Mary Keliikoa is the author of the multi-award nominated PI Kelly Pruett mystery series and HIDDEN PIECES, the first book in the Misty Pines mystery series. Her short stories have appeared in Woman’s World and the anthology Peace, Love and Crime: Crime Fiction Inspired by Music of the ’60s.
A Pacific NW native, she spent many years working around lawyers. When not in Washington, you can find Mary with toes in the sand on a Hawaiian beach or making plans to travel abroad. But wherever she goes, she’s always plotting her next murder—novel, that is.
HIDDEN PIECES, first in series: A small-town sheriff debilitated from the loss of his child and marriage answers the call for one last case, a “runaway” teen; but when it’s clear the girl has been abducted and ties to a tragic cold case emerge, he must confront his own ghosts before another child is lost.
Thank you so much for having me on your blog today, George! I’m excited to be back. I was here last when DENIED, the second book in my PI Kelly Pruett mystery series, had just come out. Since then, my third and final book in the series, DECEIVED, was released in May, and HIDDEN PIECES, the first in the Misty Pines mystery series, just published.
HIDDEN PIECES means a lot to me for several reasons, but probably the most significant was that it is loosely based on a crime that happened in my hometown in 1979 when two girls went out walking and one didn’t come home. I was drawn to the idea of exploring what happened to the survivor and how one would process that, or not process, the grief of that traumatic experience—especially if the victim was a sibling. While a fictional account, it explores how grief and trauma can have lasting effects, not only for the survivor but also for the cop who felt a failure for not bringing that child home. And it’s all woven into a current abduction. Let’s just say there will be many connections to the past.
What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? Hidden Pieces was my first time writing a male protagonist, and I had a bit of a learning curve in working out his thought process, his abbreviated dialogue, how he processed information, and grief of events that have happened in his present and past. Those elements were the biggest challenge. But I tried to approach Jax from the perspective that regardless, many emotions are universal. And while men and women communicate differently, what drives their need for communication is universal. It was definitely fun exploring the full range of differences and commonalities, and I hope to continue to write Jax and other male protagonists in the future.
Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? Such a great question and the answer is no. As a storyteller, I feel my job is to listen to the story the characters want to tell. Sure I have an idea of where I’d like them to go, and I have the case in mind they’re to solve. I even think I know the arc I’d like them to take. But how they get there comes out as I write. And to be honest, they often lead me on a path that is far more interesting and fun than the one I had planned for them.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations?
I have generally kept my stories in the Portland area or used Portland as a reference point. In my PI series, it was set in Portland. In my new series, Sheriff Turner was a Portland homicide detective but came to the fictional small coastal town of Misty Pines.
I often will use the fictional town when I want to reference things in the area, but I want the creative license not to be overly specific. For example, Misty Pines is really a compilation of the Hammond, Warrenton and Seaside, Oregon areas at the northern coast. So I would say even when I do use fictional, I have generally based them on places I’ve been to or know fairly well. In Hidden Pieces, I lived in Hammond for many years as a kid, so that area was the perfect setting for the novel.
What are you currently working on? The second book in the Misty Pines series, DEADLY TIDES, has already been drafted, so I’m currently working on edits for my agent on a domestic suspense novel and starting a standalone where the main character will be a bit of a vigilante. I’m very excited about this new project. I’ve generally written investigator-type protagonists, and this one will be full of moral ambiguity. So she’s going to be a lot of fun to write!
Do you have any advice for new writers? Continue to hone your craft either by taking classes, reading books, or finding a group of other writers you can bounce ideas off. Above all, write. Sometimes you can get caught up in thinking you need to do things a particular way, and nothing beats simply sitting down and getting words on the page. Don’t let anyone define what that means to you, whether it’s a journal, a poem, a short story, or a novel.
And second, find your community. I’ve really enjoyed the connections I’ve made on this journey, and I encourage others to do the same.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you?
Lots of writing is in store. I am finalizing the second book in the Misty Pines series, which will be out in the fall of 2023, continuing to edit my domestic suspense, and starting on my next project in the next few weeks. I’ve always said as long as I’m having fun, I won’t slow down. And it’s safe to say I won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
How do our readers contact you? https://marykeliikoa.com
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