May 29 2012
This week, my special guest is author RJ McDonnell. As you read on, you’ll see that RJ has a special gift for everyone who visits this blog between May 30, 2012 and June 1, 2012 — and an extra special gift if you’re reading this on May 30th!
Hey RJ! It’s great to have you as my guest this week. Please, introduce yourself to the cool peeps!
Thanks, Molly, my name is RJ McDonnell. I have the pleasure of traveling my own personal “road not taken” almost every day. In my early twenties I was certain I would be earning my living playing in a rock band. I moved from Pennsylvania to California to improve my chances of making that happen, but fate threw a speed bump into my path. A few months after I arrived in San Diego, my left wrist was shattered in a “friendly” game of football, and I wasn’t able to play for more than a few minutes at a time for almost 20 years. Fortunately, after a couple of short-term jobs, I was hired as a non-fiction writer, and eventually transitioned into fiction where I reconnected with my passion for music.
I read that you’re a proponent of “write what you know.” How did your background help to mold your Rock & Roll Mystery Series?
I’ve been a mystery reader since high school. Action packed, testosterone-fueled mystery/thrillers got me hooked on the genre. But just as television tends to take a winning formula and do it to death, I was getting the same feeling about my favorite genre at the time that I was developing the characters for my series. To break with the formula, I created a protagonist with a similar background to my own. Jason Duffy worked his way through college as a club musician, earning degrees in Psychology and Counseling, only to drop out of the profession after getting disillusioned by the political BS that takes precedence over what’s best for the clients. So far we’re on the same path. Where I opted for a career in music (and later, writing), Jason entered a variation of the family business by becoming a private investigator. While there is plenty of action in the series, Jason usually tries to use his words and humor to diffuse volatile situations before resorting to violence.
Your detective, Jason Duffy, was a mid-twenties, near-novice in Rock & Roll Homicide. Can you talk about his development?
The series starts one year after Jason opened his own agency. Rock & Roll Homicide is Jason’s first music industry referral, and first murder case. He’s clearly in over his head and uses every contact and resource available to try to keep a slain rock star’s widow out of jail. He even resorted to mending fences with his cantankerous retired police detective father for the sake of his client. In the second novel, Jason is forced to take a life for the first time. Not only does he lose his innocence, he also comes close to losing his girlfriend, Kelly, in the process. Rock & Roll Rip-Off is the darkest novel in the series. We see a significant upturn in Jason’s competence as a PI in The Concert Killer. He’s forced to work without the benefit of his father’s help on a case that could shut down the concert industry in America. In my latest, The Classic Rockers Reunion with Death (scheduled for a summer release), Jason has to deal with major family issues while helping his uncle discover who killed his best friend and band mate. Jason evolved from the role of child to parent over the course of the four novels.
When I was in grad school I had two nine-month internships. One was at a maximum security prison and the other at an outpatient mental health center. I then worked for two years at a social service center. People tend to fear the unknown, and fear can turn into scorn, discrimination, and sometimes even abuse when it comes to the general public interacting with people experiencing mental health issues. Jason employs two former clients from his days as a counselor. They’re both very good at their jobs, but have eccentricities that add humor and tend to endear them to my readers. My goal is to take some of the unknown out of the equation.
My father was a huge television crime drama fan. When the commercials rolled around he would tell me what was real and what was “Hollywood.” He handled a couple of cases that made the national press. One made the cover of True Detective Magazine, and another was the subject of A Justice Story, which ran as the two-page center of the Sunday New York Post for many years. Some of my readers think that Jason’s father, Jim, is based on my own father. I’d say he accounts for about 25% of the character profile. The rest is pure fiction. But, my father’s influence on getting me interested in crime fiction is unmistakable.
You add a fair amount of humor to your mystery series. Where does that come from?
It started in junior high. My first gig was lead writer for the class clowns. My mother was in charge of religious education at our church and my father wore a shoulder holster. Risking a low grade in comportment was not an option. But I was brimming with great ideas and had two friends who were more than willing to run with them. A few years later, after taking a non-fiction writing job, I found an outlet for my humor through an acquaintance who was about to produce a Saturday Night Live-type cable television show in San Diego. Thirty-four of my skits were aired over its two season run. When it came time to develop character sketches for my detective series, I built in an outlet for my humor during some of the lulls between action scenes. It’s unobtrusive enough to avoid aggravating my hardboiled readers, but offers enough fun moments to prompt several readers to tell me it’s their favorite part. When they do, my inner seventh grader beams.
Your detective has been getting serious with his girlfriend. Is he going to pop the question?
One of the things I love about writing a series is the ability to develop subplots from one novel to the next. I write the novels in a way that they can be read as stand-alones, but reading them in order offers the added bonus of watching the series characters and their relationships evolve. Centermost is Jason’s relationship with his father and his girlfriend, Kelly. The father/son relationship devolved from acrimonious to estranged when Jason graduated from high school. But through his mother’s machinations they began to mend fences in Rock & Roll Homicide. Dad is not good at keeping his opinions to himself, and caused a huge riff in Rock & Roll Rip-Off when he tried to manipulate Jason into proposing to Kelly. Sharing his father’s DNA, Jason reacted as expected, and much to Dad’s horror, they now “live in sin.” The new novel has a highly significant development in this area.
I understand the fourth book in your series is scheduled for a summer release. Any sneak peeks for the cool peeps?
Here’s the back cover description: San Diego PI, Jason Duffy, travels to Scranton, PA in January after his Uncle Patrick’s best friend is murdered. He learns that Patrick and the victim were members of a rock band that nearly made it to the national scene in the late 60s, and were about to play a reunion concert in their hometown when the murder occurred.
The investigation leads Jason back to an “almost anything goes” era that is exacting a huge price more than 40 years later. To mix & master this musical mystery, Jason fills in for the murdered guitarist and soon finds himself struggling to avoid filling in a cemetery plot.
Someone doesn’t want that reunion concert to happen and is willing to do anything to cancel it forever. The case teaches Jason how easy it is for all of us to fall victim to our assumptions. It’s a lesson that could exact a tuition that may never be paid back.
The world of publishing is changing so rapidly. It’s hard to keep up. Any thoughts about the ever-evolving landscape? Predictions?
I have some wonderful relationships with readers and fellow writers as a result of being an indie author. That said, publishing is a business, and business has always been about money and power. Ebooks comprised 1% of book sales in 2007, 10% in 2009, and 50% in 2011. The money/power paradigm has shifted faster than a teenager who sat in poison ivy during a camping restroom break. This created an environment where virtually all of the fixed costs, such as paper, printing, shipping, and returns are out of the equation for e-tailers. Ebooks are decidedly more profitable, and indies capitalize a major price advantage that is having a big impact on the money/power dynamic. It’s comparable to when baseball first accepted free agency. The average player of yesteryear, who had to take part-time work in the off-season to get by, is a millionaire in today’s system. Of course for every major leaguer there are 10,000 wannabes who never make much more than minimum wage, and we’ll probably see similar ratios in indie publishing as well. For those with the writing talent and marketing resolve, it’s a tremendous opportunity.
Social media, that ever-evolving beast, has changed the way we do everything. What are your favorite and least-favorite parts of it?
Without a doubt, the best part involves the relationships that are formed with readers and fellow authors. Writing is a very solitary profession. I don’t have a water cooler. My kitchen is my lunchroom, and if I actually eat lunch away from my computer it’s usually with a network news anchor. Just like the film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” social networking has taught me that I am not alone. The worst part of social media is the time that it takes to maintain an ever-expanding base of friendships and contacts.
I’ve been forever called picky, but I maintain that we’re all picky creatures. What are you picky about?
As I’m sure you’ve guessed from the title of my series, I’m a huge music fan. Unfortunately, I’m so into it that it drives me to distraction when I’m working, so I work in a quiet office. When I finally have the opportunity to listen, I’m very picky about needing the music to accurately reflect (or change) my mood. As long as I control the sound system, I’m happy. But put me in a club with a room full of interesting people and a DJ who sucks, and I’m looking for the door. I wish all karaoke shows could have a Gong Show format. I appreciate you affording me your picky foible forum, Molly. I’m now carrying a lighter load.
Where can people find you in cyberspace?
Any parting words for the masses? Any shameless plugs?
For the next three days (5/30 – 6/1) my 2010 Mystery/Thriller of the Year award winner Rock & Roll Rip-Off is being offered free on Kindle for the first time ever. This is the 2nd novel in the Rock & Roll Mystery Series and follow-up to Kindle #1 hit Rock & Roll Homicide.
As a special bonus for Molly Hacker readers, Rock & Roll Homicide is also available for free today (5/30) on Kindle. This is the only site where I will be announcing the availability of this title for one day only. If you take advantage of the freebies please take a moment to write a brief review at the bottom of each book’s Amazon page – even if it’s just two sentences. Thanks for taking the time to get to know me. I hope to catch up with you on Twitter and Facebook.