by Marilyn Meredith
& Stephanie Barnett
Marilyn Meredith interviews mystery author Robert (R.J.) McDonnell and Stephanie Barnett reviews his latest book, Rock & Roll Rip-Off, the latest in his Rock & Roll mystery series. At the end of this article are details on how to enter for a chance to win a copy of this book!
Marilyn: Please give me your background.
Robert: I am the son of a Pennsylvania State Police Detective, who received several decorations for solving complex and high-profile crimes. In addition to a traditional education, I also had the benefit of seeing every police detective drama on television and in the movies. My father would frequently critique these stories for believability of characters and police procedures.
I earned a Bachelor’s Degree at Penn State University and a Masters at Marywood University.During my college years I was a rhythm guitarist and vocalist in two bands. Shortly thereafter, I moved to San Diego where I went to work for a professional writing service. In addition, I wrote a monthly column for the Military Press, and another for a San Diego publication, providing advice to job seekers.
In the 90s, I got into comedy writing for a local San Diego cable television show that had a Saturday Night Live-type format. Over its two seasons on the air, 34 of my skits were produced. Rock & Roll Homicide was the first novel in my Rock & Roll Mystery Series. The second novel, Rock & Roll Rip-Off, was selected 2010 Mystery/Thriller of the Year by Premier Book Awards. My third novel is slated for publication in the summer of 2011.
Marilyn: When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
Robert: I accepted a position with a professional writing service in 1983 and realized that I had tapped into my passion. I developed an expertise in the Careers field, and wrote a manual used to train resume writers at over 500 offices nationwide. The comedy writing for television was my first foray into fiction and I enjoyed the creative side, but didn’t care for the plodding nature of video production. I had to be on set for all of the filming to replace lines that didn’t work. For me, it was like watching a Russian play. Minutes seemed like hours. I had been a mystery reader since college and found mystery writing to be a natural combination of my talents, and intrinsically rewarding.
Marilyn: Why did you write this particular book?
Robert:Writing the Rock & Roll Mystery Series is truly a “road not taken” experience for me. I’ve been an avid music fan my whole life and played in a couple of cover bands during my college years. After college I moved to California in hopes of advancing my music career. But, I shattered my left wrist a few months after arriving and couldn’t grip a guitar for more than a few minutes for 20 years.
The detective in my series was a club musician throughout high school and college. He gave up his musical career when he realized that no one in his band had significant composition skills. His father is a retired police detective, with whom he’s had a very strained relationship since joining his first band. As you saw in my mini-bio above, my father was a police detective, as was his father. So, I actually merged two “roads not taken” in creating this series.
Marilyn: How much is the main character like you?
Robert: The adage “write what you know” is excellent advice. I share my detective’s main interests, humor, and general outlook on life. The obstacles that I place in his path are beyond the scope of anything I’ve encountered in real life. But, the decision-making processes and moral judgments are consistent with my own.
Marilyn: Would you share your road to publication?
Robert: I could write a novella answering this question. Let’s suffice it to say it took five years from the time I completed the manuscript for Rock & Roll Homicide until it appeared in hardcover. Had I not been extremely motivated to follow my passion I would never have made it.
Marilyn: Have there been any surprises for you along the way?
Robert: Winning the “2010 Mystery/Thriller Novel of the Year” from Premier Book Awards was the biggest surprise. Combining mysteries and thrillers into one category meant that there were a huge number of books competing for the award. The president of the awards committee sent a letter along with the actual plaque. In it he said, “The competition was fierce and it was a difficult decision choosing from so many deserving books entered into this year’s contest. However, the judges were unanimous in their selection of Rock & Roll Rip-Off as the winner.”
Marilyn: That is really something to be proud of. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Robert: Most aspiring writers don’t realize that they will be expected to do almost all of the marketing for their books, regardless of their publisher. I recently had a conversation with a successful fiction writer who has over 50 novels in print with a wide variety of small and large publishing houses. He said that he spends about 70% of his time on marketing. This is definitely not a job for introverts or people who expect a 40 hour work week. But it is possible to have fun with this aspect of the business. Last year I started performing a dozen songs on acoustic guitar as part of my tour presentations and saw a significant increase in attendance and book sales.
Marilyn: Anything else you’d like the readers to know?
Robert: The most significant development in the publishing industry in many years is happening right now with the advent of the eReader. Sales of ebooks went from 1% in 2007 to 10% in 2009. The downside to this development, for me, is that I love independent book stores and most of the people who run them. The BIG plus is that readers are unlikely to spend $25.95 on a hardbound edition of a book written by a relatively unknown author. However, writers can price their ebooks at a rate that is very affordable to the average person. For example, my novels Rock & Roll Homicide and Rock & Roll Rip-Off are just $2.99 each on Amazon Kindle. This significantly heightens the likelihood of a novel breaking out.
Marilyn: Where can people find your book?
Robert:My books are available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and independent book stores. Also, my publisher has set up a website for me where readers can get signed and inscribed copies (and free shipping) at no additional charge beyond the cover price.
Marilyn: Thank you so much, Robert. I enjoyed learning about you and your writing career.
Rock and Roll Rip-Off Book Review
By Stephanie Barnett
Rock and roll, concerts, parties, and murder?
Jason Duffy, a private investigator in San Diego, thought he had accepted a regular burglary case when a musician and music memorabilia collector came to him when his 3.5 million dollar collection was stolen. Little did Jason know that this case would put him in danger numerous times, and on a few hit lists. With danger rising, he finds everyone around him in danger as well. To solve the case he needs help from outside forces, as well as from his retired police detective father, in spite of their relationship problems.
When the Tactile Tattoo, an up and coming band, receives a bad review, everyone thinks it’s the end of the band’s career. But “the rockstar” (a member of The Tactile Tattoo) and his girlfriend discover that money speaks a thousand words and getting the money proves to be a little bit more difficult than they had once thought – turning into a very sticky situation.
When you first pick up Rock & Roll Rip-Off by R.J. McDonnell, it’s told from “the rockstar’s” girlfriend’s point of view, but throughout the book it switches between hers and Jason Duffy’s point of view. The way that R.J. McDonnell writes Rock & Roll Rip-Off gives you insight into both sides of the crime. It shows why and how all of the events in the story come into play.
Not only is the reader treated to an inside view of how crimes are solved, but they get to see an insider’s view of the music industry, and the problems bands run into. Full of twists and turns, McDonnell shows what a real murder mystery is. Though not as “scary” as many murder mysteries are considered to be today, Rock & Roll Rip-Off is a great book to read for fun. Full of mystery, suspense, and humor, a great mix in a great book.
To enter for a chance to win a copy of Rock & Roll Rip-Off, simply email KRL at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Rock”, or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen next Saturday, February 26, 2011.