By Shelley Ring
Pikes Peak Writers Magazine

Placing in a national writing contest like the Paul Gillette is a major accomplishment.  It doesn’t happen overnight and placing first in that contest could take years.  Just ask Donnell Bell, first place winner for the Romance category at this year’s Pikes Peak Writers Conference.  Writing since 2001, she’s entered several national contests and says, “I’ve run the gamut from winning to finaling to bombing.”

Donnell has a collection of four completed manuscripts and several partials.  When asked about her first manuscript, she says, “It’s bad.  You don’t want to read it.  [The hero] is out of town when the antagonist comes to kidnap the heroine and the store clerk shoots him.  It never occurred to me that the hero should save her.”

Donnell’s writing career began as an editor of The Colorado Springs Business Journal and Pikes Peak Parent Newsmagazine.  She is published in nonfiction, but her goal is to become published in fiction as well.  Her genre of choice is Mystery Suspense and favorite authors include Sandra Brown, Linda Castillo, P.C. Cast, Lawrence Sanders, David Baldacci, and Ken Follett.  Donnell was first hooked by Mystery Suspense in college after reading Lawrence Sanders’ The First Deadly Sin,The Second Deadly Sin, and The Third Deadly Sin.

“I was wowed by Sanders who made his serial killer a woman in The Third Deadly Sin all those years ago.  To this day, I think his protagonist, Edward X Delaney, is one of the most vivid characters imaginable.”  True to her Paul Gillette entry and category win, she says, “Of course, throw a little romance in there any day.”

When she’s not writing, Donnell works for a structural engineering company.  She also has two children in college and volunteers.  “I volunteer a lot,” she says.  “During Diane Mott Davidson’s talk at the PPWC, she spoke about volunteerism and several friends at various tables were looking at me.”  Though it’s a struggle, Donnell is learning how to pare down and say no.  “Kirsten Akens had a great quote for us ‘never say no’ people.  ‘If it feels good to say yes, say yes.  If it doesn’t….”  Consequently, her writing schedule varies.  She is currently coordinating the Daphne du Maurier Writing Competition for the Kiss of Death Chapter of the Romance Writers of America.  “It’s my last year,” she says.  “With both my kids in college, I will have plenty of time now.”

In her years of writing, Donnell says she has been blessed to have several mentors, including some published authors in Pikes Peak Romance Writers and mentors from the Kiss of Death chapter.  She believes a wide writing support group, her own belief in her ability and “an awesome critique partner” have kept her going in difficult times.

As for contests, she says, “I believe if a writer has a tough shell, a contest can be invaluable.  It’s like taking a car around the block for a test drive or walking into a showroom and kicking the tires.”  Urging caution, Donnell says a contest can be detrimental if a writer isn’t sure of the story or confident in his craft.  “The best advice for contests and critiques I’ve ever received is, ‘Take what works and leave the rest.’  In the same vein, listen to what people have to say.  If more than one person makes a comment that something in your manuscript yanks them out, pay attention.”

Donnell encourages beginners with sound advice that should come easy to writers with a passion for the written word.  “Write often, read lots and not just your genre.  Study the craft.  Surround yourself with upbeat, positive people who genuinely want to see you succeed.”  It is sound advice for life.

So, what does the near future hold for this first place winner?  Not one to let her ego take over, Donnell says, “It’s nice to win, but as a contest coordinator, I of all people know that writing is subjective.  The moment I get too cocky, I think of all the talent I’ve seen and I’m humbled.  My next step is to get back to writing and submit, submit, submit.”

And what was the entry that won first place?

Bad Timing.  When Elena Gerardi overhears her employer’s scheme, she rushes to the CSPD.  But along with bad luck, she’s got incredibly bad timing.  The cop taking the statement is the hitman hired to commit the murder.”

As she moves forward and takes hold of her goal for publication in fiction, Donnell’s biggest obstacle might be one that has little to do with writing.  “I’m shy,” she says with a smile.  “Honest.”

Copyright© 2006 Shelley Ring