at length about her past before I was confident that I understood how she would reveal her story. Throughout the series my characters have become close friends in my world.

What books did you grow up reading?

NANCY DREW…though I read anything that was lying around. By 7 or 8 I was often tucked in a corner with a mystery book. The idea of untangling clues leading to a logical ending captured my attention. Of course, strong female characters didn’t hurt either. Those simple stories led me to Katherine Forrest, Gerri Hill, Lynn Ames, etc. who all offered strong female leads and clues to untangle. That’s what I try to offer readers – intriguing tales with some surprise endings.

What books have you read more than once in your life?

Typically I’m not a repeater in books or movies but I’ve started to rethink that. I’ve read Ann McMan’s Jericho series three times. The depth of her characters drew me into their lives as the stories evolved. Ann’s use of humor in the middle of serious story lines helps me recenter my thinking as a reader and a writer. In order to be a better writer, I study my favorites.

Meet D.L. O’Neil

D.L. describes herself as an educator, activist, analyst, and all-round math nerd. Hailing from eastern Pennsylvania, she made her way to California and retired after 34 years in education. The settings for her books draw from familiar places that touched her heart. Her characters’ traits blur fact and fiction, influenced by women met on her travels. The content comes from her heart.

Visit D.L.’s Website

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Author Interview