1. Introduce yourself! What is your experience with writing?
Starting out as an English teacher, I always wanted to write a book. There was never time. Years later, after owning an ad agency for over a decade and having less time than ever, I found myself in a unique situation. I was blogging about menopause. My blog, Menologues, had been picked up by a couple of public service websites, so there was something of an audience. At the same time, my ad agency signed on a new client – a publishing company. So, with a built-in audience, the ear of a publisher and the fact that I was surrounded by talented designers and promoters, the time would never be more ideal. Thus was born: The Donna Leigh Mysteries.
2. How do you select the names of your characters?
First I decide on the roll they will play. My core characters tend to be well-balanced. They are my most relatable characters and while they are serious, they also have a well-developed sense of humor, never taking trivial things too seriously. I always have someone in mind when I’m building a character, so I try to choose a name that person would like – a name fitting that individual. My French characters typically get French names, and sometimes I even ask the person I’m envisioning what they would like their character to be named. Most of the men choose their own first name and their mother’s maiden name. The women generally give it a bit more imagination.
My more two-dimensional characters, the ones that are ludicrous to the point of being caracatures have equally ludicrous names and physicalities. My favorite character is Clovis Cordoba Seville, and she is the complete opposite of any of my core characters; she takes herself completely seriously which makes her completely laughable. And that kind of sums up my philosophy of life.
3. How many hours a day do you write?
I usually write on weekends, and I typically write for 8 hours a day. I can do 6 hours, but less than that is typically not productive.
4. What was your hardest scene to write?
I had written a scene featuring a rural, native Nebraskan. I was trying to give this individual an accent that was lacking in sophistication. That was hard. My editor sent me a note saying “what happened to this guy? Two sentences in and he’s a Harvard grad.” How did I miss that? Trying to rewrite this scene was incredibly difficult. I almost had to invent an accent and I had to keep adjusting my writing from Harvard to corn field without inserting a southern twang – which for some reason kept trying to push itself into the mix. I’m still not 100% sure I captured this speech pattern – but it’s a whole lot better than when I started.
5. What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
I’ve already given up 100% control. Finding a good editor is critical, but you have to give them some control so you’re not shooting down all of their suggestions – and you really want to.
6. What is your favorite childhood book?
Everything Dr. Seuss and Eloise at Christmastime.
7. What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Keeping myself from writing the ending immediately after I’ve written the beginning. With murder mysteries, once you set the stage initially you’re always obsessing about the ending. I have had to force myself to break my books into four equal segments. I don’t allow myself to write the ending until I’m writing the fourth quarter.
8. Do you believe in writer’s block?
I believe that if I force myself to write when I’m not in the mood – it will not be productive. As long as I’m in the mood nothing can block me.
9. Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
Writing is absolutely spiritual. It’s possibly the only thing in my life where I can enthusiastically agree that my work is good and never doubt it. I think that’s because I feel as though it doesn’t really belong to me – I am merely the conduit. I find it very humbling, which is kind of ironic when you consider I just said my writing is good.
10. Where can readers learn more about you?