A former ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Stott Pilates trained Pilates Instructor Deborah Donahue is a first time Canadian author born and raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Her debut novel I Used To Live On Banning Street has been garnering rave reviews as she begins her new venture of writing a screenplay based on her book. You can find her online at deborahdonahue.info.
Shauna Kosoris: What was the inspiration behind your first book, I Used to Live on Banning Street?
Deborah Donahue: My best friend that I grew up with got married and had kids really young. I continued on single and hitting the party scene for another six years afterwards. Whenever I would tell her a story of some messed up crazy night on the town, she would always say “Deb, you oughta write a book.” It wasn’t until the third time that she said it, that the light bulb went on and where the idea for this book really started.
Where did you get the idea for your main character, Danielle?
The idea for the character of Danielle came from this girl we used to hang out with when we were teenagers. She was constantly in trouble at school and with her parents all the time. Whenever she got into big time trouble, her parents would ground her but would never stick to it, it was so laughable.
I Used to Live on Banning Street is set in the 1980’s. Why does that time appeal to you as a writer?
Gigantic hair, mullets, shoulder pads, rubix cubes, the music, the fashion, like pastel suits and neon colored clothing. It was a wacky era where everything was way over the top and tacky but nobody seemed to mind. There was no social media, people actually interacted back then and seemed to be less stressed out and a lot less self conscience.
You started writing your book in 2012, and it was published eight years later. What were the most challenging aspects of writing I Used to Live on Banning Street?
One of the most challenging aspects of writing I Used To Live On Banning Street, was the constant changes I would continuously make to certain sentences and paragraphs. I am somewhat of a perfectionist and would reword or rewrite a certain sentence, in the hope that it sounded better, but would then proceed to rewrite it and change it multiple times. Then after numerous changes, I would sometimes change said sentence or paragraph back to the way it originally was in the first place. I probably wasted about two years of the writing process just doing this alone.
Another challenge was the fact that I included partial lyrics of certain songs of the era, that I felt helped to enhance the storyline of the 1980s throughout the book. In order to do this I needed to find out who actually owned the rights to these songs, so as not to be sued for copyright infringement. Trying to find out who owned the rights to the song “Run Like Hell” by Pink Floyd was an absolute nightmare. I found the publishing distribution company that owned fifty percent of the song, but they were unable to tell me who owned the other fifty percent. It took about 4 months of real detective work to finally figure it out and at one point I thought I would have to take those lyrics out. I really didn’t want to go that route since I was already denied two Led Zeppelin and two Motley Crue songs because the publisher had deemed my book as too ‘racy.’ I had to email a page before, the page containing the lyrics and the page after to the publishers so they could get a gist of what type of context the lyrics would be used in. I will never forget the very strongly worded response I received, “Absolutely not and you must take these lyrics out of your publication immediately.” At first I was pretty mad and disappointed about it but then thought, “Hey, they say they can’t handle my book because they think it’s too ‘racy.’ Maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.”
I Used to Live on Banning Street was self published with Tellwell Talent. Why did you decide to go the self-publishing route?
With self publishing you have far more creative control, pay little upfront and also make a lot more in royalties. Self published books have a much higher royalty rate than traditional published books, because you get to keep anywhere from 50 – 70% of your book’s profits. Sometimes it takes years to publish with a traditional publisher whereas with self publishing you can produce your content as quickly as you want.
I Used to Live on Banning Street was published right around when Ontario first went into lockdown for the Covid-19 pandemic. What was it like, launching a book in the middle of all that?
Launching a book in the middle of a pandemic was pretty disappointing to say the least. I had planned to have a big book release party at a local pub but that idea had to be scrapped until who knows when now. The reviews for I Used To Live On Banning Street have been exceptional so I suppose that makes up for it in a way.
That’s good to hear. So what are you working on now?
I am working on writing a screenplay based on I Used To Live On Banning Street.
Good luck! To wrap this up, I’d like to ask you a few questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?
It was actually two books that inspired me to write. One was a book called The Dirt (the autobiography of Motley Crue) by Neil Strauss and the other one was Shit My Dad Says by Justin Halpern. I think I Used To Live On Banning Street is a combination of the rock and roll raunchiness of The Dirt, with the hilarious antics of the characters in my book matching the hilarity and humor of Shit My Dad Says by Justin Halpern.
And is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?
If anyone is planning on writing a screenplay, I highly recommend the book Screenplay: The Foundations Of Screenwriting by Syd Field. Syd Field taught a screenwriting class at Sherwood Oaks Experimental College back in the 70s. It was the kind of school where Paul Newman, Dustin Hoffman and Lucille Ball taught acting seminars; where Tony Bill taught a producing seminar (Academy Award Best Picture ‘The Sting’) and where Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman and Vimos Zsigmond taught classes in cinematography. A very informative and interesting read.