Friday, August 26, 2016

On Making Believe: An Interview with Author Dianne Gardner

I met Dianne in the #Pitchwars Twitter feed
and felt drawn in by her diverse books,
her artwork, and her brave voyage into the realm of television screenplays.

My interest piqued, I figured the best way to find out more about Dianne's creative path was to ask her... And do a little web trolling.
Katie: Your books are diverse. You've written about life underwater, travels to magical realms, a dystopia, and a historical fantasy. What draws you to so many genres? Is there an underlying theme which connects your stories?

Dianne: Every story I have written has a fantastical element. Mermaids in Pouraka, Altered, though a dystopia, also has a Native American Myth woven into its thread. The Ian’s Realm Saga is a portal travel saga as is Cassandra’s Castle. I also have one humorous vampire story titled An Unconventional Mr. Peadlebody. Each of these fantasies are really the same genre, just a different subgenre and Cassandra’s Castle is the fifth book in the Ian’s Realm Saga.

Katie: Cassandra's Castle will be released on August 31st. You self-publish and handle your own promotions. Can you tell us what self-pub strategies work for you? What tips would you share with other authors considering self-pub?

Dianne: I’m still experimenting with self-publishing and am also querying agents with my next book. As much as I enjoy the control I have (I do my own covers), I find it extremely difficult to promote and market my own work. Some authors do a really good job getting their books seen and I think a lot of that depends on genre. Romance for example, sells well in the self-published arena. Young Adult fantasy, I think is a hit and miss. For authors that like speaking publicly, there could be a big market at schools and libraries.

Katie: Cassandra's Castle is the 5th book in the Ian's Realm Saga. What started you on the path from manuscript to screenplay? And can you tell us about your journey from manuscript to screenplay?

Dianne: Three years ago I got some friends together to film a book trailer for Cassandra’s Castle (I thought the book was going to be published by a small press at the time). A videographer, some actors, and my fencing coach. We gathered some costumes, some lunch, and headed up to Fort Worden near Port Townsend WA. We had a blast filming the book trailer and on the way home talked about how awesome it would be if we filmed the entire book. Well lots has happened in the direction since then including getting legendary actor Robert Miano to play the wizard, a director from Chicago, and one of Seattle’s best cinematographer. I’ve written the story into a TV series and fleshed out the character more than I had in the original draft of the book, and now since I edited, inserted some of the screenplay scenes into the novel. 

We’ve won 8 film festivals screening with our trailer, and three awards including best trailer and a trophy for my script for the pilot. We’ve applied for some grants to film the first episode and are waiting to hear.

In the process, I have discovered that there’s a huge venue for screenwriting. I wrote another of my stories (An Unconventional Mr. Peadlebody) into a stage play and that script won Best Mystery at a local screenplay festival.

There seems to be more demand for screenwriters than novelists. I hope to pursue that field further.

Katie: You created a video trailer for the proposed television series. What are a few little know facts about making a trailer like this?

Dianne: The trailer you see is 1.5 minutes long. That trailer took 14 hours to film, 30 cast and crew members and close to $8,000. Filming a period piece is of course going to cost more than contemporary productions because of props and costumes, and the fact we needed a castle to film at. Plus, we had Robert Miano come and play the wizard and we had to fly him, our director, and our unit project manager in. The amount of time and effort and funding that it takes to film is phenomenal.

Everyone loves movies and TV, but do they really appreciate what goes into one? I can tell you this, having a film made in your locale is an extreme benefit to the local economy. Some of the services we used are hotels, caterers, dry cleaners, fabric shops, rental companies, grocery stores, coffee houses, restaurants, taxies, office supplies, printers, seamstresses, pyro-technicians and supplies, antique stores, make-up artists, and the list goes on, and of course, we needed extras. 

Katie: On your website I found steps for creating a Yurt, an adventure on a large ship, and a map for the Ian's Realm Saga. How do you use visuals like these to inspire your writing?

Dianne: You saw steps for creating a yurt, and you also saw a day on a tall ship. I’m a visual artist. If you look elsewhere on my website you’ll see oil paintings that I have done. The experience of being on a tall ship, learning the vocabulary, and breathing in the taste of the sea and the whisper of the sails, are part of experience what we write about. Ian’s Realm Saga has Ian on a tall ship with pirates, and this ‘Discovery Voyage’ on the Hawaiian Chieftain was a hands on course for researching my manuscript. Same with building a yurt. In Ian’s saga, the native people live in yurts. I was indeed thrilled when my friends invited me to watch how they constructed their Mongolian yurt, which by the way is entirely hand made.

Katie: I read your post about the backstory for one of your characters. What is the most interesting or complex backstory you've created and how do you use backstories to influence plots or character arcs?

Dianne: Valerio has the most complex backstory. Being the antagonist of Cassandra’s Castle, I felt the need to really develop his history and give him a reason for being who he is. Overthrowing a monarchy is no easy feat, and he really needed to be grounded in his intent, for these sort of things can’t be taken lightly. I did not want a cliché villain. I wanted someone deep, someone the audience can understand, even if they don’t agree with him. And I needed someone who was convincing, because he has to convince Cassandra’s that his cause is for the good.

Katie: You've posted quotes on your Twitter feed and have character quotes on your website. What are some of your favorite quotes?

Dianne: When Cassie lies to the wizard, Silvio eyes her suspiciously and later when he accuses her of being gullible, she contests his accusation. He turns to her, and hisses at her saying “Those who party in deceit will be fooled by it.”

Valerio, when Cassie mentions that her father doesn’t know she entered the portal, thinks to himself she’s a young rebel. So when Cassie asks him what he and his men are up to, he looks at her with a smug smile and says, “Ah! The inquisitiveness of a rebel as to the work of a revolutionary!”

I asked Dianne a few questions, just for fun, to help us get to know her more.

  1. What’s your favorite location for maximum creativity and productivity? How often are you able to visit this setting?
I work best at my desk. We live on 1.5 acres of land, beautiful setting. There’s only me and my husband and he stays as much to himself as I do to myself. I can’t ask for a better place to work!
  1. If I gave you $40,000 to start a business, what would you start?
I’d put it toward filming the Pilot episode of Cassandra’s Castle.
  1. On a scale of 1 to 10, how weird are you?
  1. Coke, Pepsi, or Dr. Pepper?
Pepsi always.
  1. When you were ten, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a graphic artist for Disney and work at Disneyland (I grew up in L.A.)
  1. What do you think about when you’re alone in your car?
I’m usually thinking about my stories. Almost always. That or filming.
  1. How would you describe the color yellow to somebody who is blind?
Think warm, a light-to-the-touch warm, with the taste of butterscotch and the fragrance of honey.
  1. Tell us about the project you’re most proud of completing.
Our trailer. I’m really proud of how it came out, the wonderful time we had filming it, my fencing coach and the time he spent teaching our actors to fence, the new friends we made, the encouragement everyone gave us, and all the awards we’ve been getting.

Katie: What else would you like to share with us?

Dianne: I can share an excerpt. This is the portal entry scene, when Cassie first discovers the entry into the Realm through her cell phone. She is in the woods with her friend Monica and Daemon, and she’s taking photos of them dressed in revolutionary costumes for a term project they’re doing.

The Term Project

“Are you serious Cassie? You want me to wear this? I mean the Khaki’s I can understand but this…this thing?” Daemon held up a cardboard cone painted red and stapled together. “On my head? Who made this thing?”
“I did and it’ll look like a uniform in the photo. That’s all we need. It doesn’t have to be real.” Cassie positioned him next to a stump and placed the make-believe fez securely on his head. She pushed his wavy overgrown hair behind his ears and took off his dark rimmed glasses. He blinked and then squinted, his thick brown lashes covered his dark hazel eyes.
“I can’t see.” Daemon was Cassie’s age but she always thought of him as a younger brother. Too skinny for sports, Daemon was a computer geek in every sense of the word. Getting him out in the sunshine was a feat in itself, much less having him put on a Turkish uniform for a term project.
“It’s OK. You aren’t going anywhere.”
“I don’t know Cassie,” Monica complained, tossing her blond hair over her shoulders and stepping next to Daemon. Her sneakers caught the hem of her long black skirt and she stumbled. “This outfit is disgusting. Suffrage? Seriously? I’m suffering in this dress all right! I don’t see why we couldn’t have done our term project on something cool instead of dressing up like dorks. Everyone’s going to laugh at us. Besides, cool things did happen in 1908, you know. Like Ford and the Model T, or Orville Wright and the airplane! Why did you have to choose a war?”
Cassie sighed. “Get closer to Daemon, Monica, he won’t bite. Why should we do the same report everyone else is doing? And our project isn’t just on war. The project is about revolution which is entirely different. Each of us will report on one of the major revolutions of that time period. Be thinking of which one you want to cover.”
“Why the fez?” Daemon snickered.
“The Turkish revolution is the easiest to make accessories for.” Cassie returned the sour look as she rummaged through her backpack.
“Begging your pardon, Miss Liberty, but this is not a Turkish accessory. It’s a paper plate?”
“Daemon does it matter? Who else will be dramatizing their projects like this? No one, that’s who. Just wait and see. We’re going to ace this.”
She pulled a toy rifle from her pack and placed it in Daemon’s hand. “Here, Monica.” Cassie handed her friend a flag painted with the word ‘women’s rights’. Monica rolled her eyes.
“Hold still now. Look serious.” Cassie stepped back and held up her camera. “Move in closer, Mon.”
“Are we supposed to smile or what?” Monica asked, scowling.
“No. Look like revolutionaries who believe in what you’re fighting for.”
“I don’t’,” Daemon dropped the gun and crossed his arms over his chest.
Cassie lowered her camera.
“You don’t? You don’t believe in freedom? You don’t think these are causes that people were passionate about? C’mon Daemon this is real. These people changed the world. Think Les Mes!” She picked up the toy and handed it to him again. He reluctantly accepted.
“Les Mes was overrated. No one was singing during the French Revolution. They were dying. People killed each other in these wars, Cassie. I’m not into that. The world can be changed without killing.”
“Maybe so but it wasn’t. Besides, what could be better to report on than movements that bettered our lives?”
“You want my opinion? I think we should do our report on Ed Ruelbach’s shutout against the Dodgers.”
“That’d be even more hilarious! We could all wear baseball jerseys and beat each other over the head with bats!” Monica sneered.
“Which would be a lot more interesting than standing in the woods letting Cassie take pictures of us in our pajamas! With red paper cones on our heads!” Daemon returned.
“Ah! Perfect!” Cassie exclaimed. That’s the look I wanted. There! Baseball did nothing to better the world.” Cassie argued. She held her cell phone up again and snapped several more shots.
“That’s your opinion.” Daemon said.
“Besides, sacrifices had to be made for freedom.” She clicked to the gallery on her phone, curious to see how the shots came out
“Easy for you to say. You wouldn’t have had to fight in the trenches. Are we done yet?”
When she enlarged the photos on her screen her mouth fell open. Shocked by the images, her mind started spinning. There had to be an explanation.
Monica sighed. “C’mon Cassie, this dress is wool and it’s 70 degrees.”
“What’s going on?” Daemon asked.
Cassie looked up at them and then at her camera again. Behind the still of Daemon and Monica were three soldiers. One kneeled in a firing position, the other two lying prone in what appeared to be a trench, their rifles smoldering. Smoke surrounded them and concealed much of their environment. Cassie saw water behind them, as though the men were along the coast shooting out toward the sea.
Daemon raced to her side and pulled his glasses out of her pocket. Pushing the spectacles onto his nose, he took a closer look at her phone. “Holy Toledo!” Daemon whistled. “What do you think that’s about?”
Cassie didn’t answer, though her heart beat against her chest. This was just like the stories her father had told her about when he entered the portal, except it was happening on her cell phone instead of a computer. “The Realm. My dad’s Realm.”
Monica looked over Cassie’s shoulder. After viewing the image, she finally spoke. “You’re kidding, right?”
Daemon tried taking the phone but Cassie pulled away.
“Monica, take a photo of me,” Cassie said.
“No.” Daemon snapped.
“It’s here, Daemon. The portal is right there by that tree! Dad’s world! Last night I saw a couple of strange images on my phone. A bearded kid and a hairy old man. I thought I was just tired, but now I know what’s happening.”
“Cassie what are you talking about? What’s happening?” Monica jumped back with her hands in the air, refusing to take the phone that Cassie offered her.
“She’s talking about the Realm. She thinks this is a portal now because there’s a glitch in that crazy camera of hers. Probably some website sent you those images.”
“No Daemon, I would know if it was spam. And it’s not a glitch. Look. Those are real people. Another click of the camera and I bet I go in. In fact, I’m sure of it.”
“Go in where?” Monica asked.
“The Realm. The portal.”
“You mean the place your father used to tell stories about?” Monica asked.
“They aren’t stories,” Daemon mumbled, reaching for the phone, again. This time he took hold of it, but Cassie wrestled it away.
“What? You believe her?”
“Rarely do I believe Cassie.” Daemon assured her. “But I do believe her dad. I’ve talked to Mr. Wilson about his adventures. There’s a world that runs parallel to ours and Mr. Wilson says portals exist that can take you there.” Daemon faced Cassie. “He also says it’s a dangerous world. He wouldn’t approve of you going through a portal. I’m sure of it.”
“Dangerous?” Monica shot a look first at Cassie, and then Daemon.
“The dragon’s gone, Daemon. Dad knows that. He’s the one that got it out.”
“Dragon?” Monica turned white.
“There are other dangers, too. A mountain where people disappear! Pirates! It’s an unpredictable world.” Daemon argued.
“Unpredictable and filled with intrigue and adventure.” Cassie laughed, excitement filling every vein in her body. She giggled. “This is the entrance! I finally found it!”
“Are you guys joking?” Monica’s eyes bulged.
“No!” Daemon and Cassie both answered in unison.
“You aren’t going to disappear. Not an option. No,” Daemon reached for her phone, again.
Cassie stumbled away from him and tripped into the ferns. “You can't stop me Daemon. I’m going in with or without you two.”
“That’s insane, Cassie,” Monica said.
“I’ll have my cell phone. You can text me.” Cassie scrambled to the spot where Daemon and Monica had been posed, and held the phone in front of her.
“No!” Daemon lunged for her.
Cassie clicked the shutter. Monica screamed. A great blue flash lit up the woods and when Cassie blinked, her friends were gone…or rather she was.

To purchase Cassandra's Castle or any of Dianne's stories, visit Smashwords and Amazon


  1. Thanks so much for doing all of this Katie! It looks great!

    1. Dianne,

      It was my pleasure. I learned so much from your answers and am inspired to keep writing!