Mary Keliikoa is the author of award-winning Hidden Pieces and Deadly Tides in the Misty Pines mystery series, the award nominated PI Kelly Pruett mystery series, and the upcoming Don’t Ask, Don’t Follow out June 2024. Her short stories have appeared in Woman’s World and in the Peace, Love and Crime anthology.

 

A Pacific NW native, she admits to being that person who gets excited when called for jury duty. When not in Washington, you can find Mary with her toes in the sand on a Hawaiian beach. But even under the palm trees and blazing sun, she’s plotting her next murder—a novel that is. www.marykeliikoa.com

There’s an adage that would-be writers often hear when working on their first pieces: write what you know. In fact, in the beginning, and even now, it was advice that I heard quite often. And I don’t disagree. There is wisdom to that. Among other things, when one is so busy making things up, as we fiction writers do, it’s nice to lean into some solid information that we have personal knowledge about. It saves on research, for sure. But let’s face it—one’s knowledge base can only go so far. And I believe that in addition to what you know, writing what you want to learn about, understand, or what fascinates you can add richness to a story.

When I wrote the first book in the Misty Pines mystery series, HIDDEN PIECES, I decided to set the series in a place I was familiar with. That’s why I chose the Oregon coast, where my parents moved our family when I was a toddler.

While I don’t remember much about those early years, by the time I reached the age of five, many things about the coast stuck: the mist and the cool weather that never seemed to end, and that saturated our clothes was near the top. But also the moss laden trees in the towering forests. The hum of the ocean waves reverberating in the air. The sheer rock cliffs and violent eddies at their base. The call of the seagulls overhead, the bark of sea lions on the rocks, and the brackish smell of seaweed.

I also knew the people that chose that area as home. The family-like atmosphere where everyone knows your business. That the worry lines on the face of a fisherman’s wife don’t soften until he’s safely back across the bar. That fish and chips, and beer are necessary fare when gathering to tell tall fish tales at the local gathering hole.

I know the intriguing items that wash up along the ocean beaches, which was an absolute treat for the treasure hunter in me. From glass fishing floats and sand dollars to various creatures in the tidal pools, I could spend hours running along the ocean shores.

Setting I knew. But I also wanted to explore what I wanted to understand. In the Misty Pines series, that is grief—and the desperate need for redemption. In Hidden Pieces, I focused on a true crime that happened in my hometown where two girls went out walking and a car stopped. One girl never made it home. Using that as a backdrop, I explored how an individual might cope with a tragedy like that in their life…or perhaps not cope so well.

In DEADLY TIDES, the second book in the series out now, I went in another direction. I was interested in a phenomenon that has occurred with some regularity in the Pacific Northwest: severed feet washing ashore. Crazy enough, that has been happening for over the past decade. As to who the feet belong to, sadly, many have been victims of accidents, and some due to suicide. However, I write mystery with a dose of suspense, so of course, I chose a more nefarious cause.

Which brings me back to why those feet washed ashore—and understanding what might drive someone to such a gruesome act. And that led me back to that element of grief and how it might change a person.

Sometimes, it takes them to the edge, questioning their own existence. Sometimes, it has them acting out in a way they would not otherwise. Sometimes, grief morphs into bitterness and erodes an individual’s very core.

I explore this in the Misty Pines series through my main characters because it is a subject that I am familiar with…but want to understand. And here’s what I’ve learned.

Grief is a pesky neighbor that shows up at one’s window unannounced and knocks insidiously until it’s let in. There’s always the option to hide—close the window shade and pretend not to be home. But at some point, you have to come out. And grief, like that neighbor, will be waiting. Sometimes, it’s best to just let them in because they aren’t going anywhere—and one might as well learn to live peaceably next door to it because the alternative could be dire…at least that’s the direction I take in my novels. Like those feet, which thankfully I never ran across, severed or otherwise, when out beachcombing as a kid.

Now that I have a better understanding of grief… I’m on the lookout for the next thing to understand that fascinates me and that I can weave into my next story. I have a feeling it won’t be a problem!

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