Last week I sat down for a long-distance chat with my critique partner and fellow Stiletto Gang blogger Donnell Ann Bell. Today we get together again, but this time it’s my turn to grill—uhm…interview her.
I want to start off by reciprocating the compliments Donnell gave me. I’m very lucky to have her as my critique partner. She makes me a better writer in so many ways but mostly because she makes comments and asks questions that force me to think about my stories in ways that might not ever occur to me otherwise.
But Donnell and I are more than critique partners; we’re friends. Are we two peas in a pod? Hardly! We often disagree—on many topics—but our friendship and working relationship transcend any differing opinions we may have. When we disagree, we agree to disagree and move on. These days, that’s a rare quality between people and one I treasure in her.
So here are some things about suspense author Donnell Ann Bell you may not know.
Lois: Donnell, one of the things I love about your books is the amount of research you put into writing them. You never info dump, but you make sure that your plots, events, and characters are accurate and believable. You have a vast network of experts you call upon for everything from medical issues to government agencies to cybersecurity and beyond. How did you come to meet all these professionals?
Donnell: I pay them – huge bucks! Actually, it’s how I’m wired, Lois. I know how I learn. Some people can read vast amounts of information and retain it. I’m an auditory, tactile learner—something I learned late in life and not in my formative years, which would have been so helpful. I don’t do as well in online workshops, especially if the lecturer is imparting complicated, technical material. But if I listen to it, I do better. Generally, I request a phone call or a Zoom session. Most of my experts are entirely generous and one question often leads to another.
Lois: You’ve had a varied career, including working as a court stenographer and a volunteer victim’s advocate. What other jobs have you held, and would you ever consider creating a protagonist who works in one of those fields?
Donnell: I actually thought about creating a court reporter protagonist – wrote a few chapters. Then realism set in. If you’re a court reporter employed in the court system, you work 40 hours in the courtroom and 20-plus hours transcribing (at least in my day before real-time court transcription). As I wrote, my plot fell apart: I can see it now, my court reporter is trying to solve a murder, but then she’s held in contempt of court for not getting her depositions done.
My previous jobs were administrative in nature. I’ve worked in human resources for a semiconductor plant (processing NSA security clearance applications for our employees), commercial real estate, structural engineering, oil and gas companies, and my favorite, which led me to writing fiction after an injury ended my court reporting days, I went to a weekly newspaper. Later I was considered so good at my job that I was hired as the editor for a parenting magazine. I’m a firm believer that when one door closes, it ALWAYS opens a window. Just be sure to stick your head out and LOOK! Life experience is invaluable. It’s all material.
Lois: Writing is a business where authors need to develop a thick skin to survive. We’ve always been brutally honest with each other when it comes to what’s working and what’s not working in a story. After many years, we’re still critique partners and still friends. Would you like to explain to our readers the secret to our successful working relationship?
Donnell: I think we both are open-minded individuals, and we’re not about to let ego interfere with our ability to create the best book possible. Critique partners do each other no favors by not pointing out problems. On the opposite side of criticism, however, critique partners should be quick to praise when something is working. I think we both do that.
Lois: Of course, I’ve read all your books. Thinking back, I believe they’re all set in either Colorado or New Mexico, two places you’ve lived. Other than changing planes in Denver once years ago, I’ve never been to either state. Have you considered setting a book elsewhere, or will you continue with the places you’re most familiar?
Donnell: Maybe. I have a book currently collecting dust somewhere. The unpublished manuscript won first place in RWA’s Haunted Hearts Contest for Gothic Romance Writers and was a finalist for RWA’s Dual on the Delta Contest eons ago. I called it The Memory Maker. Back to the experience I mentioned above, I worked for a structural engineering company, and I got to tour a school in Colorado Springs called The Lowell School. [picture] I took that wonderful experience and wrote a story around it, except the school became Marcum School, and I create a fictitious city called Sherwood, New York.
Lois: You once thought about writing a cozy mystery series. Are you still considering doing so one day, or are you firmly entrenched in suspense for now? Any other genres or subgenres you’d like to write?
Donnell: I never say never. My long-ago critique group said I have a good first-person voice. First person, as you know, requires discipline. I remember once you went into Zack’s POV and I had to say, “Lois, you’re writing first person.” 😊
Lois: Yeah, I remember that. I think I hadn’t had my second cup of coffee the morning I wrote that scene. Moving on…The second book in your Cold Case Suspense Series will release in a few weeks. If Hollywood came calling, who would you like to see cast as Lieutenant Pope, Assistant Special Agent in Charge Brian DiPietro, Special Agent Allison Shannon, Special Agent Devon Taylor, and ATF agent Seth Walker?
Donnell: Ooooh. No fair. This is so tough! Okay, dang. Tyler Perry (I thought was fabulous in James Patterson’s movie-version Alex Cross), Kevin Costner (as I’ve already done so in Black Pearl), Daniela Ruah (who plays Kinsey on NCIS, Los Angeles would be perfect as Allison Shannon), and, wow, for Devon . . . Richard Madden ( Ikaris in Eternals.)
Lois: I’m excited about the book you have coming out in May 2022. Would you like to tell our readers about it?
Donnell: The published title is called Until Dead: A Cold Case Suspense. Two years after the Black Pearl Killer’s apprehension, the taskforce that solved the case reunites to solve an equally challenging case. An assistant U.S. attorney is targeted by a deadly, multi-skilled assassin who calls himself The Tradesman.
Lois: Do you have plans for a third Cold Case book?
Donnell: In the works. I’m currently talking to those experts we discussed above. A retired FBI agent and a forensic psychiatrist have given me the go-ahead that my plot can work. Now it’s all about the storytelling.
Lois: Thank you so much for joining us today, Donnell. Readers, if you’d like to learn more about Donnell and her books, check out her website.
Thank you, Lois! (Now enough slacking. Where’s your next chapter?)
A Cold Case Suspense, Book 2
This killer won’t stop …until she’s dead
When Lt. Everett T. Pope is notified of an explosion in downtown Denver close to the judicial buildings, his first instinct is gas leak. No such luck. As Incident Command and Pope’s own Major Crimes unit move in, he discovers he knows the intended victims—an Assistant U. S. Attorney—and Pope’s former partner, now a private investigator, has died shielding the injured AUSA with his body.
As ATF and the FBI take over investigating the bombing and unraveling motives behind the murder attempt, Pope is relegated to a peripheral role. But the injured AUSA’s aunt is a United States senator used to getting results. She turns to the team that solved the Black Pearl Killer murders with a very big ask—find her answers and locate the bomber.
FBI Special Agent Brian DiPietro must recall his entire cold case team from their far-flung assignments knowing he’s being asked to do the impossible. The senator, however, doesn’t know the meaning of the word. All too soon, DiPietro finds his team working alongside ATF on a red-hot mission. One that uncovers a decades’ old cold case.