6 Jul 2015

Author Interview / Duane & Selena Pannell

Years before online dating became a respectable option, two broken and imperfect souls digitally crossed paths as they tried to find their way back to God. 

This fascinating true story, told through journals and emails, will have you smiling from start to finish and shedding a few tears along the way. Engaging and entertaining, it’s the perfect reminder of the power of love, redemption, and hope.

DUANE AND SELENA PANNELL left their roots in Virginia and Alberta and live in northeastern Utah. Duane is a son of the South and a jack of all trades. He has been an aspiring actor, an aspiring stand-up comic and an aspiring evangelist. These aspirations did not lead to careers, but have translated into a very fulfilling life as a husband, father and convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Selena was first a barefoot farm girl and later a full-time mom and part-time hospital worker. She became an American citizen in 2010 and shares Duane’s passion of the past 20+ years helping people overcome addictions through 12 Step. They recently completed 3 years serving as Missionary Group Leaders in the LDS Addiction Recovery Program.

  1. If you could work with any other author, who would it be and why?

I picture C.S. Lewis not only as a brilliant author, but as a mentor with whom I would thoroughly enjoy engaging in philosophical discussions. On the flip side, Oscar Wilde would be scandalously interesting and witty. I think I could learn a great deal from both of them.
I could only co-author a book with Selena. She gets the best out of me and I trust her instincts. However, if I were ever privileged to write a screen play with Mel Brooks…
Now I feel shallow choosing two other authors over Duane.
  1. What would be a typical working day for you? When and where do you write?

I doubt my priorities make sense to many other authors, because the writing gets fit in around the man, the boy and our home. A typical day would be teaching our 9 yr. old his lessons and acting as his chauffeur as needed. When all that has been taken care of, my favorite place to write is on the back deck overlooking the valley below the cliff on which our cabin sits. We've got 5 hummingbird feeders I have to fill every 36 hours and they are a wonderful distraction when I can't concentrate one more minute. Having such peace and nature's silence is conducive to a productive writing experience for me.
3000 Miles… is our first book, so writing is still a hobby. I write on the fly. When I have a moment of inspiration, I jot it down in an e-mail and send it to myself. When it was time to put this book together, I poured my whole self into it. We live in a cabin on a cliff overlooking a beautiful valley. I sat down most days with no distractions, totally alone with the story and wrote for hours.
(As you can plainly see, we share a brain and apparently the same answers)

  1. What is the hardest part of the writing for you?

Taking myself seriously. I still feel like I'm impersonating an author.
Pacing myself. I have a story in my head and I don’t want to give it up too fast, but I don’t want to draw it out too long. When I have something worthwhile to say, I want to say it just right.
  1. When and why did you first start writing?
I was raised in a household of readers and it was natural to follow suit by the time I was 9 or 10. I became a big fan of words and looked forward to spelling bees and writing assignments in school. It was a challenge to put words together in an interesting way.
I began writing when I was just little. I loved the classics from writers like Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, but I grew up in a family of ‘storytellers’. I noticed when I was young that some people have genuine talent for telling stories, and I wanted to be one of those people.
  1. How did you come up with the idea for your book?
This was Duane's idea all the way. For a man who claims he is not sentimental, the fact that he printed all our correspondence fifteen years ago would suggest otherwise. He actually filled five binders and dug those out when I was at my dying father's bedside in Canada. He would send me several pages at a time to edit and shape into the story he was sure people wanted to read. I'm glad now he was so persistent. It's been such a neat experience to share with him.
All of the correspondence between Selena and me, from when we first met, was packed away in a trunk in our garage. Selena was away in Canada and I was home alone, when I opened one of the binders one night and began reading. It was funny and it was sweet; it was two people getting to know one another and being vulnerable. I began to fall in love with the characters…’specially the girl character. It struck me right away as a story that people would enjoy.
  1. Are you a big reader? If so, what are you reading now?
I usually have more than one book on the go at a time. Right now I'm reading Small Miracles: Extraordinary Coincidences from Everyday Life by Yitta Halberstam & Judith Leventhal and the Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron.
I don’t read a lot of books these days, at least not lately. I tend to read non-fiction. The best book I read this past year was Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander, M.D.
  1. Do you have any advice for other aspiring writers?
I kept writing aspirations hidden in the back of my mind as something I'd like to do someday, but what I've learned from this experience is that someday is today. There's no right way to do it either, whether it's in an office, at a kitchen table, in the evening after sitting with a dying parent all day, or worked in around one's family routines. Write in a way that the process itself is as satisfying as the final result. Look for opportunities to hone one's skills. The important thing is to write.
I’ve met a lot of aspiring writers over the years and so many of them feel like they have a winning story inside of them, but it’s just beyond reach. So many of them are a little introverted and I believe that imagination can only carry a person so far. You have to experience things and, more important, experience people. You have to share stories and find out what others think and see how others live.