Welcoming mystery author Don McNair

Today, I'm hosting romantic mystery author, Don McNair, as part of his Mystery Blog Tour. Trust me, you'll love the excerpts he shares with us! 

So that we can discover more about Don, I've asked him some questions. Here goes...

Welcome to my blog, Don. Please tell us what inspired your first novel?

I’d enjoyed reading about the opening up of our land in the 1800s ever since grade school in about 1950, when I read a book titled America My Home: Then and Now by Harold B. Clifford. I was really hooked later in high school, when I read a novel about a young boy fighting his way through the wilderness in the pioneer days.  Not long ago I remembered those experiences, and decided to write one myself.  The Long Hunter was the result.
I want believability, no matter what I’m writing. While researching The Long Hunter I borrowed every book I could find on the subject—some written in the 1800s—from the Interlibrary 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—and relived those two books I’d read earlier—through my research. 

I'm curious. What made you write romantic mystery? 

I guess an overactive imagination. I’ve always loved to play the what-if game, and used that trait in my forty-year commercial writing career: eleven years as a magazine editor, six as a PR professional for a major agency, and twenty-one running my own marketing communications business. 

Writing romances started the day I told my wife, “You know, I think I’ll write a romance  novel.”  She stared at me and said, “You?  What do you know about romance?” (Of course, that’s a different subject entirely.) The point is, I knew how to research and present ideas from my previous life.  I knew a secret to writing romances—or any fiction, for that matter—was to start out with conflict and keep that conflict going throughout the book.  So I got to work reinventing myself, and the results were my two romance novels, Mystery at Magnolia Mansion and Mystery on Firefly Knob.

How do you research your novels?

Various ways.  Take, for example, my research for Mystery on Firefly Knob. It’s about a young antiques dealer who visits just-inherited property on a Cumberland Gap knob in Tennessee, and finds a handsome scientist there studying exotic fireflies. She needs to sell the land to a condo developer fast to finance her business, but he fights her to keep the land pristine for the fireflies. 

I wanted to write about what I knew, so I put her home in Glen Ellyn, Illinois because I’d lived there for several years. I made her an antiques dealer because I’d also dealt in antiques.  Bingo! That part of the research was done. 
I actually found the knob on a trip through Tennessee, so wrote about its real environs. I made the scientist an employee of nearby Oak Ridge National Laboratories, and visited that facility to walk its halls, absorb its ambiance, and find my hero a real job. And I studied that rare firefly, which glows in unison with its neighbors instead of blinking individually.  I made the book as authentic as I could.
We often hear the mantra “write what you know,” and that’s what I try to do. Research for my Mystery at Magnolia Mansion was easier because of that. My wife and I had 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. The house on the cover is actually ours. 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.  

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve just finished writing a how-to-self-edit book titled Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21 Steps to the Clear Prose Agents and Publishers Crave, based on my lifelong career of writing and editing. Quill Driver Books will publish it April 1 of next year. 

The idea for it came 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 edited many other paperback novels.  I joined critique groups and aggressively edited other writers’ fiction.  I plowed through all those manuscripts from pre-published authors and the marked-up paperback books I'd tossed into a dresser drawer, and painstakingly sorted thousands of offending sentences and other problems by type.  I eventually identified twenty-one distinct problems.  Today I call their solutions, appropriately enough, the 21 Steps to Fog-Free Writing.  

The inference staggered me.  Just as there are a specific number of elements in chemistry’s Periodic Table and letters in the alphabet, there’s also a specific number of fog problems in writing.  I realized many 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’m excited about this book, and can’t wait for it to come out!

What genres do you read in your spare time? 

My casual reading material is as eclectic as my writing subjects. I read current fiction, of course, because that’s how I keep up with good and bad writing.  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 diverse 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 will giving away a reader's choice of a copy of one of his books on www.DonMcNair.com 
to one randomly chosen commenter.
Make sure to leave a comment for a chance to win!


  1. Good to meet you, Don. I love the idea of you having lived in Magnolia. I also like the nostalgia of the titles- they have a 'historic' sound that appeals to me. Best wishes!

    1. The mysteries sound good, don't they, Nancy? I agree with you.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  2. What a VERY interesting interview - best of luck Cher Monsieur :-)

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Black Tulip. Thanks for stopping by. :-)

  3. Don is having some trouble commenting here today, so has asked me to post for him.

    From Don:

    Thanks, Black Tulip. I enjoyed the interview, too!

    1. Sorry to hear Don is having issues logging in. I'm glad he enjoyed the interview. :-)

  4. Love your stories, Don. Also, your workshops are the best. Learned so much about objectively looking at what I've written. Good luck with your tour! Rita

    1. Thanks for visiting, Rita. Much appreciated. :-)

  5. Rita, thanks for your great comments. You don't know how much I appeciate hearing them. And I must tell you: You're a fine writer, too!


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