BHC: For Mystery at Magnolia Mansion, I’d like to know why you chose to write about a real life experience and if you also had a blossoming love affair?
Don: I actually owned Magnolia Mansion, which was built as a hotel in Magnolia Springs, Alabama in the late 1800s to house northern visitors there to buy land. It was in disrepair—falling down would be an apt description—and my wife and I invested ourselves and our money to bring it back to life. We’d just finished that task when I decided to write a romance novel, and it occurred to me to use the house as its setting, and have my heroine do the same things to the house that we did.
The book is about Brenda Maxwell, a young and eager interior designer out to make her mark. When her new lawyer client tells her to “paint, wallpaper, whatever” his hundred-year-old landmark mansion, she figures her grandiose plans will fit handily into his edict’s “whatever” section, and 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!
I wanted to reflect Magnolia Springs’s great history, so I built in a mystery about the house that started in 1930s and has a great effect on the hero and heroine today. Current action takes place the real world of Southern Alabama, and I think the reader will appreciate that setting.
As for my “blossoming love affair,” yes, I did have one. It started more than forty years ago when I met my wife, and it continues to this day. I really don’t think I deserve her love, but—hey, she’s stuck with me now!
BHC: For the second book in the series, Cumberland Plateau, was there a real spot that you had in mind as inspiration for this book? I also wanted to know if you had to do any scientific research, in order to bring the character to life? ANSWER: The answer to both questions is “yes.”
While sightseeing on the Cumberland Plateau near Crossville, Tennessee, my wife and I found a knob where the Plateau drops off into the Sequatchie Valley, 1800 feet below. We parked and hiked into the woods and found an abandoned cabin on the Plateau’s edge, overlooking the Valley, which I later learned had been owned by a silent movie actress. I realized it would be a terrific setting for a romance novel.
And yes, I did do research, on both the hero and heroine. I made the heroine Erica an antiques dealer in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, where I lived for several years and started my own antiques business. My antiques knowledge certainly helped build the story. I also read stories at the time about rare “sync” fireflies—they blink in unison—and decided to make the knob the third site in the world that had them. Further, I had the hero working out of nearby Oak Ridge National Labs. I did extensive research to give him a real job there—I actually visiting the site—and to make it look authentic.
As the story opens, Erica Phillips visits choice inherited property on Rymer’s Knob overlooking that beautiful valley, and finds scientist Mike Callahan camped there to study the 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.
Don McNair is author of Editor-Proof Your Writing: 21 Steps to the Clear Prose Agents and Publishers Crave, a self-editing book to be published by Quill Drivers Books on April 1, 2013.