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. What is your age?
Robin Leemann Donovan – 62
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 withthe 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 Connecticutin order to explore the victim’s recent past.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
I am extremely fortunate to own an ad agency. 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):
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:
Donna Leigh Mystery Series page: