Author’s First Published Book Has Athens Ties

by Chris Starrs

 

IMG_2515Although Gone From These Woods is Winterville resident Donny Bailey Seagraves’ first published novel, she’s quick to point out it’s not the first book she’s written.

“Actually, this is my 10th novel,” says Seagraves, an Athens native, of Gone From These Woods, which will be released in August. “This is just my first one to be published. Finally getting published seems to be a good lesson in not giving up. I guess some of those early novels were for practice, and they’ll never see the light of day.”

A well-known newspaper and magazine writer in Northeast Georgia, Seagraves will read selections from her novel on Saturday at the Winterville Library’s Authors Day. She’ll be joined by authors Dac Crossley (Guns Across the Rio), Jim Murdock (The Blankenschipe Curse About Rube Winters), Athens resident Genie Bernstein and Paige Mercer Cummings (Under the Liberty Oak).

Seagraves admits to a certain degree of good fortune when it came to seeing Gone From These Woods reach print. She attended a writer’s conference in early 2007 in Atlanta and sat in on a “first-page session” moderated by book editors.

“This was one of the only ways I could reach an editor without an agent,” she says. “There was a small window of opportunity. After they read from three or four manuscripts, they got to mine and after one editor read my first page out loud, another editor commented on it in a favorable way, so I thought she might be interested.”

Working with a tentative thumb’s up, Seagraves was able to quickly get the first few chapters to the editor and within a few weeks she had sold the book to Random House.

“They called me on April 13, 2007, which was a Friday the 13th,” she recalls. “That made it a pretty lucky day for me.”

Besides being her first published property, Gone From These Woods, also represents a first for Seagraves in that it’s the first story she’s written in a local context.

“This book definitely has ties to the Athens and Winterville areas,” she says. “The idea came from an old story, a very tragic accident that happened to a family I knew. That was the jumping-off point. I had that idea in my head for years before I started to think about a book.

“About that same time, my doctor told me I needed to get more exercise, so I started walking in my neighborhood. When you’re walking, Gone From These Woodsyou actually see things you never notice when traveling by car. There’s a spot in Winterville with four lakes in a row, and every once in a while I’d stop and look at all the animals there. Gradually, I realized this would be a good setting for a book. That was something I’d never done before — I got inspiration from my own back yard.”

Although she’s been writing since she was 8 years old and worked on the Thumbtack Tribune while a student at the old Athens High School, Seagraves – who studied journalism at the University of Georgia – began her professional writing career as a columnist at the Athens Observer (where her editor was novelist-in-waiting Philip Lee Williams), and wrote columns for six years for the Athens Daily News.

She also began a long working relationship with Athens Magazine in 1993 and  her words have also been published in the Chicago Tribune, Mature Living and the Roswell (N.M.) Literary Magazine, among other outlets. When not writing, Seagraves runs Junebug Books, an online business selling used, rare and out-of-print books, and also finds time to serve on the Winterville City Council where she was mayor pro tem for several years and acting mayor for three months.

Gone From These Woods will be marketed for middle-grade readers, although Seagraves says young adults also will enjoy it, and she’s heard from older readers who also liked the story. Nearly all of her previous novels were directed to the 9 to 12-year old set.

“My first novel was an adult novel, and my second attempt was a romance novel. . . then I started writing children’s books while working in the Winterville School library, where my children were students. I got hooked on Patricia MacLachlan’s Sarah, Plain and Tall and took it from there.”

Last weekend, Seagraves spent time at the Harriette Austin Writers Conference at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education, speaking on “Writing Middle Grade Novels” and “Selling Your First Novel.”

She says she is looking forward to Saturday’s event in Winterville for several reasons.

“It’s nice to do the first event in my hometown,” she says. “I like the idea that it’s here where I live and that it’s connected to the setting of the book, which makes it appropriate to go to my local library to read.”

This article by Chris Starrs originally appeared in the Friday, July 24, 2009 edition of the Athens Banner-Herald.

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