Monday, October 29, 2007

Halloween Special--Shirley Damsgaard and a Contest!

In keeping with the season, I interviewed my good friend Shirley Damsgaard, author of the chart-climbing Ophelia and Abby Series. If you believe in magick--and 'tis the season, right?--you'll love the spunky Ophelia, her smart and sassy friend Darci, and her wise-woman grandmother Abby.

To launch my new website Shirley and I have "brewed up" a special Ophelia and Abby CONTEST, deadline October 31, 2007. Go to my website add your information in the appropriate box (lower right corner), and you could win all five Ophelia and Abby books. I'll draw a name from that list on Halloween and notify the winner around November 5, 2007. (By the way, I'd love feedback about the website. Email me at

1. Okay, Shirley, how did you get started writing?

When my late husband was hospitalized for several months at the Mayo Clinics in Rochester, MN. I spent a lot of time driving. It was during those long drives that I started playing with the idea of writing.

2. Does writing “run” in your family?

Yes it does—there seems to be a lot of creativity on my father’s, the Damsgaard, side of my family. My aunt, Maggie Damsgaard, began writing at the age of sixteen and didn’t stop until her death at the age of ninety-two. She had several short stories published and self-published a Young Adult novel. She weathered many rejections and never gave up. A good lesson there!

3. How did Ophelia and Abby come to be?

My husband pointed out I always ruined movies for him by telling him how they would end, so why not put that talent to a more productive use! Because my background has been a typical, small town in the Midwest kind of a life, I knew I would need to create an amateur sleuth. I’ve always been interested in the paranormal, so I thought giving my sleuth psychic talents would be fun.

4. What was the germ of the idea that became the books?

At the first writing conference I ever attended author Donald Harstead pointed out that every story starts out with one question, “What if…?” That started me thinking—what is it like to be a psychic? What if one felt their talent let them down at the moment they most needed it? Can one ever be who they’re meant to be if they don’t follow their destiny? Those questions were the beginning of WITCH WAY TO MURDER.

5. I know you have a “day job” as a Post Mistress. Tell me about your work habits.

I’ve found the most creative time for me is early in the morning, when the house is quiet. When I’m working on a manuscript, I usually begin my day about 4:30 and try to write about 5 pages before getting ready for work. On the weekends, it’s more. In the evenings, I work on marketing, updating my mailing list, responding to emails, etc., while I watch TV.

6. You seem like such a normal person! Why paranormal?

One of my favorite quotes is “There are more things, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I like the idea that we don’t know everything, that the world is full of mystery, that there is a little magick to be discovered.

7. Did you know a lot about the paranormal world when you started?

A little—but I’ve learned a lot more through research and having the opportunity to interview some very amazing people! My research started with one book, AMERICAN FOLK MAGICK, by Silver Ravenwolf. It seems that I’ve met the people I needed to--when I needed to. I’ve learned is not to be afraid to ask questions—as long as you approach people with respect, they’re usually more than happy to answer your questions.

8. Do you have any self-imposed rules? Things you refuse to include, no matter how interesting?

I don’t put actual spells in the stories—I don’t believe magick is something to play around with unless you have an understanding of how it’s supposed to work.

9. Did you originally believe in the paranormal world when you began writing?

To a certain extent—I’ve always believed that there are true psychics. (There are charlatans out there, too! In fact one psychic that I’ve gotten to know recommends that you stay away from anyone who’s styled as “Madame So and So!” They probably aren’t for real!)

10. Do you believe now? Why did you change your mind, if you did?

I would say, because of the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had, I definitely think more outside of the box now!

11. How much is Ophelia, your main character, like you?

According to my oldest daughter, she talks just like me! And we definitely have the same sense of humor. And, unbeknownst to me when I was originally creating it, her relationship with Abby is much like the relationship that I shared with my mother when she was alive.

12. In what ways is she different?

I think I’m a little more open than Ophelia is—not so reluctant to express my feelings as she is. She’s younger. Oh, and she’s a witch and a psychic and I’m not! (Even though my nine year old granddaughter has been known to try and impress her little friends by telling them I am.)

13. If you could share one idea with aspiring authors—one suggestion which has made a difference in your career—what would that be?

Don’t give up—be persistent—but at the same time, roll with the punches—be flexible. If the first pitch doesn’t work, think of a new one. If you receive advice from someone who knows what they’re talking about—listen. Try and take every situation, even the negative ones, and learn from it to improve your craft!

To view the full Ophelia and Abby Series, go to


Monica Ferris said...

Interesting interview! I am going to try one of those books -- I love the cover of The Witch is Dead! I will be writing about a woman who practices Wicca in Blackwork, a future Betsy Devonshire novel. Researching it has been fun. Thanks for another source.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

You are welcome. I'm sure Shirley would be happy to confer with you. She's a gem.