Award-winning author Kathleen Donnelly has been a handler for Sherlock Hounds Detection Canines—a Colorado-based narcotics K-9 company—since 2005. Her debut novel, Chasing Justice, won a Best Book Award from the American Book Fest and was a 2023 Silver Falchion finalist in the Suspense category and Readers’ Choice Award. She lives near the Colorado foothills with her husband and four-legged coworkers. Sign up for Kathleen’s newsletter to receive her free short story eBook collection, Working Tails.
Hello friends, and thank you, George, for having me as a guest today on your fabulous blog. This is my second visit here, and I’m excited about the release of Hunting The Truth, Book #2 in the National Forest K-9 series. Here’s a little more about my writing background and process.
Hunting The Truth Quick Summary: “Hide, Maya. Don’t let the bad people find you.” Those are the last words Forest Service law enforcement officer and K-9 handler Maya Thompson ever heard her mother say. Returning to the Colorado mountains, ex-soldier Maya is no longer a scared little girl. She’s here to investigate her mother’s cold case. After new DNA evidence surfaces, Maya and her K-9 partner, Juniper, track a suspect deep into the forest and directly into grave danger…
What brought you to writing? I have always loved reading and writing stories. My parents believed in reading to both my brother and me when we were kids. Listening to the stories was my favorite part of the day, and it wasn’t long before I was reading as many books as I could. I would often complain to my mom that I didn’t like how a book ended or I didn’t like something that happened in the story. She would tell me to write my own story and come up with a different ending or create a new character. I was also one of those kids who would wake up in the middle of the night and couldn’t go back to sleep. I would wake up my parents and tell them I was bored.
Looking back, my poor parents! I’m sure they never thought they’d get any sleep. My mom once again told me to lie in bed and make up stories. So, I did. Over time, I started to write them down. The dream of being a mystery writer came when I first read Mary Higgins Clark in high school. Here was a female author who wrote stories I couldn’t put down. I wanted to do the same thing.
I didn’t start writing fiction until I was an adult. I wrote my first full novel when I was about 30. I was hooked, and I haven’t stopped writing since. I now have three books written in the National Forest K-9 series. The first two are published, and the third book, Killer Secrets, will be out on March 26, 2024. I have many more ideas for more books in the National Forest K-9 series and a new series as well.
Do you have any advice for new writers? I would tell new writers to stay true to themselves. What I mean by that is write what you love. Write what is you. Don’t worry about trends or if someone tells you something isn’t going to work. Learn your craft, but stay true to yourself.
Go to conferences to network, take classes from other authors, and study the business if you want to publish. I would encourage new writers to learn about different paths to publication. There’s no right or wrong way.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? My books are set in a fictional national forest, and most mountain towns are fictional. I did include the real town of Fort Collins, CO, in Hunting The Truth. My decisions were based on two of my favorite authors—Craig Johnson and William Kent Krueger. Before I started writing the National Forest K-9 series, I was lucky enough to ask both about their decision regarding fictional versus real locations. They both had similar answers.
When you have a fictional town and forest, you don’t have to worry about landmarks, rivers, lakes, etc. being in an exact location. You have more fictional liberty. But adding a real town can give the reader a sense of location if they look up the city on a map.
From there, I created the fictional Pino Grande National Forest and envisioned it in the area of the Roosevelt and Arapaho National Forests. In Hunting The Truth, I have Maya drive from the fictional town of Pinecone Junction to the real town of Fort Collins. I grew up in the Fort Collins area, so it was fun to include that location in my book.
What kind of research do you do? I love doing research and learning more about the jobs and settings I portray in the National Forest K-9 series. My research has included taking the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office citizens academy, talking to other K-9 handlers and trainers, and riding with a mountain deputy. I was also lucky enough to connect with a U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer and K-9 handler. His knowledge has been invaluable, and I really appreciate how willing he is to answer questions.
About ten years ago, a new neighbor moved in next door to us, and I found out he was a retired Chief of Police. I asked him if I could ask some questions, and he was open to answering anything I wanted to know. His knowledge has been helpful.
A recent law enforcement expert I’ve connected with is Patrick O’Donnell, who has the Cops and Writers podcast. His Facebook group and Patrick himself have been fantastic with sharing law enforcement knowledge.
For my mountain setting, I’ve learned a ton about the mountains, which was my goal as I wanted the setting to be a character in my novels. My dad worked for the Forest Service as a researcher and is deeply knowledgeable about the forests in our area. I feel fortunate to have so many great resources so that I can make my book as realistic as possible.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? I’ve taken classes from best-selling author Grant Blackwood. He was the one who really helped me figure this out. Grant called, raising the stakes, “dialing up.” Basically, this is asking ourselves, how can we make things worse for our characters? This includes both the protagonist and antagonist, and if you can play those character motivations off each other and make it personal, even better.
For example, in Hunting The Truth, Maya solves the murders of a friend, her mother, and her grandmother. In real life, that’s (hopefully) never going to happen. This was my way of “dialing up” the story and making it personal for Maya, giving her even more motivation.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’m excited to have Hunting The Truth out now and a third book in the National Forest K-9 series, Killer Secrets, coming out in March 2024. I also have some new series ideas that will include K-9s and my other passion—horses.
Where to Purchase Hunting The Truth