In this blog entry, I’m talking with Danielle Palli, author of the Data Collectors series of sci-fi / magical realism books. The books are filled with a cast of characters you can’t help but love, as they feel so warm and genuine it’ll have you wishing you could meet them in real life. Read on to find out what inspired the series, and which ones were inspired by cats – heaps of cat pictures too because they’re too cute not to include!
M: Danielle, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions for readers of our blog. For people who may not yet be familiar with The Data Collectors series, let’s start with your elevator pitch. If you had to describe the series to someone in thirty seconds or less, what would you say to them?
D: In the nutshell, The Data Collectors is about… intergalactic real estate. No, really. The premise behind the series is that humans once occupied many planets before being reduced to (as far as we know) Earth. The Data Collectors are a more evolved human-like species who are trying to find out what is causing our near extinction and help us survive. Meanwhile, there are special interest groups from neighboring solar systems who would much rather the human race die off so that they would have access to our planet, along with its natural resources. Mixed in is the interplay between Earthlings and species from other planets, with books two and three in the series demonstrating how easy it is for peaceful, well-meaning aliens to have their own Utopian world disrupted by the same conditions we face on Earth: greed, hatred, ignorance, jealousy and the need for power. Interwoven throughout the trilogy are the relationships forged by quirky characters whose lives have become entangled in this strange intergalactic space battle.
M: What was the inspiration that kicked off the Data Collectors series?
D: The very first nugget came from our tabby cat, Katrina (who has since crossed the rainbow bridge). She would stare intently into my eyes with such focused attention and forcefully meow at me as if trying to send a message. Because my husband and I are awful people, we would meow back at her and smile, giving her a scritch behind the ear. Whether she had a specific message, or just wanted our attention, I will never know. But one day, I said to my husband, “Here we are laughing at her, and for all we know, she’s staring at us so the secret camera lenses in her eyes can adjust. She’s probably recording data on us and sending it back to an alien race. Most likely, she’s trying to warn us about non-friendly species from other planets, but we’re too busy laughing to notice.”
The inspirations that followed came from disjointed dreams with momentary segments of clarity. For example, TARA and the Peace-Keepers came following a dream where it was “requested” that I take the seven-year journey to another planet and become an ambassador involved in peace negotiations for neighboring planets. At other times, I was in that lucid “not quite awake nor asleep” state where I imagined certain characters in front of me… One such story is later in this interview. The only difference between my weird dreams and everyone else’s is that I turn them all into feature-length stories.
M: Many of the characters you write feel like such genuine people, and it’s hard not to wonder if you based any on people in your life. You don’t need to name names, but are any characters influenced by anyone in real life?
D: Funny you should ask. Ivan was very purposefully patterned as a caricature of my husband, John, though they each have entirely different backstories (and he’s not Scottish). My husband has an inventor’s spirit, and he would be just the sort of person to show up at Fatima’s dinner party, not with flowers (like Roman) nor port (like Tanager) but instead with a tracking device so that Fatima could easily fetch her car from a remote location. John even once converted a manual Jeep into an automatic for me, by hand, over the course of a few weekends in the garage because I didn’t feel comfortable shifting gears while driving. He may not be romantic in the classic sense, but, like Ivan, he always cares and he’s always got your back.
There are also elements of “us” in the other characters. For example, while I used to joke that Ivan and Fatima are much like John and I, I later realized that we show up in many of the characters. He’s definitely the “thinker” to my “feeler” personality, like Morphinae and Odessa. At one point, Morphinae asks Odessa, “You know I’m a thinker. Why do you insist on making me say feeling things?” I am actually certified and trained in Myers-Briggs personality types from the original work of psychologist Carl Jung. John is the INTJ (thinker) to my INFJ (feeler) personality. But his parents raised him right because he is also a gentleman like Tanager.
There are other characters that give a nod to people from the past but some less one-for-one and more an amalgam. For example, if you rolled every bad date and poor decision into one, you’d have characters such as Drake and Dallen. But enough about them…
M: You’re in the interesting position of being the author and one of the narrators of your books. Here at the Audiobook Review, we’re obviously big fans of everything audiobook, so tell us what got you into narrating?
D: Great question! In my younger years, I had thoughts of studying musical theater and even taking it to the big screen. There was just one problem… I wasn’t keen on anyone actually looking at me. Therefore, my performance days were short lived.
Fast forward to today, and I have my own multimedia company (Birdland Media Works) and am contracted regularly for written, as well as audio-visual, educational, instructional and promotional content. I’m also the co-host of the Dr. Roger & Friends podcast and host of the Heartfire Rising (mini) podcast. Voiceover work was not new to me, but voicing characters was.
On an interview between audiobook producer and narrator, Graham Mack (who produced and narrated all three of The Data Collectors books), my publisher, Cindy Readnower of Skinny Leopard Media, and myself, Cindy mentioned to Graham that I had the voice for narration. He, in turn, said, “Well, why don’t you write a story where you can read all the female characters and I can read all the male characters?” I’m not sure whether he was serious or just being polite, but I never let an opportunity to try something new and interesting pass me by. Six months later, I emailed him and asked, “Were you serious about being willing to co-narrate a book with me? Because my second book in The Data Collectors series, Breach of Contract, is ready.”
It may have taken more than 25 years for me to fulfill my theater dream, but narrating the series helped scratch that itch. Bonus? No one is looking at me!
M: Have you found that being a narrator has made you more aware of what you write, especially if it’s going to be something you’re going to say?
D: Absolutely. Not in the first Data Collectors book because I hadn’t even considered audiobooks at the time. But with the second book, I could hear the characters in my head as I wrote, and realized that some passages wouldn’t translate as well to audio. For example, some of the original internal dialogue in Lucene’s head was written in the third person, so I had to remember to write those thoughts in the first person in order for it to work in audio, unless I were having the overarching narrator read it, independent of that character.
On a funny note, as you know, I went back and recorded the audio for the first book after two and three were already out, so that the entire series would become a multicast audio production. Well, I remember blushing as I was writing some of Odessa’s lines in the first book because I just don’t talk that way (she’s a little over-the-top, flirtatious). Now, going back and reading her lines was even worse, even though I was in the studio with no one else there! It made me slightly… uncomfortable. I had to remind myself, “Danielle, you’re not a slut. You just play one in an audiobook.”
(This is probably a good time to note that while I’ve worked with Graham Mack on three of these books now, he’s in the UK and I’m in the US. We’ve never actually met in person. So, we had the added challenge of cold reading our sections and then splicing them together.)
M: So what is next for you as either an author or narrator? Do you have anything in the works you’d like to mention?
D: Yes! Thank you for asking. I have two projects in production at the moment. The first is a mystery novel, hopefully due out within the next four to six months. I’m also revisiting my kids Acting Out Yoga series, which are designed to support parents and educators in teaching children yoga, reading, mindfulness and the arts, while also offering important life lessons and introducing kids to cultures from around the world. The next (and possibly final) book in the series will focus strictly on mindfulness and meditation, and I have the great fortune of working with a lifelong friend, artist, clinical harp musician and composer, and former elementary school teacher, Elizabeth Von Hohen Brosha. The book takes place in New Mexico, and also serves to teach kids about some of the history, culture and wildlife in one of my favorite places.
M: One crucial question before we wrap up – your bio mentions you own a bunch of pets! “Three cats, a ferret, and a dog” sounds kind of like the first line of a joke. Do you have any fun stories you would like to share with us?
D: I have a great one that relates to The Data Collectors and the reason why Bagheera has such a “starring role” in all three books. It was because of him that we have Cepheus. You see, one night I was lying in bed in that “lucid dreaming” state where I was semi-asleep but still aware of the room around me. Somehow, the moon through the window cast a shadow on our dresser, and I saw a large figure of what appeared to be the back of a man wearing a black cape. Having an overactive imagination, I immediately imagined him to have a beaked nose and pointy chin, with yellow eyes and a sallow, vampire-like complexion. I jumped with a start to find Bagheera, now at his food dish, enjoying a midnight snack. I’m fairly convinced (but have no real evidence) that it was Bagheera on the dresser casting that shadow.
After creating my “monster” I was too afraid to go back to sleep, and felt too silly to nudge my husband awake and tell him that I scared myself with the story I had cycling through my head. For the next hour, I paced our living room, finally deciding to “recast” my monster as the misunderstood Cepheus. I was finally able to return to bed, and the scene between Lucene and Cepheus was among the first I’d written in The Data Collectors.
M: Final question. Where can people find you or get in touch, and is there anything else you want to add?
D: People can get in touch and learn more about both my work as an author and multimedia content creator at: BirdlandMediaWorks.com. I also welcome questions and email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally (and this may make you laugh), while I create often dysfunctional characters, part of my work is as a positive psychology-based wellbeing coach. Those interested can learn more here: heartfirerising.com.
There is just one thing I would like to add. I believe there is a major takeaway from Lucene’s transition from working in the back file room of a government building for little pay and no room for advancement to fully coming into her own and discovering who she is by the end of the trilogy… and that is environment and social support.
Today, I am fortunate to have the support of media outlets such as The Audiobook Review who take the time to interview me (thank you!), along with the support of talented friends and colleagues who have encouraged me and helped me move my books forward, and a husband who does everything he can to let me know that whatever I want for myself, he wants for me too, 100%. This hasn’t always been the case in my life. So, if there happens to be someone out there reading this who feels as if their life is spent hidden away from the world with “friends” telling you repeatedly, “it can’t be done,” I would like to tell you that it can be done. Seek out that small tribe of people who have your best interest at heart, and be prepared to let go of the “Dallens” in your life. There is so much more out there for you.
You can follow Danielle on Twitter.
Bonus cat pictures for reading all the way through! Eira, Bagheera, and Danielle