Here’s another in our author guest interview series from the Peace, Love, and Crime anthology. We have a wonderful mix of first-time and long-time published authors and hope you’ll pick up a copy at our publisher or your local retailer (perhaps an indie bookstore to help them stay in business).
Good day, Karen, welcome to the interview pool. You’ve been writing since the ‘90s and have an eclectic list of titles. I’ll save the rest for your bio at the bottom and get right into the questions.
Meet Karen Keeley
CAM: “Lovely, Just Bloody Lovely” shows us the Canadian side of police work. Karen, what is it about the Beatles’ “Fool on the Hill” that led you to this song? Or did you already have the story and search for the right song?
KK: Ah, the angst of being sixteen. When “Fool on the Hill,” came out way back in the ’60s, it spoke to me in ways I didn’t even begin to understand at the time: the foolish grin, keeping perfectly still, the sun going down, the world spinning ‘round, the fool invisible to others, a non-entity. I suppose, given my age, that’s how I felt, muddling my way through high school. Fast forward to all these years later and I stumbled across the callout for submissions to Peace, Love and Crime. Instantly, I had the song in my head and the story developed from there.
CAM: Do you know much about police procedures, or did you have to conduct research for your character’s actions?
KK: I did research, darting down rabbit holes on the web, searching for what things might have been like in the ’60s. The Chief of Police wouldn’t have told his detectives to keep his kids out of an investigation; I took liberties with that, all in the name of “creative license.” ~wink, wink, I am smiling~
CAM: You’ve been published in a few anthologies. Was Peace, Love, and Crime the first time you wrote to a song-themed challenge? And do you find it difficult to craft a compelling story that fits someone else’s overall vision or theme?
KK: Peace, Love and Crime was my first attempt at a themed anthology, and I found it oodles of fun. Knowing the theme, knowing the endgame, helped to give the story structure. Some writers are plotters, other pantsters, and I’m the latter. I get an idea of where I want a story to start (a voice talking in my head) without knowing “what comes next?” Then the words start flowing out of my fingertips, surprising even me. That’s my drug, my high, my adrenaline, seeing where a story will go.
CAM: In researching you for this interview, I learned you’re a fan of Nero Wolfe’s Rex Stout and Archie Goodwin. Does Sticks and Stones, your 3-story book that came out in May 2020, fit within that Nero Wolfe storytelling model or is it completely different?
KK: Sticks and Stones is three stories where we supposedly know who the killer is—but is it true? They are nothing like the Nero Wolfe books I love so much. They were simply stories where a narrator began talking to me, and voila!, eventually I had three stories I could bundle in a collection. My son helped me with that. I’m all thumbs when it comes to technology, learning new software, though I am telling myself, get on that horse and ride, it’s a whole new world out there. Sadly, I’m the Queen of Procrastination with a tarnished crown.
CAM: Tell us about your writing process. Write at the same time every day, in the same space? Jot down notes or record thoughts to keep your stories on track? Fill us in on what goes on when you’re working on a story over time.
KK: Now that I’m retired, I’ve got all the time in the world. Right? . . . Wrong! I can always find something else to do which seems more important, and then I kick myself for not actually writing. But when I do, when I’m at the computer and in the zone, it brings me great joy. I usually write in the mornings which could include revision, reading, or editing. Often in the evening, I’m back at it again depending on where I’m at with a story.
When an idea strikes, I race for the computer to fix a phrase, a sentence, swap out one word for another. I get up in the dead of the night and scribble a thought, otherwise I’ll never get back to sleep. If that’s the writing process, I must be nuts, trying to get it perfect. I suppose I’ve always striven for perfection in most everything I do, which again is completely nuts. Why put that kind of pressure on ourselves?
CAM: You’re published in literary journals, too, in a different genre. How is that different from crime/mystery? How is it the same?
KK: Literary writing is the crème de la crème to me, like the fine craftsmanship of fine crystal, that ping of truth when you flick the glass, oh—so beautiful, perfect harmony because of the writing, and yes, I did get lucky, a couple of stories picked up for publication. But—and there is always “the but”—I think I’m more like Stephen King said, something to do with meatloaf. Or maybe it was meat and potatoes.
I love mysteries in all forms: books, short stories, TV, and movies. I devour almost everything I can find, my love of mysteries beginning with Trixie Beldon and The Hardy Boys as a youngster. A writing buddy of mine, Marcelle Dubé, has written mysteries for years, and I love her writing.
After I retired from the day job, I thought, what the heck? I’m gonna try, too! I was so darn lucky when Darkhouse Books picked up my story “Year of the Pig” for the Mid-Century Murder anthology. That gave me confidence to keep going. And like they say (whoever they are) do what you love, and love what you do.
CAM: What is your greatest challenge as an author?
KK: Coming up with ideas. Maybe it’s the editor in my head, who knows? I hear a voice—I think it’s great. I run to the computer and get that first line down, and then, more often than not, after half a page, it fizzles out, the voice goes away. I’ve got a zillion first starts.
I recently became FB friends with Joe Walker, and Wow, I love his writing. It’s all heart, soul, deep meaning stuff that grabs you by the throat. I’d love to be able to write like that, but then again, maybe that’s not me, not my voice, not my forte.
I do like the lighthearted stuff, like the two stories in “The Trench Coat Chronicles;” they were a hoot to write. I really do think my guy, “Syd Malloy,” is real. I keep returning to stories I have on the go with him, he’s great fun to follow as he stumbles around trying to solve a mystery. My guys in “Lovely, Just Bloody Lovely,” are a spinoff of Syd. I love their voices, too.
CAM: In another interview, you shared some writing advice that clicked for you. Would you like to reshare that or anything else with our readers?
KK: Years ago, a writing mentor of mine, Charlie Wilkins, punched it home—think energy, movement and surprise, the mantra I keep foremost in my thoughts. Energy with the writing, don’t get bogged down or the reader will too, movement back ‘n forth in time, and surprise! Wow, didn’t see that coming!
As a recent member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and being an introvert, I tend to stick to the shadows, but I have enjoyed all of the correspondence shared with others, the articles on writing, dealing with rejection, finding your voice. So many talented writers out there, including you too, Claire, showing your support and assisting with advice. We’re a lucky bunch, learning from the best, thank you!
CAM: Awe, thank you. I feel as if the mystery writing community does not view the world as a pie with limited pieces. Rather, it is a tribe of authors and writers-working-to-become-authors who all believe in paying it forward.
So, moving along, what’s your favorite story that you’ve written? Tell us a little about that.
KK: It would have to be my first story in print, “White Horse in a Snowstorm,” which captured first place in a creative writing contest sponsored by the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal when I lived in Thunder Bay. The story is based on my memories of my uncle’s suicide, told from the POV of a twelve-year-old kid. The win got me into a creative writing class at Lakehead University, so that was kind of cool.
CAM: Ironic, then, that such a tragedy led to something so positive for you.
What other talents do you have up your sleeve? Feel free to let us in on your creative side a little more.
KK: Nothing much creative about me, other than the writing, trying to paint pictures with words. I’ve always been the fool on the hill, watching the world spin around, but no wisdom in that ~wink, wink~ but it is interesting, what you see and hear.
CAM: What’s next for you? Are there other stories in the pipeline?
KK: I’m working on a story for a callout for a speculative fiction online magazine, having great fun with it, and we’ll see where it goes once it’s sent off. Jay Hartman (Untreed Reads) has a callout for one-hit-wonders; who could possibly refuse a kick at the can on that?
Through FB, I’ve found some writing groups that post callouts for submissions, a great online tool. When something strikes my fancy, I’m off and running, coffee cup in hand, all other household duties chucked aside, though scrubbing a toilet can be a great motivator when thinking up ideas. How many ways could you drown someone? Could a toilet plunger be a murder weapon or is it too light? If I mix Lysol with Dettol, will I poison myself? Fun thoughts like that, then it’s on to the vacuuming, straightening my tarnished crown, metaphorically of course. ~wink, wink~
Bio: Karen Keeley has published short fiction in literary journals and a number of anthologies, the most recent Coming Through In Waves (Gutter Books). Her story, “Crying all the way to the bank” was one of the winners in the international short story competition Round Midnight published by Strange Days Books/Eyelands Awards (Greece). Other stories appear in Peace, Love and Crime: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of the ’60s (Untreed Reads), The Trench Coat Chronicles (Celestial Echo Press) and Mid-Century Murder (Darkhouse Books). Karen is a former Communications Analyst with the Yukon government, now retired and living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
You can contact Karen at: [email protected] or join her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/karen.keeley.77