Today I am thrilled to be introducing you to author R.J. McDonnell. RJ has been a BestsellerBound.com member almost from the beginning. He's a friendly and supportive author who shares my love of music. RJ's books are Rock Fiction, and I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed Rock & Roll Homicide, the first in his Rock & Roll mystery series. After reading the book, I wanted to ask RJ a few questions, so invited him here. He has also generously agreed to give away an ebook copy of each of his first three novels in mobi or epub versions! To enter the giveaway, all you need to do is leave a comment on this blog post, or simply click the 'like' button below. A lucky winner will be chosen on 16th July 2012.
Now onto the interview:
Rock & Roll Homicide is the first in a series of three books. When you wrote the first book, did you intend it to be a series, or was that something that happened later?
As a lifelong mystery series fan I realized when I developed my characters that they would be part of my extended family. It helped me to build characters I would want to spend a great deal of time with and to formulate a general idea on how they would grow and develop.
Rock & Roll Homicide is written in the first person from the perspective of Jason Duffy, the PI. Whenever I read books that are written in the first person, I often wonder whether the author is writing from a personal perspective. How much of yourself is there in the character Jason Duffy, or is he completely fictional?
Jason Duffy is my personal road not taken. My father was a detective and his father was also a cop. Everyone in my family expected that I would be following in their footsteps. In fact, I’m even listed as a cop in a bound edition of a family tree that an out-of-state relative put together a few years ago. My protagonist and I have very similar educational backgrounds and early work histories. But, where Jason opted to become a PI in his mid-twenties, I started writing full-time. I also played rhythm guitar and sang for a couple of bands, and continue to perform solo at book signings and library appearances. I’m definitely a believer in the adage “write what you know.”
I found all the characters in Rock & Roll Homicide to be realistic (not that I've ever met people from the Russian Mafia lol). Did you base any of the characters on people you know?
One of my problems with the mystery genre is that, like with television, winning formulas get done to death. When I developed my characters I was determined to break the mold of the larger than life protagonist who is an expert at fighting, firearms, and car chases. I try to apply the same principle to supporting characters and antagonists. It would be much easier to portray my bad guys as totally evil. But that just doesn’t measure up to my standard of believability. When I was in grad school I had a nine month internship at a maximum security prison where more than half of my caseload consisted of convicted murderers. None of them were pure evil. I try to capture the gray-area side streets that feed into their road to ruin in my novels.
I read in your bio that your father was a fan of police detective dramas on TV and in the movies and consequently you watched many of these. Which were your favourites when you were growing up?
I could name several, but I feel that Columbo captures the essence of what I liked about the crime dramas.
He was a unique character who was always underestimated by the bad guy. He used his wits, powers of observation, and tenacity to solve crimes. The show proved that crime dramas did not have to follow a strict formula to succeed. Of course, as a kid I also enjoyed action cops like Steve McGarrett of Hawaii Five-O. I always manage to work a fair amount of action into my novels, but Jason never dominates his opponents. He usually has his hands full in a one-on-one fight.
You have a background in writing, mainly non-fiction professionally. Did you discover your love for creative writing through your work in non-fiction writing, or were you writing creatively before that?
I was West Coast Regional Director for the largest resume writing company in the US. One of the writers that I hired had some television production experience, and told me he was recruiting a writing staff for an upcoming cable show with a Saturday Night Live format. I agreed to submit a script for consideration and ended up having 34 for them produced and aired. It was my first foray into fiction and I loved it. I tried writing a Seinfeld episode on spec and submitted it without representation. I showed six other writers the script after sending it out. A few weeks later I received a letter saying they wouldn’t look at it without an agent. The following season one of my bits from the show I had written was aired, and all of the people I showed the script to called within the hour to congratulate me and ask how much I had been paid. They all thought it was terrible that I had been ripped-off. I saw it as an acknowledgment that I could write with the pros.
I understand that you used to be a musician. There is a lot of information about the music industry in Rock & Roll Homicide. Was that taken from your personal experience as a musician, or did you do some research?
I never made it past the club level as a musician. My wrist was shattered in an accident several years ago, and that ended any chance of me becoming a career musician. But I have a very good friend who played lead guitar in a band with Noel Redding of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and also played with Ginger Baker, Jethro Tull, Tico Torres, and several more international acts. He’s been very helpful. I also have readers who are professional musicians and one who makes custom guitars for top touring pros. They have all been generous with their time and expertise.
If you had a choice between becoming a famous musician or a famous author, which would you choose and why?
At this point in my life I would definitely choose to be a famous author. I’d hate to be remembered as the musician who ruined groupie folklore.
I've heard that you play your guitar and sing at your book signings. That's very original. What has the reaction been from people who have attended, and do you have any favourite memories of these you can share with us?
Kevin Costner did a movie called Field of Dreams where the tagline was: If you build it they will come. I assumed that after I built my novel and booked my appearances the book-buying public would come to my signings. I was wrong. They stayed away in droves. I read about how J.A. Konrath applied his sales skills to his appearances, but decided that the used car sales approach wasn’t for me. I wrote a series of three minute talking points about my books that related to some of my favorite classic rock songs, and began performing them at bookstores. Suddenly, I went from having no one lining up at my table to having most of the patrons staying for all or most of the show. In between songs I’d sell books. My favorite moment happened at a library appearance on a cold and rainy night. It was at a large library in a nearby county, and an area paper promised a Sunday paper feature article. Ten minutes before show time the only ones in the room were myself, my best friend and his wife. The journalist called to say she and the photographer were running a little late. I asked my friend if he’d try to recruit a few people from the library. Fifteen minutes after the scheduled start time he walked into the community room with about 20 patrons. The journalist and photographer walked in five minutes later. The photographer made those 20 people look like Woodstock Nation. After the show I asked my friend how he managed to get everyone to follow him to my gig. He told them they’d all be on the front page of the Arts section in two weeks, and they were. Sure, it was a shot of the backs of all of their heads, but no one guaranteed camera angles.
Your bio states that Rock & Roll Homicide has appealed to not only mystery readers, but 18-35 year-old non-readers and this resulted in a national news story about the book. It must have been a great feeling having a story about your book in a national newspaper. Can you tell us a bit more about how this came about?
The Christian Science Monitor quoted Market Watch as their source on an article about how RRH was appealing to two very different demographic groups. About half of them were traditional mystery readers, which was no surprise. The second group came from a marketing campaign on MySpace where many of the buyers identified themselves as non-readers on their MySpace profiles by making statements such as “I hate reading,” or “I don’t read” in the section where they were to identify favorite books. I ended up doing a library literacy book tour as a result of this, where I taught patrons how to get their adult children and grandchildren interested in reading books. Dr. Alan Kazdin, Chair of the Psychology Department at Yale, helped me with the research to develop the program.
I read that Rock & Roll Rip-Off (the second book in the series) won an award. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I’ve only entered two contests in my life. They tend to be expensive and take quite a while to be judged. By the time the award is given the book is usually no longer a candidate for the best seller list, at least by traditional publishing standards. But, the day after reading about the Premier Book Awards Mystery/Thriller of the Year contest in June of 2010 I received a birthday present check for the exact amount of the entry fee, and felt it was kismet. So I submitted the book, application, and fee and soon forgot about it. In mid-September I was in the process of getting returns of Rock & Roll Homicide from book and record stores all around the country. The mailman arrived five minutes before my alma mater’s football team appeared on television, so I tossed the package onto my kitchen table and watched the first half. Trying to avoid being a total slacker that afternoon, I decided to process the return at halftime, and found a plaque instead of a book when I opened the package. It also contained a letter that said in spite of the large number of entries, Rock & Roll Rip-Off was selected unanimously by the judges. I missed all of the second half of the football game calling family and friends.
You made a great book trailer for The Concert Killer with original music. How did you come up with the idea?
I attended the 2009 New England Crime Bake and sat at Michael Palmer’s table during the dinner. He mentioned that his son scored his last book trailer. The wheels began to turn. As indies, we tend to do as many things as we can for ourselves. It’s partly our nature and partly our budgets. I decided it would be worthwhile if I could come up with something that was distinctly different. The Concert Killer opens on the 4th murder of a serial killer who is trying to shut down the concert industry. I decided to write a song that was three verses long, and served as a prequel by detailing the first three murders. Some musician friends wrote in their parts on lead guitar, bass, and drums. It was recorded on a ProTools setup that was one step down from what U2 used to record their last album. Another friend with a Manhattan mastering studio added the polish.
I know that you’re working on a new novel. How much can you tell us about it at this stage?
The Classic Rockers Reunion with Death is a month away from publication. I bring my San Diego PI to cold and snowy Scranton in January to help his uncle with a murder investigation. It can definitely be read as a stand-alone, but series fans will learn a lot about Jason’s unusual family dynamic with his father. The musical tie-in is that Jason’s 59-year-old, pot-smoking uncle was about to play a reunion concert with old band when his best friend and rhythm guitarist was murdered. As clues point back to the band, Jason agrees to fill in for the deceased rocker. I add a bit of humor relating to a concurrent case his staff is working in San Diego.
Do you have any advice for self-published authors?
Set specific goals and keep a journal on what you are doing every day to accomplish those goals. It’s very easy to spend most of your time on activities you enjoy, and ignore responsibilities that will get you to the next level.
Who are your favourite authors and why?
My overall favorite is Nelson DeMille. I’ve read all of his books, but the John Corey series is the reason DeMille is my favorite. I love the way he mixes mystery with humor, and always manages to come up with unique plots. My favorite indie author is Darcia Helle. Her Michael Sykora series is an exceptional thrill ride, and The Cutting Edge showed how she can take a thriller in a very different direction. But, she also manages to be right on target when she ventures out of that genre.
Are you reading a book at the moment?
I just started Stephen King’s On Writing
Do you prefer ebooks or print books?
I read both, but find that I can read ebooks comfortably with less illumination, which is great at this time of year when I want to read outside in the evening. I also enjoy reading indie authors I’ve met online, and ebooks are the easiest and least expensive way to do that.
What is your experience with the Amazon KDP Select program? I understand you've enrolled your books there? Would you recommend it?
Like most authors, I don’t care for the exclusivity clause, but the freebie offerings got me a lot of exposure which resulted in some significant spikes in sales.
Do you keep up to date with the music scene? If so, what are some new bands that you've heard and would recommend?
My 22-year-old son is an MC (rapper) at drum & bass shows in San Diego. He warmed up Grammy Award winner Bizzy Bone last year, and did a show at the San Diego Sports Arena earlier this year.
He also has at least two club gigs every week. Most of the new music I listen to is his original compositions. Although I have never been a fan of the genre, I enjoy hearing him explore his creativity.
What was the last mp3/CD you bought?
Someone just sent me a cut from Neil Young’s Americana. I plan to order it later tonight.
Do you have any other news for your readers?
I wrote a short story that relates to my series. I plan to offer it for free once I have time to finish the edit. The plot will focus on Jason’s girlfriend, Kelly, and one of her 2nd grade students.
Thank you, RJ, for an interesting and entertaining interview! I really enjoyed reading your answers.
Remember if you'd like to win a copy of the first three books in RJ's series, leave a comment below. Good luck!
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