Meet Writer Kelly Ann Riley

Three-time Golden Heart® finalist Kelly Ann Riley writes contemporary and historical romantic suspense and mystery. Tread Softly: A Want Ad Murder was a 2007 Golden Heart finalist in the Romantic Suspense Category. Her entry, Kitty’s Fire, finaled in Contemporary Series Romance: Suspense/ Adventure in 2008 and in Inspirational this year.

If Kelly Ann’s name is familiar to you, it may be from seeing it on the contest circuit. Her name has graced many contest winners’ lists. She’s had eight manuscripts place in 18 contests, among them the Kiss of Death RWA® chapter’s Daphne du Maurier and the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis. In addition, she’s served as co-coordinator of the Daphne for the past eight years and the Faith, Hope and Love chapter’s Touched by Love for three.

Kelly Ann lives on 15 rural acres in Alabama with her engineer husband, two teens and an eclectic menagerie of cats, dogs, birds, horses, turtles and other assorted critters. Kelly Ann is a Registered Dietitian with an MBA who has worked in various hospitals and clinics as a teacher and manager. She’s also worked as a firefighter, waitress, janitor, teacher assistant and shoe salesperson, experiences that have given her fodder for her stories. When not heightening the suspense for her characters, she likes to read, read, read; watch movies (a happy ending is a must); direct her church’s youth club; camp; hike; swim; garden; play with her many animals and hang out at bookstores.

Join me as we learn more about Kelly Ann and her journey.

Kelly Ann Riley

Kelly Ann’s Journey Begins


•You’ve completed several manuscripts. When did you begin writing the first one? What sparked that story? Characters who wouldn’t stop chatting? A plot that filled your thoughts and kept you awake at night?

When I was a young child I loved stories and couldn’t wait to learn to read. Since first grade I’ve had a love for the written word and wanted to belong to that world of imagination as an author.

Over the years I tried my hand at short stories, poems, and finally novels. I got waylaid somewhat with earning a living and raising a family, but I still wrote when I could. I consider those years a training and dreaming period. Then about five years ago, I decided to seriously pursue publication, and it has been a wonderful learning adventure ever since.

•Kitty’s Fire finaled in two different categories of the Golden Heart: Contemporary Series Suspense/Adventure last year and Inspirational this year. What led you to switch categories? Did you change the story in order to incorporate the faith elements, or has the inspirational element been part of your writing from the time you typed the first story?

I read books in wide variety of genres in and out of the CBA market. I enjoy books where the characters have a spiritual/faith dimension. Kitty’s Fire began as a secular book with some faith elements, but since then has morphed into a Christian novel.

When I first entered contests that had a general Inspirational Category, I discovered some judges didn’t like suspense. Also, I pondered if my books or voice may have seemed too edgy for mainstream inspirational. So I experimented by entering both inspirational and secular contest categories.

I was excited that although Tread Softly and Kitty’s Fire are inspirational books they finaled in secular categories in the Golden Heart. Meanwhile, my writing skills have improved and the CBA market has also evolved. I’m thrilled that Kitty’s Fire finaled in the GH Inspirational category this year. It’s a milestone for me.

I feel privileged to be able to write inspirational books. My faith is very important in my life, and if God can’t be a part of my writing journey, then I’m on the wrong road.

Kelly Ann’s Process

•Your love of writing goes back many years to when your won awards for your short stories in elementary school and when you were a writer and editor for your high school paper. How do you balance writing and editing today? Does your internal editor take a break when you’re in creation mode, or do you have to make a conscious effort to stay in your zone?

This is an area I’m still striving to get balanced. Ideally I would like to be able to turn out new pages each day while working on editing another project. However, sometimes one or the other process will grab all my attention, and before I know it, it’s time to start supper.

When I write a first draft, I tell myself that I can always fix it later. I just let it flow out onto the page. Sometimes I end up with a big mess to clean up, but at least I have something to work with.

When I’m editing I tend to get bogged down because I always think the writing could be better. I’ll tinker with it until a deadline looms and I have to turn it in. So you could say deadlines are my friends, or I’d never get anything finished.

•As coordinator of two big contests, you’re obviously an organized person. Does this carry over into your writing, leading you to draft outlines, synopses and character sketches before you begin a first draft? Or does a story take hold and pour forth with little advance planning?

I’m a writing how-to book junkie and love trying new methods. Every project has been different. Sometimes I’ll plot ahead using a computer program, charts, or index cards. Other times the story is so strong I write first and worry about how it will all fit together later.


•You have a healthy number of contest wins. Which have meant the most to you, and why?

All the contest finals and wins have been wonderful, and I’m grateful to the coordinators and judges who work so hard at giving unpublished writers a boot up. I think the most memorable contest final was my first in 2003 when I finaled in the Daphne contest. I didn’t win, but after years of entering contests, I felt like I’d finally reached a new level with my writing skills.

•In March of 2007, you received a very special call from RWA with the news that you were a Golden Heart finalist for the first time. And then the calls came again the next two years telling you Kitty’s Fire had finaled a second time. How did you respond the first time? Were you just as excited this year?

That first year I almost didn’t answer the phone. I didn’t realize calls were going out, and I was in shock. Then all my whooping and hollering sent the cats scrambling for cover. Those whoops of joy would escape me at odd moments for days afterward. I couldn’t believe that after years of entering the contest, I was finalist. It was overwhelming, but really cool.

The second and third times were amazing too because there are such awesome writers that enter the contest, and I feel so privileged to be able to experience being a finalist more than once.

•You’ve had an agent for a couple of years. What was your reaction when she offered representation? What’s the best part about working with her?

Actually it was my first Golden Heart finaling manuscript, Tread Softly, that caught the eye of Kelly Mortimer of the Mortimer Literary Agency. After several months of correspondence, I signed with her at the RWA conference in Dallas.

Kelly is a hands-on agent who specializes in helping the unpublished writer become published. She assists me in getting my manuscripts as polished as they can be before we send them out. Plus, she’s a great cheerleader and pushes her clients to do their best.


•You’ve finaled in several contests. But if you’re like most of us, there have been disappointing results as well. How do you deal with less than desirable feedback? Stock up on chocolate? Call a friend to vent? Or shove the score sheets in the back of your closet?

My advice to new writers has been if you are going to enter contests, enter a lot of them. If disappointing results come back, at least you know you still have something out there. There’s always that hope you’ll get judges who love your work, and the entry will be sent on to an editor or agent.

I’ve used contests not only to get in books front of editors/agents but also as testing ground to see how a new idea will be received. If the response is generally negative I might put that book on the backburner until I have more time to analyze it and see if it is worth finishing.

I’ve learned some useful things from judges. I’ve had some negative experiences too, and I don’t always take judges’ comments well. I’ll vent over a judge’s negative remark to my family, critique partners, and anyone who will listen. This may go on for hours or days until I’ll either toss the advice or decide that maybe the judge did know what she was talking about, and I’ll re-examine the issue. Also, if other judges point out the same things, I then know there is a problem that may not just be a subjective opinion.

•You’ve completed a number of manuscripts and have written thousands of words. Is there a story that will never see the light of day? Or perhaps you’ve had to chop whole sections out of your works-in-progress? How did you deal with putting aside pieces you’d poured your heart into?

Over time it’s become easier to set manuscripts aside or chop out sections. I’m learning to look at my writing as product. It’s like ripping off a Band-aid. You do it quickly, and it doesn’t hurt quiet as bad. Also, I save the material in a file on the computer so I know that if I ever need it, it’s not really gone. There’s some solace in that.

Partners on Kelly Ann’s Journey

•You’re a member of two critique groups. How did you find these writing partners? How do you go about exchanging your work?

Although I’ve belong to a couple critique groups, over the years I’ve come to rely more on my critique partner, Caroline (Cee) Dunsheath. She has faithfully edited almost everything I’ve written—sometimes multiple times—without complaint. Also my agent, Kelly Mortimer, is an awesome critiquer and helps me give the manuscripts a final polish before going out in the world.

•What type of critiquer are you? A detail-oriented micro reader or a big-picture macro reader?

I would probably say more macro at this point. I’m trying to learn to be more detail-oriented too.

Kelly Ann’s Journey Continues

•Finaling in the Golden Heart is a great honor and yet it’s no guarantee of publication. You have an agent. Is she using your final to get Kitty’s Fire out on submission? Do you have other works making the rounds?

My agent does mention my Golden Heart and other contest accomplishments when marketing my work. My first GH manuscript, Tread Softly, had revisions requested on it for one house and made it as far the acquisitions committee. The timing wasn’t right for purchase, but maybe things will change in the future.


•What are you working on now and what ideas are percolating? More romantic suspense and mystery, or is a historical more likely?

Right now I’m working on a historical romantic series set during the Alaskan Gold Rush. The first book, The Promise, finaled this year in the Daphne Contest. I’m also editing some of my earlier books, which I’m hoping will make rounds with publishers this fall.

Five Fun Facts About Kelly Ann

1) What food fuels your creative fire?

Any. I’m an equal opportunity junk food consumer. But ideally, I’d say blueberries or fresh fruit are great to nibble on. They send fuel to the brain. Not so ideally, crackers, popcorn, pretzels help keep me awake during those late night writing sessions. I like to use chocolate as a reward, but it sometimes sneaks in during my writing sessions too. Also the aroma of coffee gets me fired up to get to my desk.

2) Do you set strict daily word count goals, or do you write when inspiration strikes?

I find setting writing goals really easy. I love organizers and calendars. However, sticking to my carefully planned schedule and doing the actual work is not so easy. I’m still striving to be more consistent. I find that once I get rolling, the writing picks up speed. If inspiration isn’t there, I just plunge ahead anyway. Writing for me is mostly rewriting.

3) If your agent called to say she’d sold your story to your dream house, which would that be, and why?

At this point, I’d say any publishing house that buys my book would be my dream house. Seriously, I have met so many wonderful editors from different publishing houses, it’d be hard choose just one.

4) What are some of the most exciting places you’ve visited?

Back in the 80s I went to Austria with my soon-to-be husband on a ski trip and we toured some of the surrounding countries in-between skiing in the Alps. I knew he was my dream man when he didn’t blink an eye at the sudden suggestion of this trip. We’ve had fun traveling in and out of the US ever since. Some other exciting places I’ve enjoyed visiting are Canada, Mexico, Kauai, Jamaica, and the Grand Caymans. Some of my favorite cities are New York; San Francisco; Denver; Venice, Italy and Innsbruck, Austria.

5) What are three words your family and friends would use to describe you? Do you agree or disagree with them?

Worrier—As a suspense writer my imagination is always coming up with possible disasters or consequences whenever someone steps out of the house. Drives my kids nuts, especially since my son has learned to drive.

Persevering—My engineer husband—who’s journeyed with me through my ups and downs—once said he couldn’t understand why anyone would write for a living on purpose. But he has remained supportive though the years since I refuse to quit.

Introvert (sometimes)—Although I enjoy traveling and attending writers’ conferences, I’m very content being at home with my family, pets and computer.

Kelly Ann’s Question for You

•I’ve enjoyed having you as my guest, Kelly Ann. Thanks for your great answers to my questions. And now it’s your turn to ask a question of your visitors. What would you like to know?

We all know that wonderful characters make great stories, and I’m curious what attracts readers to certain personalities. Why are some characters more cherished and memorable than others? Do we see ourselves in them? Or long to live their lives, even for a little while?

If you could be a character in one of your favorite books for 24 hours who would you like to be? And why?

Learn More About Kelly Ann

Visit her Web site:

Friend her on Facebook: Kelly Ann Riley

Follow her on Twitter: Kelly Ann Riley


Leave a Comment for Three Chances to Win

Kelly Ann’s Drawing


Leave a comment on Kelly Ann’s blog post before midnight June 15th (PST) for a chance to win a B&N $15 Gift Card, which she has generously donated. Kelly Ann will randomly draw a name, which she’ll post  in the comment section on June 16th. (I will email the winner, get the needed address information and forward it to Kelly Ann, who will mail the card.)

Congratulations to Kelly Ann’s winner: Jacqui Jacoby!


Keli’s Drawing

My next drawing will take place June 20th. The winner will receive a travel-friendly fabric tote bag just the right size for a day trip or errand run.


Tote bag prize


To enter the drawing, just leave a comment on any blog post by June 20th and enter your email address when prompted. (I don’t share your information or add it to any mailing lists.) On June 21st, I’ll post the winner’s name in the Welcome post at the top of the blog.

You could also win a First Sale Scrapbook!

If you’d like to have a chance at winning a First Sale Scrapbook created by me, your blog hostess Keli Gwyn, leave a comment on any post between now and June 30th. Be 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 July 1st, I will choose one person who will have her/his choice of several 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.)

About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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51 Responses to Meet Writer Kelly Ann Riley

  1. Kelly says:

    Hey Kelly Ann! I’m a Kelly too & a 2009 GH finalist in Romantic Elements. It’s always fun to hear about other writers writing process.

  2. Hi CJ!

    Thanks so much. I love the cat pictures on your blog. Laughed outloud at the force field one.

    Harry Potter is an interesting pick. You could have a lot of fun. I’m curious on what creatures you’d create and would you put them in your books?

  3. i happen to step into this blog, i just had to say i really like it !
    u got yourself a reader !
    thank you:)

  4. Hi Caroline,

    Oh I’d love to visit Switzerland too. That must have been so fun. Germany is one of my favorite places too. Really pretty countryside. So clean looking. My grandmother spoke German although she lived in Canada.

    Congratulations on book “Where The Wind Blows” coming out in July. I’ll be watching for it. And I hope the Vienna one gets published too.

  5. Hi Tina,

    I’ll be rooting for you too on your YA Rita final with “How to Hook a Hottie.” Wahooo! My daughter loves your books, and I have a terrible time wrestling them away from her and her friends, so I can read them.

    As far as contest coordination, I miss you. I’ve got great help now too, but I had a hard time keeping up with you when we working the contest. Talk about getting a job done fast! You’re top notch.

    Thanks so much!

  6. Hi Kelly!

    Thanks for coming by and it’s cool that there are two Kellys in the GH finals this year. And I agree, I love reading about other people’s writing processes. You never know when you’ll find an element in another writer’s process that will work for you too.

  7. Hi San Francisco History,

    Thank you so much! How cool that you just happened stepped into this blog. So glad you like it.

  8. Edna Tollison says:

    please enter me into the drawing.

    Edna Tollison

  9. Thanks Edna for stopping by! You’ll be entered in the drawing. 🙂

  10. Evonne says:

    Nice interview. Good luck…….hope you get published soon.

  11. Hey, you’ve done good Kelly, and I have been there side by side with you most of the way. One of these days all of us will cross the finish line and it will be good to able able to say it was because I had such rockin’ writing partners.

    Write On!!

    ~Jacqui Jacoby

  12. Hi Jacqui,
    Thanks for stopping by. You’ve done great too with your Golden Heart final in Paranormal. Congrats again. Keep on rockin and you’ll get there.


  13. Hi Evonne,

    Thank you so much! I’m glad to see your email started working again. Must’ve been the awful storms. Thanks for all your support. 🙂

  14. Donnell says:

    Kelly and Keli, thank you for this wonderful interview. I’ve known and admired Kelly Ann Riley for many years now. When she gets the call (which should be any day now) you will have to pull me down from the ceiling I’ll be so excited. Thanks for sharing your journey, Kelly and what an adorable picture!

  15. Hi Kelly Ann, I enjoyed this interview with you and getting to know you better. All the best as a GH finalist. Thank you also for all the work you did for the TBL contest this year. Please enter my name in the drawing. Pat

  16. Hi Donnell,

    Thank you so much for all the kind words, and I’m planning on a big celebration when YOU get the call.

  17. Quilt Lady says:

    Welcome Kelly Ann, what a great interview! I am sorry to say I have never read your books before but they sound great. So many authors and so little time! I will have to put you on my wish list!

    Now for your questions. I think we want to be like the characters in our books. We travel in our books so why souldn’t we be like the characters. I always wanted to be like Miss Scarlett O’Hara but I would change her some. I would have went after the dashing Rhett Butler rather then chase after dear Ashley! Sometimes I think we even change these characters in our mind to be what we want them to be if that makes sense.

    ghurt110 AT bellsouth Dot net

  18. Hi Pat,

    Thank you so much for stopping by and reading the interview. And you’re welcome about the TBL contest. It’s exciting to see all the talent that comes into the contest.

    Wishing you all the best in your writing career. 🙂

  19. Pat, I forgot to add that yes, you’re entered in the drawing.

    Everyone who posts a comment before midnight PST tonight will be entered for the $15 B&N Gift card. I’ll announce the winner tomorrow.


  20. Brooke says:

    Hey Kelly,

    Great interview…I’ve always admired how much you can do in one day… but I no idea how many things you’ve done in the past! Wow! Good luck in this year’s GH… we’ll be screaming for you!

  21. Hi Quilt Lady,

    Oh yes, Scarlett O’Hara is one of the most memorable characters of all times. I read “Gone With the Wind” as a teenager and oh, I wanted to be like Scarlett because she was so different from me. She was pretty, popular (with the men), and spoke her mind. And I fell for Ashley right along with her. Just didn’t appreciate Rhett. Now as an adult, I see Scarlett, Ashley and Rhett much differently, and I agree, I’d want to change some things about Scarlett and how the story turns out too. LOL

    Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing.

  22. Hi Brooke!

    Thanks so much!! It’s so much fun to share these events with such good friends like you. Thanks for stopping by.

  23. Good Morning,

    It’s time for the drawing for those who left a comment yesterday before midnight. We put slips of paper with everyone’s names in a hat in which the contents have been shaken, stirred and mixed. My daughter with closed eyes is going to withdraw one of the pieces of paper and …….drumroll please…..

    The Winner for a $15 B&N Gift card is …….

    Jacqui Jacoby

    Congratulations Jacqui!

    Thank you to all who stopped by and made comments yesterday. You made the day fun!

    Remember our blog hostess will be having additional drawings for prizes. (see details above)

  24. Great blog, Kelly and Keli! (Magic in the name, clearly.)

    It was fun learning more about you, Kelly! My goodness, woman, what occupation HAVEN’T you held?!

    As for a character…. I would say, I’d like to be Jacob Jankowski from Water for Elephants. To experience his world of working in a traveling circus in the ’30s would be amazing, but a very tough life, which is why I’d only want it for a day. 🙂

  25. Hi Kristina,

    Thank you. Yes, I have tried a bunch of different jobs, and still am in away– if you consider writers get to live through their characters.

    And what an interesting character you picked. I agree. It would be amazing to experience the circus world in the 30s.

    Thanks for stopping by.

Comments are closed.