Donnell Ann Bell grew up in New Mexico and today lives in Colorado. A homebody at heart, she leaves the international thrillers to world travelers, and concentrates on suspense that might happen in her neck of the woods – writing SUSPENSE TOO CLOSE TO HOME. She is the author of The Past Came Hunting, Deadly Recall and Betrayed, all of which have been e-book best sellers. Her fourth release, Buried Agendas, is due out November 6th and is available for preorder on Amazon Kindle. Her books have won or been nominated for prestigious writing awards, including The Epic Award for Best Thriller Suspense, Greater Detroit’s Booksellers Best for Best First Book and Best Single Title, and the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery Suspense. Along with retired police officer veteran Wally Lind, Donnell co-owns Crimescenewriters, a Yahoo group for mystery/suspense writers. www.donnellannbell.com
Last week I reviewed her book, Deadly Recall. This week I’m happy to have her as a guest to talk about that book and about her writing process.
AF: You have some great turns of phrase. Examples: “the kind of woman who invited a man to look but don’t cross,” “catching her mother’s heat-seeking gaze,” and “looking like a poster child for the uncomfortable.”
Are your good lines like this the outcome of slow labor or sudden inspiration?
DB: These are such great questions, Amber. It depends. Once in a great while something brilliant comes to me; other times what I think is brilliant falls flat and my editor says, “Huh?”
AF:I love your secondary characters. They are never just extras, but real people with personalities. Where did Father Slater come from? And Mr. Lucero and The General? Did you plan and construct them, did they pop up whole, or somewhere in between?
DB: Oh, thank you! I loved these secondary characters in Deadly Recall. Originally, don’t tell anyone, I had planned to eliminate one of these characters. They were so compelling, and held firm that they wanted to stick around. They very much came fully developed. I just knew that Father Slater was from Boston, and came from a family of cops. Mr. Lucero was the same, and his cat . . . I knew nothing about Russian Blues. Nothing. But the General had to be Russian to compete with his namesake.
AF: An influential teacher is a key part of Deadly Recall. Did you have a teacher who inspired you or motivated you at some point in your life?
DB: You caught me. I had the meanest music teacher ever. I played the piano by ear. I wasn’t a prodigy, but I could listen to a tune and play it afterward. My music teacher highly discouraged that. Of course she was a nun. I wasn’t fortunate to have a Sister Beatrice in my life, but I did have two nuns who came awfully close and discovered my love of writing. When other kids were writing about space aliens and chocolate Chips Ahoy cookies, I was writing about a Texas town surviving a drought. My sixth and seventh grade teachers, both Ursuline nuns, gave me improv assignments. “Let’s see what you can do with this.” They encouraged me, and to a child, that meant everything.
AF: You are one heck of a plotter. No loose ends, no “deus ex machina” solutions. All the gears mesh beautifully. Do you create the storyline first? What’s your process as a writer?
DB: I had a firm plan where Deadly Recall was going, and knew who the murderer was from the start in the draft. Then I attended a Donald Maass seminar in Albuquerque. He said if you know who your killer is, chances are the reader will, too. I was determined I was right and he was wrong. But at the very end of the book, I weakened and a different killer showed up.
As for writing, I’m a linear writer. I wrote Deadly Recall scene by scene, and because I knew this topic so well (I’m Catholic) I knew what types of people would surround Eden, my protagonist. What’s more, I knew their mindsets, so out of the books I’ve written, Deadly Recall came the easiest to me. The police procedure was, of course, rough, but I had Crimescenewriters and a lot of help from law enforcement experts.
I should probably tell you here that I encountered a lot of outside obstacles in writing this book. I finaled in a well-known RWA contest with two perfect scores. The coordinator was so excited, and the published judge who judged me said, “I can’t wait to see this in print.” I truly had my hopes up. What happened later was that the final editor of the contest, out of six finaling entries, gave Deadly Recall an honorable mention. In other words, I came in dead last.
Later, when I pitched the book, another well-known editor said, “Nice idea, now put it under your bed, and write something else. Catholic stories don’t sell.”
I couldn’t give up on this story, however. It finaled in the 2010 Golden Heart. The book was with a New York publisher at the time, when Bell Bridge Books made an offer on The Past Came Hunting and also Deadly Recall. I was so flattered when the NY editor said, “This is my loss.” I do feel I made the better choice as a new author. I might have been lost at a larger house. Bell Bridge Books has really stood behind me and my writing.
AF: As a former New Mexican, what’s your favorite NM memory?
DB: Oh, gosh! This is probably the hardest question you’ve asked me, Amber. So many invaluable memories, so many that shaped me. I grew up in Farmington, New Mexico and attended Sacred Heart Catholic School. I had so much diversity around me, Hispanic, Navajo, Caucasians. I went roller skating on the reservation in Shiprock, New Mexico. I went out to Navajo Lake to water ski and to swim. I never realized racial tensions existed until I was in high school, which is a terribly sad story and too long for this interview.
I have the utmost respect for the Indian culture, as some of these people were my closest friends. I lived in New Mexico for 18 years. I’ve lived in Farmington, Albuquerque and Las Cruces. My husband grew up in Tucumcari. We’ve traveled every inch of that state in his job. We have family there and it’s home for us. So many wonderful memories.
AF: Tell me about some of the research you did for this book. It seems it must have involved law, police procedures, the Catholic church, music, psychology and medicine.
DB: I am a former court reporter, so I had a good understanding of the law. I did contact Leslie Budewitz* a time or two and Shaun Kaufman and Colleen Collins. These people are invaluable resources. I have a dear friend who is psychologist and we talked at length what Eden might have gone through. Most of it came from experience, though, and from my heart.
AF: Who are your favorite writers? What is it that you like about them?
DB: My favorite writer for International thrillers is Daniel Silva. I was inspired to write and most probably developed my love of police procedures by Lawrence Sanders of the Deadly Sin series. I love Taylor Caldwell’s epics. There are so many mystery and romantic suspense authors I probably should quit before I leave someone out.
AF: What are you working on now?
DB: I am writing my first suspense series for Bell Bridge Books. It’s a challenge and a lot of fun. I have a romantic suspense release coming out November 6th called Buried Agendas.
AF: Does your husband read your books?
DB: Ha! He does now that I’m published. To be fair, I asked him to read my first book, Loving Montana – the one that truly should be, and will continue to be under my bed. I found it a few hours later on the coffee table, minus a husband. Later, he returned from the library with “The History of Math.” I said to him, you would rather read “The History of Math” than my novel? He said, “You never know what people want to talk about at parties.” I assumed from there that my work would never be on my chemical engineer husband’s to be read-list. He’s read all of the published books now, and paid me an off-handed compliment, by saying, “Hey, you’ve gotten better.”
AF: Thanks, Donnell. You’ve been a delightful guest.
*Note: Author and lawyer Leslie Budewitz has a blog that will appeal to mystery fans and mystery writers. http://lawandfiction.com/blog/