Sex, politics and religion are not topics discussed in
polite company. Donnell Ann Bell writes about all three in her new novel, Deadly Recall. When I heard that
Donnell’s second novel was about to be released, my hands itched. I wanted to
read the book and interview her. She’s won numerous awards for her writing, so
when I found out that Donnell was a finalist in the 2010 Golden Heart® contest
for unpublished novels with the manuscript for Deadly Recall, it was no surprise. Deadly Recall was meant to be published.
Here’s a teaser for everyone from
Donnell’s website: “Seventeen years ago Eden Moran blocked out a murder. Heaven
help her, she’s about to remember.”
Elaine: Parts of the book read like a
romance, others, like a mystery and the remainder is suspense. How did you
decide on the structure for Deadly Recall?
Donnell: Hi, Elaine. Whoa! Way
to make me go and think. I wrote the book, in my opinion, the way it needed to
be written. Deadly Recall is a romantic
suspense, but there’s a strong mystery that needs to be told in its pages. In
my mind it’s two subgenres. At least, the mysteries I read include suspense.
As for the setup, because Eden,
my protagonist, has repressed memories, I needed a catalyst to make her
remember. When my police detective interviews Eden, he’s the spark that activates
her heroine’s journey and Detective Kevin Dancer’s call to adventure. Trust is
an issue for Eden, and for her to give in to her memories, she needed a confidant,
a support system. Detective Dancer, in trying to solve his cold case, is
attracted to Eden and fills that role. Kind of like the setup of Romancing
the Stone with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas. Joan Wilder has to
trust Jack T. Colton before they can go after the jewel and save Joan’s sister.
Recall, Eden has to trust
Detective Dancer, so we can get to the heart of the mystery and find out who
killed Sister Beatrice.
Elaine: In categorizing novels for the market, mixing two
genres seems acceptable. But what do you do when three (sub)genres are mixed?
Donnell: Again, I see Deadly Recall as two subgenres. Not so in
The Past Came Hunting, where I
incorporated a bit of Women’s Fiction and even Young Adult into my Romantic
In the past, mixing genres has
been discouraged by the major publishing houses because their marketing
departments are tasked with labeling books for brick and mortar bookstores. Thanks
to small presses and electronic publishing, publishers have branched out
freeing authors to enlarge their storytelling parameters.
One of the reasons fellow
Sisters in Crime author Ann Charles created her own publishing company (when
she had plenty of offers) was because she had so many subgenres in her series. Note:
I still prefer tight writing and pacing. And here might be a good place to
mention in Catholic school I received checkmarks for ‘failure to conform.’
Elaine: The premise of Deadly
Recall, an apt title, relies on the trauma repressed memories of female
main character, Eden Moran. What did your research into this psychological
phenomenon teach you?
Donnell: That it’s an
inconclusive, misunderstood field, and that psychiatric and mental-health professionals
still have a lot to learn. Law enforcement and the judicial system remain
highly suspicious of people who use repressed memories as a defense. Something
I can’t fault them with; it’s too inconclusive. Works great for a fiction plot,
While researching my plot, I
read stories written by alleged victims with repressed memories. One that
struck me was a case in California. A little girl watched her father abuse,
murder and bury her best friend in the desert. As an adult, the daughter claims
something triggered the event and her memories resurfaced. She testified
against her father, sending him to prison and solving a decades-old cold case. That
newspaper article definitely sparked my idea for Deadly Recall.
Elaine: Eden’s repressed memories include not only a
murderous day’s memory, but also a talent that she failed to realize. Is this
common in people who have trauma repressed memories?
Donnell: I have no idea if it’s
common, only that to me it made sense. I formed Eden’s goal, motivation and
conflict here. Eden’s gift was encouraged by a woman she loved, Sister Beatrice,
and quashed by her regular music teacher, Sister Agnes. Eden loved playing the
piano for Sister Beatrice, despised playing for Sister Agnes. With Sister
Beatrice gone, and Eden blocking, one of the side effects she suffers is that she
suppresses her talent.
Elaine: In Deadly
Recall, you explore issues in the Catholic Church. Were you raised
Donnell: I was raised Catholic
and still am. I may touch on issues in the story, but I tried not to dwell,
justify or preach on any of them. That would be author intrusion and not the
purpose of this book. Deadly Recall
is simply Eden’s journey (she’s definitely fallen away), a love story and a mystery.
The primary reason I chose the
Catholic Church is that I’m a firm believer that every story has to have
conflict. In my debut novel, a police lieutenant and ex-con fall in love. In Deadly Recall, two equally off-limit characters are drawn together. If I placed
this story inside, say, the Baptist or Methodist Church, the conflict wouldn’t
have been as great as their members don’t take a vow of celibacy.
Elaine: Eden’s horrible relationship to a nun contributes to
her repressed memories. Do you think the Church confuses the concept of
humility with humiliation?
Donnell: I can’t speak for the Church.
I can, however, speak for human nature. People often bend a rule or a commandment
to suit their purposes. In my Catholic school experience, and later when I
entered public school, I had good teachers and bad teachers. Later, when I
entered the working world, I had good bosses and bad bosses—and I should insert
here, I was certainly no angel. Jealousy, belittling and bullying exist in
every stage of life and in secular and non-secular organizations alike. Fortunately,
goodness, kindness and generosity prevail as well. Human nature is that
constant struggle of good versus evil, which happily keeps us writers in
Elaine: Eden Moran and the male main character, Kevin
Dancer, both come from dysfunctional families. Both have issues from their
past. How do they overcome those issues?
Donnell: One of the things I got
out of writing this book is that every single character, save the killer, finds
forgiveness or forgives someone. Eden, who has been estranged from her family,
is reunited with them. Kevin forgives his stepfather and vice versa. Kevin also
realizes that although Eden shares his stepfather’s profession, she is nothing
like him. Kevin aka Detective Dancer also changes his mindset that not everyone
accused of a crime is guilty. Finally, when the bishop asks Eden to forgive
Sister Agnes, and to free her memories of Sister Beatrice, Eden turns a page. This
freedom allows her to regain her gift. In my mind, forgiveness is what enables
people to move forward, and that is
what I hope readers take away from this story.
Elaine: Do you think past problems have to be resolved in
order to have functional relationships in the present—can you really leave the
Donnell: Although I took
psychology in college, and have training as a volunteer victims’ advocate, I’m
speculating when I say some people possess the character and willpower to
overcome; others regress, refuse, lash out and/or seek addiction. So many
factors determine your question and my inability to answer it—brain,
environment, prenatal care, heredity. I will say analyzing the human condition
is why I write.
Elaine: After reading The
Past Came Hunting, your first published novel in 2011 and Deadly Recall, haunting is a common
theme of your work. Why, and will you ever write a supernatural novel?
Donnell: While the characters are
definitely “haunted,” and although I enjoy reading otherworldly novels, I enjoy
dealing with real world events more. I do have a reincarnation story, called
“The Memory Maker,” that took first place in the Gothic Romance Writers Chapter,
in – oh, no—The Haunted Hearts Contest. I may drag it out of mothballs someday.
Elaine: Did you stay with Bell Bridge Books, the publisher
of The Past Came Hunting or move to a
new publisher? Why?
Donnell: I stayed with Bell
Bridge and signed a two-book contract with them in which Deadly Recall was book one. I love working with Bell Bridge Books
and the wonderful staff, including my editor Pat Van Wie. The main reason is
because Debra Dixon and Deborah Smith are not only publishers, but they are
successful authors and widely respected in the industry. They also understand
authors. When Debra Dixon said she had a vested interest in seeing both
publisher and author succeed, I was like. . .where do I sign?
Elaine: What comes next, Donnell?
Donnell: I just turned in book
two of my contract, working title called, “Betrayed.” This book takes place in
Denver, keeping with my theme Too Close
to Home and should come out late 2013. I’m excited about Betrayed. I
learned a lot from this book and stretched as an author to write it.
Bonus: Salty or Sweet? Not sure
what this means, but, I’ll bite, especially if they’re chocolate-covered
pretzels. Thanks so much for having
Elaine: You fudged!
Donnell Ann Bell is a two-time Golden Heart® finalist. Her
debut novel The Past Came Hunting became an Amazon bestseller, reaching as high
as #6 on the paid overall list and finaling in 2012 Gayle Wilson Award for
Excellence, RWA’s® Greater Detroit Bookseller’s Best, and the 2012 Daphne du
Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. Deadly Recall, brought to you
by Bell Bridge Books, is her second published novel. Learn more about Donnell