|Deborah Donnelly: Mining Weddings and Murder for Fun and Profit|
Having learned Storytelling 101 at the knee of her yarn-spinning father, Deborah Donnelly stopped penning executive speeches for Starbucks, walked away from a lucrative corporate librarian position and immersed herself in fiction. First she wrote science fiction, publishing several stories. But that incorrigible Donnelly sense of humor turned out more spoof than science.
Upon her switch to romantic mystery, Donnelly's wise-cracking, irreverent style became a plus. Donnelly's humor shines through the character of amateur sleuth Carnegie Kincaid and all of Kincaid's supporting cast in Donnelly's successful, Seattle-based, wedding planner series. The author recently shared her wit and wisdom with Crescent Blues, revealing a few surprises about her past, her future projects and her brush with death.
Crescent Blues: I salute your courage. In May the Best Man Die, the third book of the Carnegie Kincaid wedding planner series, you threw all of my favorite elements overboard and still created a delightfully entertaining installment in the series. Did you realize what a risk you were taking or was this calculated?
Deborah Donnelly: I'm delighted that you found the new book delightful! I didn't see it as a risk, just a chance to get Carnegie a bit off-balance, out of her usual comfort zone on the houseboat. I like to shake things up. It's always a challenge in a series, to keep the elements that readers enjoy, while making room for new ones.
Crescent Blues: What motivated this departure?
Deborah Donnelly: At the start of May the Best Man Die, Carnegie is camping out at her good friend Lily's house; later she stays at the Pike Place Market apartment of coffee tycoon Ivy Tyler, the mother of one of her brides. Each of these settings gets her deeper into the story, first with a threat to her friendship [with Lily] when Lily's brother is accused of murder, and then with a blackmail plot. Ivy's place was especially fun to describe. There really are apartments upstairs from the market, with people living just above the fruit and vegetable stands and the fish vendors.
Deborah Donnelly: My friend's wedding was an elegant outdoor affair, with a string quartet and a buffet supper. Mine was more of a party at home, with a ceremony by the fireplace followed by hors d'oeuvres and rock 'n' roll. Neither of us used a wedding planner, because we had each other, but we fantasized about the huge extravaganzas we might have had. Those fantasies are lived out by some of Carnegie's clients.
Crescent Blues: Will we see any weddings featuring Carnegie or Lily as the bride or maybe Eddie as the groom?
Deborah Donnelly: Perhaps, in future books. Lily James has a romance going with police detective Mike Graham, and if they decided to marry, Carnegie would be the natural choice to help out. Eddie Breen is the quintessential crusty old bachelor, but he's showing more interest in Carnegie's mother, his long-time friend Louise. Stay tuned…
Crescent Blues: What can we expect in the fourth Carnegie Kincaid romantic mystery novel, Death Takes a Honeymoon?Deborah Donnelly: More shaking things up! Some familiar characters will be on hand -- Aaron Gold, Boris Nevsky and Beau Paliere, the rival wedding planner -- and also some new ones, including Jack the Knack, a handsome smoke jumper who has history with Carnegie.
Crescent Blues: Where did your inspiration come from for Boris the Mad Russian Florist and Juice the green-haired cake designer? Are you a fan of Anne Tyler's quirky characters, for example?
Deborah Donnelly: I love unusual characters, and Anne Tyler is certainly a master in that regard. My own creations are usually a mosaic of people I actually know, strangers I notice, and odd notions that just pop up in my head. There's a bizarrely tattooed tough guy I often see at a local coffee shop, and he has no idea that he's a villain in Died to Match. I chuckle whenever I see him.
Crescent Blues: You leave each book teetering on the edge of a cliff-hanger, making readers long for the next book. Which comes first, the plot or the cliffhanger when planning your novels?
Deborah Donnelly: Oh, definitely the plot. Then as I near the conclusion, wicked cliff-hangers begin to suggest themselves. I may not do it in every book, in case readers get irritated with me. But they seem to enjoy it so far.
Crescent Blues: I understand you published several science fiction stories. What inspired you to start writing science fiction and why did you choose to stop?
Deborah Donnelly: I had great fun writing science fiction short stories, and some gratifying success in seeing them published in magazines like Asimov's Science Fiction. But my SF almost always came out spoofy rather than scientific. So when I started a book-length project I decided to try mystery, another genre I've always enjoyed.
Crescent Blues: Your transition to romantic mystery seems to have gone smoothly. Any regrets? Any non-Carnegie projects in the works?
Deborah Donnelly: No regrets at all; this genre suits my voice very well. I don't have other projects actually under way, but I am playing with a concept for a second series. It's set in various European tourist destinations, and would naturally involve a lot of on-site research. A tough job, but somebody's got to do it -- and I hope it's me.
Crescent Blues: What kind of responses or requests do you get from your readers?
Deborah Donnelly: Mostly they ask me to write faster, and believe me, I would if I could. It's amazing the time it takes, first to imagine and then to craft a book that can be read in just a few evenings. Have patience guys!
Crescent Blues: Any offers to write a column for any bride or wedding magazines?
Not yet, though I've thought about adding a bridal advice column to my
Crescent Blues: Most readers will recognize you as the "sex" portion of the Sex, Lies and Videotape book tour with Libby Fischer Hellmann and Roberta Isleib. Please tell us some of your experiences with these two fellow mystery writers.
Deborah Donnelly: We had such a blast! We kicked off the tour at the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore, and did signings all the way down the coast to the Mysterious Galaxy store in San Diego. The Left Coast Crime convention in Pasadena came right in the middle, just when we needed a break from hearing each other's stories over and over again
Seriously, though, solo touring can be very stressful, but hitting the road with a couple of like-minded friends is a great way to go. You share the expenses, the driving, and that sinking feeling when your audience is just the store owner and a cat. And with a big audience, like we had in San Diego, you spark off each other, and come up with livelier stories to share.
Crescent Blues: Any scandalous (or G-rated) stories you'd like to share about your experiences with these two fellow mystery writers?
Deborah Donnelly: Hmmm, scandal...No, the scandals better stay out of sight. But I can tell you that Roberta Isleib is such a golf fanatic that Libby and I had to drag her whimpering away from Pebble Beach. And Libby Hellmann is such an Internet addict that she got the shakes when Roberta and I made her stay at a cabin in Big Sur with NO connection to the online world.
Our best story involves turning on the proverbial dime. We arrived in Atascadero two hours early, and thought we might turn our scheduled event into a drive-by signing. But Ann's Bookstore had done such a wonderful job publicizing our visit that we couldn't possibly do that. There's a laundromat next door to Ann's, so we used the extra time to pull out our dirty laundry, right there in the parking lot, sort the colors and whites, and get ourselves ready to hit the road again in clean jeans.
Crescent Blues: You've mentioned that you don't read other mystery writers. What prompted this decision, and does it apply to the folks you've been touring with?