It’s my pleasure to welcome Mary Keliikoa to Ruff Drafts. Mary is the author of Deceived, the third Kelly Pruett Mystery. She hails from Ridgefield, Washington.
Hi, Mary. How long have you been published? What titles and/or series have you published and with which publisher? Please give details.
My first publication was in 1996 with a short mystery that appeared in Woman’s World. In 2021, Untreed Reads published my short story as part of an anthology Peace, Love, Crime: Crime Fiction Inspired by Songs of the Sixties.
As far as novel length, I debuted in 2020 at Camel Press with DERAILED, the first book in the Kelly Pruett mystery series. I followed up with DENIED in 2021 and DECEIVED came out on May 10, 2022.
Great! Please tell us a little bit about your books.
My current series features a PI who is a single mom to a deaf daughter, and who has inherited her father’s detective agency. She also lives next door to her ex-mother-in-law and is co-parenting with her ex-husband. So you can imagine there’s all kinds of conflict that can arise from that! The series starts with her first case shortly after her dad’s death and as she goes through a stiff learning curve, she improves as an investigator and a mom throughout the books.
I also have a new series beginning October 25, 2022, with Level Best Books that I’m quite excited about! HIDDEN PIECES is set at the Oregon coast and straddles psychological suspense and mystery. It features a former Portland homicide detective turned small town sheriff. Jax Turner has been struggling to function after the death of his daughter from cancer and his marriage, but the case of a missing teenage girl brings him back to life. And when he finds ties to a 25-year-old cold case, he seeks redemption vowing to get it right this time.
Good news. I just started a new series myself. I’ve heard nice things about Level Best Books. One day, I may consider querying them. Both of my series are with Indie publishers. I assume Level Best Books is traditional publisher and require an agent. I’m still looking for one.
Describe your goals as a writer. What do you hope to achieve in the next few years? What are you planning to do to reach these goals?
Continuing to write of course is priority one! My agent has a stand-alone domestic suspense that she’s pitching, and I’m busy working on edits for Jax Turner’s Book 2 (Deadly Tides) and a new stand-alone domestic suspense! My goal long term is really to just continue to write and to publish. And hope to continuously grow my audience as I do that.
But I also want to continue to improve my craft. I regularly attend conference workshops, read books, and attend classes. I also seek out experienced writers who edit my work. It’s fun to learn in the classroom, but nothing beats getting words on the page and having them critiqued to know if it’s sinking in.
Excellent goals. I have similar ones. I also enjoy alternating my cozy mysteries with standalone psychological mysteries. I like writing and reading both of those types of books.
What type of reader are you hoping to attract? Who do you believe would be most interested in reading your books?
Mystery and suspense lovers, of course! But also people who gravitate to character driven novels versus plot only. I believe my novels in general have broad appeal. They aren’t too graphic, and I really work to create worlds where people are relatable, and justice is served in the end.
You should have a nice-sized audience. I also feel that characters are as important as plots in books.
What advice would you give other authors or those still trying to get published?
Find your tribe and continue to improve on your craft. Both are so important during the process. There are days when the story doesn’t flow, or the plot isn’t working, and it’s wonderful to have writing friends to reach out to. They get you on a level that no one else can. Of course, always improving as a writer is key, but don’t let the amount of classes and books distract you from doing the actual writing. And whatever you do, don’t give up! It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Every day you dedicate to your passion, is a day well spent.
That sounds like great advice.
What particular challenges and struggles did you face before first becoming published?
Just that overwhelming feeling that it was never going to be good enough. I had over 100 rejections on my first Kelly Pruett novel, DERAILED, before I got an agent. And then a year after that to get the book deal. But then it went on to receive 4 nominations for best debut.
You really have to shut down the naysayers and keep writing—keep editing—keep believing. I won’t say it was easy. I had dark days, but I also tried to put it into perspective. I have a very full productive life with a wonderful husband and family, and so I focused on the one thing I could control in the process—writing.
It’s true that persistence pays off. I know there’s at least one of my books that I should’ve queried further to agents because I don’t think I sent out even a quarter as many as you did before you landed one, but I’m glad that I can keep writing and publishing.
Do you belong to any writing groups? Which ones?
I do—I think community is so important and you definitely find that in writing groups. I’m the VP of my local Sisters in Crime chapter. I’m also an active member of Mystery Writers of America, Private Eye Writers of America, and Willamette Writers.
I’m also a Sisters-in-Crime member. Although I don’t have a local chapter, I belong to others that I can attend virtually. I’m considering joining Mystery Writers of America. Even though my publishers aren’t recognized by them, I could probably join as an Associate Member because I’m also a librarian. I’ve never heard of Private Eye Writers of America but will check them out.
What are your hobbies and interests besides writing?
Of course, I’m an avid reader. Mystery and suspense are my main genres, but I also enjoy some Women’s Fiction, and an occasional fantasy or Sci-fi as well. In addition, I love to travel. I recently purchased a map of the world so I could keep track of all the places I’ve been, and where I want to go. And the list is long! I also love to golf, take cooking and baking classes, and spend time with my family. With 10 grandchildren, there’s never a dull moment.
Ten grandchildren, wow! The only grandkids I have are my two grandcats who belong to my seventeen-year-old daughter. We have similar reading interests. I like to try different authors, both well-known and lesser known. I also like to travel, but I’m still working full-time and worry about finding someone to catsit my cats if I go away with my husband and daughter.
What do you like most and least about being an author? What is your toughest challenge?
I love connecting with readers and talking story in general. That is my favorite part hands down. The toughest challenge for me is marketing my work. I’m not alone in this, I know. Us introverts and authors are happiest behind the keyboard, creating in our own little worlds. But sometimes we have to come out and say – hey – maybe check out my book? And that’s just not a natural thing for me.
I agree completely about the challenge of marketing and promoting. I also love connecting with readers. It’s always a thrill to hear from people all over the country through email or Facebook who are reading my books.
What do you like about writing cozy mysteries?
I love the community, the family feeling, and the lack of violence on the page. I think you can tune into the nightly news for that, and I like to write stories that focus in on solving of the crime, and the relationships, versus the graphic imagery of a crime.
I agree completely. I also like writing cozies because, as the series continues, the characters develop and almost become like friends, whether you’re reading or writing about them.
Can you share a short excerpt from your latest title or upcoming release?
You can actually go to my website here and read the first chapter of DECEIVED!
Thanks. I’ll check it out, and I hope my readers will, too.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or your books?
Only that I think they’re a fun read. I really work to marry plot with character and create characters that are both relatable and those to be rooted for. I also like to say I make sure justice is served in the end, and I think readers can trust that will always be the case.
Nice. Thank you so much for the interview. Please list your social media links, website, blog, etc. I’ll also be sharing your blog tour for Deceived. I wish you the best on your new release and upcoming books.
Deceived (A Kelly Pruett Mystery)
by Mary Keliikoa
Deceived (A Kelly Pruett Mystery)
Cozy Mystery – Woman Sleuths
3rd in Series
Setting – Oregon
Camel Press (May 10, 2022)
Paperback : 218 pages
ISBN-10 : 1603818650
ISBN-13 : 978-1603818650
Digital ASIN : B09Q7SG18K
In the third thrilling book in the Kelly Pruett mystery series–Her world was falling into place. Then women started dropping off the map.
PI Kelly Pruett finally feels like she’s coming into her own. With her personal life well on track, a gig uncovering what drove a client’s granddaughter underground could be good for business. But after her undercover operation at the homeless shelter reveals rampant drug dealing, she’s suddenly kicked off the case… just as another girl goes missing.
Vowing to expose the truth even if it means pro-bono work, Kelly is taken aback when her half-sister helps her hunt down answers in a tent city brimming with distrust. When her investigation doesn’t move quickly enough to save a second woman from a vicious murder, Kelly doubles her efforts unwilling to accept defeat.
About Mary Keliikoa
Mary Keliikoa is the Shamus finalist and Lefty, Agatha and Anthony nominated author of the PI Kelly Pruett mystery series, and the Misty Pines mystery series featuring former Portland homicide detective turned small-town sheriff. Her short stories have appeared in Woman’s World and in the anthology Peace, Love and Crime.
A Pacific NW native, she spent years working around lawyers and admits to being that person who gets excited when called for jury duty. When not in Washington, you can find Mary on the beach in Hawaii. But even under the palm trees and blazing sun, she’s plotting her next murder—novel that is.
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