I haven’t done an author interview for some time, but when southern California author Kelley Kaye reached out to me to review her Chalkboard Outline series, and I finished the first one, Death by Diploma (which will be reviewed in tomorrow’s blog), I knew I had to know more about her and share that newfound knowledge with my readers. She 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. Her knowledge, and love, of learning comes through very clearly in her books, but rather than bore you with my nattering, why don’t we let her tell you about herself and her writing.
How long have you been writing?
I have loved writing since birth, practically. But I’ve only been writing to share since my first published short story—a horror story called “Wobegone” published in Crimson magazine in 2000. I’ve only been able to write full time since October of 2013.
When did you realize that you wanted to become 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!
Is being an author all you dreamed of, or did it just happen?
I feel like my life all around just happened, just keeps happening, and YES it is all I ever dreamed of. I work hard to keep it happening, though. I mean, once it starts. If that even makes sense.
What inspired you to become a writer?
People always talk to me like this was some sort of a choice. I’ve always loved stories, have read obsessively since I was three, and because of this there are always stories in my head. The stories have to come out, somehow. It’s crucial to my mental health. So I let the stories out, and then there’s much less likelihood of a meltdown. Meltdowns bad, stories good.
No, seriously, when I read good writing it makes me want to make my own stories better. Other writers inspire me to write.
Who are your influences?
My biggest influence is most definitely my dad. He was this obsessive reader and adventurer who ended up opening the first-ever used bookstore (in the U.S. anyway. I think Europe has always had them). He traveled back and forth to that store—Salt Lake to Grand Junction and back—usually with his knees gripping the steering wheel and a book splayed across it, for years (true story), and he brought us any books we wanted. He also brought books HE liked, and shared those as well. My love for YA started with Madeline L’Engle (our books), and for mysteries started with cozies by Nancy Pickard, Jill Churchill, and Julie Smth (his books) and graduating to more hard-boiled fare by James Lee Burke and Harlan Coben (also his). He died in 2012, and I found out he, himself, had always wanted to write. I was heartbroken to hear of this unrealized dream. I hope I can do justice to those dreams, in memory and in honor of him.
What books have most inspired you, and who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?
To Kill a Mockingbird is a perfect book, in my opinion. But there are so many others—books inspire me because of the way the author turns a phrase, paints a picture or makes me hungry for the next moment. East of Eden. Cat’s Cradle. Something Wicked This Way Comes.
Harlan Coben is the one who inspired me to write a mystery—I wanted to write something where the reader laughed a lot and didn’t know how the book would end. Dean Koontz has always inspired me because I think he’s such a great storyteller. My friend Shawn told me once to read TickTock because the rapport between the two main characters sounded a lot like my voice as a writer. I read the book and was so flattered to have a comparison made like that! Stephen King is, also, in my mind a genius storyteller. 11-22-63 had so many moving parts to it and he made them all come together in this amazing machine. Plus I feel he’s a romantic and a feminist and an optimist—all wrapped up in this word package that can scare the bejesus out of you.
When did you begin writing, and what was the very first thing you ever wrote?
I have always loved writing, the way words can be combined in so many ways to create so many feelings. Stories can go anywhere I want them to go. Unlike life, which is much harder to
control. I’ve always liked messing around with words—stories for my Barbie dolls, captions for my yearbook—but I didn’t really start working on fictional stories and poems until my college creative writing class. I wrote a sci-fi story while listening to “Unforgiven” by Metallica (betcha didn’t know I was a Headbanger from way back), and my professor, Charles Clerc, thought it was good enough to enter it into an L. Ron Hubbard short story contest. I didn’t win, but the process of letting the story in the song inspire me to write a totally unrelated story was intoxicating.
How do you come up with your stories, characters, character names, POV, etc.?
I people-watch and eavesdrop. A lot. In Death by Diploma, Emma was the name of my college roommate and current friend, and Leslie is one of my closest friends and colleagues from Colorado. The other names are just random ones I pulled out of my…hat.
The storylines can come from anywhere, I guess—news, television, myths. I taught high school English and drama for twenty years, including mythology—one of my favorite classes to teach. You can get a lot of ideas from mythologies and fairy tales, plus it’s SO fun to tell those stories in the classroom.
POV is tough to decide. I experiment with it all the time—the Chalkboard Outlines series is third person attached, but the Foundation series (YA Paranormal) alters between first and third person. And the YA standalone Down in the Belly of the Whale is first person, present tense. I’ve never done second person—maybe that’ll be next!
What do you think makes a good story?
Interesting characters with difficult decisions to make. I like it when I’m constantly asking “why did THAT happen?”; “who the heck is THAT?”; “why did that guy choose THAT path?”; etc. The questions are what keep me reading, and the people in the story make me care what’s going to happen as a result of those questions.
What does it take for you to love a character?
I need to believe their actions are true to their belief system and history.
How do you utilize that when creating your characters?
I ask that question of myself whenever the character decides to do something.
What is your writing routine? Are there things you absolutely need to start writing?
I have a small “office”— AKA a chair—in the corner of my bedroom, complete with laptop and picture of my late father, bookseller extraordinaire. There is a schedule taped to the side of my dresser, laying out chunks of time for each writing project and each social media outlet. Seven days a week!
Do you work from an outline?
Ha. I WISH I were organized like that. No, I take whatever my basic story premise is, combine it with whichever characters I pick, and then we’re off to the races. It goes where it wants to. I bought this pretty pink three-ring binder. With pockets. My intention was (is) to have a section and a pocket for each of my characters, with journal entries, magazine pictures, objects, anything that would contribute to my knowledge of the story. Isn’t that a great idea? A mystery writer, Michele Scott, gave me that idea. It’s still sitting on the shelf next to the computer—pretty, pink, and empty. I’m lucky if I can find pockets of time to do both marketing and writing, much less organizing my life that way.
Can you tell us a little about your writing philosophy?
I don’t know that I have a philosophy, per se. I have a compulsion to write stories or observations which expand upon people and situations. I hope to find an audience who likes the stories, but I will continue writing them no matter what, because if I don’t my head will explode.
What is your writing style? Outliner/planner or seat of the 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…
Can you tell us about your editing process?
I don’t edit anything until the entire first draft is finished. Then I give the manuscript to several beta readers, compile all their comments and ideas, and then dive in to the editing.
Do you listen to music as you write?
I have this recording I picked up at a “Write Your Book in a Weekend” conference. It’s sort of a beach-y, meditative type track with music and ocean sounds—also coyotes howling in the background. I know, right? Coyotes? But it puts me in a mind space that helps the words come out, for sure.
What do you find most challenging about the writing process, and how do you deal with it?
I am most challenged by the number of ideas I have in my head and on my plate, and the inability to find enough time to spend on them all. I don’t deal very well with it, I think. I’m trying to just attack one thing at a time, because that’s all anyone can really do, isn’t it? I just wish I did it better.
I feel lucky that dealing with this constant challenge means I don’t really suffer from writer’s block. I have so many projects happening at any given time—right now I’m trying to finish a humorous self-help memoir (you’re right. Not an actual genre. Yet.), I have to change the POV on one YA Paranormal, COMPLETELY overhaul a YA Paranormal that is first in a series, and I need to finish Chalkboard Outlines® Book Three, which I am very excited about even though Book Two—Poison by Punctuation, is brand new and nobody’s really read it yet. So you see? If I get blocked on whatever I’m working on, then BAM, I shift to a different project. It’s nice that I have constant assignments for my magazine job also, because it’s a completely different type of writing, as are my fiction and non-fiction projects. Allows for whatever state my brain is in!
One more challenge—I have MS, have had it since 1994. Two symptoms I have are crushing fatigue, and the pesky problem of my right hand not working so well after a certain amount of activity on the computer or on the paper. Same problem with my left leg (on the street, not on the computer). I deal with those by living my life as a champion napper (I have a scooter, too). At least once a day I have to stop everything and lie down for a while. I did this when I was teaching, too. It’s awesome. I think everyone should do it.
When and where do you do your writing?
This is my office, AKA a chair and a laptop in the corner of my bedroom: