Born in OK. Education: College of Santa Fe, B.A.; University of Santa Monica, M.A.
Home—Los Angeles, CA.
Writer, novelist, and screenwriter. Member of production team for William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, 1996.
Student of the Year award, University of Santa Monica.
The Saints and Sinners of Okay County (novel), Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2003.
The Wings That Fly Us Home: A Novel, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2006.
Novelist Dayna Dunbar is a screenwriter and Hollywood production professional who has worked on films such as William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Baz Luhrman's 1996 remake and modern avant-garde re-imagining of the Bard's famous play. Dunbar also holds a master's degree in spiritual psychology from the University of Santa Monica, an academic discipline that "recognizes that there is a spiritual reality and purpose to human existence," Dunbar explained in an interview on the BookBrowse Web site. As part of the academic program, Dunbar related, students had to "complete a major project that entails fulfilling a heart-felt dream," she stated. "Mine was to write a novel, and Saints and Sinners was the result."
That first novel, The Saints and Sinners of Okay County, tells the story of abandoned wife and harried businesswoman Aletta Honor as she struggles to survive in an inhospitable atmosphere in small-town Oklahoma. The Bicentennial celebrations of 1976 are in full swing, but Aletta, pregnant with child number four and surrounded by one through three, has endured about all she can take from hard-drinking husband Jimmy. Still, she didn't expect him to abruptly walk out and take up with a local hussy, leaving her stranded with no job, no resources, and no way to care for her children. When baked goods and lemonade concession businesses fail, Aletta has no choice but to fall back on a talent she has long tried to hide: her psychic gifts and her ability to make accurate predictions. The merest touch of a client's hand is enough to activate Aletta's unusually precise second sight, but she cannot control her visions nor can she guarantee that what she sees will be pleasant. Worse, her earnest business and heartfelt attempts to help her clients earn her the scorn, derision, and outright hatred of the town's conservative religious element, which poses a greater danger for Aletta than she realizes. Not only does Aletta have to deal with the turmoil of her current situation, but she also has to come to terms with an old family tragedy, reawakened by the use of her psychic gifts. "Dunbar has created an insightful, heartbreaking and, at times, humorous look at the woman as victim in the desolate land of good ol' boys," commented Brandon Stickney on Bookreporter.com. Dunbar's "no-frills writing style, engaging pacing and cast of kooky saints and sinners make Aletta's unconventional story about taking control of her life a pleasant, all-too-rapid read," commented a writer in Publishers Weekly. A Kirkus Reviews critic called the book "a very appealing debut from Dunbar, an Oklahoma native, whose tough-minded tenderness and authentic voice make the most of a slight plot."
In the sequel, The Wings That Fly Us Home: A Novel, Aletta returns, still lacking husbandly support from ne'er-do-well Jimmy, and raising her children on her own with the help of her precognitive abilities. A family surprise in the form of long-lost cousin Vee, returned after many years, has mixed benefits, but also a surprise for Aletta: Vee tells her that great-grandmother Adelaide was a full-blooded Native American. When a Native American man and his daughter offer Aletta an eagle feather, she thinks nothing of it. However, soon Aletta finds herself in a panic when, with the suddenness of a flicked light switch, she loses her ability to see the future, and is abruptly cut off from her means of making a living. Believing the Native American to somehow be responsible, Aletta leaves the kids with Vee and recruits three of her quirky friends to travel to New Mexico to search for him and, in the process, recover her ability to peer into events to come. When she finds him, he turns out to be Julian Mochina, a part-time shaman, full-time schoolteacher, and a very attractive, eligible widower. Julian helps enlist the aid of some tribal elders to help Aletta recover her second sight. They suggest a solo quest, a harrowing experience that, when finished, will either help Aletta recover her powers or prove that they are gone forever. Meanwhile, Cousin Vee reaches some realizations of her own, and bad daddy Jimmy seems to be on the road toward redeeming himself. In this novel, Dunbar "expertly juggles multiple plots touching on alcoholism, women's rights, and Native American beliefs," commented Booklist reviewer Deborah Donovan.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 1, 2006, Deborah Donovan, review of The Wings That Fly Us Home: A Novel, p. 28.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2003, review of The Saints and Sinners of Okay County, p. 1327; February 1, 2006, review of The Wings That Fly Us Home, p. 99.
Library Journal, January, 2004, Rebecca S. Kelm, review of The Saints and Sinners of Okay County, p. 154.
Publishers Weekly, November 17, 2003, review of The Saints and Sinners of Okay County, p. 46.
BookBrowse,http://www.bookbrowse.com/ (September 23, 2006), interview with Dayna Dunbar.
Bookreporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (September 23, 2006), Brandon M. Stickney, review of The Saints and Sinners of Okay County.
CaliforniaAuthors.com, http://www.californiaauthors.com/ (September 23, 2006), Dayna Dunbar, "The Transition from Screenplays to Novels."
Dayna Dunbar Home Page,http://www.daynadunbar.com (September 23, 2006).*