So, Tuesday has come around again, and I hope that wherever you are, you are having better weather than last week was in the UK; rain, more rain, and then some. Let's hope that the forecast of a heatwave materialises!
With nothing but my imminent cover reveal for "The Hurt" and some formatting to do ready for uploading to Ingram Spark, I haven't much in the way of news to report right now.
So, without further delay let's get this interview rolling!!!!
Eva: Tell us all about yourself (as in, a bit of a biography).
Robin: Hi everyone, I am Robin Leemann Donovan, author of the blog, Menologues, a humorous yet informative look at the trials and tribulations of menopause by someone who’s been there. Menologues has been republished on two commercial sites: Vibrant Nation and Alltop, and has won regional honors for social media at the AMA Pinnacles and PRSA Paper Anvil awards. I was the recipient of a 2021 Enterprising Woman of the Year award by Enterprising Women Magazine. I was born and raised in New Jersey but lived and worked in Connecticut for a number of years before moving to Nebraska in 1999. After starting my career as a high school English teacher, I moved into advertising in the early 80’s where I worked on accounts such as: Duracell, Stanley Tools, IBM, etc.. In 1999 I accepted a job offer from Bozell, an Omaha based ad agency. In late 2001, I and three colleagues purchased Bozell from its New York based parent company. I have served on the boards of Alzheimer's of the Midlands, The Omaha Children's Museum, Hartford Ad Club, Connecticut B/PAA and on Pay-it-Forward - a local group that helps to find jobs for those looking to change. I have been president of Bozell since 2012.
I live with my husband and my French Bulldogs, Frank and Ellie in Omaha and Eden, Utah.
How many books have you written up to now? Are they published or self-published? What genre are they?
There are three books in my Donna Leigh Mystery series of cozy murder mysteries. The first book was published by WriteLife and that was a wonderful experience. The second book had just finished final edit when WriteLife was sold to a publisher in Virginia.
They used subtle threats to get me to sign my first book on with them and over a year’s time, they didn’t improve sales at all. Then they wanted to charge me for completely rewriting my second book (WriteLife never charged me a cent for anything) because they said the second book – one that was edited by a former literary agent to some very big names - was not fit to print.
I decided after a great deal of research (other publishers wanted me to cancel the contract for my first book so they could have all of the books in the series – I agreed that I would do that once they made a commitment to me. They were unwilling to make a commitment until AFTER I cancelled my existing contract) I decided to self-publish. My plan was to get my second book up and running and then cancel my contract for the first book and republish it independently.
I announced on Facebook that my second book was in the proofing stage. Within 30 minutes my publisher sent me an email cancelling the contract for my first book. They wanted all the books in the series as well – or none. Their rapid cancellation upon learning that I was not using them to publish my second book told me I had made the right choice.
Of all the genres there are, is there any genre/s that you feel you wouldn’t be able to write and why? Is there any genre that you really wish you could write, but feel you wouldn’t be able to do it justice?
I tried to write a book about the volatile six months when three partners and I purchased our advertising agency back from its global holding company in 2001. I think it would have made a great book, and considering all the drama an even better movie. I had written about 1/20 th of the book when I met my publisher from WriteLife. I told him I was writing this book but was concerned that I would get sued by several people. He responded “people behaving badly? I think you’ll be fine.” I pressed further and he agreed to show his attorney. A week later he came back to me and said “my attorney wants to know ‘are many of these people dead yet?’” When I responded in the negative he suggested I “back burner” that book and write about my passion. And thus, Donna Leigh and her mysteries were born.
I had assumed that writing a book would be a torturous exercise, but one that I needed to experience. Writing the first book had been so horrible – remembering all of the pain – that I had to force myself to write and could only tolerate short periods of work.
Once I started writing my cozy mysteries I realized that the writing process could easily rank within the top five most fun things I would experience in life.
I believe I could write in other genres but I would be very hard pressed to write a book that wasn’t fun to write. When they say that you should write for yourself, they aren’t kidding. I could choose to be a martyr to my craft, but there would have to be an extremely compelling reason.
Do you have any favourite ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ words that you like to use in your books? What are those words? Also, what words used by other authors irritate you more than they should?
I tend to use narcissist a great deal. That’s because my favorite character (see question #8) is a card carrying, violence inducing narcissist – so the word is often accurate and illuminating.
I dislike when authors use the phrase “to do so” in their dialogue, e.g. “I need to find the answers and I intend to do so.” When I see a sentence end in that way I know immediately that the author is not fluent in dialogue. It’s as though the author has run out of gas before the end of the sentence. Rarely does an individual (one who is not a self-important, out of touch with reality college prof-type) use such a stiff and formal phrase.
On a related note, my first book was edited by 5 academicians – most were college professors – and I had a difficult time trying to write relatable dialogue that they were comfortable leaving untouched. That was probably the one downfall of WriteLife, it was founded by a college professor who had a built in and rather stodgy editing staff.
During one editing session, my editor du jour informed me that “you can’t say ‘I ordered a Coke’ you have to say ‘I ordered a Coca Cola.”
Do you sing at all, be it karaoke, in a choir or have done so professionally? Whether you have or not, have you ever written (or had the urge to write) any song lyrics? Have those lyrics been used at all?
When I was in high school I sang in the robed choir. That was the height of my singing career. Even when singing to the radio, my alto voice works best with higher male voices.
I have come to realize that, when singing in my range I can hold my own but there is nothing interesting or compelling about my voice. Stevie Nicks I am not. I wouldn’t even make it as a sleazy lounge singer.
I am not a poet. I think in order to be a lyricist one has to be a poet.
What question would you like to pose, (if you were to ever interview your favourite author), which never seems to get asked in author interviews? And who is that favourite author?
I have to name two authors – and I would ask two different questions: Charles Dickens
Your writing, while brilliant, focused on the horrors of your time. Where you miserable in general and that’s why you chose to write of such heartbreak? Did your writing make that worse or better?
When you look down upon earth and see the immense popularity of your brilliant work – are you furious that you never got to enjoy your fame?
If you were to ever write a children’s book, (and those of you who already do) would you/do you do the illustrating yourself, make use of a family member or friend’s talent or pay an illustrator? Do you solely write or do you have any other creative pursuits?
I tried to write a children’s book about children being introduced to death because of a story from a girl I knew in high school. She came from a family of five children, her brother Tom was the oldest and she was the youngest at 5. She idolized Tom.
One day the adults and older children were acting strangely, but no one said anything to June. That went on for another day or two and then they got her all dressed up and took her out. They brought her into a room where her beloved Tom was lying in a coffin.
June had never been my favorite person, but that story changed my view of her dramatically – and I never wanted another child to suffer that same fate.
Try as I might I could not come up with a mechanism to keep such a book from being too ghoulish.
If I were to write a children’s book I know many talented artists, some in my family and some through owning an ad agency. Unless I wanted illustrations to be bizarre and abstract I wouldn’t attempt to illustrate it myself. I always compensate those who help me in one way or another – often monetarily.
I like to think I have other creative talents – but nothing that’s for sale – at least not right now.
Of all the characters you have created, who is your favourite? And why?
Clovis Cordoba Seville is my favorite character. She was an afterthought in my first book. I needed a distraction to connect two sections without rambling on about the murder or what Donna, my protagonist, had just learned. I created Clovis from memories of a co-worker who lived in a fantasy where she was the constant star. This person viewed all of life, and work from the lens of her self-imposed royalty and was a never-ending source of both pain and amusement. It didn’t hurt that she hailed from a circus family.
Once created, I realized that Clovis’ rampant narcissism (see there’s that word again) would play off Donna Leigh very well. Donna was a “normal” person, i.e. she was fairly self-effacing, but at some level she did see herself as having a modicum of star quality.
In her goal of making sure no one else reaches even close to her greatness, Clovis makes sure to knock Donna down every step of the way. Brilliant deductions are ludicrous and foolhardy, intelligent investigating is merely getting in Clovis’ way and Clovis has had about enough of Donna riding her coattails. Remarkably, Clovis does not even have to be present to be the hero in any given scenario – and Donna is always a bumbling fool (this is sometimes true, but not 100% of the time as Clovis would have us believe). So in her own deluded way Clovis keeps Donna honest and gives those around her eye rolling rights at virtually every turn. (Eva: Oh, how I love that name...Clovis! Whether she's a narcissist or not, her name intrigues me, Robin.)
Have you ever killed off a character in your books (I’m sure you have)? If so, was it because…it fitted nicely into the storyline? OR…Did you start to really dislike the character and, with too much work involved to re-write without that character, think it the easiest option to have that person die?
As an author of murder mysteries I kill off people in every book. And every one of my victims – aside from one poor slob who was just collateral damage - was loosely modelled on an actual person who would have been named as “someone most likely to be murdered” if such a vote had been taken.
It’s easy to kill off a character that behaves despicably and does not care at all if their actions cause great damage to others. As you read my books you will undoubtedly wonder why some of the remaining characters have not also been found lying prone with the life draining out of them. Suffice it to say that I managed to dispense with the ones who most deserved dispensing and let’s face it – you can’t kill off every rotten egg or your detective would have no one with whom to have dialogue.
Are any of your characters based on family members or friends? Have you kept their characters totally true to life or have you given them bonus traits that you wish they possessed in real life?
As my literary attorney pointed out “you can’t write about what you don’t know, so, of course, your characters will be based on people you’ve known or met casually. Just don’t do something stupid like rhyme the character’s name with that of the real person (upon whom I swear they are only loosely based).” So, after I changed all of the rhyming names…that’s right I was that stupid, I was good to go!
People often approach me to ask if they can be featured in my book. When that happens I always ask them if they would like me to use their real name, or if they have another name they would like me to use. I find that men generally ask me to use their first name and their mother’s maiden
I have kept my voluntary characters completely true to life – sometimes moreso than they’d like to admit. The ones that aren’t voluntary must be edited so that they are not immediately recognizeable, but their nefarious behavior is absolutely dead on with their personalities and behavior patterns.
I let a few co-workers read a draft copy of my first book. Two of them became furious with me. “That’s my friend you’re talking about!” A quick edit altered this character enough to satisfy me that the whole world would not know her origin. Thankfully, after publishing some folks guessed correctly, but enough folks guessed incorrectly.
Relationships/family life aside, what are your TWO main regrets in life?
I didn’t start writing murder mysteries sooner.
I haven’t learned how to get people who say “I read your book and loved it” to write a review. I get a lot of “Oh, I wouldn’t know how to write a review.” These are intelligent people. Look, just say “I read this book and loved it” that’s a review! (Eva: I agree. It's hard work getting people to review!)
What was your passion as a child? Did that passion stay with you during your adult life OR did you, as you grew up begin to detest what you once enjoyed?
I wanted to be an English teacher. I taught secondary English for three years. Aside from study hall duty, bus duty, lunch room duty and students always high after payday, I found that about 97% of students don’t share the love of literature that I have. You could say that’s true of every subject, but English is the only subject where everyone has to pass four years in order to graduate from high school. It was three years of watching students stamp out and grind the literature that was my passion. Not to mention that I will never spell correctly again and my grammar is questionable.
I don’t detest literature now – not by a longshot – but certain pieces do remind me of less pleasant times. I still love literature and I still love to teach but I don’t teach literature anymore. Most of my teaching is related to branding and owning (starting/buying) a business.
What was your best subject throughout your school years? And your worst?
English was always my best subject. Math/science (algebra, chemistry and physics) were my worst nightmare – I liked geometry and biology – but I had teachers that really brought these subjects to life.
I generally hate it when scientists deliberately read my books so they can leave scathing reviews. I can tell you right now if you work in the sciences – you won’t like them! I can always tell from the wording and tone when I’m ready a review from a text book science junkie – and they are rife with scorn and derision.
Tell me about your favourite teacher throughout your school years? Was it a crush you had? Were they just an excellent teacher of your favourite subject?? Or some other reason…kind, fun, generous…?
Professor Lee Jacobus was my favorite teacher. He was the only instructor with whom I deliberately took more than one class. Dr. Jacobus was nothing short of brilliant but with a humble and self-effacing sense of humor that made him approachable. There was nothing pompous or arrogant about him even though his lifestyle would easily have supported that behavior.
I have always loved to write, but Lee Jacobus made me a writer. He was encouraging, and his critical comments were always couched in a way that I never felt under attack or became defensive. I was never a star student, but under his tutelage it felt as though I was.
You ask about a crush. I took dance from Dr. Jacobus’ lovely and talented wife, Joanna. They were a remarkable couple. In truth, I think I had a crush on them as a couple and based on what I’ve seen on social media – I still do.
Did either of your parents ever express a wish to write? Are they supportive and proud of your work? Or do they just choose to not get involved, but they are pleased for you?
Neither of my parents were writers. My Dad leaned more toward the graphic arts and my Mom was a student of fashion and interior design. At an early age they labled me “the writer” and my sister “the artist.” Even as a young child I could hear them describe me as the studious one, the reader and writer. In later years as my sister’s grades proved to be far better than mine – their support of my writing and the intelligence they felt necessary to make that so never faltered.
I dedicated my first book to my Dad posthumously and my Mom is still supporting my work at the age of 95.
My parents have never been ones to brag so their support was never blatant, but they always foumd a way to make others know of my talents – sometimes expressed as a trial “oh she missed dinner to do another book signing” – but I always knew the underlying intent. It actually made their support seem more credible.
Tell us about your ultimate ambition, be it personal, travel, writing, work, hobby related or other?
To make people laugh and to enjoy and help nature through animals.
Do you have any phobias and if so, what are they? Have you ever conquered any phobia and if so, how did you do it?
Between grade school and my honeymoon I didn’t have much opportunity to fly anywhere. What I thought was thrilling at 13 had become a phobia. Anytime I was forced to fly I would be terrified and need drinks or drugs or something – even then I was terrified at the slightest noise of any kind. My husband turned down a trip to Austria (I had never been outside of the U.S. territories prior to that invitation) due to my fear of flight – and I told him I wasn’t missing out on a trip to Europe - I would suck it up – and I did. But the flights weren’t pretty.
Over the next few years we flew to a number of places, mostly to ski. One day I was on a ski lift in Austria. We were going over a particularly sinister looking crevace and I said to myself “if you can do this, you’re an idiot to be afraid of flying.” And that was pretty much it. Now don’t get me wrong – I still do not respond well to turbulence – but it does help that now the pilot will typically announce that turbulence is expected – so it’s clearly no surprise to them.
I really loved the Tracy Ullman skit where she plays the Australian Pro Golfer, Kiki, who is afraid to fly. She visits the therapist to tell him she’s joining his “fear of flying” group and during that conversation, when he shares the fact that you’re far more likely to get a royal flush than to be in a plane crash – she announces she’s cured and runs out of his office without joining the group.
Most people I know are not happy with something physical about themselves (face/body etc.,) but if you could change anything about your personality, what would you wish to change?
Had you asked me that 10 years ago I would have had a list. Not anymore. I am what I am. Experienced has softened some of the edges, but my personality has gotten me to where I am today – and I like where I am – for the most part.
Years ago I would have liked to be 1. Far less sensitive (that would still be top of the list), 2. Far less quick to confront. 3. Milder temper overall (that has improved a great deal over the years), 4. A little less humble (although I take a great pride in humility).
What is your ‘go to’ snack, whatever the time of day? And drink of your choice?
Spearment leaves, Fritos and red licorice are the ones I don’t allow myself to eat – and I do love my candy corn.
I allow myself to eat – cherries, blueberries, pineapple, sometimes cinnamon cookies (very few), raisins.
In the daytime I drink a ton of Bubly. After five I like a Sauviniogn Blanc from the Marlborough region. I also like Tanqueray (gin) tonic and Rose’s lime juice with some fresh lime and a Bartender’s brand whiskey sour.
Cats or dogs? What do you have? Do you introduce any pets into your books?
We are a bulldog family. We started with Olde Englishe Bulldogs, we’ve also had an English Bulldog and we now have two French Bulldogs (smaller and easier to cart around – although not “easy” by a longshot). All of my books include Donna Leigh’s family life and thus my readers get to meet my dog family that exists at the time of writing. My dogs are such an integral part of my life I could not create a major piece of work without including them.
AND FINALLY, Hit me up with all your Amazon book-links? And the links to your website and social media profiles?
What a brilliant and informative interview, Donna. Thank you so much for taking part! Next up, on Friday, we have UK author, Ian Grant. Stay tuned to learn about Ian and his creation, D.I. Wiggins!
Have an amazing week, folks!
Love as always,