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Interview with Romantic Thriller Author Dave Donelson

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Dave Donelson is represented by the interviewer's Pump Up Your Book Promotion, a public relations agency specializing in online book promotion.

Dave Donelson’s career as a broadcaster, entrepreneur, and writer has taken him from the jungles of Australia’s Cape York Peninsula to the minarets of Riyadh.  He’s climbed the spire of the Empire State Building, floated the Usumacinta River to the Mayan ruins at Piedras Negras in Guatemala, and photographed the tree-climbing lions and mountain gorillas of Uganda. 

Dave’s inquisitive, active lifestyle finds its way into freelance writing and photographic assignments for magazines like Disney’s FamilyFun, Woodworker’s Journal, and Las Vegas Magazine.  Closer to home, he writes features for Westchester Magazine as well as a regular column on golf.  He is a member of the prestigious Metropolitan Golf Writers Association.   

His first novel, Hunting Elf, began as an audio book and was published as a trade paperback in 2006.  K9 Perspective called it “…a delicious romp through the suburbs of New York.”  

Dave’s first book was Creative Selling (Entrepreneur Press, 2000), a non-fiction prescriptive.  As a business journalist, he writes for The Christian Science Monitor, Family Business Magazine, and dozens of trade publications serving industries from the automotive aftermarket to sporting goods retailing.

Dave has a BA in Rhetoric and Public Address from Missouri Western State University.  He serves as a Trustee for the Westchester Library System, a consortium of 38 public libraries serving Westchester County, NY.  He lives in West Harrison, NY, with his wife, Nora, and an ever-changing roster of dogs and cats.  You can visit his website.

Thank you for this interview, Dave.  Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

I’ve been writing all my life, but made it my full-time profession about eight years ago.  Before that, I had a long career in the broadcasting business, starting as a radio newsman and ending as an entrepreneur and TV station owner.  I like to think I have a journalist’s commitment to truth and an entrepreneur’s willingness to work hard.

Do you write full-time?

Writing is my job as well as my calling.  In addition to my novels, I write freelance magazine features on a wide variety of issues.  I’ve sort of come full circle since my days as a broadcast journalist.  In just the last couple of years, I’ve reported on illegal immigration, environmentalists battling with real estate developers, even the sexual habits of New York suburbanites.

If you could trade places with one author who you have admired over the years, who would it be and why?

I am a fan of so many writers, some great and some perhaps not, but I really admire John Steinbeck for his versatility.  He wrote everything from huge sweeping epics like Grapes of Wrath to young adult classics like The Red Pony plus novellas, travel, memoir, even comedy. In a thirty-year career, he left a huge legacy.

Can you tell us a little about your latest book?

Heart of Diamonds is a romantic thriller about blood diamonds in the Congo.  The high-concept plot features an American televangelist, the President of the Congo, and the White House in a diamond smuggling scheme that leads to U.S. military involvement in the Congo’s civil war.  When TV reporter Valerie Grey (the heroine) uncovers the conspiracy, an array of powerful forces — a ruthless mercenary, the Congolese army, and cold-blooded agents sent by the White House — try to stop her before she can expose it to the world.  Heart of Diamonds also has a big romantic love triangle that feeds an important subplot.

What was the inspiration behind your book?  Why did you feel a need to write it?

Heart of Diamonds is fiction but it was inspired by a true story.  The idea for the book came from a Time Magazine article I read about Pat Robertson — the famous televangelist — and his close relationship with Mobutu Sese-Seko, the dictator who raped the Congo for thirty years.  Robertson was his buddy and  actually owned diamond mines, timber concessions, and other big businesses in the Congo at one time.  When I read about it, I couldn’t get over the irony of this American religious icon profiting from slave labor in Africa.  I had to write a book about that.

What kind of research did you have to conduct to write your book?

I’m a journalist by trade, so I’m a stickler for detail.  I poured through everything about the Congo I could find in the libraries for a year — books, movies, even music CD’s.  Then I traveled to Central Africa to see what it was really like.  I didn’t go to the Congo — the war was raging at the time — but I visited the border regions in Zambia and Uganda.  I saw some truly spectacular countryside and met some wonderful people, many of whom served as models for characters in Heart of Diamonds.

What message are you trying to convey with this book?

War takes its worst toll on the weak and powerless, but even a regular person like my protagonist Valerie Grey can do the right thing by standing up to evil.  The Congo is the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.  Nearly six million people have died there in the last ten years.  I drew heavily on news accounts of rape as a weapon of terror, child soldiers, widespread corruption at all levels of government, and the very sad plight of the hundreds of thousands of refugees from the violence that continues to wrack the nation.  Heart of Diamonds is as much about that horrific situation as it is about diamond smuggling and romance.

Why did you choose your particular genre?

I wanted to write something that captures the vibrancy and complexity of Africa, and a suspenseful adventure framed against the endless war in the Democratic Republic of Congo seemed like the perfect approach. 

Do you write mainly by day or by night? 

I’m a morning person — and I mean real morning.  I’m usually at my desk by five AM, work until 7 when I have a bite to eat, chat with my wife and read the papers, then go back at it until noon.  If I’m on deadline, I write in the afternoons, too, but usually I reserve that time for research, interviews, and getting some fresh air.  I read in the evening, then conk out about ten.  I can’t write at night — my mind turns to jelly after dinner.

Do you blog?  If so, what can you tell my readers about the advantages of blogging as a useful tool in book promotion?

I blog all over the place and find it a very useful way to communicate with readers.  The same with social sites like Facebook and MySpace.  The real value of blogging is the two-way communication stream, which is invaluable.  I don’t blog much about my life as a writer, but rather about life as it relates to the things I write, if that makes sense.  When readers comment on my blogs, I can tell whether I’m connecting with them or not.  That’s invaluable.

Do you have a website?  Do you manage it yourself or do you have someone run it for you?

I’ve had websites since before I started writing.  I design and manage them myself using some simple software and I don’t try to do anything too fancy because the time required isn’t worth the payoff to me.  Both of my novels have their own sites (check out Heart of Diamonds) and I have one that showcases my other work, although it’s primarily aimed at editors instead of the general public.

Thank you for this interview, Dave!  Do you have any final words you’d like to share with my readers?

It’s been a real pleasure — thanks for the opportunity.  For your readers, I’d like to share a phrase from Heart of Diamonds expressed in two words from the Congo:  “opika pende.”  That means “be strong.”

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About Dorothy Thompson