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Kelley on BookBub: Death by Diploma on BookBub
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 want to dissect them and want 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 was the very first thing you ever wrote?
I used to be really into writing the captions for my high school yearbook, but I didn’t get really into fiction writing until I had a Creative Writing class in college. The professor, Charles Clerc, liked this SciFi story I wrote and even wanted me to enter it in an L. Ron Hubbard Science Fiction short story contest! I didn’t win the contest, but by then it was too late—I’d caught the bug!
What was the inspiration for your book?
My father was a voracious reader and a lifetime learner, who by the age of 32 hadn’t figured out what to do with his hundreds of college credits that had never turned into any kind of degree. He asked my mother, who was his girlfriend at the time, what he oughta do with his life. She said, ‘Well, how many books do you have?’ He said, ‘I dunno…five thousand?’ ‘Why don’t you open a store?’ was her response.
So he did—in 1966 he opened one of the first used bookstores (I call him the ‘inventor’ of the used bookstore.) He ran the bookstore for 40 years and always forwent some of his sales to bring his favorite books home to my mother, my sister and me. No question about it, the mysteries, thrillers and spy games were his favorites, and consequently became mine.
One time he brought me a book from his new favorite series—Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar books. I think it was Drop Shot. I resisted this series for a while because Myron is a failed professional basketball player and sports agent, and I don’t like sports and considered myself too artsy to care. I’m now married to a baseball coach and have two sports-obsessed sons, so you can take that irony all the way to the corner of your office and have a big laugh over it. I certainly did.
Anyway, I finally read the book, and I was hooked. I couldn’t figure out the ending right away, I loved Myron and Win, it was suspenseful and fun and I laughed all the way through it. I loved it! And I wanted to do it! I immediately wanted to tell a story that did all those things. So I emailed Harlan. I emailed Harlan, told him how much I loved his book and how much I wanted to write one. Believe it or not, he wrote me right back! His advice was to “just do it” and he gave me the title of Anne Lamott’s fantastic book on writing Bird by Bird.
So I did. I mean, it’s not like I sat down the next day and then three months later I had a book, but I didn’t have an outline or a story board, or anything like that. I had the main characters vis-à-vis my life and the failed screenplay, and I knew who got killed and basically why he was killed and who killed him, but the rest happened in the story as it appeared.
I’ve heard this makes me a ‘Pantser.’ Pantzer? Someone who writes stories in a basically disorganized way but eventually a story comes out. The other type of writer is called a ‘Plotter’, and in a lot of ways I’m jealous of this type of writer, in the same way I’m jealous of all the Supermoms at my sons’ elementary school—the ones who are the room moms for each of their always-three-or-more-children and who make sure the house is clean before the maid arrives. I’m envious of that level of organization: I bought a beautiful pink three-ring binder, complete with pockets for each of my characters, with the intention of filling the pages with information on each character, journals from each POV, and the pockets with pictures from magazines representing setting, characters or story ideas. The binder is still sitting, empty and pristine, next to my printer. So there you go.
I guess to put it all together, I got the idea for Death by Diploma from my job, a failed screenplay, Myron Bolitar, and my dad. Whew. Maybe I should take Stephen King’s standard answer, and just say, “I bought it at a little idea shop in Utica.”
Who is your literary hero?
Can I just make a list? J William Shakespeare, John Steinbeck. Harper Lee, Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, Madeline L’Engle, Beverly Cleary. Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Harlan Coben, Lee Child, Lois Duncan, Jonathan Kellerman, Peter Heller, e.e. cummings, A.A. Milne. C.S. Lewis. Stephen Tyler, Steve Perry, Chris Stapleton, Steve Martin, Louis C.K., yes and I know some of those are songwriters and some are comedians, but they’re all writers and great ones in my opinion. I guess anyone who will put themselves out there, make themselves vulnerable to the masses and always be wanting to learn and improve, those are all my heroes.
How much of your characters are based on your traits or someone you know personally?
All my characters, even the evil ones, have components of me and everyone I’ve ever come into contact with. No one is safe—I’m just sayin’.
Describe your main character in six words.
Soft-hearted. Gentle. Unsure. Delicate. Yearning. Surprising.
Describe the world you’ve created in six words
Mountainous. Foresty. Granola. Small-town. Beautiful. Cheerful.
What scene was your favorite to write?
Anything where Emma and Leslie are verbally sparring or joking with each other. The scene in the basement when they are listing adjectives to describe Edward Dixon is one of my favorites.
What scene was the hardest for you to write?
Any scene where a dead body is discovered is hard for me, because I’ve never actually seen a murder victim, and I want to get it right, while still keeping it true to the ‘cozy’ genre.
What are you working on now?
I am working on Book #2 of The Chalkboard Outlines® cozy series. I also have a narrative nonfiction book I’m working on called The A or B Principle—it’s this weird hybrid genre of medical memoir, humor and life improvement.
Goals? Accomplishments? Improvements?
I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1994, just halfway through my second year of teaching. I’ve now been dealing with that disease almost half my life, and it has both challenged and uplifted me, as chronic illness often does. My first doors to publication were opened due to the disease, when I was a local speaker at an MS Luncheon which was keynoted by Jackie Waldman. She wrote an inspirational series called The Courage to Give, so she asked me to write a story then featured in Teachers With the Courage to Give.
This publication led me to be featured in three other non-fiction pieces, including a Simon and Schuster series by Kay Allenbaugh called Chocolate for a Woman’s Soul. I feel dealing with this illness has made me a better person and consequently a better writer. I was raised in a seriously functional family, with parents who had emotionally (if not financially) spoiled daughters, AKA me. We didn’t lose family members, no one had a drug problem, people said ‘I love you’.
I don’t know if I had much compassion or empathy, though, with all this hunkydoriness. All the aforementioned reading also sparked my imagination plus a genetic tendency toward being a worrywart, and I felt all the good fortune couldn’t last. I wasted a lot of time waiting for the other shoe to drop, and when it did, in the form of a terrifying and unpredictable disease which didn’t kill me, and yes I’m going there—made me stronger, some of those missing ingredients fell into place. I think I am much more dialed in to this world than I was before I was diagnosed, and the increased information and perspective has made me (is making me) a better writer and human. Most of the time. I’m always workin’ on it, anyway.
Are there any authors or books you recommend?
I just finished three really good book club books, all totally different and I absolutely recommend them all: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, and The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
What's your favorite thing to do when you're not writing?
Reading, of course. J I love hanging out with my two little boys and my husband and I love concerts and plays and musicals and ballroom dancing. Oh, and he loves baseball games, but he mostly does those with my sons.