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Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds (September 22-October 5)

Author Chat

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Sep 22, 2008, 11:44am Top

Join us here to talk to Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds. He'll be on LibraryThing to discuss his work and answer questions through October 5th.

Edited: Sep 22, 2008, 1:41pm Top

Hi folks,
It's great to be here. I've been very pleased with the initial reception to Heart of Diamonds and look forward to discussing it with you.

By way of introduction, Heart of Diamonds is a romantic thriller about Valerie Grey, a journalist who uncovers a diamond smuggling scheme in the Congo. There is a lot of action, a steamy love triangle, and plenty of high-concept intrigue that stretches from Africa to the White House by way of an American televangelist with a taste for diamonds.

Heart of Diamonds is meant to be an entertaining work of fiction, but I also explore the plight of the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where over five million people have died in a civil war that seems to have no end.

As it happens, my LT Author Chat will end the same weekend as the NY Run for Congo Women, October 4, where I'm sponsoring a team to raise funds to help them.

I'm sure we'll talk about that and more, so I'll close and let you ask some questions.

Sep 22, 2008, 3:22pm Top

I just finished the book last night... what a read. It has been a very long time since I have not been able to put a book down. It's an extraordinary book.

How long did you spend in the DRC to research the book?

Sep 22, 2008, 3:37pm Top

I am delighted you found Heart of Diamonds such a compelling read. From start to finish, the book took five years to research and write. During that time, I visited the Congo's borders twice (via Zambia and Uganda), but never actually stepped foot in the country since the war was raging at the time and my wife threatened to shoot me herself if I did. I interviewed a lot of people who were there before and since the conflict started and immersed myself in the news to build up the details that give the book a strong sense of place. Many of the characters are modeled after people I met during my travels.

Sep 22, 2008, 8:29pm Top

Hi Dave,

I'm so excited about your book. I just read your author spotlight over at J. Kaye's Book Blog.

I had the same question as SocProf above. That's a very impressive research experience. I know the book is going to do well and I'm looking forward to reading it. Are you going to be doing a blog tour?

Just added it to my TBR list. Woo!

Much success,

Karen Harrington, author Janeology

Sep 23, 2008, 1:51am Top

Glad your book is on StoryCasting already - it's only a small step from book trailer to thinking about casting and directors and screenplays. Hope your fans come to the site and let you know how they see your characters. And congratulations again on a great book launch - Kunati seems to have all the fresh new talent in their lineup!

Jeff Reid

Sep 23, 2008, 5:58am Top

Hi Karen,
Thanks for the questions. One thing I've discovered about myself in the ten years I've been writing is that I love the research phase as much as the actual putting words on paper. Even when I'm doing a simple magazine piece, I like interviewing people, digging up stats and factoids, and sometimes just walking around looking at the place I'm writing about. I've always got my camera and digital voice recorder with me and a pad of paper in every place imaginable--I even carry one in my golf bag! That made the research phase of Heart of Diamonds a real treat--especially the travels to Central Africa.
To answer your question, yes, I'm going on blog tour in November. I'm contributing to ten blogs now, so I know I don't know when I'll have the time--but I'll find it somehow!
October is very busy with personal appearances, mostly in support of the NY Run for Congo Women on October 4 and Congo Week: Break The Silence, which is October 19-25.
Hope you enjoy Heart of Diamonds as much as I did Janeology.

Sep 23, 2008, 6:11am Top

Thanks, Jeff. Storycasting.com is a great idea. I'm looking forward to the ideas my readers come up with. I have a few of my own, of course.....

Sep 23, 2008, 7:48am Top

Wow. This book is now on my 'must read list.' You've combined all the ingredients of a rivetting suspense and then some. As a former journalist and fiction writer myself, I wonder how you feel about weaving a story out of the headlines, given the current situation in the Congo. I know some writers struggle with how much to keep true and how much to fictionalize. It's a delicate juggling act, trying to maintain 'fiction' and not cross over completely into 'faction.' How would you describe your experience of that process as a writer?

Kathy-Diane Leveille

Sep 23, 2008, 10:40am Top

Thanks for putting Heart of Diamonds on your must-read list. I hope you enjoy it.
You are absolutely correct in pointing out how difficult it is to combine fiction with the real story in a situation like the ongoing conflict in the Congo. I compiled news accounts of literally hundreds of incidents in the war before I ever started writing--my clip file took up an entire drawer--then I started culling.
My approach was to set up the characters and the story arc first, then go to actual events to support them. Otherwise, as you point out, the book becomes a telling of the news rather than a work of fiction. One of my most difficult tasks was leaving out some truly compelling events, but it was necessary to keep the plot lines taut and the story moving forward.

Sep 24, 2008, 7:32am Top

Hi, Dave, great to see you here!
Are you working on a sequel to Heart of Diamonds?

Beth Fehlbaum, author
Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse
Chapter 1 & Book Trailer are online!

Sep 24, 2008, 11:01am Top

Hi Beth,
Good to hear from you.
Yes, there is a sequel in the works. As you may have noticed, Valerie Grey's job as an international TV reporter means she travels all over the globe covering the hot spots of the day. In the book I'm writing now, Valerie ventures into Guatemala (among other places) in pursuit of a criminal gang whose tentacles reach New York. If you've been following the news about the drug wars in Mexico, you'll have a flavor for the story.
I chose Guatemala as the setting, by the way, because I made a memorable journey there a few years ago. It was a float trip through Mayan country down the Usumacinta River on the border with Mexico. Great fun, although we had some scary times with an armed rebel group who caught us camping on the wrong side of the river.

Sep 24, 2008, 11:41am Top

Hi, Dave,
I can't wait to sink my teeth into Hearts of Diamonds! I've heard great reviews on this gem and btw, the setting is most intriguing. It's in my top five to read!


Sep 24, 2008, 7:47pm Top

Hi Dave,
When did you first become interested in writing? Were you able to predict early on what direction your work would take?

Sep 25, 2008, 6:02pm Top

Great question. I've been an insatiable reader as long as I can remember, and I started writing fiction in my teens as a direct result. Unfortunately, I had to let my passion lapse as little things like supporting a family kept interfering (although I always kept reading). I'm back to writing now, and doing so professionally is actually my third career.
It's also kind of hard to say that my work has gone in a given direction since I've done everything from investigative magazine features to humor. Heart of Diamonds, a romantic thriller, has been the most satisfying so far and I know that's the path I'll be following for some time to come.
To be a little more direct, those were the kinds of books I enjoyed most as a young man, and that's the kind of work I'm creating now. Does that answer your question?

Sep 25, 2008, 6:04pm Top

Excellent, kimmi. I hope you'll let me know how you like it! The first two chapters are on the book's website, by the way: www.heartofdiamonds.com

Edited: Sep 26, 2008, 9:23am Top

One of the things I didn't expect when I started writing Heart of Diamonds was just how involved I would later become in efforts to help the people of the Congo. As I mentioned, I'm sponsoring a team in the NY Run for Congo Women on October 4. It will benefit Women for Women International, a four-star charity that helps victims of rape and other war crimes in the DRC to get their lives together.

You can help the organization by going to American Express Member Projects and voting to Help Women and Children Survivors of War Rebuild.

The cause is in the top 25 and just a few votes shy of making into the top 5 finalists--who will share $2.5 million in funding from American Express. It doesn't cost you a thing to vote, but the payback could be priceless.

But please hurry...the deadline is September 29.

Oct 1, 2008, 4:36pm Top

Hi Dave,

I clicked on the cause and the next day your book arrived, so clearly virtue is rewarded....

Thus far I can say that the story hits the ground running, and, if your taut writing is anything to go by, will prove a kick-in-the-pants read. At the moment, I've got a question. You said somewhere that you sent the MS out to scores of publishers before Kunati accepted it. I'm always astonished to hear this about really good fiction, since far too much poorly-conceived and written fiction DOES get published (at least in my opinion). Can you give us an idea of what it took to get this book into print with a quality publisher?

Oct 2, 2008, 8:09am Top

Hi Doni,
Glad your first impression of Heart of Diamonds was positive. Now if I can just maintain the momentum....

To answer your question about the publishing process--or crapshoot, depending on how you view it--I spent a huge amount of time and effort trying to interest an agent in taking on the book and found it unbelievably frustrating even though I'd been through that wringer once before with Hunting Elf. The biggest problem was the automatic rejection of my query, which occurred about 90% of the time. I'll be the first to admit there could have been some problems with my query itself, but I tried about a dozen different versions (and I spent 30 years in the advertising business, so I know a little bit about writing persuasive copy) and it was obvious the letter, synopsis, sample chapters, etc., weren't even read. Agents are busy people (he said, tongue-in-cheek).

The breakthrough came when I discovered Kunati and sent my query directly to them. It took several months to go from query to manuscript reading to offer, but it got there. Kunati was one of the very few traditional royalty-paying publishers (i.e., non-vanity, non self-publish, or p.o.d.) willing to consider fiction--and to accept submissions without an agent. I'm sure they're swamped with submissions, of course, but at least they give them a glance.

I'll be the first to admit that getting published is a grim business. It's not for the faint of heart or thin of skin. Of course, my wife says it's perfectly suited to my stubborn streak, which is about the size of the Congo River.

Oct 4, 2008, 4:00pm Top

Today was a great day at Roosevelt Island in New York, where hundreds of people gathered to run, walk, and otherwise offer support for women in the Congo who have been victimized by the endless war that forms the setting for Heart of Diamonds. It was the NY Run for Congo Women, a fundraiser for Women For Women International.

This four-star charity helps women provide for their families by teaching them skills they need to end the cycle of poverty and suffering, providing funds to help them start businesses, and teaching them to protect themselves against the terror around them.

I'd like to thank everyone who joined the Heart of Diamonds team and showed your solidarity with the women of the Congo. Six of us were able to appear, but dozens others supported us with generous donations and heart-felt good wishes. When all was said and done, we raised nearly $1,000 -- a nice portion of the $15,000 raised by the event.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Lisa Jackson, whose documentary film, The Greatest Silence: Rape In The Congo aired on HBO earlier this year and won a special prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. We chatted before the run, then in a nice bit of serendipity, her friend Joseph won a copy of Heart of Diamonds in the raffle afterwards!

Thanks again to all the donors and well-wishers who supported this great cause.

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