Posted by: Thomas Drinkard | September 20, 2012

Meet the Author of the “Rock and Roll Mystery Series,” RJ McDonnell

Special note: Check back to the blog frequently, I’ll be posting a review of RJ McDonnell’s book: The Concert Killer from the Rock and Roll Mystery seres here.


T. Hello, welcome to Pinnacle Writing. Tell us a bit about yourself.

 R. My name is RJ McDonnell. I write the Rock & Roll Mystery Series for people that enjoy whodunits with a bit of humor. I’ve been a professional writer for most of my adult life. My father was a homicide detective for the Pennsylvania State Police. He got me interested in mysteries at a young age. I believe we watched every crime drama on television and every movie of the same genre that made it to the small screen. He frequently critiqued them for believability and explained how they differed from real life. I transitioned away from television and into reading mysteries right after graduating from college.

T. When did you start writing?

 R. I was hired by a professional writing service in my late 20s. Most of the projects involved writing professional resumes. I used the research skills that I learned in college to expand my knowledge of the job market. Within a year I became the regional director of the largest resume writing service in the US. This led to columnist positions for The Military Press and a San Diego newspaper, along with guest articles in other journals.

I began writing fiction when one of my staff members got in on the ground floor of a Saturday Night Live-type cable television show. I was asked to write a skit, and ended up having 34 of them produced and aired over the show’s two seasons.

T. Was there a favorite writing teacher or mentor? Tell us about him/her.

R. My 10th grade English teacher, Mr. Walton, was a huge influence. He introduced me to a wide variety of genres, styles, and techniques. He was the first teacher to treat me like an adult, and I learned more in his class than any other class in high school, college, or grad school. I wish I could have him critique the four novels in my series today. Unfortunately, Mr. Walton was thrown from a horse, hit his head, and died two years after I graduated.

T. Please tell us about your current book. What is the genre?  Give us a thumbnail sketch.

R. The Classic Rockers Reunion with Death launched three weeks ago. It’s about Jason Duffy, a private investigator in his late 20s who travels from San Diego to Northeastern Pennsylvania in January to help his musician uncle after his band mate/best friend was murdered. Their band was in the process of putting together a reunion show when the murder occurred, and we learn that someone doesn’t want that show to take place and is willing to do anything to stop it. While all of the novels in the series are considered hard-boiled mysteries, I don’t dwell on the grisly details and would rate all four books as PG-13.

T. Do you have a sequel or prequel in mind or works in progress?

R. I’m currently writing the first draft of #5 in the series. It’s giving me a chance to run with a unique idea I had over 25 years ago. It feels great to find a proper home for an idea with such staying power.

T. What are your writing habits? Are you an outliner or do you write “by the seat

of your pants?”

R. I write and edit new novels in the morning. After lunch I do marketing and continue to write resumes. Eventually, I would like to phase out the resumes as my novels supplant that income. I’m moving in that direction, having recently cancelled yellow pages advertising in my region.

I started off writing without an outline while working in a 9:00 to 5:00 capacity. Each day I took a two mile walk at lunchtime and figured out what I would write that evening. Upon returning from the walk I would make notes while eating lunch so that I could hit the ground running after getting my kids started on their homework. I’ve outlined more and more with each subsequent book, but I allow myself to develop new ideas as I get more familiar with my cast of characters. Some of my best ideas have come from my willingness to color outside of the lines at any point in the process.

T. What are your ideas about the future of digital publishing?

R. Digital is definitely where it’s at for independent publishers. It gives us a chance to expose our writing to huge audiences at no cost. I went out of my way in my recent book launch to attract as many paper book readers as possible. I did an interview on our local NBC affiliate. Two area newspapers wrote features on the launch, and another one covered the local aspects of my book. A bookstore at the largest mall in the city hosted a launch party with food & beverage and live entertainment. And, the following week I did a signing in my hometown, and the local paper ran a front page story in advance of the signing. I ended up selling more paper copies than all of last year in a 10 day span. However, at the same time, I did a promotion on Kindle where over 7500 copies of my first novel were downloaded. In the week following the promo, I sold three times as many digital copies than the combined paper copies from both events.

T. Anything else to share?

R. When I started my series there was no such subgenre as rock fiction. Had I listened to the experts of the publishing world I would probably still be writing query letters to a continually shrinking industry. Write what you know. Write what you are passionate about. Blaze your own trail, make many friends along the way, and remain open to great ideas.

T. Thank you for visiting with us and sharing your ideas.


  1. Congrats on your success RJ! And thanks for hosting RJ, Tom. You have both been my author buddies since I first got started, and I’m so happy to see you doing well. Take care, and hope to continue seeing you around!

    • Thanks Valerie for your comment and RJ for visiting.

  2. Thanks, Valerie. I appreciate your support. You have a beautiful horse in your profile pic.

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