Donna White Glaser’sThe Enemy We Know is a suspenseful tale of a woman with multiple stalkers. This murder mystery has the reader trying to guess the identity of a villain who first leaves creepy sonnets, and later leaves bodies for recovering alcoholic Letty Whittaker. Glaser serves the story up with such witty prose that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud several times.
Glaser is the founder of a writers’ group I used to attend. When she released The Enemy We Know (the first book in a mystery series themed on the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous), I seized the opportunity to ask her a few things about her writing, her personal life, and her decision to self-publish.
You share a number of characteristics with your protagonist, Letty Whittaker. You are both recovering alcoholics and psychotherapists living in Northwest Wisconsin. What are some of the challenges of writing about a world so close to your own?
At first it was difficult for Letty to find her own voice. The Enemy We Know is the second book I wrote in the series [even though it’s the first to be published]. In the draft of the first one I wrote, she came across very bland. I had to separate myself from wanting to let people know I wasn’t her. I was too cautious. It took awhile to develop her, but it was just a matter of continuing to write.
It helped to give her a dysfunctional family, because my own family is pretty functional. And I added in more obvious differences in our lives.
Do you ever worry that, because you and Letty have such a similar background, readers will also assume that your family is dysfunctional?
A little, but my family truly doesn’t care about it. The thing I worry about the most is that people would assume my parents are like the ones in the book. They are light years from that. But my family is confident enough in who they really are that I didn’t have to care too much what anyone would think.
Was there anything about recovery that you were able to sort out by writing it down through Letty?
[Laughs] I probably have a few homicidal tendencies. But no, nothing really. I am far enough away from being new to recovery that nothing came up. If my sobriety was newer I might have been caught up in that tangle more during the writing.
What’s been the best or most surprising aspect of having your work in the public sphere?
It feels weird to know that somebody out there might reading something I wrote. I hope it feels even weirder, I want more people reading it! [Laughs] It’s hugely gratifying to have taken the time and effort to get a book into the hands of readers. And I’ve gotten such good feedback from those who contact me. It makes it worth it.
One surprising thing is that I like self-publishing as much as I do. I always wanted to be traditionally published. I felt it was the only legitimate route. I put every effort into it and I came close. A couple times I came very close. Self-publishing was Plan B. Now that I’ve done it, I see that the flow of self-publishing works much better with my personality and I wish I would have done it sooner.
I like having control over the process. I loved my agent when I had one, but I always wanted to have my little fingers in her pie as she wrote to publishers on my behalf. And I would have had even less control as the process went on if I had been published by a major house. They would have chosen the cover, the title. I don’t care so much about the cover, but I do want to be able to name my own kid. And the reality is that all the work I do as a self-published author to promote my book is work I would have to do anyway.
Right now with e-publishing, I’m just glad I have the rights to my own book. No one knows what is going to happen in the publishing world in the next ten years, so I’m glad to have control of the process until everything shakes out.
The hardest thing about being self-published is that don’t have as much time for writing. It’s hard to promote a book and write at the same time. Hard, but doable. Another hard thing is being in the in between spot when you have the book all ready to go, but it hasn’t totally taken off yet and started selling. I find I can get obsessed with checking Amazon. How many have I sold? What’s the rank? That kind of thing.
What is something unique that you want to bring to your readers?
My primary goal is to entertain. I love the mystery genre. I truly want people to be able to escape and relax.
Having said that, as an overarching goal, if anyone is ever concerned about their own drinking and reading my book makes them feel safer about looking at that, it would be wonderful. But I don’t have any sort of moralistic goal.
Speaking of morals, why do you think we find stories about murder so entertaining and relaxing?
People always will be drawn towards stories of good versus evil. Mysteries satisfy that. It’s ordinary people coming up against evil and triumphing. There’s a justice to it. Everyone’s life is complicated. Everything is gray tones and nothing is black and white. But in a mystery we know who the good guy and bad guy is.