The Writing Life of: Kelley Kaye
This week on ‘The Writing Life of:‘ I am thrilled to be interviewing author Kelley Kaye. Kelley will be sharing with us detail of her writing life, telling us all about her latest book ‘Poison by Punctuation‘, which was released on 24th April 2018, and answering a few fun questions too.
So without further ado I’ll hand you over to Kelley Kaye.
Kelley (writes as Kelley Kaye and Kelley Kay Bowles depending on genre. Also know as Kelley Gusich) taught High School English and Drama for twenty years in Colorado and California, but her love for storytelling dates back to creating captions for her high school yearbook. Maybe back to the tales she created around her Barbie and Ken.
A 1994 MS diagnosis and many years of fertility struggles have (circuitously) brought Kelley, finally, to the life of writer and mother, both of which she adores. Death by Diploma, released by Red Adept Publishing in February 2016 and #1 for cozy mystery on Amazon in August that same year, is her debut cozy mystery, first in the Chalkboard Outlines® series. Book 2, Poison by Punctuation, was released April 24, 2018. Her debut Young Adult Paranormal, Down in the Belly of the Whale, received the 2017 Indie Book of the Year from Aionios Books, who published the book May 5, 2018.
Kelley has two amazing sons and a hunky husband who cooks for her. She lives in Southern California.
1) As a child what did you want to do when you grew up?
I can’t remember. Isn’t that strange? I remember just always wanting to read books—it’s like that was my only vision for the future. When I got to high school my friend Kristy and I wanted to have our own advertising firm in New York or some other big city, because we loved that type of creativity, but in college when I realized it would take math and a cutthroat outlook, I switched to English and got a degree in that and became a teacher—made much more sense: KIDs + BOOKS = fun!!
2) Who were your favourite childhood authors?
Madeleine L’Engle is my most favorite—I reread her every couple of years. The Chronicles of Narnia, Ender’s Game, that type of sci-fi and fantasy. I loved murder mysteries too—Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Encyclopedia Brown and The Great Brain. I also read everything ever written by Lois Duncan and John Bellairs as far as scary stuff—I probably started with Stephen King way too early—I think at about ten! He was and is one of my all time favorites to this day!
3) At what point in your life did you realise you wanted to be a writer?
I am book obsessed—have been since I was three years old. It has always seemed like such a natural progression, from being obsessed with reading stories to wanting to dissect them and wanting to create some of my own. New obsession!
4) How did you go about following that dream?
I have an MFA in creative Writing, but in terms of creating actual books that I could craft and revise and then try to find someone who wants to publish them, that didn’t happen until the late 20th century (haha doesn’t that sound like MUCH further back than just saying 1999 or 2000? I thought so…) I’ve only been able to write intermittently all the years I taught school—some summers and holiday breaks, but I wasn’t able to devote my days (well, my several hours when the children are in school) fully to writing and marketing my writing until 2013. Thank you thank you, ‘O hubby ‘o mine!
5) What is your writing day like? Do you aim for a certain amount of pages or words before you stop for the day?
Gah. I wish! Because I have MS, my hands only work for limited amounts of time before they poop out and I have to rest. I have a schedule on the wall of my office (AKA the side of the dresser in my bedroom, where I have a chair and a laptop) about writing and blogging and articles (I also work for a magazine), and marketing and what days and times of days I’m supposed to devote to each, but half the time I get stuck on one thing or another (like right now I’m trying to do review requests for the new books, a major time suck and not creative at all) and don’t get any pages or words that go into an actual book—just words relating to writing logistics and requirements. Ugh!
6) Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Haha I’m all pseudonyms, all the time, although I didn’t really choose that myself—publisher specifications and certain extenuating circumstances mean I now write various genres under Kelley Kay Bowles, Kelley Kaye, and Kelley Kay Gusich. I’ve decided my brand should be ‘Just Kelley’ even though I don’t have the requisite fame to be known under the singular, like Madonna or Beyonce. Or Eminem. Oh, well. Being a household name only in my own household (and my mom’s) is okay by me.
7) Do you have any strange habits before starting, or whilst in the midst of writing?
I think I am habitually strange, all the time.
No—I listen to meditation music while I’m writing—biurnal beats, brainwaves, etc. I watch an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer during lunch, or sometimes something On Demand with a storyline that interests me. I’m trying to get better at getting up off my butt every 30 minutes or so to do press-ups or something equivalent to help my back.
8) Do you write longhand, typewriter, or on a computer?
No one, including me, would be able to read my manuscripts if I did them by hand, although I know that’s better for the creative process. I use a laptop.
9) How many books have you written? Do you have any unpublished work?
I’ve written a total of five complete novels, three of which have been published by small presses, and one I tried back in 2006 with a sort of vanity press. That one didn’t go so well! I do have all the rights back to that one, and I love the story—hopefully someone will let me rework it and republish it sometime in the future. The fifth is a non-fiction self-help/memoir hybrid I really think I need an agent for, so I’m going to get back on THAT querying saddle as soon as I can manage. I have a skeletal frame of the first in a Young Adult Paranormal series, and I am 16,000ish words in to Book 3 of the murder mystery series.
10) Are you a plotter or a pantser?
My writing style has most definitely been pantser, but I’m in the middle of a book which is neither— instead it’s about tapping in to the brain’s evolutionary REQUIREMENT for story. It’s called Story Genius by Lisa Cron and so far it’s super interesting—I’m excited about implementing elements of this “blueprint” which is neither outlining nor pantsing, and I hope it helps me get better and better, which is always what I’m trying to do…
11) Do you read all the reviews left for your book(s)?
Two words: HELL. NO. haha no I’m just kidding. I read most of them, but some of the negative stuff that’s come with the YA novel has been a little shocking to me—like this or that reviewer thinks I handle certain situations ‘inauthentically’, i.e. a person in the situation my character is in would never do what my character did, and in my head I’m like, isn’t that kind of the point of being human, and our different perceptions about what is going on in the world mean we are ALL going to react differently to different situations? And how can you call that inauthentic? Or then there’re the hardcore hardline social issues reviewers—I’ve been told I’m culturally misappropriating with my gay male character (because I’m not personally a gay male? I’m not sure.)
Anyway, this is how I cope: if I’m hearing something critical from more than one person, I will pay attention to it. If it makes sense to me and what I’m trying to accomplish for my story, I’ll change it in that or future stories. For example: in my first murder mystery, Emma the main character is Southern and I phonetically spelled some of her ‘I’m’s’(like AH’m) to show her accent. Based on feedback I got from reviewers, I don’t do that anymore—instead I try to show it better through her word choice and sentence structure. Live and learn! (Oh, and I also learned exactly when it is appropriate to say ‘y’all’. Sometimes it s ‘all y’all’, sometimes ‘y’all, and sometimes it is just ‘you.’
Concerning your latest book:
Chalkboard Outlines Book Two
Publisher – Createspace
Pages – 272
Release Date – 24th April 2018
ISBN 13 – 978-1717390080
Format – ebook, paperback
High school teacher Emma Lovett is finally recovering from her first year of teaching when she discovers another dead body. As if that wasn’t bad enough, this time, someone has killed a student, Kisten Hollis.
Emma and her best friend, Leslie, are desperate to solve this murder. But suspects abound. The perpetrator could be a teacher, an administrator, a member of Kisten’s zealous church community, or even another student.
Emma must juggle her teaching responsibilities, her new romance with handsome Hunter Wells, and interest from a hunky second suitor, all while searching for evidence to bring a killer to justice before someone else dies.
12) How long did it take you to get from the idea’s stage to your date of publication?
I have two new books.
Poison by Punctuation: The basic idea actually came when I was working on my Creative Writing MFA, which I earned in 2003, but the first draft of the book was started in 2012, manuscript finished and submitted to RAP in October 2016, I was offered a contract in November 2016, and the book—after going through three content edits, two line edits and a proofreader, the book was released omn April 24, 2018
Down in the Belly of the Whale: The idea appeared in my head back in 2004. I was with my husband (tho he wasn’t my husband yet at this point) while he was working at a sports camp in the Berkshire mountains. Every day I’d go running (speed walking? Exercising, anyway) while listening to this retro-80’s mix called ‘Living in Oblivion.’ This was my favorite song in the mix: Belly of the Whale. Even though the story of Jonah is a biblical reference, and this song seems like it’s a love song, basically, it still made me compare the idea with the isolation teenagers feel, and from there Down in the Belly of the Whale was born.
I didn’t write the book then, but drafts of it were marinating and making rounds to my critique groups for the following few years. An early draft, from about 2013, seemed flat to me. It was written from a first person, past tense perspective. When I rewrote it in a first person, PRESENT tense POV, Harper turned much more real and immediate. After I did that and submitted it to Aionios Books (where it won their inaugural Indie Book of the Year award for 2017), it started to form into the story you know today!
13) How did you come up with the names for your characters?
Haha an entire hodgepodge of ways, actually. My mystery main characters are named for my college roommate and one of my English teacher friends. Harper is named for Harper Lee, of course, because To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the greatest novels of all time. Some characters are named for former students—as a matter of fact, some WHOLE NAMES (like Aaron Stites in Poison by Punctuation) is the real name of that former student (he’s like 36 now!) and the scene in the story happened just that way in one of my classes. I asked his permission to do that, of course. I think for future books I’m going to do contests to name characters after readers. I haven’t figured that out yet, but it’ll happen!
14) Can you give us an insight into your main character(s) life?, What makes them tick?
I’m always trying to figure out about perspective: when someone does something I don’t understand, I want to know why they made the choice. Genetics? Family relationships or trauma? Something they saw once on tv or the internet? Figuring that out is what I am constantly doing with my main (and all) of my characters. My main characters (Emma, Harper) tend to react in ways that I might react—I’m kind of a Mary Sue in that way, so often times I am deconstructing my own motivations when those main characters do what they do.
15) Which was your hardest scene to write?
The suspenseful scenes are the hardest for me to write—finding the balance between too much descriptive info and moving the action forward—what’s going to make the reader say Ooh, what’s gonna happen now? Why’d she do that? is really hard. Also, with this non-fiction book I have (for which I’m still trying to find an agent), it’s all about me and some scary stuff that has happened to me. So writing those scenes is hard, because I have to relive how I felt when those events happened, and try to explain them in a way that will make the reader understand and relate to how I felt.
16) How did you come up with the title of your book?
For the mystery novels, my titles originally related to a murder motive (jealousy, ambition) as described by Shakespeare. But I didn’t realize, even though I read cozy mysteries all the time, that there’s a very specific formula to the genre. Cozies are amateur sleuths, right? So it has to relate to the sleuth’s occupation, and also death or murder or some word related to that. Plus I like alliteration. So my sleuths are English Teachers = Death by Diploma and now Poison by Punctuation. All upcoming titles will also follow this formula. As far as Down in the Belly of the Whale, it was inspired by that Burning Sensations song Belly of the Whale and also the biblical story of Jonah in the belly of the whale.
17) Did you get a family member/friend to read your work before sending to the publishers?
I get beta readers—anyone actually NOT a family member or friend to read the work, except I do have a couple of friends who beta read for me—but they are writers too and therefore willing to look at the work through writer’s eyes and not the eyes of people who love me and just want me to feel good.
18) What process did you go through to get your book published?
For all of these books the process has been writing the entire manuscript and then polishing it and sending it in. Except the non-fiction—I’ve written that whole book and a proposal for that book, and still haven’t been able to get someone to represent me and sell it. I will keep trying.
19) What did you do once you had written the final word in your book?
After I finished the first book, I simply burst into tears. Writing a whole book is overwhelming and a big deal! Other books, I do something to celebrate like dinner or a movie.
20) What’s next for you, writing-wise?
Cheerio, on we go! I’m going to keep going with both series’s, and I have that nonfiction one I will keep tweaking and improving and querying until I find the crew who will fall in love with it!
1) What’s your favourite food?
Anything chocolate or of the chocolate family (this includes white chocolate, caramel, etc.)
2) If you had a box of crayons and you could only choose one, which colour would you choose?
I am all about pink. I’d paint my world pink…
3) What movie could you watch over and over again?
There are a few movies I actually DO watch, over and over again when they play them on tv or I’m just in the mood to dig them out: mostly 80’s films—I guess I’m stuck in the high school mindset a lot of the time. The Princess Bride, The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Die Hard, The Shawshank Redemption.
4) What would be the top song on your playlist?
EVERY LITTLE THNG SHE DOES IS MAGIC. The Police. Me on a desert island = my choice for entertainment!
5) If you won millions, what would be your first purchase?
WHEN I win millions, in the Super Lotto Plus (because that’s going to be the one I win, I don’t know why? Or maybe I’ll win the million when I get to play on Wheel of Fortune, again that’s a WHEN, because I am confident in the power of positive thinking… ) I will pay off this condo we live in and get a house with a yard.
6) A talking duck walks into your room wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, whats the first thing he says to you?
‘Turn up the lights—it’s weirdly dark in here.
You can find out more about Kelley Kaye by visiting the website/social media sites below.
I would like to say a big thank you to Kelley Kaye for sharing with us details of her writing life, and for a wonderful interview.