Monday, September 19, 2011

Donnell Ann Bell On Writing: The Conflict Has To Come First !

Donnel Ann Bell and Coach
Enter to win a free ebook copy of The Past Came Hunting

I first met Donnell Ann Bell six years ago on Mystery Writers Critique group. She very kindly guided me through the critique process. She was already a professional. It is my pleasure to welcome her to our blog
Donnell Ann Bell is the recipient of numerous awards for her fiction writing and the co-owner of Crimescenewriters, a Yahoo group for mystery/suspense writers, which is 2,000 members strong. Donnell was raised in New Mexico’s Land of Enchantment and today calls Colorado home. She was also the coordinator for the Daphne du Maurier Writing Contest for several years.

Donnell Bell On Her Journey…

What has this journey been like for you?

Interesting, constant and fun. I’ve never, ever heard a writer say he’s bored. The great thing about a writing career is, there’s something to focus on every day, whether it’s research, craft, or digging into your work in progress. You learn something fascinating every day.

People often think of writers as having “overnight success.” How many years have you been working toward “overnight success”?

I’m hardly an overnight success, more like a graduate from the Uphill School of Trudging. ;)

I wrote my first book in three months in 2001, and, just for the record, my mother loved it. The agents and editors, not so much. As I learned the various tools of writing, each book’s completion dragged out longer, but the good news is, each book got better. I don’t think I’d want to be an overnight success. 1) That’s a lot of pressure, 2) that involves a lot of luck, and 3) you miss so much growing along the way.

What galvanizes you to keep writing?

I’ll hear a song, or a breaking news story, or read an article, and my muse will latch on and start chattering. If I ignore her, she’ll keep me up at night. If I’m watching a movie, I’ll finish the ending in my head before the show’s over. I write out of self-defense. My muse. . .she’s a real taskmaster.

On Her Book And Characters…

Could you share a bit about your latest book, The Past Came Hunting, and its characters?

It’s no secret that I took the idea for THE PAST CAME HUNTING from the country song, Walk Away Joe. For those unfamiliar with the lyrics, it’s about a 17-year-old girl, who against her mama’s wishes, takes off with the boy her mom calls a “walk away.” Born to be a leave her, tell you from the word go, destined to deceive her, he’s the wrong kind of paradise…she’s gonna know it in a matter of time…that boy’s just a Walk Away Joe.

The song ends when the boy runs into a Texaco Station robs it, while the girl stays in the car. Later, he leaves her in a lonely hotel room, an accessory to armed robbery.

My darn muse started with the chattering again, and I had a compulsion to finish that song. Of course, the overall scenario is different, but my book is based loosely on a country hit. Plus, I didn’t want to concentrate on the bad guy who robbed the convenience store, as a fan of romance and impossible conflict, I wanted to focus on the cop who arrested her.

 Fifteen years ago a young Colorado Springs police officer arrested a teen runaway accused of aiding a convenience store robbery and attempted murder. She was innocent, but still served prison time briefly. Her testimony sent the real criminal to jail for much longer. Now she’s a young widow raising a son, and the man she put in prison is free and seeking revenge. She moves to a home in a new neighborhood—then learns that her next-door neighbor is the by-the-book officer who arrested her. Now he’s a Colorado Springs P.D. Lieutenant. Like it or not, he may be the only one who can protect her and her son from the past he helped create. ~

~~ Melanie Norris thought taking a ride with a sweet-talking stranger was the biggest mistake of her life. Fifteen years later, when she moves next door to the cop who arrested her, she reserves the right to change her mind. ~~

If you had to choose, which scene in this novel is your favorite?

This is such a tough question. Because this book crosses genres, romantic suspense, women’s fiction and even young adult, it was too much fun to write. A great scene, however, is when Melanie, my protagonist confronts Lt. Joe Crandall at the Police Operations Center when he’s invaded her privacy. It was a risky, unwise move on the lieutenant’s part, and my female protagonist is out for blood. It was a fun, tense scene and it’s “one” of my favorites.

Shock made her numb.

It wasn’t possible. How had she missed the connection? She hadn’t thought of the man in years. The cop who’d arrested her, his name had been . . . Crandall.

Somehow Mel found the strength to look into his eyes. And when she did, she came face to face with what could only be a mutually shocked expression.

“You,” she whispered.

“You,” he replied.


What inspired you to write romantic suspense?

That darn muse again. She's so fickle: She loves dead bodies but happily-ever-afters.

What are the challenges/rewards of writing romantic suspense?

One, I’m not your typical romantic suspense writer. I don’t write hot, and although I enjoy an occasional hot read, I’m more into the mystery/suspense. I do, however, love the sexual tension between a female/male protagonist. I also think romantic suspense is a harder sale these days thanks to paranormal and also people, like me, who don’t want to write hot, transitioning more to straight mystery to avoid it. Don’t get me wrong: I like paranormal, I’ve written a reincarnation story, I simply prefer stories that make people face real challenges and overcome them.

Some authors say their stories are ripped right from the headlines. Has an idea for one of your novels ever been sparked by real people and events?

Yes, definitely.

On Her Writing Process…

How do you give your characters the depth and detail necessary for readers to want to cheer them?

I’m a visual, tactile learner. I can’t read something and automatically understand it. I’ll invest in Citizens Academies, in-personworkshops, I’ll volunteer, go to shooting ranges to handle a gun. As a former court reporter, I’m also a great listener. I’ll go on ridealongs and hang on every word. Reading an article won’t give you those valuable little intricacies you need for your novel in my opinion.

However, if you’ve ever looked at my web page,(, go to the articles section and read, “You’re Not a Cop Till You Taste Them.” It is written by Sgt. Bernie Moss who is not a writer. He’s a bomb squad expert and a career cop. He gave me permission to keep this article on my site. I defy anyone not to choke up when you read that article, or get a glimpse of what a police officer goes through.

What challenge or struggles do you face when you try to build emotional bonds between the characters?

Good question. If you have a superficial conflict between characters, you will have difficulty forming a bond. The conflict has to come first.

How do you, then, go about addressing the part with which you struggle?

I make sure I have both enough internal and external conflict. It’s the cement that glues your novel together.

Do you have specific techniques you utilize for getting into the heads of your villains? Would you care to share them?

Another great question. I write bad guys intrinsically. I think about what makes them tick. One antagonist I wrote was driven by desperation and a vice, his compulsive gambling addition. In another book, my antagonist is ambitious and cunning and is content to hide under the radar. In THE PAST CAME HUNTING, however, I have an antagonist who was afforded everything in life. He’s a pure sociopathic personality. My editor had me read, THE SOCIOPATH NEXT DOOR, by Martha Stout. I knew I had written a sociopath, Ms. Stout’s book reinforced it.

What are the challenges in developing a layered, plot-driven story of suspense that rivals others in the market? Do you have any particular plot techniques you’d care to share.

I think my problem is that I invest a lot of time with these characters, and afterward, you can stick a fork in me, I’m so done. I’m working on creating a series right now, and that will be a huge challenge for me not to tell the entire story in book one. But it is fun ;)

What do you find most rewarding about your writing career? Most disappointing?

Most rewarding: The friendships you make along the way. No question about it. Writers have a unique bond, and no one outside of our profession truly grasps how hard it is to write a book worthy of publication.

Disappointing? That not every book you write will be worthy of publication.

If you could give writers one small piece of advice, what would it be?

Develop a thick skin and an open mind. If you can’t take criticism, or take expert advice on improving your work, you’d probably be better off in another business. Because that’s what writing is--a business.

What is something that you often see beginning writers doing wrong?

As the former overall coordinator of the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense for the Kiss of Death Chapter, I can easily answer this question. Information dumps in the first chapter and having your characters sit around and think about each other instead of acting. In other words passive writing. Another problem is back story. As Donald Maass will tell you, every word, every sentence must advance your story. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t belong in your novel.

On Her Personal Life…

What is a little known fact about yourself?

Gosh, I’m such an open book. My husband is a chemical engineer and the most straight-laced, but wittiest guy I know. I can’t create a hero without having a little bit of my husband in the protagonist’s makeup.

What book are you reading right now?

Since I do interviews for Five Scribes I’m reading four at present. Just finished Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva by the way LOVED it. I’m reading Joelle Charbonneau’s Skating Around the Line, Anne Marie Becker’s Only Fear, and Child Finder Revelation by Mike Angley.

If you could have dinner with a literary luminary living or dead, who would it be and why?

Easy. The legendary Dame Daphne du Maurier. I’d tell her how much I admire her professionally and personally. She didn’t have an easy go of it in life. I’d ask her if I’d done a good job of keeping her memory alive, and pray she was happy with the results.

What’s next for you?

Bell Bridge has Deadly Recall and I’m  hoping they’re going to publish it. I’m  editing two of my older books that I think have huge promise, and I’m  writing a coroner’s mystery series based in Colorado.

Finally, where can we buy your books and find you on the web?,  and everywhere books are sold.

Ruby,  Greater Fort Worth Writers and As We Were Saying, thank you for allowing me this opportunity to blather on and for sharing in my excitement of my debut novel.

Donnell, it was our pleasure. We hope you'll drop by and share your next book with us.


Ruby Johnson said...

Donnell, thank you so much for visiting with us today and sharing your journey to publication. It's such a pleasure to have you. How do you stay so organized?

Donnell said...

Good morning, Ruby! Lately it's been hard. I keep a lot of notes and literally scratch them off my list as I complete them. I'm also determined not to let my health suffer, so that's been taking a good portion of my time but in a good way.

My son's getting married and you'll never guess where! Right there in Fort Worth in the TCU chapel. So I'm highly motivated ;)

Thanks for having me!

Christine Warner said...

I loved this blog! I'm a firm believer in learning something new everyday, and I've learned several. Great information and very inspirational. No wonder you are the success you are Donnell. Thanks for sharing your story.

Jerrie Alexander said...

Great post! Congratulations and many sales! The crimescenewriters group is one of my favorites. Some of the greatest folks from all walks of life and willing to help.

Thanks for sharing your story and I look forward to reading The Past Came Hunting.

Donnell said...

Christine, thank you so much! We writers need to inspire each other, don't you think. We're in this together. All best!

Donnell said...

Jerrie, I sure think so. Wally Lind and the other law enforcement, medical, emergency personnel, plus the lawyers and experts on this list provide one of the greatest services to writers around. I learn so much from these people.

I hope you enjoy it, Jerrie, thanks for stopping by and commenting ;)

Liz Lipperman said...

I can't wait to get my hands on TPCH. I love that the idea came from a country song, too. There's nothing more fun than sitting around a table with a bunch of authors and talking about where they get their ideas.

Good luck with the book, Donnell. I know you'll sell a ton of them.

Donnell said...

Thank you, Liz. Yep, it's really amazing to see where books get their start from, isn't it? :)

Cynthia D'Alba said...

I am so excited for Donnell! I can't wait to get my hands on The Past Came Hunting...but then I've already pre-ordered it so it won't be long now!

Donnell said...

Thank you, Cyndi. We have a lot of debut authors in the house today, and I'm going to be reading a lot of fabulous books. What a great time to be a reader!

Dale Mayer said...

Wooohooo Donnell, you go girl! This has been a long time coming and I don't know anyone who deserves it more. You're an incredible writer! I love the sound of your debut novel. You're right, it's a great time to be a reader - and a writer :)

Donnell said...

I'm with you all the way, Dale. Thanks for commenting today :)

Sylvia Rochester said...

Can't wait to order it. It'll be on the top of my TBR pile. I know it will sell a bunch.

Donnell said...

LOL, Sylvia. Our TBR piles are HUGE. Do you have a ladder I can borrow ?

Kathleen Irene Paterka said...

Donnell, my copy of TPCH downloaded on my Kindle this morning ... I'm excited to read it! Meanwhile, I loved your comments about the "muse" ... so fickle, she MUST be a lady!

Congratulations again, and here's a cyber-toast to many many sales!!!


Donnell said...

Wow, Kathleen, I'm so honored. Oh definitely my muse is female. What a question :) I really appreciate your support. Back atcha GF.

Grace Greene said...

Donnell - Congrats on the debut release! The interview was fun and had good advice, too. I loved the 'fickle' remark, too.

Good luck with the next and with the re-writes. Sounds like what I'm up to as well :-) Quite a journey.


Donnell said...

Grace, thank you! Hey, writing is rewriting, right? Thanks for stopping by!

Mary Marvella said...

Good interview, Donnell! Looks like my buds are visiting in Texas. I hope Belle Bridges buys more books from you!

Donnell said...

Love Texas, Mary. I was born here after all ;) Thanks for stopping by! Ruby did a wonderful job with her questions.

Donnell said...

Ruby and Fort Worth Writers, thanks for having me. Just as an aside I've read some of Ruby's wonderful writing. Wish I could have read more, (hint, hint:) Thanks again!

Melanie Atkins said...

Fabulous post, Donnell. Sorry I'm late. I can't wait to get The Past Came Hunting on my Nook.

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