The best thing about talking with Dr. Don Donaldson, the author of seven books and University of Tennessee Professor of Microscopic Anatomy and Neurobiology, is that you donít have to pump him for answers. He has an opinion about nearly everything! And most of his opinions are studied ones -- the kind you would pay good money to know.
As we sat down together at the Deliberate Literate, a bookshop/coffee house on Union Avenue in Memphis, I could feel him mentally sizing up the interview as I told him what type questions I was prepared to ask. I had already ordered a coffee, and was enjoying it immensely, (as I am an addict). He put off getting his because of the size of the line at the register.
But we dove in anyway with questions and answers. I walked away an hour later, the interview completed, feeling rejuvenated and inspired by the man. Here is some of what he had to say:
Scribe: Doctor, briefly tell me about how you got started.
Don: My first book was published in í88. How does one Ďmake the magicí of getting published? I donít know. Some people write one book and it is an instant success; others write for ten years and nothing. You can be smart but lack literary sense. The six previous books to Do No Harm had two main characters in them: a pathologist nearing 60, and a female psychologist in her 30ís . Theirs was a father/daughter relationship from which the books operated as they set about solving crimes.
Scribe: Now youíve moved from the area of forensic crime thriller to that of medical thriller. Do No Harm has many Ďwheels within wheelsí Ėthat is, several mysteries going on at the same time. Did you start out the book with that in mind?
Don: I had this idea of a woman who was in love with her boss, and who would create all kinds of problems for him. It works really wellÖshe is so crazy, (in the book sheís psychotic), vacillating between love and hate day to day.
Scribe: You describe in detail many medical procedures and possible outcomes. Did you consult other doctors for procedural details?
Don: I hung around LeBonheur (a childrenís hospital in Memphis) for about a week tailing the residents and talking a lot with one of the attendings. The paralyzed child with pneumonia in the book was actually a patient there. I initially put him in just to establish the credibility of my character as a caring pediatric resident, but as the book developed, he became much more than that.
Scribe: The descriptions of Memphis; you have uncanny detailed accounts of locations. It is as if you got in your car, drove to a site and wrote an entire chapter, standing right there
Don: I often visit sites just before I write about them. If this is the day Iím setting a scene at the river, Iíll go down there to remind myself of what it looks like. Of course, itís especially important to scout the locale if Iím writing about another city. Iíll even consult Almanacs to see when the sun sets at that time of year. It bothers the devil out of me if I donít know. For instance, the character is driving a car at five oíclock in the evening. Are the lights on or off? Is it daylight savings time or what? (He laughs).
Scribe: Maybe you write so well about local things because you want to appeal to a local audience.
Don: No. Thatís not enough to get you anywhere. No, I just have a thing for accuracy.
I have been a scientist for thirty years, and thatís what thatís all about. You know -- trying to be as accurate as you can. I canít be any other way. Even the medical procedures; I know the time line of them all. And if I donít, I make one up as if they were going to do it. I have to go through all that so I can comfortably know what I am writing about.
Scribe: Sarchi Seminoux, the name of the main character in the book; where did you get it?
Don: It is an actual name. A lot of authors like the initials of the first and last to be the same.
Scribe: When I read the book, I sort of developed a theory about the name. What I thought was that you made it up completely and I thought it odd that the woman was not described much in the book either.
Don: No. You missed it. It was worked in when she went home and saw Linda for the first time.
Scribe: Okay, I might have missed that. I knew later when she met Detective Venet, that she was described middle height and black hair.
Don: She was modeled on an actual person.
Scribe: Well, you just blew my theory out of the water. I was going to say that maybe the reason you gave her so fanciful a name and didnít describe her much is that people are always asking you to put them in one of your books!
Don: You donít have to worry about that, because Iíve discovered that even if you do put them in the book exactly the way you see them, nobody really knows how they appear to others, so they will miss it every time!
Scribe: Finally, what advice can you give to other writers about promoting their books?
Don: (Without pausing he said) Grow a thick skin! The publishing world is sometimes upside-down. In general there are a lot of disappointments. Write for an audience, donít write for yourself.
You may reach Dr. Don Donalson at his e-mail: Ddonald346@aol.com
Or his web site (It is fantastic!) at: http://www.dondonaldson.com
Don Donaldson Bibliography
L. Hall, raised in and currently living outside Memphis, TN, writes crime
mysteries and tales of a youth with adventures in horsemanship. His books
are Mid-South based.
Mr. Hall also is a contributing writer for the on-line journal, When
Falls the Coliseum , a self-described ďJournal of American Culture
(or the lack thereof)Ē at http://www.wfthecoliseum.com
A trained musician with a Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Memphis and Master of Music degree from Florida State University, he is staff pianist at Trinity Baptist Church in West Memphis and has taught music courses at three institutions of higher learning.