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Interview with Robin Leemann Donovan

She is the author of the blog, Menologues, a humorous yet informative look at the trials and tribulations of menopause by someone who’s been there. She has won regional honors for social media at the AMA Pinnacles and PRSA Paper Anvil awards. Her first novel is also an AMA Pinnacle award winner.

Donovan was born and raised in New Jersey but lived and worked in Connecticut for several years before moving to Nebraska in 1999. Starting her career as a high school English teacher, Donovan moved into advertising in the early ’80s. In late 2001, she and three colleagues purchased Bozell from its New York-based parent company. She has been president of Bozell since 2012. Donovan lives with her husband and French bulldog Frank in Omaha, NE, and Eden, UT.

Q.1 Tell us something about yourself not many people know?
I was asked to model wedding and bridesmaid dresses at a wedding fair when I was in high school.

Q.2 Do you have any upcoming books?
I have the 4th book in mind - but haven’t yet put pen to paper.

Q.3 When did you decide to write The Donna Leigh Mysteries series?
After a tarot card reader told me to “just shut up and write the book,” it was a few years before I realized that with a public blog on menopause, a staff of highly skilled designers in my ad agency, and a new client who happened to be a publisher - it was the perfect storm - it was time.

Q.4 How do you come up with the name of your books?
As I was writing my first novel, I worked hard to come up with a brilliant name for a series. Even as I finished the book, I had no idea what title I would use. My business partner pointed out that I should “stop pressuring myself and just pick a title.” As soon as she said that, I blurted Is It Still Murder Even If She Was A Bitch? Certain my publisher would kill the title, I figured I’d use it as long as possible. At the time, I was interviewing for a professional writer to join my ad agency. I spoke with some of the most talented writers in the country. When they inevitably asked about my life, I told them about my book - and when they heard the working title - they all laughed hysterically. I decided I would not let anyone change that title.

Q.5 If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Start writing your novels much sooner. The sheer joy of writing them and the joy you get sharing them with others is incomparable.

Q.6 How do you select the name of your characters?
I envision the character, often a compilation of various people I know, and I try to find a name representing what I know of them. Some of my characters are actual friends of mine. In that case, I always ask them what name they want me to use. I think it’s amusing that many men choose their actual first name and their mother’s maiden name. I think these men all want to honor their mothers.

Q.7 How many books have you written? Which one is your favorite?
There are three books in the Donna Leigh Mystery series. They are all my favorites for various reasons. The 1st is my favorite because it allowed me to vent many of my business frustrations in comedic form, the 2nd because it allowed me to share fond memories of my family, and the 3rd because it was the hardest to research and write, and it was my first male victim who was also a friend.

Q.8 How long does it take you to write a book?
I wrote my first book in three months. The other two took much longer because I wrote them in between editing, proofing, and marketing the first book. I had to set them aside to take care of keeping promotions on the first book moving.

Q.9 What were your feelings when your novel was accepted/when you first saw the cover of the finished product?
It was a feeling of ultimate elation and a surreal sense of wonder. It was the best because all things were good and all things were possible. Later, there were book-related experiences that took elation to an even higher level - but there were also disappointments that kept things balanced.

Q.10 Where do you hope to take your writing in the future?
I hope to continue writing humorous murder mysteries, whether in the Donna Leigh or another series. I also enjoy any kind of writing about writing - so articles or blog posts, etc.

Q.11 Do you have any unique and quirky writing habits?
When I get an edited manuscript back from an editor, I read through the entire thing and blurt out my own personal monologue in response to each comment. So, I can be heard to say, “No, no no, that’s just stupid, nobody talks like that” or “Oh yeah, that does sound better.” I go through the whole manuscript with comments of anger and refusal or comments of appreciation and acceptance. I’ve always said I would like to film this weird quirk - I think it would be pretty funny to watch. Of course, all the while I’m holding the manuscript and looking deep into its pages, I realize how ridiculous I sound.

Q.12 Do you believe in writer’s block? If yes, how do you deal with it?
I do believe in writer’s block, although thankfully, I’ve only experienced it once, briefly. I make it a point to only write when the spirit moves me. Thankfully, that spirit moves me quite often. The one time, I was in a rush to finish edits, and I forced myself to write when I wasn’t in the mood. I worked for a few hours and ended up scrapping everything I’d written. The next time my mood was right, I got everything revised within record time. I realize many writers who rely on their work for a livelihood don’t have the luxury of waiting as I do. Based on my experiences of being pushed to write articles, I didn’t want to - I think trying to push through writer’s block could make you dislike writing - and I would never want to risk that.

Q.13 What is the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
Writing about characters from the opposite sex is as easy as writing about characters of the same sex within my realm of knowledge. I am a devoted observer of all potential characters. I have trouble with both sexes when the character must be one with whom I’ve never had personal experience - i.e., I’m pretty sure I’ve never met a hooker - and that would be a challenge for me in either sex.

Q.14 What is your favorite book from other authors and why?
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. It kept me on the edge of my seat and shocked me at the end. It made me change my viewpoint by 180 degrees from beginning to middle to end.

Q.15 How does your family/friends feel about your book or writing venture in general?
They love it - especially when I write about them. My husband’s two aunts are probably my greatest fans - and I adore them for their wonderful comments.

Q.16 How do you develop your plots and characters? Do you use any set formula?
I sit down and write, and when I come to a juncture where a new character might help, I create one. At certain spots - such as the wine tastings that I include in each book - I know ahead of time I’m going to have some characters that move the plot forward and some characters that will only have a brief appearance and not reappear until the next book. The characters with brief appearances were created when I got to that chapter in the first book, and they basically remain the same throughout the series.

Q.17 What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Before you put pen to paper, do the research and manage your expectations. Very few authors achieve fame and fortune - at least in their own lifetime. If your definition of success is fame and fortune - find another way of getting there.

Q.18 Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Stand-up comedy.

Q.19 Who designed your book covers?
My advertising agency, Bozell.

Q.20 Share the experience of your journey so far?
I always appreciate an organization that commits to an interview quickly and follows up with a thoughtful and organized list of questions. Books Charming made my experience quite easy - even with something as seemingly small as being able to save the questions and write on them (sometimes they do not permit saving and writing - so you can be limited as to how and when to write your answers - that can be a pain). They thought of every necessity and gave me clear instructions. It doesn’t get better than that.

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