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Familiar setting: Local author's novel based in McKinney
Photo courtesy of Donnette Smith - Blue Ridge author Donnette Smith holds a book signing for her first novel, "Lady Gabriella," in 2008 at Hastings in Greenville. Smith recently published her second book, "Cunja," which is set in McKinney.
By Chris Beattie, email@example.com
McKinney has been featured in magazines and travel publications, recognized as a growing community with a small-town feel. It's also the setting for a new horror-romance novel.
Blue Ridge resident Donnette Smith recently published her second novel, "Cunja," about a murder mystery with a voodoo twist - and a historic downtown backdrop.
"Some of the streets, restaurants and news are real," said Smith, who works at My Maid Service in east McKinney. "I just found it fascinating to write about a city that I was learning about."
"I think folks in this area would definitely appreciate the book because of the setting," Smith said. "They've been there and can picture things. That really helps you as a reader to be pulled into the novel."
Smith's writing has been sorted into different genres, with others attaching horror, suspense, mystery, romance and thriller to her latest book. She published her first novel, "Lady Gabriella," in 2008, shortly before she began "Cunja."
Though wound from multiple subplots, her books have a common thread - Smith's other interest: homicide.
"I'm really fascinated with forensic science and murder investigations," she said. "I'm always learning as much as I can. To me, it's fascinating that when you have a crime scene where somebody's been murdered, you can actually solve it off of the body left and all the clues around the body."
The book alludes to the March 2004 quadruple homicide surrounding Cliff's Check Cashing off U.S. Highway 380 in McKinney. It references the Courier-Gazette and other news accounts. "That was the biggest homicide that McKinney had ever seen, and it took them a long time to catch the people responsible, so that kind of stuff is mentioned," Smith said.
The story's voodoo addition stems from Smith's three-year stint in New Orleans. Its title is a Cajun word meaning to put a curse or hex on someone, Smith said.
But the rest is based on her experiences in the area. She's lived in Blue Ridge for 22 years, and was a reporter for the Blue Ridge Tribune for a few years.
"A lot of news had to do with McKinney because it was the biggest, closest city," she said. "I spent a lot of time in McKinney - did my shopping and banking there."
Journalism simply reignited her will to write, she said. Prior to that job, in the 1990s, she began writing "Lady Gabriella" via a Smith Corona typewriter. Months later her manuscript, initially rejected, sat atop her kitchen table alongside the typewriter and a dictionary when her house caught fire. The manuscript survived unscathed, but sat in a closest for 10 years.
"This time there was no stopping me," Smith said. "I dug out that old manuscript and quit my job at the paper to concentrate on whipping it into shape."
Two years later, Smith was drafting "Cunja," now released as her first e-book - a shift from print that's taken some getting used to, she said, as has switching from typewriter to computer.
What should stay the same in future stories, though, are plot and place. Smith said another murder mystery is on her writing cue, as is a McKinney setting.
"I'm satisfied with the feeling I got writing the book - I know a lot about the city - so why not do it again?" she quipped.
For her next novel, Smith says she plans to actually visit the McKinney Police Department to get an inside look at investigations, more than just an enthusiast's view. She'll rely on research and reality.
Books are the vehicles for Smith's fascination, McKinney its destination.
"If I didn't write, I'd want to be on the scene of a homicide. I feel like I'd be really good at solving a murder, and I'd love to do something like that," she said. "But there are just too many good ideas in my head for stories."
For more information or to purchase "Cunja," visit donnettesmith.com.
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