AUTHOR INTERVIEW 67 – Robin Leemann Donovan


Robin Leemann Donovan

United States

Age 65

Robin Donovan is the author of the blog, Menologues, a humorous yet informative look at the trials and tribulations of menopause by someone who’s been there. Menologues is republished on two commercial sites: Vibrant Nation and Alltop, and has won regional honors for social media at the AMA Pinnacles and PRSA Paper Anvil awards.
Donovan was born and raised in New Jersey but lived and worked in Connecticut for a number of years before moving to Nebraska in 1999. Starting her career as a high school English teacher, Donovan moved into advertising in the early 80’s where she worked on accounts such as: Duracell, Stanley Tools, IBM, etc.. In 1999 she accepted a job offer from Bozell, an Omaha based ad agency. In late 2001, she and three colleagues purchased Bozell from its New York based parent company. She has been president of Bozell since 2012.
Donovan lives with her husband and two bulldogs: Sadie (Sweet Pea) and Frank.
How does one react to the shocking news that a former colleague has been brutally murdered? Worse yet, you realize that your vitriolic relationship with the victim could land you squarely on the suspect list. That’s exactly what happens to Donna Leigh, the energetic and somewhat sardonic owner of an Omaha ad agency, who jumps right in to the investigation – despite annoying menopausal symptoms – in order to keep the wolves away from her door. She manages to amuse as well as impress with her effective but unorthodox sleuthing.
As Donna and her colorful colleagues work feverishly to solve the case, they leave a trail of unintentional destruction in their wake; from injured police officers to collapsed buildings. Donna and her team stir things up enough to make the murderer nervous; after Donna receives a threat to “back off” things take on a more serious bent for her, but not for her ever vigilant colleagues who continue to animatedly bungle their way through the investigation until the murderer is behind bars. 

Romelia: WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF YOUR ARTISTIC PROCESS?

Robin Leemann Donovan: Editing, when I don’t have a clear picture of whether or not the editor is on board with my plans for the plot. For example, my books are mostly about comedy and secondarily about murder mysteries. One of my editors got very angry because he said instead of having my characters brought to the police station for questioning and released, I missed an opportunity of having them brought to trail and put in jail – thus missing the entire point of everything I was trying to do. I asked my publisher to remove that editor from my book – and they did.

Romelia: DOES YOUR FAMILY SUPPORT YOUR CAREER AS A WRITER?

Robin Leemann Donovan: Absolutely, although most of them don’t really know the best way to support an author (as most people don’t, I.e. tell them you love it – but also write a review, buy copies as gifts, etc.), but the encouragement and praise are priceless.

Romelia: IF YOU HAD TO DO SOMETHING DIFFERENTLY AS A CHILD OR TEENAGER TO BECOME A BETTER WRITER AS AN ADULT, WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

Robin Leemann Donovan: I would have started writing novels much earlier. I didn’t start until I was in my 50’s.

Romelia: HOW LONG ON AVERAGE DOES IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE A BOOK?

Robin Leemann Donovan: That’s a tough one. The first one took three months – which was a shock to me – it all just came tumbling out. I wrote the second one in between editing and proofing and promoting the first book. So there were a whole lot of interruptions along the way. The same is true of the third book – I was working on editing, proofing the second and marketing both the first and second. So after the first, it was about a year to a year and a half due to stopping and starting.

Romelia: DO YOU BELIEVE IN WRITER’S BLOCK?

Robin Leemann Donovan: Not really. I think if you’re blocked maybe you’re not writing what you should be. I tried writing a fictionalized version of a very painful event in my life – I was more blocked than unblocked. When the lawyers decided it was risky to publish something so incendiary I went on to write comedic murder mysteries – and I have never looked back. the writing is more fun that I could ever have imagined, it’s actually hard for me to stop myself once I get started. And I only start when I’m in the mood – which is almost always.

Romelia: AT WHAT POINT DO YOU THINK SOMEONE SHOULD CALL THEMSELVES A WRITER?

Robin Leemann Donovan: After you have written the entire piece, edited, proofed and published it (either independently or through a variety of publishing options) and have started to market it.

Romelia: WHAT DIFFERENCE DO YOU SEE BETWEEN A WRITER AND AN AUTHOR?

Robin Leemann Donovan: For many years I was a writer. I blogged my way through the internet on a variety of topics. Technically, I authored those pieces, but I didn’t view myself as an author until I had a novel that was selling.

Romelia: HOW DO YOU PROCESS AND DEAL WITH NEGATIVE BOOK REVIEWS?

Robin Leemann Donovan: After years of getting reviews both good and bad, it becomes easy to spot the majority of bad interviews which are clearly from people who: Hate your genre or are just plain trolls. There are a few who just don’t appreciate your particular style – and that’s fair – although I personally don’t write reviews when the style I’m reading doesn’t appeal to me.

We are told to ignore bad reviews, so I do. It does annoy me that they lower my rating on amazon – but everyone gets them. I actually had one reviewer say mine was the worst book they’d ever read – I laughed out loud at that one – clearly they haven’t read much. Another troll declared they couldn’t stomach reading past page 60 – and then they complained about a scene on page 200 – there’s definitely a shady trend here.

Romelia: WHAT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF YOUR WRITING PROCESS?

Robin Leemann Donovan: Not being able to write whenever I feel like it. When the mood strikes me I just like to sit down and start writing, sometimes for eight hours with very short breaks. But I also don’t force myself when I’m not in the mood – I did that once and found that I wrote very little and none of it was good.

Romelia: HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WRITING OR WHEN DID YOU START?

Robin Leemann Donovan: I have been writing since I could first pick up a pencil, but I didn’t start writing cozy mysteries until I was in my early 50’s. And while it’s a whole lot of work, I just wish I could have started at least a decade earlier – because it has been so very rewarding.

Romelia: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO A WRITER WORKING ON THEIR FIRST BOOK?

Robin Leemann Donovan: Before you even start writing, manage your expectations. Even Malcom Gladwell said in his blog “we don’t make money on our books, we hope they help us gain recognition so we can get paid speaking gigs.” And even that only happens to a small percentage of authors. That said, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Romelia: WHAT, TO YOU, ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT ELEMENTS OF GOOD WRITING?

Robin Leemann Donovan: A basic knowledge of good grammar so that when you break the rules it’s deliberate. I think you also have to be a proven talented storyteller, so that you can capture the imagination of your reader.

Romelia: WHAT COMES FIRST FOR YOU – THE PLOT OR THE CHARACTERS – AND WHY?

Robin Leemann Donovan: I create them simultaneously. As I start down a road for the plot, I determine whether or not any of my existing characters will work in the scenario – and if none do, I create a new character or occasionally change that segment of the plot for one that fits my existing characters.

Romelia: HOW DO YOU DEVELOP YOUR PLOT AND CHARACTERS?

Robin Leemann Donovan: I’ll give you an example. In my first book, I had my basic cast of characters. One thing that I felt would be critical was for my protagonist, Donna Leigh, to be humble, to be able to laugh at herself and to be human enough to have clearly visible flaws. That’s when I invented her alter ego, Clovis Cordoba Seville. Clovis is an extreme narcissist who never fails to find massive fault with Donna. And even though there might be more than a hint of truth in some of her assaults on Donna, Clovis’ level of drama makes everything she says and does laughable – at least I hope it does. And it helps to elicit the characteristics I want from Donna Leigh.

Romelia: WHEN DID YOU FIRST CALL YOURSELF A WRITER?

Robin Leemann Donovan: At a very early age my parents labeled me “the writer” and my sister “the artist.” I have always been “the Writer”. – even if only through letters to friends and family – I always got great reviews on them – I could always make them laugh – and that has never changed. 15 years ago my business partner urged me to create a blog on menopause. Menologues was a trailblazer in giving women practical information on menopause that was not dry as dust. After publishing Menologues for several months, it was republished on Vibrant Nation and on all top. It also won some awards. That made the “writer” moniker feel more real. And that’s why my series features a menopausal protagonist.

At one point, A reacquainted friend from high school wrote and told me she shared menologues with a friend who was starting on menopause and feeling terrified. she swore my blog saved her life. That alone made all of my hard work completely worthwhile and so rewarding.

Romelia: HOW DO YOU USE SOCIAL MEDIA AS AN AUTHOR?

Robin Leemann Donovan: I use Facebook to connect with other authors and to find invaluable interview opportunities. Once these are public, I post them on Facebook(my home page, my author page and my series page, linked in, and my website (rldonovan.com). the connections through Facebook are more prolific than the sales.

Romelia: WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE AND LEAST FAVORITE PART OF PUBLISHING?

Robin Leemann Donovan: My favorite part is when you first hold that final proofing copy in your hand. My least favorite part is waiting to find out if your newly assigned editor “gets you” and “gets your work.” When that doesn’t happen it’s a nightmare. I once had an editor tell me that I couldn’t reference the soft drink as coke, I had to call it coca cola.
Another one told me I couldn’t use “shit” when my character spills coffee on her blouse on her way into a meeting, “people really say, damn,” he corrected. Not in my world they don’t! My dialogue is extremely precise to the specific characters, messing with that messes with my whole brand. Hmmm, does that make me a diva?

Romelia: WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO AN AUTHOR WHO WANTED TO DESIGN THEIR OWN COVER?

Robin Leemann Donovan: In my experience very few people are gifted as authors and graphic artists alike. It’s not impossible, but its so rare. And by that I mean, if you design an awesome cover for your novel, maybe it’s not as good a read as you think. All of my covers were designed by designers in my ad agency. When they would ask my opinion, I always reminded them that they were the designers – I always used their recommendations for the best possible design impact. Do what you do best – don’t try to be best at everything, it’s just not realistic.

Romelia: HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU WRITTEN AND WHICH IS YOUR FAVORITE?

Robin Leemann Donovan: The Donna Leigh mytery series has three books: is it still murder even if she was a bitch, I didn’t kill her but that may have been shortsighted and I don’t know why they killed him he wasn’t really that annoying. All three are my babies and all three have elements that I love the most. The first was the easiest to write, the next two were more of a challenge because I didn’t want to make them formulaic. In the first book it was all about advertising in Omaha. In the second book, my protagonist has to make a trip back to Connecticut where she used to live and the third book takes place in an advertising venue, but is really all about the wine industry. They all feature pairing food and wine at some point.

Romelia: WHAT PART OF THE BOOK DID YOU HAVE THE HARDEST TIME WRITING?

Robin Leemann Donovan: My third book was the hardest to write. I forced myself to write the first half while the second book was being edited. I was afraid if I didn’t have it at least half finished I would never get around to writing a third book. That first half sat for almost 2 years. When I finally got back to it I hated it. Too lazy to scrap all that work I spent some time trying to come up with a way to make it work with minor editing.

After a few weeks, I came up with an ending I loved and a mechanism to make the first half work with that ending. Once those changes were made, I absolutely fell in love with my third book. I would not have thought that possible. I’ve never written the ending before finishing the whole book before – if I planned it, it would not have worked out as well.

Romelia: WHAT PART OF THE BOOK WAS THE MOST FUN TO WRITE?

Robin Leemann Donovan: All of the funny parts – and I hope there are a lot. I laughed my way through all three books – and when I reread them now, I still laugh out loud!

Romelia: WHICH OF THE CHARACTERS DO YOU RELATE TO THE MOST AND WHY?

Robin Leemann Donovan: My protagonist, Donna Leigh. She is roughly based on my life. Like me, she is a menopausal owner of an ad agency in Omaha, Ne. They say write about what you know and there’s nothing I know about more than myself.

Romelia: IF YOU’RE PLANNING A SEQUEL. CAN YOU SHARE A TINY BIT ABOUT YOUR PLANS FOR IT?

Robin Leemann Donovan: I have been thinking about a 4th book in the series. I already have a working title and I plan to have one of the staff members in donna leigh’s ad agency get murdered – which would keep it close to home and spawn even more drama. I would love to write a 4th book because the writing of this series is so much fun for me – but I do realize that I owe it to my other three books to spend some serious time in marketing them.

Romelia: TELL US SOMETHING FUNNY ABOUT YOUR ADULT LIFE.

Robin Leemann Donovan: My husband and I went to a colleague’s wedding. I was wearing my favorite LBD (little black dress) but still wasn’t feeling as fabulous as I’d hoped. We left the party on the early side and I was grumbling the whole time. To make matters worse, I had broken a fingernail. When we got home, my husband went to his office om the first level and I went up to the master suite on the third level. I started to get undressed and then I grabbed a brand new bottle of nail glue to fix my break. Opening the glue was a huge pain and when I finally wrenched it open it had very little glue – great another problem. I did my best with the fingernail and then moved on to other ablutions. After a few minutes I moved to go back into the bedroom – and found I was glued tight to the bathroom floor. Apparently, the glue bottle had broken, dumping the whole bottle onto my bathroom tiles and my foot. Using my little gray cells I started to search for something sharp – to help me peel my foot off the tile – there was nothing within reach. I then tried to pull my foot free – and realized immediately that I would lose the whole bottom of the foot. Not wanting to end up on you tube, I hesitated to call my husband – but after 20 minutes I didn’t care anymore. I yelled for about 20 minutes to no avail. Finally, he decided to come upstairs to change his clothing. To his credit, he took one look at me and ran to the garage to grab the goo gone, freeing my foot before collapsing into hysterical laughter. I’d like to say that this was an unusual event in my life – but I’d be lying.

Romelia: describe yourself in a few sentences. Tell us something we do not know about you and something you hate about the world.

Robin Leemann Donovan: I started as an English teacher in Watertown, Ct, then I switched to advertising and worked in Connecticut agencies for 17 years. When I applied for a job in  the Omaha, Nebraska office of a global ad agency it was a great fit except for one thing, they wanted me for my DRTV planning and buying experience. I kept telling them I didn’t have any – I had direct mail and TV buying but not DR TV buying experience. They hired me anyway (hearing what they wanted to hear I guess) – I scrambled to learn what I didn’t know and ended up  owning that ad agency for 20 years.

I love animals. And I’m thrilled that my ad agency has and still does stellar work for the Henry Doorly Zoo – on of the top 5 zoos in the world and a huge contributor to worldwide conservation.

I hate that there is suffering in the world.

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