Check out my Qwerty interview

February 20th, 2019 → 4:25 pm @

Q. From teaching at high school, to moving into advertising and taking up senior roles in management, to finally purchasing Bozell. How has this contributed to your writing career?
Whatever gene made me want to teach English also made me want to write a novel. Moving into advertising gave me fertile ground for humor. We are an emotive group in advertising – not behavior often seen in corporate America. In fact, one of the editors on my first book commented that two of my characters were “not believable.” Honey, they are real people – that shows you how much academia knows about real life.

Going from an entry level position in advertising to an owner level has challenged and shaped my thinking from a variety of different vantage points within agency life. It has also refined my sense of humor and my ability to laugh at myself. Without that, it would not be possible to write humor that still enables my protagonist to be likeable.


Q. Why did you chose to write murder mysteries? Tell us a bit about all three of your books.
My Mom was addicted to anything Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie. Gore-free murder was my early comfort zone – its where we all gathered to have fun. When my publisher asked about my passion – I said comedy. But then I had to decide the topic of the comedy – and murder just came naturally.

Donna Leigh is the protagonist of all three. She is a menopausal ad agency owner in Omaha, NE. Donna originated from New Jersey – so she has a healthy suspicion of pretty much everything. She lived in Connecticut from her teen years into her early 40’s when she was recruited out to Omaha.

In the first book, a former colleague, one Donna disliked immensely is murdered, and she fears being high up on the suspect list so is anxious to get this murder solved.

The second book is about a former colleague from Connecticut, who moved to Omaha and was telling people she did so in order to go into business with Donna. This makes Donna even more nervous than the first book’s victim. She knows her perceived close proximity to this victim could make things go horribly wrong.

And in the third book, her good friend and client, Ed the winemaker is killed. She is angry and wants justice for Ed’s wife and daughter so she proceeds to dive into conversations with winemakers who have possible nefarious dealings.


Q. How are your murder mysteries different from others?
They are murder mysteries with a dose of both sophisticated and slapstick humor. My characters are either extremely relatable or extremely bizarre – all of whom exist in my world of advertising. The relatable ones carry the plot and the bizarre ones ad to the humor immensely, but they’re real bizarre people, not fabricated bizarre people. It’s easy to fabricate crazy, but trying to capture the real thing is a lot tougher to do.

A lot of cozies don’t focus on the mystery but mine do. It is always a disappointment to me when I read any murder and find that loose ends and red herrings are popping up everywhere.

Q. Tell us about the main protagonist Donna Leigh, her character and her life in general.
People always ask me if I’m Donna Leigh. We are both menopausal women who own ad agencies in Omaha, so kind of. Donna is relatable. She doesn’t take herself too seriously, and while she has an ego, it’s not quite as overblown as some of the other characters she depicts. Donna has an outrageously narcissistic former colleague, Clovis Cordoba Seville, who act as her alter ego and never misses an opportunity to point out that Donna is both inferior and egotistical. With friends like that…

Donna has a wonderful and supportive husband who is also a gourmet cook and can solve pretty much any mystery, and she has three darling bulldogs.
Q. Your book “Is It Still Murder Even If She Was A Bitch” revolves around the murder of Donna Leigh’s former colleague. Knowing that she might be put on the suspect list, she herself steps in investigation. What all does she do?
She sticks her nose into police business and tries to help them uncover clues that will definitively point toward other suspects because her knowledge of tv detectives tells her she’s likely to be high up on that list. She continues to worry about that even when the lead detective assures her she’s not on the list at all. That’s the New Jersey paranoia coming out in her – not overly trusting of pretty much anything.

Donna enlists her friends and colleagues to gather information that will help solve the murder. Their antics draw much unwanted attention and along the way the killer gets wind of her involvement which ratchets the paranoia up to a much higher level.

Q. In your second book, “I Didn’t Kill Her But That May Have Been Short Sighted”, another colleague of Donna Leigh gets murdered. How does she handle it this time and how is it different from book one?
This time the murder victim has taken extreme action prior to her murder that could absolutely indict Donna, so the paranoia is warranted. It begins to appear as though Donna has been set up by the victim. This time, Donna even flies back to Connecticut where she worked with the victim years before and talks to a number of her former colleagues to try to build an accurate picture of the victim’s mindset. A picture emerges of a seriously disturbed individual. As we work our way through the book, we see that Donna’s nervousness is multi-layered. Naturally, she doesn’t want to go to jail for murder, but she is also concerned about lies spread by the victim and how they make her look to friends and colleagues in the Omaha and Connecticut advertising communities.


Q. In “I Don’t Know Why They Killed Him He Wasn’t Really That Annoying”, Donna’s close friend gets murdered. Tell us about the course of action she takes this time.
This time Donna is genuinely upset about the victim, and not just about keeping herself off the suspect list. In fact, she is never even close to being on the suspect list in this third novel. Because the victim is immersed in the wine industry, and has something of a reputation for sleuthing within that industry – Donna suspects there is a connection between his sleuthing and his murder, so she must educate herself on the people in the world of wine making and selling, some of whom are darker and more sinister than anyone she’s known previously. Although in each book it is clear that Donna has some knowledge of wine – the internal workings of the wine industry itself is still a huge mystery for her. Be prepared for a bit of a twist at the end.


Q. Do you want to share a few of your favorite lines from any of your books or tell your readers about any memorable or peculiar events inside or related to them?

There is a line from my first book that always makes me smile. It is a comment by Donna about the alarmingly narcissistic Clovis: “For the life of me I can’t imagine any way of getting more attention other than to be the actual murder victim. Sure, you’d have to be dead – small price to pay for that kind of attention in Clovis’ world.”

And another Clovis motivated comment “before she could answer I hopped back into my car and moved it to a proper parking spot. Then I jumped out to commit murder.” and slightly further on “As she watched my facial contortions it finally dawned on Clovis that she could potentially be in line for some grave bodily harm.”


Q. From all the books that you have written, which one is the closest to your heart?

After my first book I would have said no other body of work could ever be that important to me. I was wrong. These three books are my babies, I adore different aspects of each, but I could not choose a favorite. Others try and it offends me just a bit as it would with any doting mama. What do you mean you like my second book better than my first? What’s wrong with my first?


Q. What are some of the challenges in writing a humorous murder mystery?

The ability to balance humor with something as horrific as murder is a challenge. If you fall too far into the dark abyss there’s not enough humor to make it work, yet if you become too glib you risk making important characters unlikeable because they come across as unfeeling. You must show respect for the victim and their family, but find places where humor is not offensive. This was particularly challenging in my third book, where I killed a good friend. I wrote almost half of the book and let it sit untouched for over a year to edit and proof book 2. When I went back and read what I had written it was god awful. I wasn’t even sure I could save it. It was a boring and repetitive sequence of Donna’s sympathetic babble for the victim’s wife and daughter. So sappy. There was nothing funny about it and it droned on and on.

I pondered over this problem for weeks and suddenly an idea for an ending popped up in my head. It was not an ending that would have been applicable when the first half of the book was written At that point I actually sat down and wrote the ending. Then I went back and reworked and tightened the entire first half. After that the second half of the book virtually speed wrote itself. I had been worried about tying the first half with the ending – but it all just came together nicely.

One thing that is incredibly challenging in a comedy is to let the humor reveal itself – and not be too obvious about telling the reader what to look for, i.e. don’t over explain or you kill the humor.

Q. What makes you crazy about other murder mysteries that you would never do in yours?
If you’ve ever seen the movie Murder By Death, you’ll have a good idea of the bulk of my pet peeves in regard to murder mysteries. Introducing characters in the last few chapters, not tying up loose ends, giving clues that are more red herrings than clues. But that’s not all, I am tired of reading about a protagonist who is: drop dead gorgeous, young, brilliant and the most successful person in her field, but is dumb enough to make an appointment with the killer in a back alley with no back up. Then there are the cozies where the sleuth is a woman and the male detective tells her 400 times that she is impeding the investigation and should back off. I often wonder if these authors get paid by the word.

For some reason, to a remarkably large percent in cozy mysteries, the protagonist is in a restaurant, orders a large meal and completely loses her appetite when someone makes a comment – so the whole meal goes to waste – why? I don’t understand this oft repeated occurrence – there must be something they know that I don’t – there’s that paranoia again. I work very hard to ensure that none of these annoyances occur in my mysteries.


Q. Did you incorporate any life messages? If so, what are they? Did you add them deliberately?

When I started writing my first novel I had no conscious intention of incorporating any life messages into my work. As I began writing, I realized that a message about business ethics was emerging. In addition to that, there was a clear message that a woman who is not stick thin or 20-something can still be the most attractive, even the hottest woman in the room. I thought that was a much needed message, but in my very first speaking engagement, a woman with a long flowing skirt, a tie-dyed blouse and long flowing but completely gray/white hair wearing not a stitch of make-up lost no time in telling me how shallow and vain I must be. Touche. I thought I’d stuck up for those women who are born with imperfections yet make the most of their appearance and she taught me that caring at all about appearance is not cool.

I did tell her that I envied her ability to feel perfectly adequate with only the gifts given to her by Mother Nature. Clearly, I am more shallow than that.


Q. What were some of the difficulties you had to overcome in writing your mysteries?

After beginning my first mystery I realized that without a process I would never be able to complete it. Once I developed that process, my first book practically wrote itself. It must have been in there waiting to come out. Because there are several comedic events throughout my books, the challenges came in keeping the rest of the series from becoming formulaic and avoiding copying prior comedic events too closely. That’s part of the reason why a part of book 2 takes place in Connecticut and not just Omaha, because it forced me to push out of the temptation to let formulaic writing make life so much easier. In my third book, the focus is on the wine industry more than the advertising industry – again breaking out of that formula. That book required a lot more research than the first two.
Q. Did you outline the whole book before you began writing?
Not at all. The writing took me on a journey and I had no idea where it would end. That was for the first two books. The third was very different. But still no outline. It is critical that I keep tight notes on what happens in each chapter as I progress through the book. I have to be able to go back and think “you can’t use the knife in Chapter 26 that was thrown into the ocean in Chapter 6.”


Q. You have been very active in working towards certain social causes. Tell us about them.

My grandmother had dementia and she lived with us for six years. No one ever used the term Alzheimer’s back then. I learned that a completely different way of behaving was necessary for survival. Years later my mother-in-law was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. There was so little we could do to help her – helping the association was at least something. I had no idea how pervasive the disease was, and how underfunded, until I sat on their board. I was on that board for 6 years. During that time the funding for Alzheimer’s – and all dementia increased dramatically. Legislators are finally starting to release the danger it poses to society and to the healthcare industry. In addition my husband is a community educator for Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, he is able to draw from personal experience in his lectures. Br>I started my career as a high school English teacher – so I have always been drawn to helping children. Over the years, my husband and I have hosted a number of students from France who wanted to spend time in the U.S. to improve their English speaking skills.

Now I work on cancer, wellness and helping others get jobs. There are so many important causes that need champions.


Q. What makes them so close to your heart?
Each cause, from the children’s museum to helping those in need of work is so critical and in desperate need of support. While Alzheimer’s is certainly personal for me, each and every one of these causes becomes personal when you start to hear the stories of the people involved. And the founders of my ad agency have always believed that “you must pay rent for the space you occupy on this earth.” We take that statement very seriously.


Q. When you sit to write a new book, what is the thought process that goes on in your mind and what motivates you to bring it out for the world to read?
When I sit down to write a new book I usually just have some vague notions of what might be included. The writing process for me is like a magical journey, it just flows. If I sit and write for eight hours I am constantly amazed at how I am typing the end of a thought, and the next thought just pops into my head so I don’t even have to take a short break to think it through – my fingers fly over that keyboard. Naturally, there are times when I deliberately take a break to think through what I’ve just written and make sure it tracks with where I’ve been, i.e. not using the knife in one of the final chapters that you discarded in an earlier chapter. Or don’t call Bob, George. Sometimes I have to make minor tweaks, but not as often as you’d think.


Q. How did your writing journey begin?

When I was a kid people still wrote letters. I probably wrote more than most kids. I was constantly getting feedback from friends and relatives that they loved my letters and I could always make them feel better; I could make them laugh. That was music to my ears. With a love of writing and a love of literature I became an English teacher. From early on I knew I wanted to write a book, but I kept putting it off because I didn’t have time – at least that was my excuse.

Years later, when I owned an ad agency and was doing a great deal of blogging (I wrote my blog Menologues for years and it had been picked up by Vibrant Nation and Alltop) and my ad agency picked up a publisher for a client – I knew it was the perfect storm. Now or never, I had the resources I needed to design, edit, maybe even publish. There was even a bit of a built-in audience, so I jumped in with both feet.


Q. Do you remember the first story or poem you ever wrote? Tell us about it.
I was about 6 and the bible school I attended asked me to tell one of the renowned bible stories on stage on parents’ night. I wrote out my version and practiced and practiced. I was applauded generously after my recitation. To this day I am not sure if I actually told a cogent story or if I stood up there and said “blah, blah, blah.” I knew my knees were knocking like a jackhammer so maybe their accolades were over my ability to remain stranding. Sometimes stage fright takes over and gives you wings – and sometimes you just babble like an idiot.


Q. Tell us about some interesting or memorable incidents from your life.

Buying my ad agency back from a publicly held parent company was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. In thinking back I would have to say there was more intrigue and covert behavior than an average James Bond movie. It was an exciting time, but it was more terrifying than exiting. A group of executives were individually brought into a room and coerced into signing nondisclosure papers for Operation Omega, without even knowing what was about to happen – that they were going to offer us the opportunity to buy one of their profit centers. We hired an industry consultant and spent about six months meeting and making offers that were refused one after the other, all the while still working our full time day jobs while the rest of our staff lived in ignorant fear of what would happen, I still think it would make a great movie.


Q. Talk to us about your growing years and your home. How did all this influence your writing?

My family believed in enjoying life, fun. They taught me that working hard was your path to being able to play hard – and they did. That could be positively magical, but sometimes it went too far. My parents liked to party, so I grew up fast. I could see the value of working hard to play hard, but sometimes the responsibility of dealing with their afterparties was pretty sobering. I like to think I took the fun loving spirit and balanced it with a more responsible overall outlook. My husband has been extremely instrumental in helping me find that balance – he came from a family that espoused life as a series of responsibilities and obligations. Together I like to think we’ve merged the best of both of our backgrounds.

Every different behavior pattern that I observed has been fodder for the mill.


Q. What other books are you currently writing and what stage are they at?

My fourth book in the Donna Leigh series is bouncing around in my head. I have a title and I know where in Donna’s life the victim comes from, but that’s about it. As eager as I am to start writing, I am trying to spend my spare time doing author interviews in order to help promote the existing series of three before committing to a fourth. As much as I enjoy the writing, the editing, proofing, cover design and formatting are a formidable amount of work. That’s the hard part. And then there’s the marketing – a ton more hard work – sometimes really fun – but always fairly grueling when you’re also trying to run a company.

I have had several folks suggest that I turn my blog, Menologues into a book. That could happen some day – it’s written – it just needs organizing and some editing.


Q. What is your writing process, a typical writing day routine?
Most of my writing is done on Saturday and Sunday. I try to devote eight hours on each of those days. I pull out my laptop, find a comfortable spot and just go. In the winter I am usually on the couch surrounded by my dogs and in the summer I love writing on the deck. There’s nothing better than the five o’clock glass of wine while you’re wrapping up your day of writing. Eight hours goes by like 45 minutes.


Q. What book marketing techniques have been the most effective for you?
None have been as effective as I’d like, but I’d have to say the personal appearances at libraries, book stores and launch parties, followed by book clubs (whether or not I’m there – sometimes I phone in if it’s a club too far in distance) and Amazon free copies (they provide these copies to their prime audience – but I still get paid a bit).

I once spoke at a tri-state library conference. I assumed some of the libraries might pick up my book, but I was shocked that so many of the librarians bought the book for themselves. That was a lovely surprise.


Q. What do you think makes a book sell, or makes a reader buy it?
Unfortunately the biggest motivator is celebrity – and ironically they are often not the best written books. I know, in my case, a lot of folks like my titles and a lot are thrilled at getting to meet an author – even if it’s one they’ve never heard of before. That romance of being a “published author” will often make you appear to be a celebrity to some readers – no matter how humbly you deny it.


Q. What’s the most moving or affecting thing a reader has said to you?
One of my editors is an extremely talented copywriter and is known for her smart-mouth and critical tongue. She stalled getting started on reading my book. I suspected she dreaded having to tell me it wasn’t great and I was tempted to take it back from her, but I waited impatiently. After finishing the book she wrote me a lovely note. She shared that she was stunned at how much she genuinely enjoyed reading it – and she was humbled by my ability to create something of this magnitude. That note is still sitting on my desk.

Another favorite comment was by a publishing agent after hearing me speak at a library. She commented that she had never laughed so hard at a book reading, and she had been to a million of them.


Q. What are your favourite three books, and why?
Eloise at Christmastime. Kay Thompson’s poignant children’s story. Eloise came from a privileged background and had great “things” but didn’t have the loving care of her parents that every child craves. Eloise is a free spirit that turns a luxury hotel on its ear as she lunges forward creating her own adventures despite the lack of loving support she wants most of all.

Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen proves that women can be extremely intelligent and can, to a large extent, manipulate many life outcomes even living in a society where men prevail and women fall somewhere down on the list below favorite horse, favorite dog and favorite drinking buddy (not that there’s anything wrong with loving your pets). That was a long time ago – and Elisabeth is still a role model who would serve any girl well to emulate.

Rebecca. Daphne de Maurier shows that a huge lack of self-confidence can completely alter how a person views their own situation, which in turn, absolutely drives their behavior. The author shows a timid woman dealing with a woman she believes to be flawless and unassailable and who turned out to be evil incarnate. In an instant of understanding that, the protagonist’s entire world changes dramatically and she gains the strength she could not find earlier.


Q. Who are your favourite three authors and what do you like the most about them?
Jane Austin and Charles Dickens, because they prove that sophisticated humor existed hundreds of years ago. James Thurber because of his elegance and ease in handling humor. From an early age I really enjoyed Cornelia Otis Skinner and her brand of humor.


Q. What all interests you apart from writing?
My bulldogs, reading, skiing, dancing, wine tasting and watching murder mysteries.


Q. Tell us about your publishing journey and how easy (or difficult) was it to get all your books published?

I was extremely fortunate. As an ad agency owner, I was lucky enough to get a publisher as a client. I approached them with the book I had written about buying my company. I was worried that it would get me sued. He didn’t think it would be an issue, but I demurred. He agreed to show his attorney and came back a week later to say “my attorney wants to know, are many of these people dead yet?” They weren’t – so that book was shelved. But this publisher told me to write my passion and then show it to him, I learned so much from them. They had just finished editing my second book when they were sold to a company down south. I tried the new owners with my first book for a year – but didn’t like their culture. With what I learned from my first publisher, I am able to publish and republish my books independently.


Q. What challenges do you think are faced by writers, what’s the worst thing about the book industry according to you?
The worst thing about the book industry is that some of the most talented writers are some of the most ignored and some of the least talented writers are some of the most acclaimed. Popularity of an author’s work is first and foremost based on their celebrity, or their notoriety – and the actual work is somewhere down on the list of importance.


Q. What message do you want to share with budding writers?

Manage your expectations. It is an awesome and rewarding journey if you don’t let your expectations of grandeur get in the way. Write because you enjoy the writing, not to achieve fame or wealth, because you can be absolutely gifted and still never achieve either. But you can derive enormous satisfaction from having someone tell you they read your book and enjoyed it.

Q. From teaching at high school, to moving into advertising and taking up senior roles in management, to finally purchasing Bozell. How has this contributed to your writing career?
Whatever gene made me want to teach English also made me want to write a novel. Moving into advertising gave me fertile ground for humor. We are an emotive group in advertising – not behavior often seen in corporate America. In fact, one of the editors on my first book commented that two of my characters were “not believable.” Honey, they are real people – that shows you how much academia knows about real life.

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Check out my guest blog on Jerrica Reads

October 2nd, 2018 → 2:40 pm @

Why Do You Write About Murder?

That’s a question I get asked all the time and the answer grows as I add more books to my Donna Leigh Mystery series. At first, I thought it was because my mom got me hooked on Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes from a very young age, and that’s part of it. But another very real reason is that I get to kill people I’m not allowed to kill in real life.

I’ve always wanted to write and I’ve always preferred to deal with issues through humor, but I never put the two together until life got really hard. Owning a business and losing a business partner is, I’m told, a lot like a divorce – only it’s a lot more public. During the months, and even years, leading up to the split, there were some tense times. I might even have had some murderous thoughts about the partner in question. Although, I wouldn’t allow myself to realize them until after his departure.

In the meantime, I was able to escape the tension by looking back on those people who had garnered the bulk of my murderous thoughts in the past. Killing them was pure catharsis. Not to mention that I was able to create fictional characters who readers would want to join me in killing.

Read the rest here:

https://www.facebook.com/rldonovanauthorpage/

 

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I Didn’t Kill Her, But That May Have Been Short Sighted 2nd Donna Leigh Mystery!

May 29th, 2012 → 6:19 pm @

Last night I finished writing the second Donna Leigh Mystery: I Didn’t Kill Her, But That May Have Been Short Sighted. In this second novel of the series our menopausal protagonist gets a major shock; a former colleague from the Northeast has moved to Omaha and is telling everyone she and Donna are going into business together. She does all of this without Donna’s knowledge, and then she gets murdered. What’s worse is that when they did work together the murdered woman went out of her way to damage Donna’s career. Enough motive for murder? You decide. The following is an excerpt depicting Donna’s first conversation with the homicide detective in relation to this latest murder:

This time you brought us our vic from your old stomping ground, eh?  Were you worried that things might get a little boring for the old Omaha PD, eh?” Warren continued.

See, she’s got that lingo down too, though I suppose you’d expect that from a police detective, and eh, what was with eh? I guess the good detective had spent some time in Canada. The mind tends to wander when serious trouble appears imminent. As I thought that, I could feel my damn menopausal furnace starting to crank up in preparation for a full on power surge. Menopause has an uncanny ability to smell fear and ensure, by virtue of turning you into a wet dish rag, that you look even worse than you feel! That old ad campaign about “never letting them see you sweat” – HA! And don’t even get me started about bloating, weight gain, sleepless nights and on and on, but I digress.

Straining to regain focus on the issue at hand, the thought crossed my mind that Warren had a right to be concerned about my involvement.  I certainly was.  I only hoped that this second murder would not cause her to wonder if I were not, ultimately, the cause of all the problems after all.  In our last encounter, she’d been surprisingly adept at sifting through the facts and eliminating elements that only circumstantially appeared incriminating. Not once, in the entire investigation, did she jump to ridiculous conclusions like the clownish TV cops always do.  Her assumptions were always that I should be treated as a resource, a distinction that met with my utmost approval and gratitude. I’d hate for that to change with this untimely second murder cropping up and ensnaring me, in what appeared to be a far more damning way.  No, I wouldn’t blame Warren if she turned on me, but I would deeply regret it.

Look for more excerpts in the months to come!

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