Donna Kelly Writes

Author, Speaker, Theater Critic

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Derry Down: Reverbs from the Past

Like Coda, the young musician in my book-in-progress, I grew up riding my bicycle around the many lakes, orange groves, and side roads in and around Winter Haven, Florida. If I wasn’t finding adventure reading books, I was pursuing it on my trusty 10-speed. Sometimes a spot would call to me – a stand of bamboo trees near Lake Buckeye, the forlorn looking old “haunted house” on Drexel Avenue, mansions on the outskirts of town – and I’d put down my kickstand and stare at the place with a story forming in my head.

We had our legends – from Dick Pope, the founder of Cypress Gardens to citrus magnate John A. Snively to a number of well-known musicians like Jim Stafford, Kent LaVoie aka Lobo, and Snively’s grandson, Gram Parsons, known by many as a key founder of the country rock genre of music. I had lots of fodder for story building. Later, when I grew up and became a newspaper reporter, I would write stories about some of these folks.

As a kid, sometimes I’d cut through downtown on my way to my older sister’s house off of Lake Howard, and I’d never fail to look at a small, nondescript structure perched off a street running along the old railway bed. Various businesses moved in and out of the place as my bicycle was replaced by a car, and my childhood friends gave way to a husband and children, and later still to newspaper colleagues and sources.

But the building remained as the decades passed and I wondered why I still felt drawn to it. A story lived inside that small, crumbling building. I could feel it!

I found out why in spring of 2014 when I was asked to write a magazine article about the renovation of the Derry Down, a listening room opened in 1964 by Bob Parsons so his stepson, Gram, and friends would have a place to perform. I interviewed Anita Strang, the director of Main Street Winter Haven, the organization restoring the landmark, and after our chat we walked two blocks from the coffee shop to the Derry Down – where I discovered, to my delight, the historical landmark was none other than the building that had captivated me for decades!

A month later I stood in front of the old Derry Down, listening to a group of legendary Winter Haven musicians – minus Parsons, who died in 1973, and an absent Lavoie. My eyes drifted around the scene watching several generations enjoying what Parsons had called Cosmic American Music. Old timers bobbed their heads and smiled with memories. Teenagers sporting nose rings and tattoos tapped their toes to songs dating back to the 1960s. Young parents danced with their toddlers and preschoolers. And I proudly stood next to my then 21-year-old son, who’d insisted we move from the grassy park area to space closer to the band.

Standing on the walkway into the Derry Down, my eyes kept roving the scene. I turned in slow motion and looked into the Derry Down. A chill shuddered through me. A spirit lived in that building, the spirit of music uniting different generations to celebrate the hopes and dreams of young musicians who played in the listening room five decades ago.
There was indeed a story in the Derry Down and I knew I had to write it.

Many musical careers were launched in the Derry Down. The Spirit of Music still echoes in the old building.

Many musical careers were launched in the Derry Down. The Spirit of Music still echoes in the old building. Photo by Jodi Foster of Foster’s Photography.


Welcome to my blog, Donna Kelly Writes!


Imagine walking away from your career to embark on the most fascinating, at times frightening, journey toward fulfilling your lifelong dream.

Would you do it – even if it meant discovering reality was not quite what you expected?

I’d do it again faster than you can say, “Go write a book!”

I’m blessed to be living my dream – writing novels, teaching writing classes, public speaking, and reviewing community theater performances.

In 2012, at 52 years old, I leapt from the craziness of a constantly changing newsroom to the equally challenging world of publishing and self-employment.  Scary? You bet!

Rewarding? Oh yeah.

I cut my teeth on cozy mysteries but now I’m delving into the paranormal realm with what I call the “book of my heart.” The Spirit of the Derry Down was inspired by the legend of the late country rock pioneer Gram Parsons and the listening room where he and other musicians honed their talent in the 1960s.

I’ve not penned a bestseller or made national talk shows, but I’m doing what I love, and sharing my passion with others who feel pulled to write, but don’t know how to start. Sharing is the most important word in the last sentence.

Some folks believe being an author is all about words and solitude.

But it’s not.

Writing stories is about people – how they think, what they do, their motivation, places they live and work, their loves, their hates, their world.

It’s about their friends and families, pets, bosses, and co-workers. What are their dreams and schemes? Their job and hobbies? Beliefs and realities? Failures and successes? Fears and tears? The list is endless.

And fascinating.

During my nearly 14 years writing for newspapers, the stories I found most interesting were the quirky tidbits uncovered while interviewing sources for articles assigned to me. Each story taught me something about people and the world. Many ideas for my books were sparked during these interviews.

Books ignite their own sparks. Researching a novel takes me to places I’d not visit otherwise. I meet the most extraordinary people who might never have crossed my path. My world expands with each discovery – music, food, architecture, theories, books, ideas, beliefs, friendships – found solely through talking to people and getting to know them.

Each discovery is like a treasure meant to be enjoyed and shared. This weekly blog is a way for me to pass along the gems I find along my path as an author, explorer, and observer.

You’ll find book reviews, Q&As with emerging musicians, anecdotes and photos from research interviews, answers to reader questions, wisdom gained along the path, and anything else I think will intrigue you!

I look forward to taking this journey with you! If you’d like to receive my blog updates on a regular basis, please subscribe to my blog feed.  You can also stay informed of my public speaking appearances, book progress, and other interesting notations on my Donna Kelly Author page on Facebook and at DKellyWrites on Twitter.

Thanks for visiting! Please come back soon.

DonnaKellyWrites Going “Live” Soon

Watch for my first official blog post on July 27, 2015!

In the meantime, feel free to meander around the site and share comments on any of my pages.

~Donna Kelly

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