An Interview With Alex Donahue

Having served in the Military since he was eighteen and moving back and forth between Prince Edward Island and Halifax, Nova Scotia for various international deployments with the Royal Canadian Navy; Alex Donahue spends most of his free time writing both historical fiction and slice of life contemporary fiction.

It’s Sunday. Do you know what that means? It’s interview day! Let’s read, learn and connect with this year’s fantastic bunch of writers, editors and agents. Next up: author Alex Donahue on his book, LEON AND CHRIS.

Alex’s Advice for Writers

“If you can say it with fewer words, then say it with fewer words.”

You’re from  Prince Edward Island! My aunt and her family lived on the island for several years and dearly miss the fresh seafood. Did being from the home of LM Montgomery inspire your writing journey? If not, then what did?
Anne of Green Gables certainly has a similar tone to my novel, in the sense that it’s slice of life story about living on Prince Edward Island. As important as Anne of Green Gables is, I wouldn’t say it was my biggest inspiration.  Mark Twain had more influence on my story than LM Montgomery. The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin has a brilliance in its simplicity, which is something I can only strive for. By that I mean, it’s a simple story that’s easy to read. But there’s so many layers and so much important meaning behind it all. On a different end of the spectrum, Charlie Kaufman has been my favorite writer for years. I have never seen anyone pull off abstract symbolism better than him. Whenever I write anything, I always have their works in mind.

You might have noted that Charlie Kaufman isn’t known so much for his novel, but rather his screenplays. Often, I noticed writers (not just rookies, but well-educated writers as well) get too into one medium. What I mean is, when they want influence; they look at other novels.  I need to take influence from everything. Music is a one a lot of people use, but don’t forget plays, paintings, or experimental projects.

I maintain that one of the most beautiful and well-crafted pieces of art to come out in my lifetime is Silent Hill 2, for the PlayStation 2. Which I think has one of the strongest senses of atmosphere of any story ever created. And it’s from a medium, I fear, too many story tellers ignore.

Are any of your characters in LEON & CHRIS based on real people? Real stories?
In a cliché sort of way, many of the characters are based off me. Either how I was thinking at different points in my life, or how I’d be if a certain characteristic about myself were my dominant trait.

I came up with the story while reading about economics, oddly enough. Specifically, the Great Depression, which is when my story takes place. I found that many historians will write that the Great Depression lasted from 1929-1939. But if you ask anyone who lived the that era, they’ll tell you things got much worse when the war started. Which makes since, all our resources were diverted for the war effort and we rationed just about everything.  I wanted to tell a story about what it was like to grow up living at home, during arguably the hardest time of Canadian history. A story about poverty, from the perspective of characters who would hardly know the difference, at the time.

Without getting into spoiler territory. I wanted to subtly show how that the Depression ended because of the perseverance of the communities and the individuals who live there. That said, the two titular characters “Leon & Chris” got their namesake from two of the main characters from the Resident Evil series, Leon Kennedy and Chris Redfield. Little Easter egg for you.

What are your favorite under-appreciated novels or authors?
What drew you to them?
Under-appreciated is a complicated phrase. If something is unknown in one sector of the world, but is common knowledge elsewhere, is it under-appreciated? In my life when I talk to anyone about the works of Katsuhrio Otomo, namely Akira, they might know of the film, but no one I know is has read the books. Akira has amazing artwork and a powerful story. I read all six books in a day, something I’ve never done before. I’m usually a slow reader.

Another great book to read is Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made. Which features the screenplay and history of the movie Napoleon, as well has details about Kubrick’s film that never saw the light of day. In both cases it was actually their films that got my attention. Films are extremely important for novels. Harry Potter would not be the household name it is, if it weren’t for the movies.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
When I was in grade school, I was always bewildered when teacher would say, “We’re going to write stories.” And everyone would act like it was some kind of chore. We would be given an hour or so to write whatever story we wanted and most of the other students would use the time to talk. I couldn’t wait to get writing. It was by far the most fun I had in school, there was nothing I loved more.

I also remember in high school, when we read All Quiet on the Western Front. Under the title there was quote that said, “The Greatest war story ever written.” And I thought, hm, I’ll be the judge of that. After I read it, I realized they were right. I knew I wanted to write something as deep as that someday.

And now for something fun. Let’s play an either/or game:
Coke or Pepsi: Pepsi. Tastes better.
Chocolate or Vanilla: Vanilla. Tastes better.
Fantasy or Science Fiction: Fantasy. I like The Lord of the Rings.
Cake or Donuts: Donuts. I can say it’s for breakfast and nobody judges me.
Bacon or Sausage: Turkey bacon. It tastes better.
Green beans or Broccoli: Broccoli. I don’t get the stigma. It’s fine, people.
Oranges or Peaches: Oranges…Peaches are too much.
Watermelon or Cantaloupe: Cantaloupe, I saw Rugrats. There’s no way I’m eating a Watermelon.
Tic-Tacs or Altoids: I don’t even remember the last time I’ve seen an Altoid.
Coffee or Tea: Coffee

Check back next week to meet writer Dr. Jason Carson (John Shupeck). In the meantime, have a read of last week’s interview with John Taylor.

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