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!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: www.marykeliikoa.com
Cindy Sample is a former corporate CEO who decided plotting murder was more entertaining than plodding through paperwork. She retired to follow her lifelong dream of becoming a mystery author. Her eight-book Laurel McKay Humorous Mystery series is primarily set in the California Gold Country unless Cindy feels like traveling. Then the characters tag along with her on trips to Hawaii, the Caribbean, and Las Vegas.
Cindy is a five-time finalist for the LEFTY Award for Best Humorous Mystery, a two-time finalist for the SILVER FALCHION Award for best traditional mystery, and a two-time finalist for the Chanticleer MURDER & MAYHEM AWARD for best cozy mystery. BIRTHDAYS ARE MURDER, the first book in her new Spindrift Cove Mystery series set in Washington state, was just released.
BIRTHDAYS ARE MURDER – After Sierra Sullivan moves to Spindrift Cove, Washington, she soon discovers gigs for middle-aged entertainers are scarcer than good hair days. She reluctantly accepts a party-princess gig. Little does Sierra know she’ll soon be upstaged by a corpse and become the leading-lady suspect.
What brought you to writing? I discovered Nancy Drew in the first grade, and by the time I turned eight, I’d read all the books in the series. One night, I decided to use my spelling words and dashed off a sixteen-page sequel. It would have been longer, but my mother made me go to bed at 8:30. I received an A+ and was hooked. I knew I wanted to be a mystery author. Although it took a half-century for me to realize that dream.
What are you currently working on? I just released BIRTHDAYS ARE MURDER, the first book in my new Spindrift Cove Mystery series set on the Olympic Peninsula. I’m currently plotting the sequel while also writing DYING FOR A DECORATION, a holiday novella that will be the ninth book in my Laurel McKay Humorous Mystery series. Laurel manages to get in trouble without much prompting from me.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? In the first two Laurel McKay Mysteries, my characters behaved and aligned with my original plot concept. When I began writing DYING FOR A DAIQUIRI, the third book in the series, the victim absolutely refused to let me knock her off. So she was upgraded to a suspect. At the time, I was vacationing in Hawaii, the book’s setting. The next day, while dining at my favorite oceanfront restaurant, I visualized the new victim, a hula dancer who worked at Laurel’s brother’s Daiquiri bar. More suspects than I could ever have imagined walked into that story. At first, I was frustrated because I couldn’t figure out who the killer was. But I also discovered how much fun it is to play detective while writing a book. The murderer was finally revealed to me around page 170. Since then, I have let my characters evolve on their own.
Do you have subplots? I have a very fertile imagination and so do my characters. I never experience writer’s block, but I dream up so many plots that sometimes it’s difficult to choose. I try to weave in subplots about my protagonist’s family that are relatable to readers. Domestic issues can range from her eight-year-old son and teenage daughter to her bossy mother and feisty octogenarian grandmother. I also added a 150-pound Bernese Mountain dog in book seven who provides plenty of humor all by himself.
What kind of research do you do? I love my research, whether riding an ATV, performing at a ballroom dance competition, sampling daiquiris in Hawaii, or donuts in the Gold Country. My Laurel McKay series is known for its comic chase scenes. I’ve ridden backhoes (slowest chase scene ever), snowmobiles, wave runners, gondolas, stagecoaches, and tandem bicycles to make sure the details were just right. And I watch a ton of YouTube videos, too as well. Since Laurel and I are equally klutzy, the humor comes naturally to both of us.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I live in the California Gold Country, a beautiful area with historic gold mines, wineries, and apple orchards, close to the Sierra Nevada mountains. I wanted to profile the town and some of my favorite places. The series has become so popular locally that business owners frequently request that I “stuff a stiff” in their venue. The Spindrift Cove series is set in a fictional town which gives me more latitude in certain respects, such as the size of the local police force. But I also refer to real places on the Olympic Peninsula that people are familiar with. It’s an incredibly beautiful area, and I love showcasing it.
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Glenda Carroll writes the Trisha Carson mysteries that take place in the San Francisco Bay area, from Oracle Park, home of the San Francisco Giants to the beautiful lakes in the East Bay to the tree-lined streets of Marin County.
Her mysteries are set in the world of open water swimming. The third book of the series Dead Code will be published by Indies United Publishing House. The launch date is October 27, 2021. Books one and two, Dead in the Water and Drop Dead Red, introduced Trisha Carson, a 40-something woman trying to find her way in the world, and her family to the mystery reading community.
When not writing, she tutors high school and college students for Canal Alliance, San Rafael, in English and occasionally History. These are first-generation teens who understand that education is the way out of poverty.
What brought you into writing? Good question. I never, ever thought I would write fiction. For almost twenty years, I was a sportswriter for the Marin Independent Journal. I covered mostly water sports: sailing and sailboat racing, boating (in general), surfing, some swimming. I remember someone once asked me, “Do you have a novel in there?” I was miffed. “How can you write about something that isn’t true?” I huffed and puffed. But I found that not only could I use my imagination and find dead bodies in all types of strange locations. But I liked doing it!
What is your writing process? Several years back, I entered a NaNoWriMo 6-word contest about writing. “Write like a hurricane. Edit later,” was my prize-winning entry. That seems to be what I do. I blast through the first draft. After that, it’s torture. I write draft after draft. I often take out big chunks of copy and put them in a special deleted file. I’m not sure why I keep them. I have never used anything that I’ve buried in that file. For Dead Code, three people volunteered to be my Beta readers. It was the first time I was that organized to ask for help. They were great…excellent suggestions that made the manuscript better.
Have you ever had writer’s block? Oh yes. When I was writing the first book in the series Dead in the Water, I reached a point where I didn’t know what to say and what to type. At those times, I would go out and cut the grass. I had an old-fashioned push mower, and it was in the middle of summer. Maybe it was the dripping sweat that kickstarted my brain, but when I came back inside to my cool house, my mind was working again.
How do you come up with characters’ names? For the protagonist of the series, Trisha Carson, I knew her age and researched the popular girls’ names the year she was born. After that, I began to use the names of family members. In all the books, there is a character I called Inspector Carolina Burrell, San Francisco Police Department. That moniker contains my granddaughter’s name and the name of a former San Francisco Giants outfielder, Pat Burrell. I used my sons’ first names for ballplayers on the Giants. My grandson Caden’s name was used for a secret swimming spot, Caden’s Corner. If you’re related to me or even someone I admire, your name will be usurped at some point.
Do you have subplots? There is definitely a subplot in Dead Code. As I mentioned earlier, the first two books of the series are firmly set in the world of open water swimming, and the plots are water-oriented. Dead Code moves away from being totally involved with water into the world of hacking. (There are swimming scenes for those who can’t get enough of H2O.) Just as I finished the first draft, I had my identity stolen. My hacker found his way into my bank accounts, health care, phone, and email. I tore my hair out for about a week, trying to understand what was going on and how to stop it. I knew I had to add that to the manuscript. I rewrote the whole thing so Trisha could share my pain. She hated it as much as I did.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? Honestly, I seem to start in the middle and work toward the beginning and the end. I usually don’t know ‘who did it’ until I write it. However, I tried to become more organized with book two. For Drop Dead Red, I carefully worked out an outline. Then I started writing. I didn’t make it through the first chapter before I strayed from the outline. I’m not sure why I can’t stick to an outline. I just can’t. I wish I could.
“(Trisha Carson is)…a smart, steadfast gumshoe who, in her second book, continues to flourish…Carroll’s writing bounces off the page.” Kirkus Reviews
What are you currently working on? As I mentioned, I am approaching the finish line with Dead Code. This is a different subject for me, involving hackers and ransomware. I only had a cursory knowledge of the computer crime world. I needed to read everything I could on the subject, and I even lurked on a few hacker bulletin boards. My sister’s sweetheart started his own computer security firm ages ago, and he was happy to answer all my questions, from the simplest to the most complex. He even made a few plot suggestions.
Advice to new writers?
First, keep reading—everything you can. But be critical (in a good way) of the text. How does the author use verbs? What are transitions like? What makes you say, “I wish I wrote that sentence, paragraph, chapter?” Does the ending work?
Second. Do your best to keep that inner voice that tells you. You don’t know what you’re doing at bay. Half the time, I never know where the story is going until I write it. However, I am beginning to have confidence that something, maybe even something worth reading, will come out of the process.
Third. Write. Even when you don’t want to.
Looking to the future, what is in store for you? As you might guess, I write about open water swimming, because I swim in open water (as well as a pool). I swim in rivers, lakes, the ocean, and over the past year in the chilly San Francisco Bay. I’ve raced in more than 150 open water events in Northern California and Hawaii, and Perth, Australia. Currently, I am training for an Alcatraz swim in early September. I was swimming along the other day in the choppy Bay, putting in the distance, and the idea came to me for the next book. A swimmer is making their way across the Bay, and she is being escorted by a pilot boat. The swimmer gets a bit off course, and when she turns to look back at the boat, something is strange. She swims over to it, and the pilot (the captain or driver of the boat) has disappeared. The swimmer and the empty boat are in the middle of the Bay, alone. Sound interesting?
How can our readers contact you?
FB: Author page: https://www.facebook.com/Carrollandfriends
Personal FB page: https://www.facebook.com/glenda.carroll
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Ms.-Glenda-Carroll/e/B00CIJ7HJ8/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0
Debra Bokur has been at the writing game for more than 40 years but prefers to avoid saying exactly how many.
She’s worked as an editor and staff writer at newspapers and national magazines and as a full-time journalist (the real, old-fashioned kind), literary journal editor, screenwriter, and poet. She’s also done quite a bit of illustration work and spent several decades training horses and riders for competition in the sports of dressage and three-day eventing.
Debra is the recipient of multiple national writing awards, including a Lowell Thomas Award for travel journalism, and remains a columnist and feature writer at Global Traveler Magazine. She’s also senior researcher and writer for the Association of Safe International Road Travel. Both her jobs regularly take her to far-flung destinations in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. She doesn’t like flying but loves trains, prefers cold weather to hot; and strongly dislikes coffee, but drinks a truly impressive amount of tea on a daily basis.
Debra is the author of the Dark Paradise Mystery series from Kensington Books, including The Fire Thief (2020), The Bone Field (2021), and The Lava Witch (scheduled for release in 2022). When not traveling or writing, Debra spends her time hiking near her home high in the Rocky Mountains and renovating a haunted 1860s Victorian inn on the coast of Maine with her husband.
Do you write in more than one genre? I do. Besides crime/mystery fiction, I write magical realism and poetry. A lot of that has been published, and I’m working on a new mystery series that features elements of magical realism. Something I love to do, especially when working on a book, is to step away to write a short story, flash fiction piece, or poem. It helps me refocus. A topic I return to frequently is the re-telling of classic fairytales from a fresh or unusual angle.
You mentioned you prefer cold weather to hot, but your Dark Paradise Mystery series is set in Hawai’i. Why is that? I am definitely a cold weather person and am never happier than when the landscape is covered by deep snow or enveloped in cold winter mist. But Hawai’i is a definite exception—though my first trip there 25 years ago was under duress. I was the managing editor at a culinary magazine, and our food editor was suddenly unable to attend a food festival in Hawai’i that we’d agreed to cover. Our advertising team had already sold ad space around the expected story, and as anyone in magazine publishing knows, once ads have been sold, there’s absolutely going to be supporting editorial. I was the only staff member free to go. Plus, my husband had been invited to accompany me, and once he knew about it, there was no ducking out. So I went, grumbling all the way about sunburn, bugs, and the inferiority of palm trees to aspens. When we arrived, I realized I’d been a colossal idiot. It was pretty much love at first sight and is still the only tropical place I enjoy traveling to.
Over the years, I’ve been back many times, usually on assignment. During those excursions—and because of the fact that the magazines I’ve worked for have almost always focused on wellness, spirituality, herbal medicines, and similar topics—I’ve been deeply fortunate to have met and formed lasting relationships with elders, healers, and wisdom keepers from the Hawaiian culture. My book series grew out of my fascination with how such a remarkably beautiful landscape can harbor so much darkness.
Where do you write? What, if any distractions, do you allow? We live in a heavily forested corner of the Rocky Mountains at 8,400 feet, where I’ve created a mountain garden that’s home to numerous birds, foxes, rabbits, raccoons, and other wildlife. My writing room looks out on that space and is filled with meaningful objects that inspire me—books, letters, postcards, treasures, and talismans. While that’s the place I’m most productive and feel I do my best work, I’ve trained myself to write just about anywhere, which is necessary because of work travel. On planes, I’m too stressed to write (even though my husband is an experienced pilot who’s been trying for decades to explain bumpy air to me), but I’m particularly prolific on trains, buses, and in airports. As for distractions: cat, dog, and wildlife distractions are all completely acceptable, as are calls from my son (who’s been living in Iceland for a long time) and knocks on the door from my husband inviting me for a walk or announcing that a cake fell into his shopping cart at the store and I should stop working long enough to have a slice.
What brought you to writing? As the above references to animals and wildlife are no doubt clues, I was that intensely shy loner kid who always felt more comfortable hanging out with my pets and a good book than socializing with other humans. I was the eldest of five children, and our home was always filled with drama. I found that escaping into a story was a good way to cope. My mother used to read to us when we were young, and it was usually a mystery by Dashiell Hammett or Agatha Christie. As I got older, I discovered other authors and began writing my own stories. While I was spectacularly useless at math and science, I always excelled at writing and creative pursuits. I was lucky to be encouraged in that direction—and to have serious mentors later in life who became dear friends, including the late author Jack D. Hunter (The Blue Max and many other books), poet Ruth Moon Kempher, and literary journal publisher Colette Trent.
What kind of research do you do? Tons. Because my books deal with ancient Hawaiian legends and mythology, I spend lots of time reading works by anthropologists and other experts. One challenge is that much of Hawaiian history is oral, and the collected stories vary to a huge degree depending upon how the stories were handed down through individual families. After I have a working draft, I show it to one or more Native Hawaiian friends who let me know if I’m off track or have missed a vital point.
What is the best book you’ve ever read? Tough—but I’ll say Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman, which is stunningly imaginative and lyrical; and—not to be a cliché—The Lord of the Rings. I’ve re-read this trilogy at least two dozen times over the years, and it still acts as a portal, startles me with the beauty of the writing and imagery, and inspires me to be a better storyteller.
Please share your publication and new book information. The Bone Field (book #2 in my Dark Paradise Mystery series) is now available at all the usual outlets, as is the first book, The Fire Thief.
Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-bone-field-debra-bokur/1137556797
Links to my articles on CrimeReads:
Mary Keliikoa is the author of the Lefty, Agatha, and Anthony award-nominated PI Kelly Pruett mystery series and the upcoming Misty Pines mystery series featuring Sheriff Jax Turner slated for release in September 2022. Her short stories have appeared in Woman’s World and in the anthology Peace, Love and Crime: Crime Fiction Inspired by Music of the ’60s. A Pacific NW native, she spent a part of her life working around lawyers. Combining her love of legal and books, she creates a twisting mystery where justice prevails.
When not in Washington, you can find Mary on the beach in Hawaii, where she and her husband recharge. But even under the palm trees and blazing sun, she’s plotting her next murder—novel, that is.
Thank you so much for having me on your blog today, George! I’m delighted to be here. I came to writing in my late twenties and penned four novels by the age of 35. It was about that time that my husband and I opened a natural pet store and a distribution company, where all of my creative energies went for the next 15 years! I tucked away that last book I wrote in 1999 and set out to grow and run those businesses.
Fast forward, 2016, I’d turned 50, and we sold part of our company. Suddenly, I had time and energy to go back to that last book I’d written. I pulled it out and found that it wasn’t horrible, but it sure needed work—and updating. That last book I’d written was DERAILED, which is the first book in my series. When written, social media wasn’t a thing, and cell phones weren’t as savvy for taking photos and searching the web.
After many drafts and being involved in a mentoring program, I got my agent in 2017. The book deal came in 2018 and DERAILED published in 2020. It’s been racking up some nominations for best first novel, and today, I’m excited to say that BOOK 2, DENIED, just released.
When I’m not writing, I love to travel. Because my husband is Hawaiian and his family lives on the Big Island, we have a home there and get to visit quite often. But several years ago, the international travel bug bit us. Exploring other people’s cultures and meeting new friends has been the best part. And of course, as a mystery writer, I can’t go anywhere without wondering if I couldn’t set a story in that place or where to hide the body!
Do you write in more than one genre? I don’t write in any other genre than mystery and suspense. That is the genre that I love to read, and I can’t imagine anything else. I spent 18 years in the legal field, and I’ve always been drawn to that world and how it works. If I could volunteer to be on a jury, just to have a birdseye view on a regular basis, I would! I find it so intriguing. In mystery, I get to explore not only motivations and the crime but the way people tick and their thoughts and processes. The psychology of it is fascinating.
Tell us about your writing process: I’m a creature of routine. I put in 2-4 hours of writing, five days a week. I find that showing up at the same time each morning signals to my brain that it’s time to work. I aim for 2000 words a day, but I don’t worry if I don’t get there. Some days the story flows easier than others. One day I might manage 1000, but another day I cruise past 3500. At the end of the week, though, I’ve usually met my goal. And while editing doesn’t require the same word count, I still put in the time regularly.
What are you currently working on? With Book 3 already in the publisher’s hands and approved, I’m working on a standalone that could have some series potential. It features a paralegal, something I know quite a bit about, who is forced out of her workaholic comfort zone when her boss is murdered, and her sister goes missing,. The two events appear inextricably linked.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? I do have subplots, and I think they’re so important to the story! They also have to tie into the main story to be effective. For me, I use family and the obstacles they can pose as a subplot quite often. In DENIED, a subplot is Kelly and her ex-mother-in-law. They are at odds on many occasions, but their history and Kelly’s daughter binds them. I also have Kelly’s ex-husband with his own subplot. But it still ties back to their love of their daughter and how that affects Kelly’s choices as a private investigator.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist—for the antagonist? I’m always asking myself what can they lose or what do they feel they might lose in this scene—respect, their life, their ability to succeed. It doesn’t have to be huge, but there has to be the threat of something either physically or psychologically in play that means a lot to the character. If the character is invested in the outcome of the conversation or the action, then the reader will be as well. And I’m constantly turning the screw to make it harder on my characters. Of course, they get to save themselves near the end, but until then, I’m making them sweat! The fun part of writing for me is making life difficult but rewarding for all involved when the story is resolved.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? I would say that I am influenced by real people, but I never create a character that is specifically one person. I pull different pieces from many people I’ve met or known in various situations, and create a composite. Having worked in retail, and in law, I definitely have had a view of many different personality types, and that has been a gold mine when I create characters.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? Book 3, DECEIVED, has been approved at this point and will be published in May 2022! That will be the end of this part of the series of Kelly Pruett. But that’s not to say I won’t come back to her later. However, I have signed a two-book deal with Level Best Books. Book 1, HIDDEN PIECES, will be out September 2022 and features a small-town sheriff, Jax Turner, set in Misty Pines on the Oregon Coast. Of course, I have the second book in that series to write, and I don’t see myself slowing down any time soon!
Do you have any advice for new writers? My advice for any new writer is just to keep writing what you love, continue to hone your craft either by taking classes or finding a group of other writers you can bounce ideas off of and find your community. The best part of writing for me has been enjoying getting to know so many other mystery writers. Whether it’s that we support each other by critiquing each other’s books, or just boost each other on social media, or just boost each other on those days when we feel like we don’t know how to write (and even after having written nearly eight books now, I still have those days), it’s important to have people to lean on.
How do our readers contact you? https://marykeliikoa.com