Author Joe McDonald ~ Interviewed

JOE MCDONALD enlisted in the U.S. Army for two years before stepping into the insurance industry at McDonald & McGarry Co. for 20 years and then the McDonald Insurance Group for 15 years. Now retired, he currently resides in Mercer Island, Wash., with his wife, Beverly. He is a part of Marquis’ Who’s Who in the World, as well as a member of the University of Washington Alumni Association, College Club and Columbia Tower Club. Though he’s never won the big jackpot himself, McDonald was inspired to write Lotto when he imagined what would happen if he did win the lottery and kept it a secret.

What is your current project? Tell us about it.

Sunstar, my second novel begins with a Bermuda Triangle disappearance. The central character comes out of coma in what he first believes is a hospital near his home, but is actually in a parallel world. It is similar to earth in nearly every way, language, culture, geography, but completely alien. How will he survive now, with no money or resources of any kind, no job, home, friends or even a story that anyone will believe?

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work, or struggle in a particular area such as writers block or angst driven head-banging against walls? Please share some helpful overcoming hints that you’ve discovered.

Yes, self doubt, certainly. What looked good one day loses its shine the next, then may look okay again after that. So you conclude that your own judgment is not consistent. It can reflect your mood. Writer’s block may involve a dead end to the story, a lumpish scene or simply finding the right word or phrase to finish a sentence. My answer; don’t stop writing. Put down something, anything, then come back to it later.

What’s the best or worst advice (or both) you’ve heard on writing/publication?

First let’s assume the writer has one way or other acquired the basic skills. Then, I would say, get in a writer’s group, attend conferences and read all you can.

What is your favorite source for finding story ideas?

It is usually the irony in human behavior and events around us that attract my interest. You want plot ideas…read the newspaper.

Have you ever had one of those awkward writer moments you’d like to share with us, the ones wherein you get “the look” from the normals? Example, you stand at a knife display at the sporting goods store and ask the clerk which would be the best to use to disembowel a six foot man…please do tell.

I’m having writer’s block trying to come up with a good answer.

What event/person has most changed you as a writer? How?

Robert Bloch, Kenn Davis, Elmore Leonard.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

I feel pretty good about the novel, Lotto and I expect Sunstar to be even better. Both are entertaining and a bit unique.

Dean Koontz recently shared his take on the concept on “the writer’s sacred duty.” What comes to your mind at the mention of “the writer’s sacred duty?”

I guess I should see what Dean said first. I would say keep your people in character and your plot resolutions should be credible.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

No, not now anyway.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

Yes, simple little things, like fame and immortality.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?


How has your unique life journey prepared you to be an author? What is one of the more unique or strange life experiences that has really given you an extra oomph in your writing?

The death of my wife prompted or maybe inspired me to begin writing poetry. She was a poet.

Describe your special or favorite writing spot.

I have a very commodious office on the lower level of our home, about 400 sq feet in the shape of a squat “L”. Here I have two desks, one with my PC, a credenza, floor to ceiling bookcases along one wall, file cabinets, storage cabinets, stereo, a keyboard, big windows and fireplace.

What aspect of writing was the most difficult for you to grasp/conquer? How did you overcome it?

Keeping the story linear. You catch those missteps in rewrite.

What is the first thing you do when you begin a new book?

I begin with a premise. E.G. A forty year old man tries out for a spot on a pro football team and makes it.

Writing rituals. Do you have to sit somewhere specific, complete a certain number of words, leave something undone to trigger creativity for the next session? Some other quirk you’d like to share?

I only write in my office. This means not much gets done at the beach place. I do not have any set goals such as so many words or pages per day. I know some authors do. Some days I will do an entire chapter, other times just a page or two. Advisors will tell you to write every day and feel guilty if you don’t. Well, that’s not bad advice in that you are not so apt to lose the “thread”. When your mind, like a wound reel of film, has the story running, stay with it. Keep the mood, the feel of it, the taste. But, at the same time, there are other things to do too. So, it you miss a few days (or weeks) you can get back into it. May take a short while. Try reading the last few pages to get back into the story.

Plot, seat of pants or combination?

I rough out a story outline, then as the characters develop I flesh out the plot and maybe amend it if needed.

What is the most difficult part of pulling together a book? Ex. Do you have saggy middles, soggy characters, soupy plots during your first drafts…if so, how do you shape it up?

Stick a subplot in that saggy middle.

Have you received a particularly memorable reader response? Please share.

I wish I could say yes. Oh, some neighbors threw a party.

How much marketing/publicity do you do? Any advice in this area?

I’m just getting into it, book signings, bookseller contacts, etc.

Parting words? Anything you wish we would’ve asked because you’ve got the perfect answer?

Yes. You would like to know where you can buy my book.