June 15, 2016
Recently I had the chance to interview Romantic Suspense author Donnell Ann Bell about her writing. Donnell takes craft seriously which pays off for the readers. You’ll get a spine tingling ride with any of Donnell’s books.
Me: Thank you for letting me interview you. First question, you’ve got a lot of layers to your romantic suspense books. In your latest release Buried Agendas you’ve got an investigative reporter, a small town mayor, war and corporate secrets, conniving family, and more. Give us some insight into your writing process. How do you keep everything straight and still weave the elements all together?
Donnell: Hi, Amberly, that is a great question.
I had a few drafts of Buried Agendas, before Bell Bridge Books published this version. But in answer to your question, I am a linear writer. I write single title and I love subplots. The Vietnam War is something I knew little about until Buried Agendas, and it really spoke to me that in this war, we still have 1,622 MIAs, whose families have no idea what happened to their loved ones. It’s been 50 years.
The main plot started out, of course, as a reunion story. The log line I came up with was: A devastating secret drove her from her lover’s arms; will a secret equally as deadly lead her back to him? From there, I called upon my chemical engineer husband and his associates, an underground tank expert, and even Region V of the Environmental Protection Agency.
As we writers know, a story isn’t a story without conflict. I would listen to my husband’s side about how government regulations often hinder business, then would consider the EPA’s position about its duty to make sure our rivers and drinking water are safe.
And then it hit me: What if a chemical processing company created what it thought was a successful product, only to learn that it created a banned chemical? Banned chemicals are closely monitored; companies suffer huge fines, which can hurt the organization, including putting it out of business. A final nail in the coffin is that disposal sites won’t touch the chemical or they are complicit. Banned chemicals can’t be incinerated and they can’t be buried.
What would desperate and less than ethical people do? In my story, they find illicit ways to get rid of it.
Thankfully, there’s always a good guy aka a whistleblower, and a chemist contacts my heroine. Diana Reid is an investigative reporter in Dallas. But for reasons I can’t divulge or give the plot away, she can’t return to Diamond, Texas – at least as Diana Reid.
I had a lot of fun writing Diana. Loved Brad Jordan who not only is mayor of the small town and has a duty to his constituents. But he’s also an heir to Jordan Industries, the company that creates the banned chemical. At first he’s in denial. This couldn’t happen at Jordan. Then when he learns differently, he has a decision to make. Will he make the right one? As I say, I love to write conflict.
Ugh, conflict was such a tough thing for me to learn as a writer, especially internal conflict. You helped established Crime Scene Writers to give writers access to asking actual police their tough questions. How did that come about and what is your favorite fact or story from the yahoo group you can share?
Amberly, I joined Crimescenewriters after I joined RWA and Kiss of Death in 2002 . I was desperate to make sure I was getting my facts straight as I was writing romantic suspense and knew very little about police procedure. Wally Lind, a retired veteran police officer had started the Yahoo group because he enjoyed reading and wanted writers to get their facts straight.
I began as a member, and Wally had a team of moderators. I asked questions, though, so when one moderator left, he contacted me and asked if I wanted to help. I jumped at the chance. What better way to learn than by reading questions and answers. The list was around 500 then. It’s grown to more than 2600.
A few years later, Wally contacted me, and asked if I wanted to co-own the group. I was honored and agreed. Piper Rome is a co-moderator. She’s a lawyer, pilot and weapons expert and an incredibly smart woman.
Obviously people feel the list has a purpose. The expertise just keeps on expanding. There’s a lot of helpful people out there who want to help writers. Many of these experts are writers as well. We have law enforcement, pathologists, coroners, firefighters—they learn about CSW, and hop on board. We’re careful to make the list about writing. We do our best to keep politics and spam off the loop. It’s also not about promotion – it’s about writing, which is another reason I love it.
I feel fortunate that I was in the right place at the right time all those years ago. I think if you’re writing any kind of mystery, thriller, romantic suspense, etc., this is a list that has helped launch careers. It’s also why numerous NYT bestselling authors remain to this day.
It sounds like a talent dense and supportive group! Okay, last question. What are you working on now?
I’m working on a series for Bell Bridge Books. Working title Just Like the Rest of Them.
A Denver murder investigation is linked to a 14-year-old cold case in Montrose, Colorado. A Denver police lieutenant and a retiring FBI special agent have a vested interest in working together. So does the witness who lost her best friend and came face to face with the killer. When they meet her again, they won’t view her as a traumatized 15-year old they have to protect; they’ll see her a competent woman trained to assist.
Thanks Donnell! You can learn more about her books at http://donnellannbell.com/books/ and connect on Facebook and Twitter. If you send her a message she might be out for a walk or reading up about blood spatter analysis, so be patient, she’ll get to you.