New Voice & Giveaway: Donna Cooner on Skinny

By Cynthia Leitich Smith

Donna Cooner is the first-time author of Skinny (Scholastic, 2012). From the promotional copy:

Hopeless. Freak. Elephant. Pitiful. 

These are the words of Skinny, the vicious voice that lives inside fifteen-year-old Ever Davies’s head. Skinny tells Ever all the dark thoughts her classmates have about her. Ever knows she weighs over three hundred pounds, knows she’ll probably never be loved, and Skinny makes sure she never forgets it.

But there is another voice. Ever’s singing voice, which is beautiful but has always been silenced by Skinny. Partly in hopes of trying out for the school musical—and partly to try and save her own life—Ever decides to undergo a risky surgery that may help her lose weight and start over.

With the support of her best friend, Ever begins the uphill battle toward change. But demons, she finds, are not so easy to shake, not even as she sheds pounds. Because Skinny is still around. And Ever will have to confront that voice before she can truly find her own.

Could you tell us about your writing community-your critique group or partner or other sources of emotional and/or professional support?

A couple of years ago, I was in a small critique group at a writing conference. We all read pages from our works in progress, and I was immediately impressed by the quality and diversity of the writing around me. One manuscript was a futuristic dystopian. Another a historical set in the time of Henry VIII, and still another a paranormal tale based on Celtic myth.

Later, one of the participants emailed to see if we’d like to stay in touch. We did, and the YAMuses were born.

At that time, we never imagined how our writing lives were about to change or how important that chance meeting would become. Within a year, we launched a blog, signed with agents, and sold eleven books between us.

Those manuscripts we read that day became Under The Never Sky by Veronica Rossi (HarperCollins, 2012), Gilt by Katherine Longshore (Viking, 2012), Silver by Talia Vance (Flux, 2012), and Skinny by Donna Cooner (Scholastic, 2012). We also adopted future author, Bret Ballou, along the way.

The writing life is, for the most part, a solitary endeavor. Having four brilliant writing minds focused on making my manuscript better is an incredible resource.

While the Muses certainly support the writing process, we also support each other in the business aspect of publishing. I’m lucky enough to often get a “behind the scenes” view of different agents, different publicists, and different publishers.

Muses share a wickedly funny sense of humor. When we’re together we laugh a lot, sometimes so hard we can’t catch our breath. We usually have multiple email streams in play every day. One day we had twenty three emails exchanged that started with the title, “Quick.” We share celebrations, frustrations, information, jokes, silliness, and fears.

Below is a small sample of what the conversation looks like:

On Tue, Sep 11, 2012 at 7:12 AM, Talia Vance wrote:

Hi guys,

So I am already at the office after being here until 10 last night. The only thing getting me through this week is knowing I will get a break on Saturday to celebrate with you. Thank you so much for everything. Your support and friendship has become so dear to me in the last couple of years, and I just want you to know how much I appreciate it.

Why yes, lack of sleep does make me a tad emotional.


On Sep 11, 2012, at 10:57 AM, Bret Ballou wrote:


So sorry that you’re slammed at work. We are lucky to have you in our lives. You’re so insightful, analytical, and passionate. You are fiercely loyal and generous. You work so so so hard. The amount you’ve achieved (all y’all have achieved) is mind boggling.
I for one, couldn’t ask for better friends.

On Sep 22, 2012, at 2:32 PM, Donna Cooner wrote:


I just had this weird, out of body experience where I pulled the car over to the side of the road and had to blink the tears away. You know that moment when you realize, Oh My God, I’m actually living my dream of being an author?

Sometimes all the stress and doubt of this path overwhelm that amazingness, so I just wanted to share it with you.

Love you guys!

On Sep 22, 2012, at 3:02 PM, Veronica Rossi wrote:

Thank you, Donna. For sharing the journey and for this email. I’ve been trudging through stuff most of the morning, and this is a wonderful reminder that we are so lucky to be where we are, to have something we love to do that has brought us great friends and so many memories.

On Sep 22, 21012 at 3:15 PM, Katherine Longshore wrote:

Now you’ve got me started. Thank you for sharing, and thank you for reminding me.

Love you, too.

As someone with a full-time day job, how do you manage to also carve out time to write and build a publishing career? What advice do you have for other writers trying to do the same?

Balancing the time between writing a novel and being in the real
world is challenging. Sometimes beyond challenging. I am a professor
and university administrator at Colorado State University.
It is a full time, twelve month position, and I am responsible for
supervising over ninety faculty and staff. Time for writing, and now
marketing/publicity, has to be squeezed in around the work schedule.

more than the time management needed to get the actual story onto the
page, there is the constant pull of living stories out in your head. The
“head” world is a tempting one. It’s full of word play, adventure,
passion and imagination. The other world–the “real” one–is often full
of curriculum meetings, graduate students, and budget scenarios.

Finding equilibrium and continuity between the two worlds is never easy.
Driving to work, I stop at a traffic light and suddenly realize I’ve
solved the plot problem in chapter three. Or I find myself nodding at
inappropriate times at a Dean’s council meeting because I’m listening to
the dialogue in my head instead of the conversation at the table.

Even though the balance isn’t easy, there are some things learned that seem to help. I often start my morning at a local coffee shop before heading in to the office. They keep my tab on an index card in a little box and I pay up monthly. It’s a special place I keep sacred for the writing world, and going there triggers my brain to shut down all thoughts of work.

I also set short, daily writing goals to keep the story going in my head even if I’m not actually at a computer writing it down.

Finally, I don’t compare my writing routines to a perception of how it “should be.” Very few writers I know actually have a writer’s cottage in the woods with the perfectly behaved pet curled up on the rug at their feet while they type away at breakneck speeds on novel number nineteen.

And if you want to see just how far away I am from this perception, see photos below.

Roxanne, who’s featured in Skinny.
The reason Roxanne is called “the goat dog.”

Cynsational Notes

Donna Cooner is an author, blogger, speaker, and teacher currently living in Fort Collins, Colorado. A former teacher and school administrator, she is a now a professor and university administrator at Colorado State University. Donna is the author of more than twenty picture books and was a founding member of the Brazos Valley Society of Children’s Bookwriters and Illustrators. She also wrote children’s television shows for PBS and textbooks for future teachers. Skinny (Scholastic, 2012) is her debut novel for young adults.

Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of Skinny by Donna Cooner (Scholastic, 2012). Author sponsored. U.S. only.

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2 thoughts on “New Voice & Giveaway: Donna Cooner on Skinny

  1. Eek! And I thought my dog was crazy when she chewed up $100 worth of library books (luckily, she's outgrown that now).

    It was great to hear about your writing group – how lucky to have found such supportive writing partners! I have some great ones too (the MiG Writers) and I think I might have given up on my dream long ago if it wasn't for them.

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