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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This week’s author Round up: Writing Influences

January 15th, 2019 → 10:52 pm @

I would have to say that I had five writing style influences, and try as I might, I cannot eliminate any of them.

Donna Leigh Mysteries

Donna Leigh Mysteries

In my early years it was Cornelia Otis Skinner, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. Their droll approach at humor never failed to amuse and entertain me. As dark as some of their topics were, their depictions of characters and how they behaved would often have me laughing out loud.

Bookdisplay

Bookdisplay

By the time I reached high school, I had added James Thurber to the mix. The Night the Bed Fell on Grandpa felt as though it had happened in my life, and in fact, that type of event was not uncommon as I grew up. I frequently wrote letters and then emails to family and acquaintances using these four icons to help guide my style.

Sharing ideas

Sharing ideas

Humor was what kept our family together, and humor is in my veins. I guess writing humorous novels was inevitable.

As I prepared to write my first novel, Janet Evanovich joined the ranks of influences. The grace and ease with which she is able to move from serious issues to hilarious occurrences is something I wanted to emulate. I actually studied the components of her work to form a pattern for my own. Enough humor, but not so much that it destroys the balance of the plot.

www.bozell.com

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This Week’s Round Up Question, What Was Surprising in My Writing?

January 2nd, 2019 → 5:30 pm @

When I first decided to write a book, I selected a painful topic, the story of how three colleagues and I bought an ad agency back from a major international holding company. It was a fascinating time. We were assaulted by all around us, the executives selling the company, the other potential buyers, the colleagues who opted not to be involved in the purchase and the staff who desperately wanted details we were not legally permitted to share.

I didn’t get very far in writing this book for two reasons, a nagging fear that I would get sued by one or more of these miscreants, and the fact that every sentence was painful to write – it was not a joyful time.

When I asked my future publisher if he thought I would get sued, he said probably not, but he agreed to show his attorney. About a week later he came to me with a question “My attorney wants to know, are many of these people dead yet?” Answer “Not enough!”

That publisher suggested I backburner the book, but he also asked me what was my passion. I told him comedy. He suggested I write my comedy and send it to him. In a blink, I had the first three chapters of Is It Still Murder Even If She Was A Bitch? I forwarded it to him for an opinion, and the rest is history.

What took me completely by surprise was how much fun I had writing. After my first attempt at what would undoubtedly have been a drama I expected to be suffering and hating every session with my reward being the final result, assuming I made it to the finish line.

What I found instead was that the writing itself was a sheer delight. I would wake up on a Saturday and start writing at 8 a.m., working practically non-stop through the evening cocktail hour. Then I’d wake up Sunday and do the same all over again. I couldn’t wait for my fingers to hit the keyboard. And when the manuscript came back after each edit, I swore at one or two irritating comments and then I got down to business and happily wrote again. I loved comments like “you’re in a restaurant but I don’t know what it looks like,” because that gave me license to write some more. It was not only fun, it was improving my masterpiece.

After the pain of that first failed attempt I never expected that the writing could possibly be this much fun. Now, if I should ever get the guts to go back and finish that first book, I think it would make one hell of an action-packed movie.

 

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This Week’s Round Up Shares My Writing Quirks

December 10th, 2018 → 10:33 pm @

I usually write all day Saturday and Sunday when I’m working on a novel. I have a portable writing desk and I make myself comfortable on our sectional sofa surrounded by my ipad for thesaurus needs, coffee or diet soda and my three bulldogs and their various antics.

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My favorite part of the day is when I can wind down a writing session with a glass of white wine. In the summer I take it out onto the deck and breath in all the beauties of the outdoors. In the winter, I get the fire going and watch nature through large windows and skylights. It’s almost as though my diligence during the day has earned me the right to relax and enjoy nature – and wine.

Sharing ideas

Sharing ideas

Much of my first novel was written on a ski trip to Utah. After a day of skiing, I would sit in front of a fourteen-foot high window in our rental house, drinking white wine, gazing at the mountains and waiting for deer to pass by. It was amazing how much work I was able to get done in an hour or two each afternoon.

Conversely, when editing, I sit rigidly at the desk in my home office and plow through chapter after chapter. Even those areas that require a fair amount of writing do not get me to budge from my dedicated station. And I don’t look out the windows located behind me,

While writing or editing, I constantly save my work. I save two copies to a flash drive and two copies to my desktop. Whenever I get up to go to the bathroom, take a phone call, grab a bite or get out of the way of a determined bulldog – I save my file four times, sometimes eight when I want to double check. Hmmm, I guess I’m quirkier than I thought.

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Check out my answer to this week’s Roundup question

October 29th, 2018 → 8:51 pm @

As a child I was an avid reader and writer of letters. My letters always seemed to surprise people, making them laugh when they needed a laugh, shoring them up when they needed support. The feedback all seemed positive and appreciative that I was able to sense their needs and write something that helped. Whenever their comments focused on my making them laugh, I was in heaven. Even as a child, I fancied myself a cross between Cornelia Otis Skinner and James Thurber – my dreams were big. It was only a matter of time before I penned the great American comedic novel.

A great panel

A great panel

Then life happened. I taught English to high school kids who suffered through my love of literature and taught me new forms of grammar and spelling that haunt me to this day. When the academic life began to pale, I ventured into the world of advertising. Sure I would be a star copywriter, I instead found myself behind a calculator in the world of media buying. It was hard work and it kept me busy. Too busy to write a novel.

As the years progressed, I found myself the owner of an ad agency with one, two or three partners, depending on the year. During one particularly stressful period when the economy was lagging and my CFO partner was obnoxious as hell, I found myself looking for escape. That’s when I started my first novel.

In retrospect, I think I wrote about murder to assuage my desire to commit murder. Killing off people who cause you extreme stress is so cathartic. And when you do it in a novel, you don’t go to jail.

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Here is the Fiona Mcvie interview with Robin Leemann Donovan

December 7th, 2017 → 8:00 pm @

05
Tuesday
Dec 2017
Posted by fionamcvie1964 in Uncategorized ≈ 1 Comment
Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.

Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name.

Robin Leemann Donovan

Fiona: Where are you from?

Originally New Jersey, moved to Connecticut at the age of 12 and relocated to Nebraska for a job at 42.

Fiona: A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).

Grew up as a Catholic in Teaneck, New Jersey. The town sign said “welcome to Teaneck, an up and coming Jewish community.” So I had the benefit of a wonderful, and somewhat experimental education, and I used more Yiddish words than anyone I’ve met since moving to Connecticut and subsequently Nebraska. Teaneck was diversity at it’s best. Moving to a small town in northern Connecticut introduced me to a surprising lack of diversity. It was like getting all four wheels stuck in the mud, but I hung around to see Connecticut evolve into a far more diverse collection of communities. I graduated from UConn and started teaching English. Within three years I was working at an ad agency and wondering how I had survived the stifling world of faculty life.

My parents embraced a “joy of life” philosophy. Eshewing the more noble pursuits, in their world life was something to enjoy, and they were extremely social people, i.e. our house was party central. My parents went to dinners and plays and jazz clubs, and we were always throwing parties. I learned to make Bloody Marys at the age of 11. It was a specialty very much in demand until today’s mixes made my role redundant. They believed in giving back – but they also believed if you weren’t having fun you weren’t doing it right.

Somehow I married a man whose parents believed if you were having fun you weren’t doing it right. It was a bit of culture shock for a while – but ultimately we’re still all about having fun. Luckily, it wasn’t that difficult to bring him over to the dark side.

Fiona: Tell us your latest news.

I just found out that an independent bookstore has sold significantly more copies of my first book than I realized. That was a lovely surprise – they called me a Rockstar!

Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?

I spent an inordinate amount of time writing creative class assignments growing up. Aside from writing business communication plans, I first started writing when my business partner charged me with starting a blog on menopause. I didn’t love the idea of being the poster child for maturing women, but she made a compelling case. Women, even very smart women, were in such denial about aging that they virtually all entered menopause totally unprepared. Their doctors were not much help. These women were making critically important, life altering decisions based on little or no information. My partner pointed out that I could take the most complicated issues related to menopause and articulate them in a way that was funny and fun to read. Thus was born, Menologues. Which I wrote for about 4 years. Menologues won a few awards and was republished on Vibrant Nation and Alltop. One reader who was sent to the site by a friend I hadn’t seen since high school actually said that it saved her life. And I believe she meant it. Even now I get a discount from my HRT doctor for being a menopause blogger.

Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

When I started to get positive response to my Menologues blog. It was like catnip.

Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?

Years ago I went to a psychic. He asked me if I had any questions, and then said “before you ask me anything I have two things to say to you.” One of them was “you know that book you keep saying you’ll write when you have time, well write it.” Holy crap – he nailed it. Even then I didn’t start. One day I woke up and realized: you own an ad agency that can promote books, you write a blog for menopausal women so there’s a bit of a built in audience and you just got a publisher as a client – this is the perfect storm so its now or never. At first I talked to my publisher/client about the horrors my partner and I had experienced as we battled a holding company and potential competitors in buying the ad agency. I had begun the painful process of writing about that incredibly difficult time. I mentioned that I was concerned about getting sued for my honest assessment of the insanity that had occurred during that process. He responded that people behaving badly was probably not much to worry about. Having lived through that extreme crazy, I couldn’t let that concern go quite so easily,and he agreed to have his attorney review my brief but pain filled manuscript. A week later he was back in the office sharing the verdict. “My attorney wants to know, are many of these people dead yet?” With that creative avenue so clearly blocked, he suggested that I write about ‘my passion’ and send it to him. 21 months later Is It Still Murder Even If SheWas A Bitch? was published.

Fiona: How did you come up with the title?

I was convinced it would be a series and I would need a clever series title, you know, like A is for Alibi – but I just couldn’t come up with anything clever enough. I kept referring to it as “Claire’s murder.” When I was nearly finished with the first draft I shared my frustration with my business partner. She said “don’t put so much pressure on yourself, just pick a title for this book.” On a whim, I jokingly typed in Is It Still Murder Even If She Was A Bitch? I was sure the publisher would never agree to it. At about that same time I was interviewing Creative Directors. Every candidate made it a point to ask me some things about myself. Naturally, I told them my latest project was writing a murder mystery. Each time I mentioned the title I got a huge belly laugh – and it seemed genuine. I had been interviewing some incredibly talented writers and when they all had the same reaction – I wasn’t going to let anyone change that title. And I have been banned from some book selling venues because of the word “bitch.” When the farmer’s market banned me because “we are a family oriented organization” I asked why it was okay that I had to drive by three erectile dysfuntion billboards on my way to their market. They were not amused.

Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?

It’s a lot about self-depricating humor and it’s written in the first person. I’ve had a few publishers express an interest in picking up the series after I parted ways with the publishing house that bought out my original, wonderful publisher– as long as I would agree to make it third person. No, third person does not work with my style of humor – not at all. I found it interesting that their reasoning was that “first person implies self-publishing.” And ironically, since my original publisher was sold and I chose not to have the new company publish my second book (they made it very clear that they wanted the entire series – all or nothing) – I am now self-published. That’s something I could never have accomplished without the education I received through the publishing of that first book. I have since occasionally met with budding authors to share the expertise I was fortunate enough to have gained through that first publishing experience. A little information goes a long way and I am eager to pay it back if it helps others.

Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Well, naturally all people and events are fiction, blah, blah, blah. But between you and I, there is one incident in book one that actually happened just as I describe. The one about a client who threw Donna Leigh and the murder victim out of her office. Seven years after writing that scene I was standing in a bookstore waiting to discuss the details of my upcoming book signing when I heard an oddly familiar voice. “Robin? Robin Donovan?” I turned to see that very client greeting me as though we’d been to lunch just the week before. I must have sounded slightly deranged as I stumbled and bumbled a speedy greeting in the hopes she would finish her business and get out before realizing I’d written a book, and further that her portrayal in that book was not even remotely flattering.

Book two features a great deal of actual personal experiences as part of the history of Donna Leigh and the murder victim, and book three is a complete fabrication. I guess I had some things to vent as I was penning that second book.

Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?

I have not had to travel yet, however, my second book takes place in Omaha and Donna Leigh travels back to revisit her earlier life in Connecticut in order to explore the victim’s recent past.

Fiona: Who designed the covers?

I am extremely fortunate to own an ad agency, Bozell. We have some incredibly talented art directors and designers and they have graciously designed everything connected to my book brand.

Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

It didn’t start out that way. I was just writing away and not really stopping to think. But then, with my first book, I realized a common theme was that an overweight woman can still be the most appealing woman in the room (very subjective) but that the choices she makes in clothing, hair, make-up and personality can make her more attractive than a fashion model. Another clear message is: you have to work in order to earn your rewards.

In all of my books there is a message that: people will think what they want. And this is illustrated by the fact that my protagonist, Donna Leigh, does not actually solve any of these murders. She is merely involved. But, as a result, everyone credits her with solving each case. She never fails to remind them of the truth when it comes up – but she might as well save her breath. I think my final message is: crazy people are going to act crazy and to try and apply logic to their behavior will just make you crazy.

Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?

My favorites are Charles Dickens and Jane Austin. I think they are remarkable humorists that stand the test of time. I do also love Janet Evanovich. She can stretch credulity to an absolute breaking point – enough to make you howl with laughter. I do like other things – but laughter always comes out on top. I have been a reader of Patricia Cornwell, but if she keeps ripping the faces off of people I’m going to have to give her up for good!

Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.

The library system in Nebraska has been an invaluable support, as have the independent bookstores. My original publisher, WriteLife and my publisher Cindy Grady were amazing. Unfortunately, they were bought by another publishing company and the whole culture of the company shifted in a way that did not meet my needs.

Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?

I would love for writing to be my career. If I can figure out a way to actually make significant money – it will be my career.

Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

Nothing. I wrote the first half of my third book and then set it aside for edits and proofing on book two. When I went back and reread it I hated pretty much everything about it. I made up my mind to edit heavily and try to get it to a point where I would either like it or let it go. I got it to a point where I LOVED it – and the rest of it fell into place like magic.

Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?

I learned quite a bit. I learned how a wine salesperson could cheat their winery and make a ton of extra cash for themselves. I learned how difficult it is to kill a friend and maintain the humor instead of getting really sappy without coming across as heartless. That was a tough one. It’s definitely much easier to kill someone you can’t stand.

Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?

I think Bette Midler would be my first choice. She shares my comedic timing and sense of whimsy and curves. But I also think Meryl Streep, Christine Baransky or Goldie Hawn could hold their own in the role if Bette’s not available. I just hate to get their hopes up.

Fiona: Any advice for other writers?

See yourself as an artist and let the writing flow. There are others who can help you edit and refine after you have allowed your inspiration to take hold of you and flow freely.

Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?

I created a menopausal protagonist because prior to this series female detectives were either in their dotage or young, hot and gorgeous. I wanted to create a middle aged protagonist who is smart, but flawed. She’s attractive but not Victioria Secret attractive. In essence, someone who is more relatable than most amateur detectives. I created the character of Clovis Cordoba Seville as a filler, and she has evolved into Donna Leigh’s alter ego. Clovis is constantly criticizing Donna, pointing out all of her weaknesses as well as making numerous complaints that are nothing more than projections of Clovis’ own peculiarities.

Fiona: What book are you reading now?

A friend and consultant of mine, Lori Stohs, just published her first book. Get Your Mind on Your People. Lori is amazingly intuitive and I always learn from her.

Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?

Dick, Jane and Sally. And I think they’re still running. My first sophisticated book was Pride and Prejudice. I took a run at it in 5th grade, and had a great deal of difficulty. But I carried that book around with me for weeks. I was a school patrol back then and one day I was holding Pride and Prejudice as well as the outer door to the side entrance of the school. A very tall, very distinguished gentleman in a long wool coat, a fedora (that dates me) and a briefcase walked up the four steps to the landing I was guarding. He saw my book and registered surprise, such a difficult book for someone so young, he was clearly impressed. I responded demurely and he stepped through the doorframe on his way up the next flight of stairs. Halfway up the stairwell he decided to bestow an additional glowing compliment on my praise- hungry young self. When he turned to face me his briefcase became caught between his legs. He did a little leap and sprawled in a heap halfway up the staircase. He crawled the rest of the way up the stairs with a face as red as a freshly boiled lobster. Books and humor have always had a place in my life.

Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?

Falling. Once I realize the person is alright I pretty much lose it. I have a penchant for low humor, but I also love dry humor and black humor as long as it doesn’t scare me. I don’t like to get too sophomoric, but it depends a bit on my mood.

Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?

Bette Midler. To prepare her to star in my movie (let’s face it – I have about as much chance of meeting Bette as I have of getting a movie).

Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?

Bulldogs (English, Olde English and French), skiing, dancing, reading, food (eating not cooking) and wine.

Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?

It’s all about humor. I love Without A Clue, and when I’m getting ready to embark on a DIY project I rewatch The Money Pit. I do enjoy some serious shows, Death in Paradise, Father Brown, Bones and I’m kind of hooked on HGTV.

Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?

Escargot, gnocci Bolognese, loads of fruit and vegetables, there are so many favorite foods. Slate blue, navy blue, minty green, plum, steel gray are colors I find most appealing – and I dress in black a lot. Fleetwood Mac, Earth Wind &Fire, Yes, Jethro Tull, Aerosmith, The Beatles, Nickelback, Stevie Wonder, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Vivaldi, I love a large range of music though my interest rarely wanders into Country Western territory.

Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?

Be confused and frustrated, maybe explode. Probably explode.

Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?

Just know she’s waiting for you if you didn’t give her a good review.

Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?

www.rldonovan.com but I must admit, I’m not keeping it as up to date as I’d like.

Books (Can all be found under Donna Leigh Mysteries on Amazon):

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=donna+leigh+murders

Is It Still Murder Even If She Was A Bitch?

I Didn’t Kill Her But That May Have Been Short Sighted.

I Don’t Know Why They Killed Him He Wasn’t Really That Annoying.

Author’s pages on Facebook:

Author’s Page:

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

Donna Leigh Mystery Series page:

https://www.facebook.com/Donna-Leigh-Mysteries-279477928760374/

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Look for the latest Donna Leigh Mystery later this month

January 2nd, 2017 → 7:57 pm @

The third in the Donna Leigh Mystery series, I Don’t Know Why They Killed Kim He Wasn’t Really That Annoying, is due out later this month. Look for it on Amazon – both as a soft cover as well as electronically on Kindle.

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She Writes Guest Blog Post

July 12th, 2016 → 7:10 pm @

Check out my guest blog post on She Writes:

http://www.shewrites.com/profiles/blogs/well-meaning-but-annoying

 

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Check out my Guest Blog Post on Writers Who Kill

May 26th, 2016 → 12:13 am @

Check out my latest guest blog post for Writers Who Kill at:

http://writerswhokill.blogspot.com/2016/05/how-have-i-killed-thee-let-me-count.htm

 

 

 

 

 

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Thanks to The Bookworm for Hosting my Recent Book Reading and Signing

February 22nd, 2016 → 8:55 pm @

Bookworm2016ABookworm2016ZAnd thanks to those of you who braved the February cold to hear me talk about the second book in my Donna Leigh Mystery Series: I Didn’t Kill Her But That May Have Been Shortsighted.

I spent two hour regaling my audience with readings and background for the evolution of the series.  Based on post-event comments – folks seemed to be engaged – except for one poor little guy who just couldn’t keep his eyes open.

 

Available Now

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