Donna Huston Murray accepts NP Lifetime Achievement Honor

TOWAMENCIN – Every year, one lucky North Penn graduate receives the honor of  the Lifetime Achievement Award at the North Penn Alumni Athletic Association Hall of Fame Ceremony.. This year, Donna Huston Murray has received the honor.

Murray is a North Penn graduate who has had major success in her career path. Murray is an author and has written eleven cozy mysteries, four of them being self-published. After graduating from North Penn, Murray wanted to get an education in order to get a well-paying job. It wasn’t always easy for her to follow along with the stereotypes that were present.

“When I was choosing a career, women were invited to be teachers, nurses, or secretaries. I thought I could be a secretary because I knew I needed a job with writing and I type really well. But then I went to college anyhow and one class I took was creative writing,” Murray explained.  

It was not exactly in this creative writing class that Murray’s future path was forged, however. 

The professor talked about the word ‘orange’ in a haiku for an hour and I almost strangled him

— Donna Huston Murray

“The professor talked about the word ‘orange’ in a haiku for an hour and I almost strangled him. That was all of my education in college. I decided college was not the way I was going to learn how to write fiction,” Murray explained. “I then decided to attend conventions with a workshop of women trying to write different things. They honed in on my techniques but mainly editing. They were very supportive when I read them stuff and they gave lots of feedback,” Murray explained.

The feedback that was being given to Murray had to be closely examined. She highlights the idea that while she enjoyed constructive criticism, some of it could have led to her work being wrongly taken or edited. This lead her to eventually start self-editing. 

“When I was in the group, there were different agendas of the people critiquing. Out of four remarks: one might be that the author wants to take over your work and make it theirs, another might be that they are just plain wrong, another might be that they are jealous and want to shoot you down, and then the fourth one might actually be really helpful advice. That is how I learned to self-edit,” Murray explained.

Along with self-editing, Murray has become a self-published author. The event that made Murray go off on her own and leave her agency, St. Martin’s Press, was the need for the publication of a cozy that was very important to her, What Doesn’t Kill You.

“I had a third agent who really didn’t know very much about mysteries,” Murray says in an interview with Joseph Carrabis, “I had this book I had been working on for several years called What Doesn’t Kill You. I just couldn’t give it to him,” Murray added, “I better publish this myself to just get it out there, move on, and see what happens to this book. So I did and I turned out to enjoy it very much. Business has always been my second love. I just find the atmosphere surrounding self-publishing wonderfully encouraging. The people couldn’t be nicer. I just enjoy it,” Murray elaborated 

Business has always been my second love. I just find the atmosphere surrounding self-publishing wonderfully encouraging. The people couldn’t be nicer. I just enjoy it.

— Donna Huston Murray

While discovering her love for publishing her own books, she also sought advice and inspiration from others. Some, in particular, are her family and even Gregory McDonald. 

“There was an author that influenced me: Gregory McDonald with his fletch books,” Murray said. “What he did that I admired was he could make you laugh on page one and cry on page twenty or vice versa. I actually got to ask Gregory McDonald about that. I was at a convention and we were sailing around Manhattan at twilight. There was the Statue of Liberty up there and then there was Gregory McDonald on the rail by himself. I go up and I ask him how he does this thing, get you laughing on one page then crying on the next, and he looked off into the distance and he said ‘Character.’ That taught me so much because you need to make your characters have great range and that was a big lesson for me,” Murray stated.

While McDonald writes a mix of mystery and comedy, Murray only writes cozies. She explains that fitting into one genre makes her feel more connected to her audience and have a less superficial, commercial presence.

“I did try romance stories once because I was studying with someone who did it and it seemed like fun but you really need to specialize because readers know the difference. If you don’t totally respect the field you’re in, they pick it up immediately. And then they just know you’re trying to be commercial. I would say write what you need and what you love,” Murray said.

Writing to please yourself is one of Murray’s main mottos. She does it every time a new book is in the works. Speaking of new books, Murray’s first draft of her new book, Stranger Danger, is in the editing process and it will be released within months. Check out her website for more information.