We love introducing you, our readers, to other crime fiction writers we think you might enjoy. Today, we bring you our crime writers interview with DonnaRae Menard, the very interesting and fun author of the It’s Never Too Late mystery series.
Here is her bio:
My unofficial writing career began in the seventh grade. While writing descriptive notes about a fellow classmate, I was apprehended and sentenced to reading those notes to the class. The episode went far in undermining my popularity and was the start of my training for the hundred-meter relay. Though it was an embarrassing event, it didn’t deter my fascination with the written word.
I followed the course of diaries, pen pals and eventually a children’s story published in a High School anthology. Though my education was non-contemporary, I continue to attend writing courses, seminars, conferences, and even book signings, learning from authors about their works and how they moved through the publishing process.
I have also written bi-weekly visual pieces for the local newspapers, one in the About Town column and another featuring my Golden Retriever as the traveling star.
I am a New Englander first, second, and always, sharing my home with strays and friends alike.
Kass (on behalf of the whole misterio gang): Let’s start with a somewhat open-ended, “tell us about yourself” question. What two or three things do you feel people need to know in order to understand who you are?
DonnaRae: Hmm, thing #1—every job I have had has offered me an opportunity to examine the human conditions that are reflected in my writing. My career included preparing pre-briefs for the legal suits I investigated. This task helped hone my writing because the pre-briefs required clarity, conciseness and logic, allowing legal professionals to comprehend the information without my being present.
Thing #2, another honing experience—for twelve years, I was a member of Toastmasters International. Toastmasters requires that you write and present your own original material. For four of those years, I was an award-winning international competitor.
Thing #3—it literally took me forty years to publish a book. I was terrified to try, mostly because of my own ignorance. (Notice I didn’t say stupidity.)
This is an ever-changing, ever-growing business. To get on board, you have to be willing to ask for help. Which means you have to be willing to open your mouth. I could do the open, I couldn’t do the other. Might be because I’m the oldest of eleven.
So it took me longer than it should have, perhaps, to develop the confidence to take the publishing plunge. I’ve done everything from cleaning toilets and plucking chickens to running my own business and managing several others, but I don’t have a master’s degree or a PhD. In the past, when I saw those letters behind somebody’s name, I would ice over.
Now, finally, I’m at the point in my life where I don’t give a rat’s patooie who has what. Now I walk up, hold out my hand, and say, “Hi, let me tell you about my 450-pound lap pig.”
Kass: *laughing* Something tells me you really do have a 450-pound pig. So tell us, why crime fiction? What is the appeal of mysteries for you?
DonnaRae: I definitely do. Her name is Bonita Belle, frequently called Bonnie or My Big Girl.
She’s a Hampshire. Think of a really big oreo cookie—black on both ends, white around the middle. She’s eight years old, with a life expectancy of twelve years. She could easily weigh 600 pounds, but we hold her at about 450, long and lean like a tube. She does tricks, likes to run, and has a dog cart to pull around.
As for crime fiction, I like it because it’s a problem you get to figure out. I like cozies because a normal person is involved, not somebody with special training.
And sometimes they drag their buddies along with them. Think about it like being on a toboggan. There’s seven of you at the top of the hill. The objective is to get to the bottom and not fall off or crack through the ice as you go over the duck pond. The girl up front is steering, the two in the back are the brakes, the four guys in the middle are ballast and stabilizers, everyone is doing something different, but they have to move together. You shove off…
Kass: What type, i.e. subgenre, of mysteries do you write? Why does that subgenre appeal to you as a writer?
DonnaRae: I started with Historical Fiction, as in a fictional story set in an historically accurate era. I started with these because I remember bits and pieces from what I believe are previous lifetimes of mine. So those were the eras I chose to research and write about.
I also wrote a detective series because I LOVE Sam Spade. But cozies or suspense cozies have been the easiest so far.
Kass: What was your favorite book/author as a child and why? Your favorite(s) now?
DonnaRae: My favorite book, since age 11, is Legend of the Seventh Virgin by Victoria Holt. Girl from under the stairs becomes the master because she’s common-sense smart. I read another favorite, The Taming of the Shrew, a couple of years later. It’s as close to romance as I ever get—a woman traded like chattel, and a fist strong enough to crush grapes—in a genre I know I will never be able to write.
I am Legend by Richard Matheson, a vampire/zombie cross meets Lion King, is an adult favorite. That’s the level of writing I want to achieve someday.
Kass: What do you find to be the most fun and/or the most difficult part of the writing process—first draft, editing, researching?
DonnaRae: My favorite is the first draft. I’m a heavy duty panster. A phrase, a glimpse of an event, will lead me to a story. Sometimes, that idea will pick up other ideas I’ve been storing and they twine together.
The worst part—figuring out where all the ##//*&^ commas go.
Kass: I’m with you there. Commas are the bane of my existence. What’s the oddest and/or most difficult thing you ever had to research?
DonnaRae: Research is something I usually do late at night when everybody else is asleep and can’t interrupt.
When I was writing In the Shadow of Pharaoh, I collected a mammoth amount of information. This was before computers were on every desk.
I heard the Smithsonian was offering a King Tut exhibit. I drove down and parked out front. For ten days I moved my car every two hours and between napping in it and eating out of my Coleman cooler, read every word in the exhibit at least four times. I was dreaming about men with wicked weird beards.
Kass: Why did you pick this particular setting for your new It’s Never Too Late series?
The setting for this series is based on Hinesburg, Vermont. Our family owned the old stagecoach house. We had a big barn, cows, horses, the works. My fondest memories are from there.
Even though this story is all fiction, the site is real. Just thinking about the village and the farm swells my heart. It’s all gone now to developers, but in me and my stories, it lives on. And Katelyn Took is the pain-in-the-butt girl next door.
Kass: And last of all, what question do you wish people would ask you that they usually don’t? What is your answer to that question?
People ask if my characters are family members, because my family is so big. What they don’t ask is how well I know these supposedly fictitious people, how emotionally tied I am to them. If they did, I’d have to tell them to pick one, then we’d have coffee in a quiet space while I introduced them to that character.
Kass: I may take you up on that. I’d love to meet Katelyn!
And there you have it folks, our crime writers interview with DonnaRae Menard. Read on to check out her newest release, Murder on Eagle Drop Ridge, and my review of it.
Things are looking up for Katelyn Took—she has a job, a roof over her head, a new love, and she’s down to fourteen cats. If it weren’t for the human remains she fell into on Eagle Drop Ridge, she’d be over the moon.
Then things start to slide. Before she recovers from falling into the first set of bones, a second set of remains are discovered fifty feet down at the bottom of the ledge. She knows there has to be a connection, even though the father of the male victim says no. His tunnel vision is mirrored by the sheriff, whose main focus is the woman.
Katelyn just wants it all cleared up before the rock-climbing company that’s considering renting the ridge drops out. It’s a balancing act with the media thrown in for added confusion, and somehow the fate of her new love is jeopardized. Then Katelyn finds a small, shiny clue.
What is she going to give up for peace of mind, or rather, what is going to be taken from her?
A worthy sequel to the first book in this series, Murder in the Meadow, this story finds Katelyn Took still struggling to salvage the dilapidated farm she inherited from her grandmother. In addition to working two jobs, she comes up with a scheme to rent out the ridge on the property to a company that teaches people to rock climb. But when she goes to the ridge to check it out, she literally falls on a corpse, and finds another at the bottom of the cliff.
Desperate to get the crimes solved before the rock climbing school gets wind of the deaths, she starts her own investigation, which does not please the local sheriff, nor the killer.
And she’s also struggling with her own strong need for independence. Why do people keep helping her? But despite her resistance, her house mates—her Gran’s friend, Ruth, and Rick, the older man whose moved in to help with both the bills and the work—along with a motley group of four-legged companions, are becoming family.
Menard’s writing paints a vivid picture of the farm and the nearby small town, and her well-developed characters start to feel like real people as the reader becomes immersed in Katelyn’s world. We follow along as she digs up one clue after another and the pieces come together.
A very satisfying read that I can definitely recommend. I give it 4 ½ fingerprints!
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