Today, I present an interview with Brenda Donelan, the author of the University Mystery Series.
1. First, tell me a bit about yourself. What would you like readers to know about you?
I’ve always lived in South Dakota, but I love to travel. I’ve been to several countries and intend to keep traveling as long as I can. Travel is one of the best ways to learn about other cultures and yourself. Of course, one of the best things about travel is coming back home. I also love cats and have a 15-year-old Persian named Taffy. Besides reading, I love attending rock concerts, especially outdoor events with music from the 80s and early 90s.
2. Can you tell me about your current project?
I’m writing the fifth book in The University Mystery Series. The book, although nearly completed, doesn’t have a title yet. I’ve been referring to it as #5. This book was started in October with the bulk of it written in November during National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo). The series is set in the fictional town of Elmwood, South Dakota on the campus of Midwestern State University. Marlee McCabe, my protagonist, is a professor of Criminology who is either pushed, pulled, or shoved into solving mysteries that happen on her campus and in her town. My books are considered cozy mysteries, meaning that they don’t contain much sex or graphic violence. I try to bring in the flavor of South Dakota when describing the people, the customs, the food, and the surrounding towns.
#5 (I really need to decide on a title) is a flashback book in that Marlee McCabe is now a college student in 1987. We get to see her, no longer as the professor with high ideals and little tolerance for slacker students, but as a student ready to cut corners and justify less than stellar academic behavior. The book will take readers on a walk down memory lane with references to 80s fashion, slang, and technology. Marlee and her friends seek to find out more about a fellow student who was found dead at a college party. This death leads to another mystery and back to present time.
3. Your University Mystery series is based on a real event, correct? Can you tell me a bit about that event and how it inspired you to write this series?
My first book, Day of the Dead, was inspired by real events. I was a college professor in 2004 and a fellow professor was found dead on campus. The resulting investigation left many of us on campus with more questions than answers about the victim and the cause of death. Day of the Dead is a work of fiction, but I used the premise of the body of a dead professor found outside his campus office.
4. How did you develop the character of Marlee McCabe?
If you were to ask my mom, she would say I am Marlee McCabe. Certainly, there are tons of similarities, but I am not the protagonist in my books. Rather, Marlee is who I would like to be. She’s much more outgoing and brave than I am.
5. How did you discover your love of writing?
I’ve loved to tell stories and write stories as long as I can remember. As a little girl, I read Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, and other books with strong female protagonists. I remember fantasizing about being a detective, and as I got older, I was able to do investigative work in a number of my careers. I worked as a social worker, a probation officer, and a federal investigator for a total of 9 years before I started teaching at the university level. By then, I was over the idea of being a detective anymore, but I found that I still liked writing mysteries. After teaching sociology and criminal justice for 11 years, I decided to work full time as a writer. Now I’ve been writing for 3 ½ years and have self-published four books with the fifth to be released this spring.
6. What is your favorite part of being a writer?
I love being my own boss. I decide when and how I want to write, what the cover of my book will look like, and how I will advertise and promote my books. If I had a traditional publisher, many of these decisions would be taken out of my hands. Being self-published allows me complete control over my books from start to finish. Writing for a traditional publisher would take the fun out of writing and turn it into work.
7. What is your greatest challenge as a writer?
To stick to writing one book at a time. As soon as I begin a book I immediately begin thinking of ideas for other books. I know myself well enough to realize I can only work on one project at a time. Keeping a notebook of ideas for upcoming books helps me remember my ideas and then put them away so I can get back to work on my current book.
8. How do you find inspiration and motivation to write when you feel stuck?
Stuck seems to be a state of mind for me. If I can’t write it’s usually because I’m being lazy or working on another project. I can only work on one thing at a time, so sometimes my writing gets put on hold while I finish beta reading another author’s manuscript or devise a new marketing campaign. If I get truly stuck, then I write short stories. It usually helps the creative juices start flowing again.
9. What’s your favorite way to take a break from writing?
If the weather is nice, I like to go for a walk to clear my head and think of new twists and turns for my novel. Otherwise, I go on Facebook and mindlessly sift through photos people post. I even like looking at pictures of people I don’t know and trying to imagine a backstory for them.
10. What’s one piece of advice that you would give to aspiring or new authors?
Just keep writing. Even if you only write a little bit every day or a few times a week, it will add up. Also, I’d suggest not spending too much time reading what others have to say about writing. Certainly you should take some advice, but I think it’s easy to become bogged down and overwhelmed if you spend too much time reading the “do” and “do not” suggestions that everyone seems to have. In my opinion, you can either be a writer or you can be someone who spends all their time reading about being a writer. Many a writing career has never gotten off the ground because too much focus was placed on what others had to say.
Stay tuned for more author interviews, including an upcoming conversation with K.T. Webb, author of The New Era Saga series.