DOW - As Donna Kennedy prepares to release her fourth book, “The Last Time I Saw Her,” she has some advice for new writers.

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“Constructive criticism is a big thing, but don’t ever be told ‘no,’” Kennedy said. “There’s no ‘no.’ You just do it. And if it’s your story, there’s somebody who wants to hear it.”

Kennedy, author of the popular “So Help Me God” series, speaks from experience. The author will celebrate “The Last Time I Saw Her” at a book launch on May 16, 2024, at the Do Drop Inn in Dow. People can purchase the book, enjoy a Q&A with Kennedy and find out once and for all what’s based in reality and what’s pure fiction in her books.

That line sometimes blurs even for Kennedy herself. She shared that she began writing a few years ago when she decided she wanted to write a memoir based on her mother’s life. But as she went, the story took on a more fictional, mysterious bend.

“I don’t know where it came from, but I started this mystery and it was fun,” Kennedy explained. “It’s based on my mom’s life and I just exaggerated it. [The main character is] a young author and she gets reunited with an ex and then she becomes this bestselling author and she starts getting stalked. She was in the military, which I was, and she kind of knew something was going on because she’s hypnotized in the military, which is true, and she finds out she has repressed memories. So it goes from there and it builds in each book.”

The “So Help Me God” series has won several awards over the past few years. But “The Last Time I Saw Her” is a standalone thriller work about a deep, twisted friendship, and Kennedy is excited to share it with her readers.

The book also represents a new chapter for the author. As her mother’s health declined, Kennedy read her all of the books in the “So Help Me God” series. On the day her mother died last December, Kennedy’s books were in the top two, three and four spots on the Amazon bestseller list.

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Starting in January, Kennedy wrote “The Last Time I Saw Her” in three months, completely reworking her draft after her mother’s passing. The book launch in Dow is on May 16, her mother’s birthday.

It’s a full-circle moment for the writer, whose road to authorship has been long. But this path feels right to Kennedy. After her military career, she spent four years doing nothing but writing. As she nears her 60th birthday, she is proud of her books and prouder still of the time she spent working on herself so she could produce these books.

“I just had to deal with me. I had to learn to like me and become this person. And it’s wonderful, and I got to get her out there,” Kennedy remembered. “I was telling my daughter and she said, ‘Mom, you cried writing those books.’ And I was like, ‘I did, and it was amazing how much I got out that I didn’t even know was still there.’”

Kennedy is open about the growing pains she endured as she entered the publishing world, including taking out a second mortgage on her home in order to fund the publication of her first book. While she is proud to share that all of the “So Help Me God” book covers are illustrated by Murphy Rae, sister to the bestselling author Colleen Hoover, Kennedy is especially pleased that she designed the cover for “The Last Time I Saw Her” by herself.

“Now I know what to tell you not to do,” Kennedy said. “I blew a lot of money that I didn’t know I didn’t need to blow. But I was learning and nobody was there to help me.”

As she celebrates the release of her fourth book, Kennedy hopes to be that person for other new writers. She encourages writers to “just sit down and write.” Kennedy herself has five books in the works right now, and she can’t wait to see what comes next. So far, the experience has been “an amazing process.”

“Do it now,” Kennedy added. “I said it from the time I was probably 25 — ‘I’m going to write a book, I’m going to write a book, I’m going to write a book.’ And I had kids, I had a life, I had all these things and I didn’t do it. I’ll be 60, and I’m finally doing it, and I wish I had done it all those years ago because it’s so cathartic. And the stories that you can tell to help other people is amazing.”

For more information about Kennedy and her May 16th launch party at the Do Drop Inn, visit her official website at DFKennedy.com.

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