SRP Author Interview: Donnelle McGee Shines Bright

To celebrate the release of SRP’s latest digital-exclusive, Shine, publisher Bryan Borland and author Donnelle McGee traded emails and set the stage for this achingly-beautiful novella’s public debut:

BB: Your novella, Shine, will be published on February 15 as an SRP digital-exclusive eBook. Why were you open to publication in this format? [UPDATE – Due to the success of Shine in eBook format, the title will be released in paperback on August 6, 2012.)

DM: I was elated to hear that Sibling Rivalry Press would publish my novella, Shine, as part of its SRP digital-exclusive project. E-publishing is the future, particularly for short fiction pieces like Shine. I am very excited that Shine will find its way into the literary world as an eBook. There is no doubt that more and more readers are opting to read their books via their Kindles, or other similar devices, and I feel that Shine will have the opportunity to be read by readers from all over the world.

BB: You and I discussed the title, Shine, and whether it’s been overused, particularly in light of last year’s National Book Awards fiasco. Yet, regardless, I don’t think either of us were willing to make a change. Why is the word Shine so important here?

DM: Yes, unfortunately that was a true debacle. And I feel for Lauren Myracle. However, from the reviews I’ve read, it sounds like her book survived that fiasco. She is a fantastic writer. As for my book, I never considered changing the title. The title Shine is important in so many ways. I wrote much of Shine while listening to Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.” And from that edgy, telling, and powerful song came the character of Bray, or as they call him on the streets, Shine. In addition, the book deals with duality. The duality of sexuality. How one navigates what’s true in terms of sexual identity. In this case, it’s Shine who journeys to the edges of his sexuality. There’s a light, perhaps in his psyche / heart that dims and shines as he comes to grips with his sexuality.

And with his family and girlfriend there are many layers he walks through. But I guess, after having a bit of distance from the book, it was imperative to title the book Shine because page after page there is an unflinching vulnerability, which I hope the structure of the book reveals; there is light, if you will, that is being shone brightly on many of the sexual and family dynamics that many of us turn our back on. In this book, I wanted to Shine brightness on issues dealing with sexuality and family that at times are kept locked in the body. Issues that are tucked deep away and become a closed narrative. I wanted this book to release that narrative. Put some light on it.

BB: You’re a teacher. If Shine ended up in your classroom as course material, how would you approach it?

DM: I love this question. It would be nice to use Shine as a mechanism to discuss the whole realm of prostitution, male sexuality, and family breakdown. The discovery of what drives a person to sell his / her body for money. Or, is it for more than money? As for Shine, he finds that the money is good, yet he begins to crave the flesh and all of its comfort. I would dive into that complexity of what it means to be a prostitute and what are the reasons, because there are so many dynamics that drive a person into the depths of prostitution, that one finds the self giving their body away for money.

I would also explore male sexuality. I think it would be good to examine – via the character of Shine –  how males deal with their sexuality. All of it. Society tends to want to categorize sexuality into neat little holes. Are you Gay? Are you straight? What are you? And the consequences, which ultimately broke Shine’s will in the  book, put a lot of pressure – particularly I would say on young males in high school and college – and this pressure often leads to confusion and a breaking or detachment of self.

I could see Shine being read and discussed in Psychology and Sociology (Human Sexuality) classes. The book speaks directly to sex. What does sex represent for a man? For a woman? And can sex just be sex? But often times power and the sexual roles / norms that society tries to keep in tact make something beautiful seem underground. Shine, at least one theme of the book, is a journey into the abyss of what sex, or said differently, of what flesh on flesh kindles.

BB: The style of this book is unique.  Vignettes, prose, poetry – flashes of characters and their reactions and their lives. Why did you choose to write Shine in this manner?

DM: When I set out to write this book, I didn’t really have a structure in mind. All I knew was that in my head was this character with eyes that shine. I knew he was a streetwalker, a hustler. And I knew that he had a story to tell. As I started to put his voice on paper and screen, the structure of the book began to develop. It’s funny. I didn’t choose to write Shine in any manner. I let the characters dictate the structure. And as new characters entered the story, their voices pointed me in different directions. For example, Shine’s mom (Regina) spoke poetically in my head. Therefore, all of her lines in the book became poems.

And then too, as stated earlier, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” its melody – its eeriness – would not leave my head. I guess that’s where the flashes – the vignettes began to emerge from. Almost like looking in on a character or a situation. But looking in briefly because the story was building towards this crescendo. As I began to understand the structure the book was taking, I used the vignettes, the poetry, the flashes of a character’s psyche to build the inevitable – a crashing or climax. The structure of Shine reminds me of a long walk through the mind and in this story – hopefully – the reader experiences the mind of each character fully.

BB: You’re a self-described “Jimi Hendrix freak,” and you’ve already mentioned Pink Floyd influenced you as you were writing the book.  Has music always played a part in your writing process?  If Shine had a soundtrack, what other songs would be on it?

DM: Jimi was a poet. Pink Floyd – true poets. So much prose and story telling in their lyrics and too in their melodies. Music always plays a part in my writing process. I use it to set tone. I use it to let my self go to places that are dark. Places that are redeeming. Place that are hopeful. I remember going to a poetry reading a while back. I read three poems. And each poem contained a reference to music. I mentioned Eric Clapton in one poem. John Coltrane in one. And Joe Cocker in another. After the reading the featured poet came up to me and said, “Wow, using music and musicians in poems. That’s hard to do. But you did it well.” His words meant a lot to me. In many of my poems there’s a connection – a deep root dug into the world of music. And too in my prose, I use music to a large extent to give tone and structure. In fact, my novel – that I’m currently working on – is titled Trying To Get Over, which pays homage to the great Curtis Mayfield.

And there is music in Shine. Terence Trent D’Arby’s lyrics (now called Sananda Francesco Maitreya) glide with Shine throughout the book.

The Shine soundtrack would definitely include these songs:

“Shine On You Crazy Diamond” – Pink Floyd
“Wish You Were Here” – Pink Floyd
“If You All Get To Heaven” – Terence Trent D’Arby
“If You Let Me Stay” – Terence Trent D’Arby
“Sign Your Name” – Terence Trent D’Arby

And of course, I must include the classic – “Take A Walk On The Wild Side” – Lou Reed

BB: Finally, I know you recently purchased a Kindle Fire. What’s the verdict? Will it kill the traditional publishing industry? Has it changed the way you read books?

DM: The Kindle Fire is wonderful. And no – it will not kill the traditional publishing industry. But what it may do – along with other similar devices – is make more books available to more people. And these books are made available instantly. However, there is nothing like going into a used bookstore and going through the shelves. I know I still like to hold a book in my hands. The texture. Its feel. Smell. So – yes, I love my Kindle Fire – but there is room for both formats of publishing. And both will thrive in the market place.

Case in point, I am currently reading Chulito by Charles Rice-González and Sorta Like A Rock Star by Matthew Quick. I’m reading Chulito with book in hand and Sorta Like A Rock Star on my Kindle Fire. I like having the option of how I choose to read the books I select. But in the end – traditional publishing will remain. Yet – as readers –  we have another option of how we choose to purchase and dive into our books.


Readers can purchase Shine by Donnelle McGee directly from SRP (with instant delivery) through our online store, or from Amazon, iTunes, or Barnes and Noble.

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