From Rocking to Writing

Rock & Roll Rip-Off, the second novel in a San Diego–based rock ’n’ roll mystery trilogy, was released last week. “The first book, Rock & Roll Homicide, introduced Little Italy musician-turned-detective Jason Duffy, investigating the death of a rising rock star,” says author R.J. McDonnell. “The main plot of the new book involves a [fictional] North County emo band called the Tactile Tattoo, looking for a shortcut to a second chance, after their first CD bombed.”

Second chances have been a recurring theme for the guitar-playing author. “I moved to San Diego in 1980,” he says, “with the intent of expanding my weekend club gigs into a full-time job. However, I shattered my left wrist in an accident.… I couldn’t grip the neck of the guitar for more than 15 minutes without severe pain. So, I turned to my other passion, writing.”

McDonnell put down the guitar until around 2006, when he discovered a particularly easy-to-fret Fender. “I found that I could play it for over an hour without pain or cramps, and the 25-year rest seemed to have worked wonders.”

As a result, his current book tour promoting Rock & Roll Rip-Off doubles as a concert tour. “I’m doing bookstores and libraries, where I talk to the parents of 18- to 30-year-olds who rarely read about how to generate interest in books. I perform classic-rock songs to emphasize my points.”

“I decided to incorporate my bachelor’s in psychology and master of social work degree by pulling together a presentation with a dozen songs, which I perform solo in an unplugged format, a must for library venues. For example, I play John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’ after talking about entitlement issues, ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’ [by Harry Chapin] after absentee parenting, and Neil Young’s ‘The Needle and the Damage Done’ after briefly discussing drugs.”

The third rock ’n’ roll mystery novel is slated for 2011.

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