Monday, July 23, 2012

Interview with Author Donna Aviles

I would like to introduce Author Donna Aviles, the winner of the B.R.A.G Medallion

Donna please tell us about your book, Peanut Butter For Cupcakes.

Hi Stephanie! Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my book with your readers.

Peanut Butter For Cupcakes is the true story of my Grandfather, Oliver Nordmark, and his struggle to raise his six children during The Great Depression after the sudden and tragic death of his wife Estella. May, Bud, Oliver Jr, Margaret, Jim and Benny are all under the age of 10 as the story begins. With their mother gone, they will learn their life lessons from their Dad, who never had a real parent of his own - having been orphaned at age six.

It is a social history of this very difficult period in America and puts a real face, specifically on the children, of that era. It is also a testament to the perseverance of the human spirit and proof that "boys will be boys" regardless of money, possessions or position - or the lack thereof. Although rightfully sad at times, there are also many lighthearted moments and tales of shenanigans that will have the reader laughing along and perhaps recalling similar hi-jinks of their own! The story ends in 1940, however there is an epilogue for each character so that the reader is not left with unanswered questions.

Did you face any challenges researching for your books?

Research for Peanut Butter For Cupcakes was not a challenge per se, however it did take a bit of time. This book is written based on many hours of recorded oral history obtained from Oliver's surviving children and there were many references given to the happenings of the day. For example, Oliver's oldest son Bud joins the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) at 17 and travels to New Mexico to work in one of their camps. I researched to verify that indeed the CCC - one of many programs established as part of Roosevelt's "New Deal" actually had a camp in NM at that time. There were many such reminiscences that needed to be researched and verified to keep the story factual. Amazingly, I found very few variations from the stories that Oliver's children - now in their 80's - remembered. The difficult times of the 1930's have left indelible marks on most Americans who lived the struggle.

Your story takes place during the late 1920's. How does that time period appeal to you?

This story begins just prior to the stock market collapse of October, 1929 and continues until 1940. I grew up listening to my father, Oliver's youngest child, telling the stories of his childhood and marveled - especially as I grew older - at just how difficult childhood really was at that time yet my father spoke of fun and adventures with his brothers as though it was all very normal. To him, it was. Shooting his .22 rifle down the cellar steps to kill the rats that lived there, keeping adult sized galoshes tied onto his brother's feet with rubber bands because he had no shoes of his own, making snow skis from old barrel slats to play in the snow....all that and more seemed so foreign to me. I would often wonder if I could have found similar joy dealing with so many hardships.

Is there anything new you learned about the Great Depression while writing this story?

Absolutely! I knew nothing of the tuberculosis sanatoriums where people, young and old, were sent when it was suspected that they might have TB. Two of Oliver's children were removed from their home for a time, simply because they were small and thin which possibly indicated TB. I also learned more about the individual programs of the "New Deal" as well as the history of the New York Worlds Fair of 1939.

Is there a message in your story you want readers to grasp?

I think the message of Peanut Butter For Cupcakes is timeless. Your life is your own and although difficult and sometimes tragic things may come your way, it is up to you to decide to make the best of it and move forward making a better life for yourself and your family. Although Oliver and his children lived a "peanut butter" type of life..... plain, simple and without any extras.... they each grew to find the "sweetness of cupcakes" through hard work, love of family and faith in God. Oliver himself bettered his own life compared to his childhood. He was orphaned at age 6 and traveled west on an Orphan Train out of NYC at age 8 only to find himself separated from his young brother and living and working on a farm in Kansas. He never had the childhood he imagined and tried to make sure his own boys knew the joy of adventure. Incidentally, Oliver's childhood years are the subject of my first two books which have enjoyed a bit of attention of their own including an option contract from a Los Angeles screenwriter.

What is your next book project?

I spend a lot of time visiting schools and community organizations speaking about my books, the Orphan Train Movement, and The Great Depression. Only recently have I begun work on two new projects. One is a collection of stories illustrating the unique "normal" of raising a child with severe disabilities. The other is historical fiction for children about a Romani family (also known as Gypsies) living in the United States. I am very excited to be getting back to writing after a much too long hiatus. 

What do you think contributes to making a wcessful in self-publishing?

I think the definition of "success" when it comes to self publishing, also referred to as indie or independent publishing, has to be determined by the writer. It will often mean different things for different people. Some writers just want to get their story in book form, hold it in their hand and feel that sense of accomplishment. Others will not feel successful until a certain number of books have been sold. Still others define success as having a huge presence on the web, tens of thousands of book sales, hundreds of 5* reviews, a potential movie deal, speaking engagements, and ultimately connecting with an agent who will take their book and sell it to a traditional publisher. That is a very broad spectrum. Regardless of how you define success, there are some things that must be in place. Number one in my opinion is a well written - WELL EDITED - manuscript. I cannot stress that enough. Invest in yourself and your work and have your book professionally edited. It adds much needed credibility. Additionally, self promotion is a must. For many writers, this is truly the most difficult part. Finding ways to promote your work and getting your book - and yourself - out there are what it will take to find success as a self published author. If you can find a way to tie in your book with a presentation/lecture, you can promote your talk followed by the opportunity for audience members to purchase your book. By way of example, I am invited to schools and senior communities to speak on the history of The Orphan Train Movement and then sell copies of my first two books, Fly Little Bird, Fly! and Beyond The Orphan Train. My talk on The Great Depression is followed by a book signing of Peanut Butter For Cupcakes. I have a friend who wrote a picture book about being a Nana. She promotes it at Grandparents Day in elementary schools. Finding a topic to speak on, in addition to the standard "What it's like to be an author" talk, will give you a wider potential audience.

Who is your favorite author and why?

I don't have a favorite author, but love to read historical fiction and memoirs. I especially loved The Glass Castle and Angela's Ashes.

What is your favorite quote?

"Life is short; break the rules, forgive quickly, kiss slowly, love truly, laugh uncontrollably, and never regret anything that made you smile." This quote is generally attributed to Mark Twain.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

In addition to the tips for success, my best advice would be to write from your heart about things that matter to you, develop a thick skin, remember to pay it forward, and most of all, believe in yourself and your work!

Author Bio & Links:

Donna Aviles lives in Pike Creek, Delaware. She has worked in several fields including foreign exchange, social services, and business. After raising three children, she returned to her early love of writing and published her first book in 2004. Donna is a member of the DE Humanities Forum Speakers Bureau, the National Orphan Train Historical Society of America, and a founding member of the Independent Authors Guild. Her books are read and enjoyed by older children and adults and have been used in 3rd-8th grade classrooms as well as by home-school families. She enjoys traveling throughout the U.S., gardening and teaching piano.
Website Links:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Donna Aviles who is the author of Peanut Butter for Cupcakes, one of our medallion honorees at To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as Peanut Butter for Cupcakes merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


Thank you Donna and IndieBRAG for this wonderful interview!

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