Today’s guest is mystery author Don McNair to talk about his two novels, Mystery at Magnolia Mansion and Mystery on Firefly Knob.
experiences. The first, Mystery at Magnolia Mansion, evolved from owning a crumbling
historical house my wife and I found in Magnolia Springs, Alabama. As we
renovated it, it occurred to me it would be an ideal location and topic for a
romance novel. So I developed a story about a young interior designer who…
well, here’s the story:
“paint, wallpaper, whatever” his hundred-year-old landmark mansion (the house
we owned), “but for God’s sake, don’t go overboard.” When she figures her
grandiose plans will fit handily into his edict’s “whatever” section, they’re
launched into a constant head-bumping mode. Brenda’s poor money management
skills (that’s his view, but what does he know?) and lawyer David Hasbrough’s
ridiculous need to control her life (that’s her well-reasoned evaluation of the
situation) combine to keep the battle going. Is this couple’s romantic goose
cooked? Well, she can’t be near him without sparks flying and goose bumps
popping out everywhere. But that mansion has to be done right!
Knob. It was born on a trip through Eastern Tennessee, when my wife and I ran
across a Cumberland Plateau knob overlooking beautiful Sequatchie Valley. It
looked like an ideal place to launch a story, but about what? As I considered
that, I read of a unique firefly that flashed simultaneously with others
instead of individually. I also remembered my own hobby dealing in mail-order
antiques in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. I threw in a murder, intrigue, love, and
action, and came up with this story:
Cumberland Plateau knob overlooking a beautiful valley, she finds scientist
Mike Callahan camped there to study unique fireflies. She needs to sell it fast
to buy a new building for her antiques business in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, but he
freaks out when a condo builder offers her a contract. Miffed, she tells him,
“If I have my way, this place will be sold within the week. And, Mr. Callahan,
I will have my way!” Their budding romance plays out before a background of a
murder mystery, distrust, and heart-racing hormones. Will it blossom into a
play the what-if game, and used that trait in my forty-year commercial writing
career: eleven years as a magazine editor, six as a PR professional for a major
agency, and twenty-one running my own marketing communications business. My
curiosity led to several awards, including the Public Relations Society of
America’s Silver Anvil trophy. When I retired I wrote books that fed my own
ego: three “how-to” books and six novels, including these.
in front of her, stark naked! Well,
except for a bath towel wrapped snugly around his hips. He was dripping water
on her nice clean floor. She tried to turn away, but her muscles refused to
budge. His chest, sprinkled with curly black hair, narrowed to a tight stomach
which showed off six-pack abs. His muscular bare arms and legs were certainly
not those of a desk jockey. No, the man got exercise somehow.
muscles work, and they grudgingly turned her toward the door. Her cheeks
burned. Her mind was in turmoil.
too,” he said. He flashed a silly grin, backed into the room he’d come from,
and closed the door. It was a downstairs bedroom right off the kitchen,
complete with a full bath, which she’d earlier pegged as a live-in maid or
cook’s living quarters. He’d apparently swung a big deal at that garage sale
because she’d noticed the mismatched bed, chest, and end table in that room,
which weren’t there on her first visit. The only other furniture in the whole
house was the rusty chrome-legged kitchen table and its four matching chairs
he’d apparently bought at the same time. If that was his idea of a great décor
. . .
sunlight and blue sky. Grass, kept at bay by constant shadows in the deep woods,
covered an open area the size of an average yard. Weeds and wildflowers
sprinkled the ground, and sapling maples and vines fringed the woods.
is it?” she said.
The original site. See if you can spot where the cabin stood.”
saw nothing but the woods and grass. To her left she noticed a stone
outcropping. Beyond it was blue sky, and the hazy distance of Sequatchie
right. If you jumped off that big rock you’d fall almost two thousand
she approached the rock she gazed about the clearing. And then she saw it—a
vertical stone chimney that at first glance resembled the tall trees
surrounding it. Now she made out its individual stones. She stepped closer and
saw beneath it the stone foundation of a one-room cabin. The chimney rose from
one corner, with its hearth opening toward the center. She stared at it in awe.
It was the precursor of the cabin her father lived in. Perhaps it was even
built by Rymer himself, the knob’s namesake, in the early eighteen hundreds.
The sun’s slanting rays streamed through the tree canopy and threw light
patterns on the chimney and foundation. She touched Mike’s arm. “It’s like a
shrine,” she whispered. “I feel like I’ve just stepped out of a time machine.”
editing. Quill Driver Books will publish it April 1 of next year.
from Chicago to Atlanta, where I was to research an article for a client. Out
of boredom I was editing a fog-filled paperback—yes, editing is actually a game
for me—when I realized the same mistakes appeared over and over. I was
intrigued. I bought another paperback at the Atlanta airport and edited it on
the way home. A pattern emerged, and I became excited. Had I discovered the
writer’s Rosetta stone?
novels. I joined critique groups and aggressively edited other writers’
fiction. I plowed through all those manuscripts from pre-published authors and
the marked-up paperback books I’d tossed into a dresser drawer, and
painstakingly sorted thousands of offending sentences and other problems by
type. I eventually identified twenty-one distinct problems. Today, I call their
solutions, appropriately enough, the “21Steps to Fog-Free Writing.”
number of elements in chemistry’s Periodic Table and letters in the alphabet,
there’s also a specific number of fog problems in writing. I realized many
unnecessary words are actually tips of bad-writing icebergs, and that
eliminating them resolves otherwise complicated editing problems. In fact,
almost half the Steps actually strengthen action while shortening sentences. I’m
excited about this book, and can’t wait for it to come out!
school, and the teacher asked us to write a story about Mother’s Day. The next
day she read mine to the class, and later a pretty little girl came up to me
and said, “Donnie, I loved your story.” Writing was a backburner thing for me
for several years, but once in a while I went into my bedroom and wrote stories
for myself; stories that took me all over the world.
not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
told how my client’s equipment or services helped other manufacturers solve
problems—less expense, faster production, better service—then placed the
stories with magazines read by my client’s potential customers. I also oversaw
writing staffs, and learned early that even “professional” writers needed
editing. Today, I put that knowledge to work for fiction writers. I generally
edit in the mornings, and write my WIP and do promotion in the afternoon.
in fifteen minute chunks. During those years of working with clients I had to, since I charged then for how
much time I spent on a project. At the end of every month I had to detail
exactly what I did and how long it took. Today, I charge my clients by the word,
but I haven’t shaken that habit. I recommend that method to other writers,
since it helps keep “writer’s block” away.
was staff cartoonist for both my high school and college publications, and in
the late ’60s developed two strips for syndication. Unfortunately, the
syndicates didn’t share my feeling that they were ready for the international
market. Last month, I dug those strips out of the attic and framed one of each for
my office wall. Hey, I think they look pretty good!
keep learning. Take evening and online writing classes. Write every day. And
above all, after your critique partners have signed off on your work and you’ve
polished it as much as you can, have it professionally edited before sending it
to an editor or agent. In my position of working through an editing network I
see hundreds of raw manuscripts, and most need heavy editing. What I see is
what those experienced publication editors and agents see, so I know why they
reject ninety-five percent of the manuscripts offered.
their work might not be the best it could be, and have asked for help. The rest
send their work directly to agents and publishers, and most will get them back
with a nice note thanking them for their interest. They won’t know what
mistakes they’re making—or even that they’re making mistakes, for that matter—
and for the rest of their lives they will make the same ones. They will produce
manuscript after manuscript that will find their way back to them. A
professional editor can tell you what you’re doing wrong and short-circuit the
process. At the very least, I hope you read and apply Editor-Proof Your Writing when it comes out.
randomly chosen commenter. So leave a comment below and if you’d like to be entered to win, also leave your e-mail address. And you can follow Don’s tour and comment at other stops; the more you comment, the better your chances of winning.