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!
Elaine: I'm betting she doesn't feel stuck at all. I'm sure she thinks she's a fortunate lady. I know exactly where Magnolia Springs is. When my husband was a small child he went to a one room school there. His brother was in the first grade, and the teacher let him come too. He always fetched coal for the stove. We visited Magnolia Springs a few years ago. Is Mystery on Firefly Knob, the second book in your series, also based on a real place? Did you have to do much research for the book?
Don: 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, 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.
Elaine: Let's look at some blurbs and excerpts, shall we? The first blurb and excerpt is from Mystery at Magnolia Mansion.
Brenda Maxwell’s new interior design client tells her to “paint, wallpaper, whatever” his hundred-year-old landmark mansion, “but for God’s sake, don’t go overboard.” When she figures her grandiose plans will fit handily into his edict’s “whatever” section, 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!
NOTE: Don McNair actually lived in this house, and did the very things to it that he has heroine Brenda Maxwell do.
She jumped. There he stood, directly in front of her, stark naked! Well, except for a bath towel wrapped snugly around his hips. He was dripping water on her nice clean floor. She tried to turn away, but her muscles refused to budge. His chest, sprinkled with curly black hair, narrowed to a tight stomach which showed off six-pack abs. His muscular bare arms and legs were certainly not those of a desk jockey. No, the man got exercise somehow.
“Oh! Oh, I’m sorry!” She finally insisted that her muscles work, and they grudgingly turned her toward the door. Her cheeks burned. Her mind was in turmoil.
“Me, too,” he said. He flashed a silly grin, backed into the room he’d come from, and closed the door. It was a downstairs bedroom right off the kitchen, complete with a full bath, which she’d earlier pegged as a live-in maid or cook’s living quarters. He’d apparently swung a big deal at that garage sale because she’d noticed the mismatched bed, chest, and end table in that room, which weren’t there on her first visit. The only other furniture in the whole house was the rusty chrome-legged kitchen table and its four matching chairs he’d apparently bought at the same time. If that was his idea of a great décor . . .
And now let's look at Mystery on Firefly Knob.
When Erica Phillips visits choice inherited property on a Cumberland Plateau knob overlooking a beautiful valley, she finds scientist Mike Callahan camped there to study 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. Will it blossom into a lifetime relationship?
She set her salad on the table and went to close the cabin door, and paused, her hand on the latch, to peer out. Mike was standing at the table by his tent, staring at her.
Her heart raced, and her face became hot. She pulled the door closed quickly and shuddered. Why was she feeling this way? She retraced her steps and sat at the table, and crossed her arms on its surface and stared at the door, as if she could see right through it to her squatter’s camp. What was this attraction? He was an interloper, for heaven’s sake, a total stranger who had literally forced himself into her life. Yet he was having this very strange effect on her. Her heart was pumping to beat the band, probably producing much more heat than that little air conditioner could possibly handle, like there was an actual, physical connection between her and that Mike person which took over her very body. That kiss sat between them like the proverbial eight-hundred pound gorilla. Her fingers involuntarily found her lips, and she closed her eyes and imagined Mike’s own luscious lips gently touch them, and his body become one with hers…
Don McNair, now a prolific fiction writer, spent most of his working life editing magazines (11 years), producing public relations materials for the Burson-Marsteller international PR firm (6 years), and heading his own marketing communications firm, McNair Marketing Communications (21 years). His creativity has won him three Golden Trumpets for best industrial relations programs from the Publicity Club of Chicago, a certificate of merit award for a quarterly magazine he wrote and produced, and the Public Relations Society of America’s Silver Anvil. The latter is comparable to the Emmy and Oscar in other industries.
McNair has written and placed hundreds of trade magazine articles and three published non-fiction “how-to” books (Tab Books). He’s also written six novels; two young-adult novels (Attack of the Killer Prom Dresses and The Long Hunter), three romantic suspense novels Mystery on Firefly Knob, Mystery at Magnolia Mansion, and co-authored Wait for Backup!), and a romantic comedy (BJ, Milo, and the Hairdo from Heck).
McNair now concentrates on editing novels for others, teaching two online editing classes (see McNairEdits.com), and writing his next romance novel.
Don will giving away reader's choice of a copy of one of his books on www.DonMcNair.com to one randomly chosen commenter, so follow this tour and comment often. You can find a list of stops at http://goddessfishpromotions.blogspot.com/2012/06/virtual-book-tour-mcnair-mysteries.html