Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Interview with romance novelist Don McNair

Today's guest is mystery author Don McNair to talk about his two novels, Mystery at Magnolia Mansion and Mystery on Firefly Knob.

Welcome, Don. Please tell us about your current releases.
I’ve written two romance novels, both based on my personal experiences. The first, Mystery at Magnolia Mansion, evolved from owning a crumbling historical house my wife and I found in Magnolia Springs, Alabama. As we renovated it, it occurred to me it would be an ideal location and topic for a romance novel. So I developed a story about a young interior designer who… well, here’s the story:

Brenda Maxwell’s new interior design client tells her to “paint, wallpaper, whatever” his hundred-year-old landmark mansion (the house we owned), “but for God’s sake, don’t go overboard.” When she figures her grandiose plans will fit handily into his edict’s “whatever” section, they’re launched into a constant head-bumping mode. Brenda’s poor money management skills (that’s his view, but what does he know?) and lawyer David Hasbrough’s ridiculous need to control her life (that’s her well-reasoned evaluation of the situation) combine to keep the battle going. Is this couple’s romantic goose cooked? Well, she can’t be near him without sparks flying and goose bumps popping out everywhere. But that mansion has to be done right!

The other romance novel is titled Mystery on Firefly Knob. It was born on a trip through Eastern Tennessee, when my wife and I ran across a Cumberland Plateau knob overlooking beautiful Sequatchie Valley. It looked like an ideal place to launch a story, but about what? As I considered that, I read of a unique firefly that flashed simultaneously with others instead of individually. I also remembered my own hobby dealing in mail-order antiques in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. I threw in a murder, intrigue, love, and action, and came up with this story:

When Erica Phillips visits choice inherited property on a Cumberland Plateau knob overlooking a beautiful valley, she finds scientist Mike Callahan camped there to study unique fireflies. She needs to sell it fast to buy a new building for her antiques business in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, but he freaks out when a condo builder offers her a contract. Miffed, she tells him, “If I have my way, this place will be sold within the week. And, Mr. Callahan, I will have my way!” Their budding romance plays out before a background of a murder mystery, distrust, and heart-racing hormones. Will it blossom into a lifetime relationship?

What inspired you to write these books?
I guess an overactive imagination. I’ve always loved to play the what-if game, and used that trait in my forty-year commercial writing career: eleven years as a magazine editor, six as a PR professional for a major agency, and twenty-one running my own marketing communications business. My curiosity led to several awards, including the Public Relations Society of America’s Silver Anvil trophy. When I retired I wrote books that fed my own ego: three “how-to” books and six novels, including these.

Excerpt from Mystery at Magnolia Mansion:
“Well, hello!”

She jumped. There he stood, directly in front of her, stark naked!  Well, except for a bath towel wrapped snugly around his hips. He was dripping water on her nice clean floor. She tried to turn away, but her muscles refused to budge. His chest, sprinkled with curly black hair, narrowed to a tight stomach which showed off six-pack abs. His muscular bare arms and legs were certainly not those of a desk jockey. No, the man got exercise somehow.

“Oh!  Oh, I’m sorry!” She finally insisted that her muscles work, and they grudgingly turned her toward the door. Her cheeks burned. Her mind was in turmoil.

“Me, too,” he said. He flashed a silly grin, backed into the room he’d come from, and closed the door. It was a downstairs bedroom right off the kitchen, complete with a full bath, which she’d earlier pegged as a live-in maid or cook’s living quarters. He’d apparently swung a big deal at that garage sale because she’d noticed the mismatched bed, chest, and end table in that room, which weren’t there on her first visit. The only other furniture in the whole house was the rusty chrome-legged kitchen table and its four matching chairs he’d apparently bought at the same time. If that was his idea of a great décor . . .

Excerpt from Mystery on Firefly Knob:

Mike stepped aside, and she saw a clearing. The treetop canopy opened to let in sunlight and blue sky. Grass, kept at bay by constant shadows in the deep woods, covered an open area the size of an average yard. Weeds and wildflowers sprinkled the ground, and sapling maples and vines fringed the woods.

“This is it?” she said.

“Yep. The original site. See if you can spot where the cabin stood.”

She saw nothing but the woods and grass. To her left she noticed a stone outcropping. Beyond it was blue sky, and the hazy distance of Sequatchie Valley.

"Why, we’re right at the knob’s edge," she said.

"That’s right. If you jumped off that big rock you’d fall almost two thousand feet."

As she approached the rock she gazed about the clearing. And then she saw it—a vertical stone chimney that at first glance resembled the tall trees surrounding it. Now she made out its individual stones. She stepped closer and saw beneath it the stone foundation of a one-room cabin. The chimney rose from one corner, with its hearth opening toward the center. She stared at it in awe. It was the precursor of the cabin her father lived in. Perhaps it was even built by Rymer himself, the knob's namesake, in the early eighteen hundreds.

The sun's slanting rays streamed through the tree canopy and threw light patterns on the chimney and foundation. She touched Mike’s arm. “It’s like a shrine,” she whispered. “I feel like I’ve just stepped out of a time machine.”

What exciting book are you working on now?
I’ve just finished writing a how-to-self-edit book titled Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21 Steps to the Clear Prose Agents and Publishers Crave. It's based on my lifelong career of writing and editing. Quill Driver Books will publish it April 1 of next year.

The idea for it came several years ago on a flight from Chicago to Atlanta, where I was to research an article for a client. Out of boredom I was editing a fog-filled paperback—yes, editing is actually a game for me—when I realized the same mistakes appeared over and over. I was intrigued. I bought another paperback at the Atlanta airport and edited it on the way home. A pattern emerged, and I became excited. Had I discovered the writer’s Rosetta stone?

Over the next several months I edited many other paperback novels. I joined critique groups and aggressively edited other writers’ fiction. I plowed through all those manuscripts from pre-published authors and the marked-up paperback books I'd tossed into a dresser drawer, and painstakingly sorted thousands of offending sentences and other problems by type. I eventually identified twenty-one distinct problems. Today, I call their solutions, appropriately enough, the “21Steps to Fog-Free Writing.”

The inference staggered me. Just as there are a specific number of elements in chemistry’s Periodic Table and letters in the alphabet, there’s also a specific number of fog problems in writing. I realized many unnecessary words are actually tips of bad-writing icebergs, and that eliminating them resolves otherwise complicated editing problems. In fact, almost half the Steps actually strengthen action while shortening sentences. I’m excited about this book, and can’t wait for it to come out!

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I guess the very first time was when I was in grade school, and the teacher asked us to write a story about Mother’s Day. The next day she read mine to the class, and later a pretty little girl came up to me and said, “Donnie, I loved your story.” Writing was a backburner thing for me for several years, but once in a while I went into my bedroom and wrote stories for myself; stories that took me all over the world.

Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I spent most of my forty-year career writing stories that told how my client’s equipment or services helped other manufacturers solve problems—less expense, faster production, better service—then placed the stories with magazines read by my client’s potential customers. I also oversaw writing staffs, and learned early that even “professional” writers needed editing. Today, I put that knowledge to work for fiction writers. I generally edit in the mornings, and write my WIP and do promotion in the afternoon.

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Probably that I still keep track of my writing and editing in fifteen minute chunks. During those years of working with clients I had to, since I charged then for how much time I spent on a project. At the end of every month I had to detail exactly what I did and how long it took. Today, I charge my clients by the word, but I haven’t shaken that habit. I recommend that method to other writers, since it helps keep “writer’s block” away.

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
My passion was to become the world’s foremost cartoonist. I was staff cartoonist for both my high school and college publications, and in the late '60s developed two strips for syndication. Unfortunately, the syndicates didn’t share my feeling that they were ready for the international market. Last month, I dug those strips out of the attic and framed one of each for my office wall. Hey, I think they look pretty good!

Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
Just this. If you want to be a selling fiction writer, keep learning. Take evening and online writing classes. Write every day. And above all, after your critique partners have signed off on your work and you’ve polished it as much as you can, have it professionally edited before sending it to an editor or agent. In my position of working through an editing network I see hundreds of raw manuscripts, and most need heavy editing. What I see is what those experienced publication editors and agents see, so I know why they reject ninety-five percent of the manuscripts offered.

The manuscripts I see are written by writers who realize their work might not be the best it could be, and have asked for help. The rest send their work directly to agents and publishers, and most will get them back with a nice note thanking them for their interest. They won’t know what mistakes they’re making—or even that they’re making mistakes, for that matter— and for the rest of their lives they will make the same ones. They will produce manuscript after manuscript that will find their way back to them. A professional editor can tell you what you’re doing wrong and short-circuit the process. At the very least, I hope you read and apply Editor-Proof Your Writing when it comes out.

Thanks, Don.

Readers, Don will giving away a reader's choice of a copy of one of his books on his website to one randomly chosen commenter. So leave a comment below and if you'd like to be entered to win, also leave your e-mail address. And you can follow Don's tour and comment at other stops; the more you comment, the better your chances of winning.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for hosting me! I look forward to your readers' comments. Don McNair

Goddess Fish Promotions said...

Thank you for hosting Don today.

Lisa Haselton said...

Glad to have you here, Don. Happy to host! My visitors are shy today! Lots have stopped by...there are brave souls out there though, I know it!

I think the personal experience behind both of these novels adds an interesting aspect to the stories.

Louise Behiel said...

can't wait for the non-fiction book, Don. it will be front and centre on my bookshelf

DomMcNair.com said...

Louise, good to see you again! I can't wait, either.