Tuesday, August 14, 2012

VBT - McNair Mysteries by Don McNair

Hello and welcome to my stop on the McNair Mysteries by Don McNair virtual book tour.  Don was kind enough to answer some interview questions for me which are below.  Please be sure to leave a comment or question for Don as he will be giving one random commenter their choice of one of his books.  You can check out his book list here, and his tour stops here.  The more often you comment, the better your chances at winning.  


Me:  You’ve been involved in the publishing industry for a long time.  As a writer and editor, what keeps things fresh for you?  How do you separate the different aspects of your professional life?

Don:  I’m fortunate in that every new project is fresh by its very nature.  I enjoy solving the mysteries, whether they are in a story I’m writing or one I’m editing as a freelance editor.  I think that’s because of the thirty-five-plus years I wrote for various public relations clients, where each had its own problems, products, and business environments.

Me:  When you write, do you follow an outline or are you more of a “write by the seat of your pants” type writer? 

Don:  I’m sort of an in-betweener.  I lay out stepping stones ahead, know roughly where they lead, then start my trip.  Occasionally I see a better way through the shrubs or around the rocks, and adjust those stones accordingly.  But I make sure that my goal—what happens on the last page of my work—remains clear and obtainable.  

Me:  You’ve written two romantic mysteries, one contemporary romance, two young adult books and one short story collection.   Plus, you’ve also written three non-fiction books.  Which book was the easiest to write and which was the hardest?  

Don:  Since each calls for its own set of solutions, it’s hard to compare their easiness to write.  The big difference, I believe, is in the depth of research.  My first inclination is to say researching for non-fiction books is harder, since it requires digging into real-life more; interviewing professionals, searching the web, and so on.  But having said that, I realize I do just as much—if not more—research for fiction.  

I want believability no matter what I’m writing. While researching my first novel, The Long Hunter, I borrowed every book I could find on the subject—some written in the 1800s—from the Inter-library Loan program.  I built his story against the real fabric of history, letting the outside world affect his life and decisions. I drove from my home in Alabama to Virginia, where my young 1870s hero was raised, and followed him through the Cumberland Gap when he traveled with hunters who stayed out for many months (thus the book’s name) to find furs to supplement their farming. I lived that story through my research. 

On my next novels, I learned to pick fiction subjects that coincided with what I already knew, giving credence to the mantra “write what you know” we constantly hear. Research for Mystery at Magnolia Mansion, a romance novel, was easier because of that. My wife and I bought and renovated a historical house, and when I wrote that book I used our experience as my research for the story.  The book’s heroine, an interior decorator, did the exact things to it that we had done to our real home. I used my knowledge about the area to build a mystery about the house’s fictional first owners, in the early 1900s, which had a huge effect on the story.  

Mystery on Firefly Knob, another romance novel, came from my visiting just such a place on the Cumberland Plateau’s eastern edge.  I made the heroine an antiques dealer from Glen Ellyn, Illinois (I had been a Glen Ellyn dealer), who inherited land on the knob. When she visits it she finds a scientist camped there to study unique fireflies which all blink at the same time.  I’d just read about such fireflies, and knew they were found in only two real places. I visited Oak Ridge National Laboratories, less than an hour away, where my scientist worked, to come up with a real job for him.  I think all this research made the story believable, but again; I’d already lived some of it.  

We’ve all heard that we should write about what we know, and there’s truth in that.  If writers write from their own experiences, as I did with the two romance novels, much of the research is already done.  But I don’t begrudge myself of any of the time spent on The Long Hunter, since it made my hero very real.  Bottom line?  They all were easy to write, because of my solid research.

Me:  Can you tell us what you’re currently working on?  Can you share a small snippet of your upcoming work?

Don:  My latest work is a how-to-self-edit book titled. “Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21 Steps to the Clear Prose Agents and Publishers Crave,” which will be published by Quill Driver Books April 1, 2013. It will help writers edit their Work in Progress’s first chapter, step by step, so they can later use that new found knowledge to make their whole book shine.  

I guess I’ve spent my whole life writing this book. I spent eleven years as a magazine editor, six heading a writing group for a major P.R. firm, and twenty-one years running my own marketing communications firm.  In that time I learned that most writers—even those “professionals” I oversaw—needed heavy editing. Unfortunately, they didn’t know they did.  Although I enjoyed editing, I secretly wished I could teach my writers to defog their own work.  That, of course, seemed impossible.  But I was wrong! That was before I discovered something that changed my own writing forever, and ultimately that of my editing clients.  I'm betting it will change the reader’s writing, too.

That personal revelation took place several years ago on a flight from Chicago to Atlanta, where I was to research an article for a client.  Out of boredom I was editing a fog-filled paperback—yes, editing is actually a game for me—when I realized the same mistakes appeared over and over.  I was intrigued.  I bought another paperback at the Atlanta airport and edited it on the way home.  A pattern emerged, and I became excited.  Had I discovered the writer’s Rosetta stone?

Over the next several months I joined critique groups, judged numerous writing contests, and all but tackled writers on the streets to aggressively edit their fiction. I threw copies of their marked-up manuscripts into a drawer and later plowed through them, painstakingly sorting thousands of offending sentences by problem type.  I eventually identified twenty-one distinct problems. I call their solutions, appropriately enough, the 21 Steps to the Clear Prose Agents and Publishers Crave.
The inference staggered me.  Just as there are specific numbers of elements in the Periodic Table and letters in the alphabet, there are also a specific number of fog problems in a manuscript.  I learned that, surprisingly, most can be solved by removing specific words.  I realized those unnecessary words are actually tips of bad-writing icebergs, and that eliminating them resolves otherwise complicated editing problems.  In fact, almost half the Steps actually strengthen action while shortening sentences.   

I developed this book’s contents based on that experience.  I’ve tested it by teaching two online classes for the past three years, titled Editor-Proof That First Chapter and Twenty-One Steps to Fog-Free Writing, and by teaching at weekend writing conferences.  The students consistently gave rave reviews. I’ve proven this book will help writers edit their own work to produce sparkling, clear, powerful copy that attracts readers, agents, editors, and sales. 

Me:  You’ve also started an editing website where you offer your services to other authors.  What is the best piece of advice you can give a novice writer?

Don:  That’s easy.  Before you send that story to an agent or publisher, be sure a professional editor sees it.  I get most of my editing work through a network, and in that position see the first fifty pages of many writers’ manuscripts.  Occasionally I’ll see one that’s almost ready to be sent out, but most of the time—at least eight manuscripts out of every ten—they need moderate to serious editing. Some are literally not editable. Remember, the work I see is by authors who realize they might have problems.  But some writers cut out this step and send their work directly to publishers and agents, receive rejections from them all, and write their next manuscript with the same built-in flaws.  Some will never be published because of it.   I hope my new book will help writers spot and repair those flaws.

Me:  Besides writing and editing, your website also states you have a love of antiques.  Can you tell us your favorite period of furniture?

Don:  I think that, if I could find a time machine to take me, I’d like to go back to Abraham Lincoln’s time and visit the parlors of America and England. Craftsmanship was king then, and today’s examples of that era are as solid as they were then.  They are also beautiful, and relaxing to be around. 

Me:  If you could vacation anywhere in the world where would it be?

Don:  I’m afraid I’m rather jaded here.  Years ago, when I wrote articles for clients, I visited every corner of the U.S. calling on their customers (I wrote articles about how they used my clients’ equipment or service to advantage, and placed them in trade magazines read by their peers). Generally I saw only airport waiting rooms, rental car interiors, factories, and feedlots. My wife and I now exhibit at antiques show around the country, and my view has changed to hotel rooms, a Sprinter van, and conference halls. We went to Germany several years ago, a trip we enjoyed and still talk about, but I have no particular urges to tour elsewhere.

Me:  Can you tell us what you’re currently reading? 

Don:  My casual reading material is as eclectic as my writing subjects. I read current fiction, because that’s how I keep up with good and bad writing, but I have no favorite author.  Right now I’m reading Bound by Blood, by Cynthia Eden, and am enjoying it very much.

I like non-fiction books and TV documentaries on such subjects as the creation of our universe, fixing huge machines, and building enormous structures.  Not long ago I “mis-bought” a book from Amazon—about Indians during the opening up of Texas—and I loved every word.  Recently I read a book titled The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements.  I liked it so much, I read it twice.  Hey, go figure.



Don McNair

Brenda Maxwell’s new interior design client tells her to “paint, wallpaper, whatever” his hundred-year-old landmark mansion, “but for God’s sake, don’t go overboard.” When she figures her grandiose plans will fit handily into his edict’s “whatever” section, they’re launched into a constant head-bumping mode.

Brenda’s poor money management skills (that’s his view, but what does he know?) and lawyer David Hasbrough’s ridiculous need to control her life (that’s her well-reasoned evaluation of the situation) combine to keep the battle going. Is this couple’s romantic goose cooked? Well, she can’t be near him without sparks flying and goose bumps popping out everywhere. But that mansion has to be done right!

NOTE: Don McNair actually lived in this house, and did the very things to it that he has heroine Brenda Maxwell do.


“Well, hello!”

          She jumped. There he stood, directly in front of her, stark naked!  Well, except for a bath towel wrapped snugly around his hips. He was dripping water on her nice clean floor. She tried to turn away, but her muscles refused to budge. His chest, sprinkled with curly black hair, narrowed to a tight stomach which showed off six-pack abs. His muscular bare arms and legs were certainly not those of a desk jockey. No, the man got exercise somehow.

“Oh!  Oh, I’m sorry!” She finally insisted that her muscles work, and they grudgingly turned her toward the door. Her cheeks burned. Her mind was in turmoil.

“Me, too,” he said. He flashed a silly grin, backed into the room he’d come from, and closed the door. It was a downstairs bedroom right off the kitchen, complete with a full bath, which she’d earlier pegged as a live-in maid or cook’s living quarters. He’d apparently swung a big deal at that garage sale because she’d noticed the mismatched bed, chest, and end table in that room, which weren’t there on her first visit. The only other furniture in the whole house was the rusty chrome-legged kitchen table and its four matching chairs he’d apparently bought at the same time.  If that was his idea of a great décor . . .

Don McNair


When Erica Phillips visits choice inherited property on a Cumberland Plateau knob overlooking a beautiful valley, she finds scientist Mike Callahan camped there to study unique fireflies. She needs to sell it fast to buy a new building for her antiques business, but he freaks out when a condo builder offers her a contract. Miffed, she tells him, “If I have my way, this place will be sold within the week. And, Mr. Callahan, I will have my way!”
Their budding romance plays out before a background of a murder mystery, distrust, and heart-racing hormones. Will it blossom into a lifetime relationship?


Mike stepped aside, and she saw a clearing. The treetop canopy opened to let in sunlight and blue sky. Grass, kept at bay by constant shadows in the deep woods, covered an open area the size of an average yard. Weeds and wildflowers sprinkled the ground, and sapling maples and vines fringed the woods.

“This is it?” she said. 

“Yep. The original site. See if you can spot where the cabin stood.”

She saw nothing but the woods and grass. To her left she noticed a stone outcropping. Beyond it was blue sky, and the hazy distance of Sequatchie Valley. “Why, we’re right at the knob’s edge,” she said.

“That’s right. If you jumped off that big rock you’d fall almost two thousand feet."

As she approached the rock she gazed about the clearing. And then she saw it—a vertical stone chimney that at first glance resembled the tall trees surrounding it. Now she made out its individual stones. She stepped closer and saw beneath it the stone foundation of a one-room cabin. The chimney rose from one corner, with its hearth opening toward the center. She stared at it in awe. It was the precursor of the cabin her father lived in. Perhaps it was even built by Rymer himself, the knob's namesake, in the early eighteen hundreds.

The sun's slanting rays streamed through the tree canopy and threw light patterns on the chimney and foundation. She touched Mike’s arm. “It’s like a shrine,” she whispered. “I feel like I’ve just stepped out of a time machine.”


Don McNair, now a prolific fiction writer, spent most of his working life editing magazines (11 years), producing public relations materials for the Burson-Marsteller international PR firm (6 years), and heading his own marketing communications firm, McNair Marketing Communications (21 years). His creativity has won him three Golden Trumpets for best industrial relations programs from the Publicity Club of Chicago, a certificate of merit award for a quarterly magazine he wrote and produced, and the Public Relations Society of America’s Silver Anvil.  The latter is comparable to the Emmy and Oscar in other industries. 
McNair has written and placed hundreds of trade magazine articles and three published non-fiction “how-to” books (Tab Books). He’s also written six novels; two young-adult novels (Attack of the Killer Prom Dresses and The Long Hunter), three romantic suspense novels  Mystery on Firefly Knob, Mystery at Magnolia Mansion, and co-authored Wait for Backup!), and a romantic comedy (BJ, Milo, and the Hairdo from Heck).
McNair now concentrates on editing novels for others, teaching two online editing classes (see McNairEdits.com), and writing his next romance novel.

Don't forget Don will giving away reader's choice of a copy of one of his books on www.DonMcNair.com to one randomly chosen commenter. Please be sure to leave a comment below and follow his tour here.


  1. Thanks for letting me travel with you!

  2. I have put both books on my to read list.