A native of Bergenfield, New Jersey, Donna Thorland graduated from Yale with a degree in Classics and Art History and then moved to Boston. For many years she managed architecture and interpretation at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, and wrote and directed the Witch City’s most popular Halloween theater festival, Eerie Events. She later earned an MFA in film production from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Donna has been a sorority house mother, a Disney/ABC Television Writing Fellow, a WGA Writer’s Access Project Honoree, and a staff writer on the ABC primetime drama, Cupid. Her screenwriting credits include episodes of the animated series, Tron: Uprising. Her short fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and Albedo One. The director of several award-winning short films, her most recent project, The Night Caller, aired on WNET Channel 13 and was featured on Ain’t It Cool News. She is married with one cat and divides her time between Los Angeles and Salem.
Kristin Centorcelli: Donna, will you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Donna Thorland: I have always wanted to be a writer! I grew up on a steady diet of scifi, mystery, and adventure stories and particularly loved horror and sword and sorcery fiction.
After college I lucked into a terrific job at the Peabody Essex Museum, in Salem, where I managed architecture and interpretation and got to direct a Halloween theater program called Eerie Events. We wrote original ghost stories delivered by costumed actors in historic houses for an audience of 10,000 visitors over six nights. Salem is right in the heart of Lovecraft territory, of course, so we drew heavily on him as an influence, along with Hawthorne, Poe, Le Fanu, Dunsany, and M.R. James and contemporary short story master Gary Raisor.
Later I went to film school and had the opportunity to adapt one of Gary’s best stories, “The Night Caller”, as a short film that’s played at the Chinese and Egyptian theaters in Los Angeles and been broadcast on PBS.
I’ve also written for Disney’s animated series, TRON: Uprising.
DT: DRITH is set in an alternate 12th-century Levant where ex-crusaders tangle with dark magic. The heroine is a thief and sellsword who has to steal a necromantic tome to ransom her lover back from a sorcerer.
KC: What inspired you to write the story?
DT: I was hungry for more adventure stories with a female protagonist, a girl-Conan, like CL Moore’s Jirel of Joiry or Robert E. Howard’s Black Agnes. And my husband’s background is in Assyriology, so I was interested in creating a world where ancient Near Eastern mythology blended with Lovecraft’s cosmic horror.
KC: What do you enjoy most about writing fantasy, and what was your favorite part of writing DRITH?
DT: I enjoy the world building and I love writing strong women. In fantasy, there are no limits to what a woman can do—except the ones imposed by the author.
KC: You’re also the author of THE TURNCOAT, an adventure that takes place in 1777 Philadelphia. Is it an easy transition for you between historical and fantasy writing?
DT: They both involve a lot of world building, choosing the right detail to evoke the setting, but fantasy allows you to work with a broader palate.
KC: What are some books or authors that have influenced you in your writing?
DT: H.P. Lovecraft, Dunsany, Jack Vance, Robert E. Howard, Dorothy Dunnett and George MacDonald Fraser.
KC: When you’re not busy on your next project, how do you like to spend your free time?
DT: I run and I hike. I split my time between Salem and Los Angeles, so I get to switch up the scenery quite a bit. And when I’m home in Salem, on Friday nights I play in my husband’s D&D campaign, which has been running for about 12 years now.
KC: What’s next for you?
DT: I’m writing an urban fantasy series for Pocket called COLD IRON, set in Boston, where the Irish gangs of Southie and Charlestown are really warring clans of Fae, due out in 2014. And the next installment of Drith’s adventures.