Cozy mystery and romance author Kelle Z. Riley is also a global traveler, Ph.D. chemist and safety/martial arts expert. Today she sits down with us for an interview. Learn more about Kelle and her books at her website.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels?
I’ve always loved stories because they can take you to magical places. Also, I’ve always loved the way words sound when formed into just the right sentence. They can invoke powerful images and even more powerful emotions.
Somewhere during a lifetime of reading, I discovered I was also telling myself stories. That’s when I started being a writer. I just didn’t realize it was what I wanted to do until after I’d completed graduate school and started work as a chemist.
For some, like me, it can take a long time to find you passion.
How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication?
I began writing for publication in about 1999. One of the first things I did was to write a fan letter to Susan Elizabeth Phillips, asking for advice. She pointed me to the Romance Writers’ of America organization and a local chapter. Once I started meeting regularly with other writers, my productivity soared and my craft improved.
In 2005 three wonderful things happened: First, I was nominated for the Golden Heart award for unpublished writers. (I was one of the top finalists out of over twelve hundred entries—proving that my mother wasn’t the only one who thought I was a good writer.) Second, I sold my romantic suspense manuscript—Dangerous Affairs—to a boutique publisher. And third, I signed with the agency of my dreams.
Like all stories, there were obstacles between me and my dream. While I received compliments on my work, none of the compliments turned into a contract. So much of the business involves being in the right place, at the right time, with the right manuscript. Because my work often straddled the lines between subgenres, it was ultimately difficult for the publishers to find the right slot for it.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author?
At present, I’m a hybrid author. My first book was published by a traditional—albeit small—publishing house. While I still dream of being offered an amazing contract by a big publisher, my agent and I have decided that, for now, my work has its best chance for visibility as an indie author.
One of my favorite comments came from a traditional publisher who loved the work, but was concerned that readers would be turned off because the main character was a scientist. I have to wonder—given the popularity of the CSI franchise, Bones and The Big Bang Theory—if the publisher wasn’t underestimating the intelligence of mystery readers everywhere. But only time will tell.
Where do you write?
I have a home office where I do most of my writing. I’ve been using the same closet-sized computer armoire since I first started writing. These days, it sits in a large office across from the desk where I do my “day job” as a Product Manager for a chemical company specializing in industrial water treatment.
It can be hard to go back into the office after 8 hours on the day job. Switching from the chemist career to the writer career takes discipline and dedication. In the end, my love for writing (usually) outweighs my desire to watch TV or engage in other distractions.
Is silence golden, or do you need music to write by? What kind?
When I’m writing, I have to fully immerse myself in the world of my characters. Insofar as possible, I try to step into their skin and see the world from their eyes. It takes a tremendous amount of concentration.
Because of my process, I oscillate between needing silence and using music to block out the sounds around me. When I do reach for music, I have a specific soundtrack of “new age” and instrumental music to write by. I can’t listen to music with words, or I’ll be tempted to sing along.
I often say I can only live in one fictional world at a time. So when I write the first drafts, I usually don’t read anyone else’s work. For that matter I also try to avoid TV or movies that would drag me into a fictional world of someone else’s creation. Once the draft is finished I binge read and catch up on my recorded TV shows to refill my writing well.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? From your life in particular?
What a great question. The emotions of my characters are always drawn from real life. The big issues—facing your fears, falling in love, losing a family member, starting a career, searching for meaning and connecting with others are things everyone struggles with. That’s why books and stories that focus on these emotions resonate with readers.
But as for specifics, in The Cupcake Caper I was able to draw heavily from real life. My character—like me—has a Ph.D. in chemistry and works for a company focusing in water treatment. Because of this, I wanted to be especially careful to make sure that the science in the book was solid. Granted, I took a few liberties (I didn’t actually poison anyone during the course of my research). My goal with the plot of the story was twofold: (1) I wanted to create an entertaining story that anyone could read and enjoy. (2) I wanted my science friends to be able to “suspend disbelief.” In other words, I didn’t want an error in plotting to pull them out of the story.
One thing I really enjoyed in creating the book was being able to take bits and pieces from professional colleagues over the years and weave them into the characters that populate The Cupcake Caper. I hope my colleagues will take that as the compliment it is intended to be.
Describe your process for naming your character?
I don’t have a process for naming the characters. Usually names just come to me out of the blue—often with a rudimentary plot attached.
In one case, however, I solicited help from my Facebook friends. I offered to name a character after the person who suggested the best name for the dog in the series. I receives so many good suggestions that I had to write in a litter of puppies!
And that is how one of my favorite characters—Norah Kingston—got her name.
Real settings or fictional towns?
Fictional! I like being able to control the businesses in a town. Most of my fictional towns are amalgamations of real places where I’ve lived and often, the “real” town is nearby the fictional one.
What’s the quirkiest quirk one of your characters has?
Ah, that takes me back to the character of Norah Kingston. She’s fond of piercings and goth style clothing. Not that that’s particularly quirky in and of itself, but coupled with her attitude—part shy-sweet-girl, part take-no-prisoners rebel—it sets her apart from everyone else in the conservative environment where she works. Keep an eye on her—she’s always stirring up some new mischief for my heroine Bree to deal with.
What’s your quirkiest quirk?
If only I had a quirky side. . . . I suppose it is my habit of turning everything into a song. I swear, if I could rewrite my life as a musical, I’d do it.
If you could have written any book (one that someone else has already written,) which one would it be? Why?
I think I would like to have written Strong Poison and its sequels (originally by Dorothy Sayers). I always liked the series because it wove mystery with romance (and a bit of royalty thrown in). Also, her protagonist loved using the scientific method to solve crimes! (Of course, I would imagine re-writing it to adjust the pacing for modern readers.)
Given that, I suppose it isn’t surprising to see I have a sleuth who uses the scientific method and a romance thread running through my series as well. Maybe I’m not as unique as I thought!
Everyone at some point wishes for a do-over. What’s yours?
I wish I’d stared on my creative path sooner. I’ve always been goal oriented and driven, and there are times when that equates to being way too hard on myself. I often catch myself putting off joy and fun today in order to attain some goal tomorrow. Writing is wonderful because it allows me to set goals that are in tune with my creative self, which helps me enjoy the moment.
For too many years, I tried to fit myself into a series of corporate goals that didn’t resonate with me. Now I’m at a wonderful place in life. My writing career is taking off and my science career has morphed into a wonderful blend of logical and creative tasks. The two fit together like pieces of a puzzle. Or clues in an intricate plot. I just wish I’d gotten to this place sooner.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
Excuses. I hate hearing anyone (especially me) make excuses for not doing their best. At events, I meet a lot of people who say they’d like to write a book. . . but. . . the excuses begin. We all find time to do the things that matter to us. I can respect someone who takes baby steps toward their dreams. It may take years to write the book, learn to sing, find time for the cooking class. . .but as long as you’re taking steps to get there, rather than thinking of reasons why you can’t do it, I can respect that.
Oh, and I really hate the high-pitched whine of fluorescent lighting. What do you mean you can’t hear it? It’s driving me crazy. . .
You’re stranded on a deserted island. What are your three must-haves?
Food, water and shelter. (If you’re stranded, it’s time to get practical.)
What was the worst job you’ve ever held?
I had a couple of summer jobs working in a plant that produced fiberglass insulation. The people I worked with were wonderful and the jobs paid well. But they were physically demanding and exhausting. Worst of all, I was constantly around the spun glass fibers (without the pink glue that holds them together). I have classic Celtic coloring and skin—pale, sensitive and with freckles. Working around the fiberglass was torture. I itched from morning till night. Years later, I discovered the experience sensitized me to the fiberglass. Now when I’m exposed, I break out in a rash.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
Sorry, there is no way I can pick only one. I do have a list of books that are my literary equivalent of “comfort food” but even that list is too long to share here.
Ocean or mountains?
Hmm. I’ve been asked this before, and honestly, my answer changes depending on my mood. For today, let’s say. . . I live in the mountains but I love to vacation at the ocean. Given my fair skin and tendency to sunburn, I’m better off under the shade in the mountains that baking at the beach.
City girl/guy or country girl/guy?
City. Definitely. I used to enjoy camping and “getting away from it all” but I wouldn’t want to live in an isolated area or far from friends. I guess that means my profile on “FarmersOnlyDotCom” probably wouldn’t generate much interest.
What’s on the horizon for you?
For the next few weeks, I’ll be busy launching The Cupcake Caper. After that, it will be time to get book two of the series (still untitled) ready for release. I’m working my way through the first draft of book three of the series (also untitled). I don’t yet have a plot for book four, but during a recent business trip a couple of people made it onto my naughty list, and I’m slotting them in for victims and killers in upcoming books.
In addition to the Undercover Cat series, I have a second—more traditional—mystery series in the works. So there’s no shortage of work for me.
I invite you to join my mailing list and follow me on Facebook (find links at Kelle’s website), where I make announcements about new releases, upcoming projects, contests and more.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books?
First, I have free samples for everyone reading this blog! Click here for your free excerpt of The Cupcake Caper: Cupcake Sample
Second: my husband “Baker” Tom and I will be producing a video series in which he bakes the recipes in my books and gives you some secrets to baking the perfect treats. (His family owned the bakery in my hometown—so he knows what he’s doing!) Keep an eye out for them—or join my newsletter and Facebook page to be the first to know..
Now, I have a confession to make. My biggest fears are:
1. Disappointing my readers.
2. Not finding my readers in the first place.
Part of the joy of storytelling is having someone to tell the story to. That’s why I LOVE hearing from readers. If you like my free sample, I hope you’ll want to read the rest of the story. And I hope you’ll share it with family and friends.
The Cupcake Caper
Book One in the Undercover Cat series
Science is about solving puzzles. Why should solving a murder be any different?
Dr. Bree Watson (aka Gabriella Catherine Mayfield-Watson) is comfortable solving chemistry problems. She isn’t comfortable finding her boss dead and being a suspect in his poisoning. Now she’s juggling:
~ A sexy marketing manager—who may, or may not—be a contract killer.
~ A handsome lead detective whose interest goes beyond the case.
~ The dead man’s cranky cat.
~ A goose-chasing dog in hot water with an animal rights group.
~ The search for the perfect cupcake recipe.
~ And, of course, someone who wants her out of the picture.
And she thought getting a Ph.D. was hard.