Kelly Irvin writes “Over the Edge Suspense.” Her debut novel, A Deadly Wilderness, is scheduled for January 2010 release from Five Star/Gale Publishing.
A public relations professional by day, Kelly spins stories of suspense by night. She’s no stranger to writing, having begun her writing career 25 years ago as an award-winning journalist with hundreds of articles bearing her byline. The call to write fiction came five years ago.
Originally from Kansas, Kelly is a Texas transplant that took—in a big way. She thrives on the multicultural community of San Antonio and uses it as the setting for her action-packed adventures. She spent three semesters studying in Costa Rica and speaks Spanish.
Join me as we learn more about Kelly and her writing.
•You have an amazing background, Kelly, having spent years pouring words onto paper as a journalist and in your current position, where you produce an employee newsletter and annual activity guide as well as news releases. What led you to shift your focus from non-fiction to fiction? What changes have you had to make as you learn to traverse the new terrain?
As a child, I always wanted to be a fiction writer, but growing up in a blue collar, working class family, I was also pretty pragmatic for a kid. I wanted to make sure I could earn a living, so I picked a profession where I could write and still support myself. I wrote short stories and poetry over the years, but could never carve out the time to write a novel. Finally, when I hit forty-five, I realized time was running out on my dream. It was now or never.
I admit I thought being a journalist would make writing fiction easier. I’m used to writing on deadline. That is good and bad. I’ve found I do a lot of re-writing and editing because I don’t pre-plan. I’m seat of the pants all the way. I had to learn plotting and narrative. Rather arrogantly, I guess, I thought I would be better at it than I was.
Fiction and nonfiction are two different animals. I can do an interview and whip out a story in fifteen minutes or less. I write speaking remarks and press releases all the time. It’s second nature. Creating something out of nothing is different. The stories are in my head and the characters are living and breathing in my brain, but the mechanics, the craft, needs a lot of work. Some days I can’t write fast enough to get it all down. Then I have to spend an enormous amount of time polishing. I’ve tried outlining, but it just doesn’t work for me.
•Why did you choose the category of romantic suspense?
I read almost exclusively mystery and suspense. My favorites have strong characters involved in relationships. So, that’s what I want to write. I have to care about the characters in order to be interested in what happens to them. The mystery/crime solving alone isn’t enough for me. Romantic suspense allows me to have both.
For me, getting published by Five Star is like having everything in my life come full circle. As a kid, I lived at the public library. I couldn’t afford to buy books, so without a public library I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to read so widely and voraciously. It’s wonderful to think of having a book in the library for others to read.
My impetus for writing inspirational fiction came after I “accidently” picked up one of Dee Henderson’s romantic suspense novels at a public library. I read it and thought (so naïve), “I can do this. This is what I want to write.” And so, I blithely set out to write a romantic suspense novel with inspirational underpinnings, having no idea how hard that really is to do well. Five years later . . . Five Star Gale buys my book to sell to libraries across the country. It just fits.
•How do you come up with your clever tag lines?
I’m in public relations and branding is an important aspect of what we do for the programs and products we promote. Salsa Suspense, which I used until recently, reflects the multi-cultural setting and characters of my San Antonio-based series. I have some unpublished (so far) novels that fall under that umbrella.
Since I also have a completed manuscript set in Kansas, The Dead Parent Society, which placed second in the Molly Contest, I have broadened my position line on my new Web site, launched this week. Over the Edge Suspense is a play on the action in A Deadly Wilderness, in which the protagonist falls off a cliff and lands near a murder victim’s body in the first chapter.
•Research is important for suspense authors. I understand you have an unusual way to go about performing some of yours. Would you share with us how you get the low down on the latest in law enforcement activities?
I’ve been proofreading trial transcripts for two court reporters for about three years. I’ve read three capital murder trials and numerous murder trials, and, unfortunately, some trials in which children have been the victims. It can be very difficult, but it has served the purpose of educating me on numerous aspects of law enforcement.
I’ve caught a number of errors in my manuscripts because of assumptions I’ve made about things—like sketch artists. It turns out the police department here contracts with sketch artists. They’re not on staff. I had the detective take the elevator to the CID—turns out CID’s on the first floor at the police station. You also pick up a lot of their jargon, which adds to that authenticity.
•You received confirmation that you’re work has merit in the form of contest placements, both in the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis contest and the Molly, sponsored by the Heart of Denver Romance Writers. How did you react to the news that you were a finalist in each of the contests?
Relieved that someone liked what I’d written. Hopeful and encouraged. When my first manuscript placed in the Genesis contest, I was about to give up. The contest gave me the boost I needed to keep going. It seems all along the way, something has happened just when I couldn’t go on anymore.
I work full-time in a very time-consuming, often high-stress job. I write early in the morning, in the evenings, and on weekends. That’s time away from my family, so I quite frequently contemplated if it was worth it. The contests helped me see that I was on the right track. And even if I didn’t place, the feedback helped me to improve my work—as hard as the criticism could be to swallow.
On the flip side, I’ve learned to take judges’ comments with a grain of salt, too. They can be very subjective. The Genesis judges were pretty critical of certain aspects of A Deadly Wilderness, and yet it will be published without the changes they suggested.
•Two of your stories finaled. Have you completed others? Were you surprised A Deadly Wilderness, which is listed as book two in your Shelter series, was the first to sell? What are you working on now?
I was thrilled to sell A Deadly Wilderness but a little sad that Mine to Avenge, which begins Ray and Susana’s story, will not have a home now. It’s still close to my heart. It finaled in the Genesis, and Tyndale had it under consideration for an entire year before turning it down with a very positive rejection letter, so it was tough to let it go. I still secretly hope that it will someday be published as prequel so readers can learn how Ray and Susana first met. It’s murder.
•What are you working on now?
I have the third installment in the series, No Child of Mine, ready to submit to Five Star Gale. However, they won’t consider it until they see how the sales are for the first book (no pressure), so there’s a quite a time lag.
In the meantime, I’ve started a new manuscript in a new series, set in San Antonio and Laredo. It centers around the illegal gun trade that allows the cartels to smuggle guns into Mexico that are then used in the drug trade that sends drugs into the U.S. It’s a very big issue on the border right now.
•August 2008 was a special month for you. You received a call that changed your life. Not just any call. The Call. You sold your first novel. Since you’re a journalist, please give us the who, what, when, where and how. Who called? What ran through your mind? When did the call come? Where were you? How did you react?
I was in my office in the San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department when my cell phone rang. I picked up, and my agent, Mary Sue Seymour, asked me how the weather was in Texas. I was so surprised to hear from her via telephone. We always communicate by email. Then she proceeded to tell me that Five Star wanted my manuscript.
I really must’ve been in shock because I thanked her and told her I’d look for the contract in my inbox when I arrived at home later in the day. I really had to sit there and think about it for a while. After five years of pitching at conferences, sending proposals, and waiting, only to receive the “thanks-but-no-thanks” letters, I found it hard to grasp that the answer this time was yes.
I called my husband first. He’s been my greatest supporter and so understanding about the time involved, the trips away from home and especially the tears after those early rejections. I didn’t tell anyone else until I could print out the contract and hold it in my hands. Then it was real. I emailed my critique partners and my local writing group buddies. Major snoopy dances ensued. Finally, I called my mother.
•Please tell us a little about your debut novel, A Deadly Wilderness, and how you, a public relations pro, plan to promote it? Also, for those like me who aren’t familiar with your publisher, would you please tell us about Five Star?
Here’s a snippet of the book flap copy: “An idyllic wilderness hike turns deadly when Detective Ray Johnson tumbles into a ravine and lands on a corpse that belongs to the son of a prominent citizen. Ray teams up with his troubled partner and their boss to solve the murder before city leaders bump them from the political hot potato case . . . Their determination to find a killer leads them into San Antonio’s dark underbelly inhabited by drug dealers and paid assassins.”
As far as marketing, I’ve written a detailed marketing plan. As you mentioned, my publisher is Five Star Gale, a subsidiary of Cengage, which specializes in educational curriculum. They publish 150 fiction titles a year, including a mystery line, a science fiction line, and a line called Expressions, which is a mixture. That is where Wilderness is located. Five Star publishes library-quality hardbacks. Its core market is libraries. Five Star books are available on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com, but not in bookstores. So, that makes marketing an interesting proposition.
I launched a new Web site this week. My husband (who is my tech support extraordinaire, photographer, and designer) and I are working on a trailer that will be on the Web site, YouTube and other venues. I’ve made contact with the public relations manager for the local public libraries and plan to do some talks at the branch libraries. I plan to do post cards to mail to librarians at the 23 branch libraries here in San Antonio, as well as regionally. Five Star sends review copies to Publishers Weekly and some of the other big review publications seen by librarians who do the acquisitions. If I can swing it, I’ll do at least one paid ad. And I’ll pitch local radio and TV shows. This is my first go-round, so I have a lot to learn!
•Kelly, here’s a fun question for you. As a journalism graduate with years of experience, suppose one of the major networks heard you’re now writing romantic suspense and wanted to give you a hands-on experience. They’re footing the bill for you and your TV news photographer hubby to cover a story of your choosing anywhere in the world, with the goal of exposing a notorious crime ring. Further, let’s assume this is an all-expenses-paid trip with plenty of bodyguards and a substantial hazardous duty bonus thrown in to sweeten the deal. What story would you cover, and why?
My husband would love that. He always wanted to shoot for “America’s Most Wanted.” He’s shot quite a bit of crime over the years, including a sniper attack in El Paso.
I’m really torn. I’d like to do a story on the bodies of the women they keep finding buried in the desert outside Ciudad Juarez. I’d like to travel up and down the border covering the cartel wars. I’d love to go to Colombia and write about drug trafficking at the source. Maybe it could be a series of stories on how crime knows no boundaries. Mexico and the United States are inextricably linked by proximity and families that straddle the border. Guns and drugs are unfortunate by-products of those ties. We could do a lot with that scenario.
I’ve enjoyed having you as my guest, Kelly. And now, in closing, is there a final comment you’d like to make or a question you’d like to ask?
Here’s what I’d like to know. I’m trying to figure out how to draw memorable characters that readers can’t forget even after they finish the book and lay it aside. The kind of character that makes them long for the day when the next book in the series hits the bookstores and they have to run to the store (or to their laptop) and buy it. Who is your favorite fictional character from a novel and why? What is it that makes that character so near and dear to you?
Learn About Kelly
Visit her Web site: www.kellyirvin.com
Friend her on Facebook: Kelly Irvin
Leave a Comment for Your Chance to Win!
I’ll choose a winner from those who leave a comment for Kelly before noon on 3/18 (and include an email address when prompted, which I don’t share), and will post the winner’s name the afternoon of 3/18.
Congratulations to Eileen, winner of the drawing!
She has her choice of one of these elegant pocket note pads from Punch Studio. Each matchbook-style pad with magnetic closure is 3 x 4 inches.
You could also win a First Sale Scrapbook!
If you’d like to have a chance at winning a First Sale Scrapbook created by your blog hostess, Keli Gwyn, leave a comment on any post between now and March 31. Make sure to include your name and email address when prompted if you want to be entered in the drawing. (Your information will not be shared.) Click red link above to see samples of covers and pages.
On April 1, Keli will choose one person who will have her choice of five covers on an 8×8 inch, twenty-page scrapbook in which s/he can document that long-awaited first sale. The pages will cover various milestones including The Call, signing the contract, receiving the first advance payment and holding your “firstborn” in your hands.
(No scrapbooking skills required. You just add your photos and journaling.)