Monday, November 29, 2010
Interview w/JM Kelley
I love my good friend and peer from Lazy Day Publishing's JM Kelley's writing so much that I had to have her on my blog.
Her romance, Drew in Blue also launches this Wed, Dec 1st. I had a blast talking to her and today she shares a little bit of herself and introduces us to Drew Doyle, her main character of Drew in Blue!
Welcome to my blog today.
Thanks so much for having me here as a guest!
Tell us about yourself?
A lifelong resident of Pennsylvania, I am a writer of love stories, a painter, a painfully bad knitter, and a photographer – if the pursuit is artistic, chances are I’ve dabbled in it.
After a lengthy break that included adventures in accounting and coffee distribution, I returned to my passion for writing with that old adage write what you know whispering from the deep recesses of my mind. I realized that I know how to read a book on a moving skateboard, that if you’re riding shotgun in a pick-up truck, ‘mud’ can be used as a verb, Amish traffic jams can wreak havoc on your morning commute, and Hog Maw is not to be experienced by the faint of heart.
While this list of knowledge seemed random and borderline nonsensical, it led me to one rock-solid conclusion: life in the Keystone State is a rich and endless source of inspiration. And so, I sat down in front of my laptop and began to piece together a story about life in small-town Pennsylvania – something I know a thing or two about.
Tell us about Drew in Blue? What was the inspiration for it?
Drew Doyle is a thirty-six year old loner unexpectedly saddled with the task of raising a baby while trying to sort out his mess of a life. Problem is, he just keeps making things worse for himself. It’s a running theme in Drew’s life, considering he never does anything the easy way. The River’s View, Pennsylvania gossip mill is watching each misstep as Drew juggles a price-gouging babysitter, a major case of artist’s block, and a best friend with an opinion to share on every bungled choice he makes.
His love life isn’t faring much better. Despite a long history of relationships that never really get off the ground, Drew falls head over heels for someone new, hoping she might be the one to end his romantic bad luck streak. After a few abysmally bad false starts, things finally start looking up. That is, until he finds out (the hard way, naturally) that his new love interest isn’t the one for him after all. Turns out it’s actually lifelong pal and high school girlfriend, Kristina Moser.
Drew’s feelings for Kris intensify as he witnesses her growing bond with his son and he finally realizes where he belongs. Now all he has to do is convince Kris he’s right… and she’s just not buying it.
Now, where did Drew In Blue come from? Well, I love male characters. I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy, so I identify more with the guys. Often in books, you find male leads suffering from too-good-to-be-true syndrome, and I’ve always craved stories about flawed men with good hearts. I want to see them make honest mistakes. I want them to not always say the right thing. And that’s where Drew came in. Drew is far from perfect, but he has a good heart. Imperfection presents so many plot possibilities, as far as I’m concerned.
Who’s your favorite character in the story and why?
That’s such a difficult question for me, because I love Drew so much. He’s been a great guy, very patient with my nitpicky writing ways. I miss our nightly chats as I was writing Drew In Blue. I sway back and forth between him and Kris, but I think I have to pick Kris. Mostly because Kris was originally intended to be a background character, kind of like Drew’s personal Greek chorus. But that girl is stubborn, and she refused to settle for being a tertiary character. As an actual player in the story, I love her strength, her outspokenness, and her sense of self. She doesn’t compromise who she is for anybody. Her heart is her guide, and her loyalty is fierce. I’d love to have her chutzpah.
When you write do you write about people you know, or it about any experiences you may have had or friends?
I think it colors my characters and my stories at times, but I doubt it’s enough that anybody would catch it. I am inspired by a particular nuance of someone’s personality, or an aspect of a situation. I may see somebody’s smile in my head when I’m forming a character’s appearance, but that’s about as far as the borrowing from life goes.
At the same time, my work in progress is very much awash in memories of my father. While the story isn’t actually about him, some of the themes are definitely my way of working out the pain of his loss. While he’s not present in the story, I think his spirit infiltrates my writing in that particular work, and he’s absolutely the inspiration for a particular character.
Who are you influences?
I have a weirdly mashed list of authors I call influences. Harper Lee is the biggest, because reading To Kill a Mockingbird as a child cemented my love of reading and writing forever. Stephen King is an influence, because I love the way his words flow. Toni McGee Causey is my guru of sassy writing. Joseph Heller is in the mix as well. The list fluctuates depending on the day of the week and what I’m reading.
Are there any talents that you have that would surprise your readers?
I’ve been to shooting ranges, and I’m a wicked good shot. Which is hilarious, because I really don’t know what I’m doing. Besides the part where you don’t point a loaded gun at another human, I mean.
Did you always want to be a writer? What made you decide to pursue it?
My school career was filled with secretive writing, interspersed with bouts of validation by teachers reading creative reading assignments aloud. After high school, life took over and I didn’t take time to nurture the writer within. After my dad died a few years back, I took it up again and began writing short stories. Of course, the love for writing grew again, and I didn’t want to stop. After my employer downsized, I was able to find time to write when I wasn’t sending out resumes, and because of that free time, I finally was able to pen Drew In Blue, the novel I always wanted to write.
What’s your writing background?
My official writing background is being a Sagittarian with an incredibly over-active imagination.
My short story, Killing Me Softly, earned a first place finish in the In Other Words Competition at the 2010 Pennwriters Conference, and my non-fiction piece, Anniversary, earned a Carrie McCray Memorial Literary Award at the 2010 South Carolina Writers Workshop Conference.
Do you write every day? Do you have a writing ritual?
I’ve taken my mid-work in progress break right now while I prepare for Drew In Blue’s publication. I seem to have a tendency to get to the halfway point and need to step away for a bit. Refresh the thought process. I take a notebook everywhere with me, and jot down ideas, scenes, and some free-associative writing that tests some plot advancements. I’ll be a good girl and get back to writing more aggressively in December, I swear it.
In general though, I’m a night owl. My best ideas hit at 3 a.m., which is hell on the internal clock, but what can you do but submit to the muse?
Why did you choose Lazy Day Publishing?
I just got a positive vibe from Lazy Day. I can’t really explain it. My dear friend Laurie felt the same when I showed her the site. Discussing the situation, we both felt the same-good juju here. I decided to go with my gut, and have no regrets. They’ve been incredibly supportive and the fact that I was able to share my vision for my book cover and have a publisher listen to my input is just amazing.
Where were you when you got the ‘call’?
I was rushing around doing other errands and opened an email expecting my daily rejection. Then my jaw hit the ground when I saw that lovely ‘yes’ inside. I messaged a friend on AIM and freaked out! Still haven’t come down off that cloud yet.
What advice would you give to any aspiring author?
Keep on keeping on. If you have faith in your writing, don’t give up. But be open to change. Recognize when you need to take a different approach to make your words shine. The hardest thing I ever had to do was to take a step back and see that what I thought was my finished manuscript needed work. But it paid off in the end.
Abandoned by his mother and delivered into the arms of the father who deserted him first – the world carried an awfully big grudge against such a little guy.
“Kid, you’ve got rotten luck,” I said. I squatted next to the car seat he occupied, my knees cracking on the way down like trampled twigs. The baby’s cries intensified when I reached out my hand to tentatively stroke one of the clenched fists shaking with the force of his fury.
Tears fought their way past eyelids he’d squeezed shut. They snaked down his sallow cheeks, pausing at the corners of his open mouth before continuing on and disappearing beneath his quivering chin.
I glanced over my shoulder when I heard a screen door slap against its wooden frame. My next-door neighbor stepped out onto his porch and placed his hands on his hips before turning in my direction. It was late, and the residents of my street, mostly retirees, expected quiet nights. I couldn’t see his face, but it didn’t matter – nobody else was around to earn the annoyance his posture projected. Instead of acknowledging his presence and my obvious role in disturbing the peace, I turned back to the caterwauling baby before me.
This was my son. Nicholas Embry Doyle. Illegitimate offspring of me, Drew Doyle, and Allison Embry – the woman who’d, just moments before, dumped him on me before speeding off in a car driven by a man with so many tattoos and piercings that my initial theory of her running off to join the circus carried some serious merit.
“I don’t want it,” she said when she thrust the handle of the car seat into my hands and dropped a bag of the baby’s belongings to the porch steps. “I can’t deal with it. I don’t want it. Take it.” As if he was a thing. An object. Not her own child.
Allison’s dark hair stuck out in frizzed clumps and her eyes darted from side to side. She stood rigid and trembling, like a caged animal. In the shadowed confines of my porch, her dilated pupils, black voids obscuring any hint of the usual pale blue, amplified her feral appearance. I suspected she’d been smoking pot or something more potent. She’d never taken drugs in front of me, but I’d taken note of the sweet, pungent odor of marijuana clinging to the furniture in her apartment in the few instances I’d been there. I didn’t question her about it.
It’s not like what she did ever mattered to me, anyway. We weren’t exactly close. I met her in a bar over in Finchesburg. The town is about a half hour’s drive due east from my hometown of River’s View, Pennsylvania – a veritable wasteland of German heritage and backwoods Appalachian dimwittedness.
Allison and I did the deed a few times and moved on. When she called me two months later, I couldn’t place her voice. When she told me she’d taken a pregnancy test and the results were positive, I’d wished I’d never met her.
Turns out the ninety-eight percent efficiency rate on the back of the condom box isn’t the number you need to be paying attention to – it’s that two percent failure rate that bites you in the ass when you least expect it.
“You look like hell,” I said to Nicholas, fumbling with the complicated latch holding him in his seat.
At the age of … what, four months old? He was too small. I pictured babies with round, apple-red cheeks and pot bellies. Nicholas may as well have been constructed of toothpicks. After a brief struggle to extricate him from the car seat, I was caught off guard by his slight, scrawny frame. I’d lifted heavier bags of marshmallows in my life.
This wasn’t our first meeting. Allison had called when the baby was born, and I visited them in the hospital. He was gaunt then, too. She’d handed the swaddled bundle of wrinkled, purplish-colored infant to me, and I stared at him while he screamed and writhed. His head wobbled when I tried to position him in my arms, and I nearly dropped him to the floor. Something about that egregious error had made it okay to write out a check right before I walked out of their lives.
He deserved better than me. She was supposed to have given him better.
I rested the baby on my shoulder and offered him an awkward pat on the back. Beneath his dirty t-shirt, the bony protrusions I encountered when I strummed my fingers down his torso elicited a shudder.
“Shit.” I collapsed to the porch, my shaking knees too weak to support my own weight any longer. The gravity of the situation finally hit me, like a bullet between the eyes. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. His cries diminished and he whimpered into my neck, exhaustion gaining the upper hand.
This was the kid I’d left behind. The kid I didn’t want to complicate my life. And I’d left him in the care of a woman I barely knew, assuming she’d do the work in my place.
She didn’t. One glance at the kid was all the proof I needed.
My stomach gurgled. Nicholas lifted his teetering head and stared at me, confused by the wet, menacing growls coming from within me. He either lost interest or used up too much energy and collapsed against my shoulder. I barely had time to deposit him back in the car seat before I had to scramble to the porch railing and empty the contents of my stomach into the bushes below.
My website address is www.jmkelleywrites .com, and my blog, The Dirt, is located there.
My Facebook fanpage can be found at http://www.facebook.com/pages/JM-Kelley/108021242585994
And as if that isn’t enough, I’d love for everyone to join me on Goodreads at http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/3164982
My Twitter handle is @JM_Kelley, and my main character, Drew Doyle has his own account as well. Pretty mouthy for a fictional person. His handle is @Drew_Doyle.