This week I am featuring author Kelley Kaye, Kelley Kay Bowles. She is the author of the brilliant Chalkboard Outlines mystery series and YA novel 'Down in the Belly of the Whale.'
About the Author
Kelley Kaye lives in sunny California. She taught high school English and Drama for twenty years, but her love for storytelling dates back to creating captions for her high school yearbook. She is married to, what sounds like, the perfect man. He cooks!!
And she has two wonderful sons.
Kelley kindly took the time to provide me with the following interview.
What has been your biggest adjustment going from teaching to writing?
Going from teaching to writing has been an unbelievable adjustment in a couple of ways, both wonderful and difficult ways. I didn’t get to write too much when I first moved to San Diego, but that’s because I was gifted with this amazing opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom for a few years here, which I NEVER thought would happen in a two-teacher family. My sons were going on three and five when we arrived, and while my oldest got to start in a transitional half-day kindergarten right away, my youngest and I got to explore San Diego. We went to the library and local parks and activities, and I am immeasurably grateful. But what I noticed then, and continue to adjust to now that I’m at home writing while the boys are at school, is how difficult it is to not interact with other adults in a meaningful way. I took adult conversations for granted, for sure, even conversations with my teenaged students had a different ambience than time with a three-year-old, or now, time with just me. Well. I do converse with myself, but my answers are never as interesting as the ones I hear from others. My schedule is really busy, but I still plan a once-a-month coffee and a once-a-month lunch date with two of my friends here, just to keep myself sane.
And on that note, here’s the second biggest adjustment—scheduling. As a teacher, my life was laid out for me minute-by-minute and keeping my organization productive was tricky, but a writing schedule is tricky in a whole ‘nother way. I have all these stories in my head, and I know I have to work on marketing and spotlighting and looking for reviews and all of the minutiae which is mostly the responsibility of the writer in the 21st century, and still I want to have huge chunks of time devoted to the writing itself. It’s easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole of social media, even though I’m doing it for the purpose of my job. I have a schedule on the wall of my “office” AKA a chair in the corner of my bedroom, laying out sections of time every day to write articles (I work for a local community magazine here in San Diego), check Twitter, Facebook, GoodReads, Linkedin, post on all of those sites and interact with people on all of those sites, and write a blog for my website. I also interact with other authors from my publishing houses, RedAdept Publishing, and Aionios Books, and they provide a lot of knowledge and support. Which is great, because I’m still feeling new to this and I really know nothing. Then, of course, the rest of the day (well, until 3:30 when the boys come home) I am working on a novel or nonfiction project. Right now I’m trying to find an agent for a nonfiction self-help memoir (yes, you’re right, a nonexistent genre. For now.) called The A or B Principle, and then I need to finish Book #3 of the Chalkboard Outlines series (working title Strangled by Simile). Then I have to COMPLETELY overhaul the first story in a Paranormal YA trilogy. I get to apply the knowledge I’ve gained from having editors for Chalkboard Outlines and Down in the Belly of the Whale to existing books I’ve written and books I’m writing now. I have a lot of stuff to do! So it’s amazing to be able to schedule myself in whatever way I want, but also overwhelming to have so much to do and only myself to make it happen. Maybe someone in my house should start handing out detention.
What did you learn about writing from your years of grading high school essays?
I think more than what I learned about writing from all my years of grading essays is what I learned about people from those years in the classroom. Teaching is a study in human dynamics, and teaching English even more so—because analyzing literature helps students recognize themselves and think about their place in the community and the world at large.
My almost 20 years of teaching gave me countless experiences to draw from in my future 50 or more years as a writer, and I’m ridiculously grateful for those, too.
What — and who — do you think people here will recognize in your book?
The school is definitely based on Fruita Monument high school, from the colors to the mascot. I had to change the layout in some ways, though, to make some of the scenes work better. The teacher’s lounge and main office remained pretty true to the way I remember it…haven’t been back there for five years, but you will see it the way I experienced it. Nathan Farrar, the principal in the book, was inspired by Mark Zipse, my favorite principal of all time. Although there are only two main character elements I borrowed from Mark: 1) Nathan skateboards all over the campus of Pinewood High school, which Mark really did when I was in high school and he was Assistant Principal. When he became Principal I guess he had to stop. and 2) Nathan doesn’t take himself too seriously, which is something I always loved about Mark and cherish in any bosses or supervisors I’ve ever had. It is a characteristic I try to practice, myself, which is a good thing for me to keep aspiring to because now I am my own boss. The other characters within the story are amalgamations of me and all my friends, and friends, if you see a personal idiosyncrasy you recognize, well…
The teachers in your book deal with some pretty pushy parents. Any war stories you’d like to share?
Um. No, thank you. Dalton Trumbo I am not. Suffice it to say all teachers have dealt with parents who don’t understand most adolescents will lie to keep themselves out of trouble at least once in their lives, even their own children. There is Teenager Truth, and then there is Actual Truth, and the gap between them can be yawning. Most parents, though, are just trying to do what’s best for their kids. As are most teachers!
What was your thought process behind choosing to have your protagonist to be from the South?
What an excellent question. I wish I could say it came from a specific thought process, because maybe that would make me sound deeper or more profound than I actually am. Really, I knew I wanted Emma to travel a long way to start over after her cheating husband. I took students to England one year on a student travel program (this is the way teachers can afford to travel), and my roommate was a teacher from Holly Hill, South Carolina. I liked her and I liked the name of the town, and I guess I’m partial to the idea of Emma being ‘a delicate Southern flower’ in some respects, who is coming to realize her own personal strength. Plus I’m always about using the cards you are dealt, and Emma uses her Southernness with great success, to question suspects or maybe just to flirt.
Shakespeare references are a continuing thread in the book, and a bonding point between two teachers. Why did you select this narrative advice?
Shakespeare, in my opinion, knew more about human nature than…anyone, really. It’s turning out to be a wonderful element for cozy mystery amateur sleuths who have more than a passing knowledge of him and his themes—the ladies can tap into his vast understanding of humanity when they’re searching for a killer.
What’s the advice you got during the writing and editing of your book?
Before I’d even started the book, I read a Harlan Coben (Myron Bolitar series) mystery called Drop Shot. I loved it so much and I really wanted to do something like it, so I emailed him and asked him for advice. He actually wrote right back and gave me some, which I used when I started writing the book. Then my publisher, RedAdept, gave me a Content Editor and a Line Editor! I learned so much through this process, especially about paying attention not only to the words themselves, but to how they can and might be received and perceived by my readers. It was a humongous eye-opener for me. RedAdept is an independent publisher, and they are very thorough and detail-oriented. My editors both really liked my story and the characters within it, and they worked with me for several months to help make it the best it could be. I hope to apply what I’ve learned to all the projects I’m working on now.
This is presented as the first in a series. Have you completed subsequent books or where are you at in this process?
I actually got the name of the series trademarked, which makes me feel so ‘big time.’ Chalkboard Outlines® Book Two came out last April. I’m 50,000 words into book 3. And like I said earlier, I still want to finish the first draft of the memoir. Humorous. Self-help. Groundbreaking new genre. Woot woot
What else would you like to add?
I grew up in Western Colorado and then taught there for sixteen years. The place and its people mean so much to me, but I’ve been living with MS for the past 25 years, and the temperature extremes were always a major stressor in my life—the high desert hots and colds were no Bueno, and don’t even get me started on swamp coolers. The move to San Diego not only provided me with a more temperate climate and better health, but also the opportunity to stay at home with my awesome little boys and be a WRITER! The life change was arduous and initially very stressful, but so worth it. It’s turned me into one of those annoying proselytizers always trumpeting the value of risk-taking and following your dreams. But do it. Take the risk, and follow your dreams. I’m not expecting to be the next Stephen King, but I am raising sons (a long-standing, almost unrealized dream which is another article altogether) and telling stories that hopefully people will want to read, and life is great!
Watch a book trailer for 'Poison by Punctuation.'
What are the best Social Media Sites for people to find out about you and your work?
My website: https://kelleykaybowles.com/
My Amazon author page: amazon.com/author/kelkay1202
My BookBub Pages: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/kelley-kay-bowles
My FB Author pages: https://www.facebook.com/authorkelleykaye/
My Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/kelkay1202/
My YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVlte3qfP3gTpHOwjNjqDqg/