Davis MacDonald is a native Angeleno (1) – a yachtsman, a watercolor portrait artist, a mystery novel author and a world traveler. He also runs a small stock fund and to pay the rent he practices law from the serenity of his yacht in Marina Del Rey and his place near The Wedge, the famous surf spot in Orange County, California.
There is quite a lot to talk about with Davis but he is here with us today as an author so let’s explore the world of writing with him.
“What you do is just start writing”.
When did you start to write and why?
I write for a living as a lawyer but of course writing a mystery novel is different and a lot more fun. I’ve always wanted to write fiction. I started many times with an outline but never finished a book. Then I discovered the Faulkner method and it really works for me. I started writing the “Judge Series” nine years ago and turn out a book a year, so with this November’s release of “The Cruise”, there will be eight books in my mystery novel series.
Why the one-year time frame?
I have a varied life. Lots of interests, many legal clients and seven kids to interface with. So writing is squeezed in when I have the time and desire to do it. Hence a book a year. The timeframe provides certain deadlines but not a lot of pressure. One year is plenty of time to complete a novel. Writing fiction should be fun. It’s not like practising law where there is always a short deadline.
Also, I decided if I was going to take a year to write a mystery novel, the book should have more value than simply a fictional murder mystery. So, for each novel, I pick an important social issue of our 21st century and I explore the issue within the mystery story. Sort of an informative pill wrapped in a sugar coating.
How do you create your stories?
I follow my characters as they tell their story to me… and they really do. If a specific topic comes up I research that topic as I write about it. Writing mysteries is challenging as every detail has to fit in and support the plot.
I start with an interesting location, some strong characters, and the social issue I want to explore. Then I just start writing. Throughout the writing process, the characters whisper to me what they are concerned about, what they’ll do next and what will happen next. When the characters tell me their story is done, I stop. I know the book is done.
You lead a very colorful life. Do your travels, your job and the many people you’ve met help to find your stories?
Actually, the vignettes in my stories come from real life for the most part. I traveled around the world seven times, I’ve seen a lot and I’ve had an amazing law career and continue to represent some of the most interesting clients in the world. The stories in the books come from my life stories and theirs.
Book 9 in the Series, for example, which will be published in 2021, is called “Vegas”. It opens with a man who is dying. He has not been injured but he owed money to the mob, having borrowed to finance his condominium resort hotel in Vegas. The hotel is now in foreclosure, the victim of a real estate downturn. Someone has given him a ride 40 miles out into the middle of the desert and dropped him off to die… this actually happened in a project I was doing the legal on.
When you write you study people around you a little more carefully. I like putting interesting people who I’ve met in my books. Maybe I’ll put you as a character in my new book, Vegas. Would you like to be a heroine, a villain, or a body…? (The BWG editor is smiling here and says yes to the first two options.)
Most of your stories happen in California. Do these books attract a worldwide audience?
Of course. Everybody loves to read about the Californian lifestyle. But I use other locations as well, like my mystery novel, Cabo (Mexico) and my new mystery novel coming out next month, The Cruise.
Have you ever ran out of ideas or had writer’s block?
It happens occasionally. I don’t stress over it. I write as a lawyer all the time under deadlines. You’re not allowed writer’s block if you’re an attorney. What you do is just start writing. Maybe what you write isn’t very good at first but it can be quickly edited. Like anything, the hardest part is to start, to take the first step to start writing the next chapter or the next contract. The way to walk a thousand miles is to take the first step.
What is the best and the hardest thing in writing?
The best is writing and of course, finishing. The hardest is fitting everything into a whole that dovetails together; plot, action, personalities, emotions, clues, motivations, settings and timing.
What does it take to be a professional writer?
Persistence and a sense of humor. You can’t take yourself too seriously.
Can you make a living from being a writer?
Not the sort of living I like to enjoy. The book market is crowded, it’s hard to get attention, to get your book read and to get noticed. I’m out there because I decided to self-publish, I do everything my way.
I’m currently looking for a producer to make a pilot based on one of the books. My books would make a great series on Netflix or other streaming media. I think they would be better than many other mystery series because my people and my stories are based on real people and real stories.
What would be your advice to someone who wants to start a career as a writer?
Start writing. Write and write and write, and don’t stop. Set up several projects at once, a newsletter, a blog, do some short stories. As Nelson said about the French after the Battle of Trafalgar “You have to go at them… you just keep going at them… keep going at them…!”
What your plans are for the future?
Enjoy life and pursue the things I like. Draw people I like. I wish it was safe to travel and countries weren’t closed but that will change.
Basho (2) said it all: “Life is a journey and the journey is home.”
(1) People from Los Angeles are frequently called Angelenos.
(2) Matsuo Basho was the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan.
DAVIS MacDONALD’s next book in his ‘Judge Mystery Series’, THE CRUISE, is coming out this November. This is his 8th book in the Judge series.
“What does the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have to do with the sudden death of an executive officer of a multi-billion-dollar corporation?
The Judge and Katy are on a relaxing cruise to Hawaii when one of their dinner companions has an untimely accident. As the number of shipboard accidents becomes statistically improbable, the Judge weaves his way through the undercurrents and animosities of a fractured family business, cruise guests and crew, seeking answers. The closer the Judge gets to the truth, the more he puts himself in the path of a menacing force determined to remain hidden.
As the ship is blown off course into the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, business partners become adversaries, family members become enemies, old lovers become embittered, and polite masks are dropped to reveal ugly motives and raw anger.
Theft, embezzlement, avarice, greed, infidelity, sex, and of course… ‘accidents’. Lots and lots of suspicious accidents. The underlying violence embedded in humanity comes out in the pressure cooker of a six-day non-stop cruise across the Blue Pacific.
Follow the Judge as he risks all, seeking to unlock secrets and ferreting out the truth, on… THE CRUISE!”