Interview: JM Kelley

TTS: The Top Shelf would like to welcome JM Kelley to the blog! How did the idea for Drew in Blue come about?

JM Kelley: So many random inspirations for this story. I had a friend who was in a similar, though much less compelling situation. That life-twist must have stuck in my brain. And, of course, life in small-town Pennsylvania is always inspiring. The area in which I lived was full of weirdness. Our mayor was charged with a murder that was committed in the sixties. A local school became the basis for the second Scopes Monkey Trial. There’s a man who roams town karate-kicking parking meters. The next county over, two Amish guys were busted as being part a drug ring involving the Pagan motorcycle gang. You can’t make that stuff up, but you sure can use it as inspiration for your stories, and if anybody tries to tell you your stuff isn’t realistic, all you have to do is point them toward the local newspaper. Being brought up in an environment like that makes it very easy to create a quirky town of your own.

TTS: I like to ask this question of every author I interview because I find character creation interesting.  How did you name your characters and did you shape them after people you know in real life?

JM Kelley: A lot of my earlier characters (non-published writing) are names that were on my ‘baby name’ list. You know how it is to be a girl. By the time we’re ten, we having weddings plotted out, and at least fifteen contingency plans for baby names. Since I didn’t reproduce, my baby names started being character names. Drew was recycled from an old story that I’d written in the amateur years. I just think it’s a great guy name. Kris, the heroine was named after my nephew, mostly because I thought it would be a great tomboyish name for a girl. Sorry, nephew. I’d like to say I had a process for name assignment, but frankly, it usually boils down to me begging people to throw out names at me. And if I like a suggestion, I nab it.

As for their character traits, I may use bits and pieces of the people I know around me, but nobody is ever truly modeled after somebody I know.  If anything, I’ll jot down random experiences that seem so weird, they should be from a novel and eventually find a place for a fictionalized version of events in one of my stories.

TTS: Did you have the storyline all planned out when you sat down to write or did it take a life of its own beyond the initial paragraph?

JM Kelley: I get plot bunnies. Little nuggets. The classic, “what if…” scenario pops into my mind, and if it eats at me for some time, I know I have a story idea in the making. After that, I tend to let it happen as the writing process progresses. And then I second-guess. And then I third-guess. And then my beta reader, Laurie, tells me to shut up and just write.

TTS: When you sit down to write a story do you use an outline?

JM Kelley: Not exactly. Outlines give me migraines. Granted, if I get midway into a story, I may go back and outline what I have on paper already. That helps me clarify the rest of the plot, and I may sketch out a loose structure of what I must do to finish things up. But, for the most part, I dive in and let the story go where it may.

TTS: Where there ever moments where the story didn’t go the way you planned or personally wanted it to go?  How did you deal with that?

JM Kelley: The biggest turnaround for me was realizing Drew had to be told in the first person from his own perspective. I had a lot written in third person, but it wasn’t clicking. This was Drew’s story, and it didn’t work until I let him tell it.

Of course, what I intended for the story originally was totally abandoned. Kris was a tertiary character at best. But she demanded a bigger role. I had little choice but to listen to her.

I don’t fret too much when a story veers off down another path. If the notion excites me, then I’m happy to play along. If I’m not enjoying what’s unfolding, then what’s the point of writing it in the first place?

TTS: What led you to writing?

JM Kelley: I’ve always written privately. I distinctly remember having one of my stories read by a teacher in front of class, and snickering ensued by the roving bullies in school. That helped the decision to keep it under wraps. After school, I didn’t have much confidence in it, so I let the writing habit slip away.

I started writing again after my father died. High angst stuff, mostly to purge what I felt after his loss. Then, after a layoff, I suddenly had too much time on my hands, and a story idea that had been lurking in my mind. I finally decided it was time to take my writing seriously, and I haven’t stopped since then.

TTS: Are you planning on sticking to one genre or are you going to branch out into others?

JM Kelley: I feel comfortable writing romance, and I feel it is a strong genre for me. I am very hyper-critical of my own writing, so I feel I have a lot to learn before I branch out into new genres. I don’t know what I would write, but in the future I would certainly love to tackle something else.

TTS: What do you like to read? 

JM Kelley: My bookshelf is a complicated blend of everything you could think of, book-wise. I have the classics, a little dystopian fun, memoir, romance, mystery, to name a few. I also am weirdly addicted those A-Z style books. You know, everything you ever needed to know about vampires, angels, woodworking, elephants… all arranged in a neat alphabetical point-by-point directory.

TTS: What are you reading at the moment?

JM Kelley: Right now I’m bouncing back and forth between Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, a romance for my own review blog, and um… Reader’s Digest. My aunt apparently gave me a lifetime subscription to that magazine, so I feel obligated to read it cover to cover.

TTS: Do you think what authors read influence what they write?

JM Kelley: Definitely. You learn things from reading, especially if you have the courage to admit that you’re reading an author who has much stronger writing than you, in certain areas. In my writing, I am not good at the paranormal thing. But after reading Sarah Addison Allen, I fell in love with her technique for handling a subtle ‘magical’ theme. I have a WIP that will benefit from what I learned from her writing. I certainly don’t want to duplicate her style. But I feel more capable of tackling a story with just a light sprinkling of the mystical now that I’ve seen it in action. I get it, now. The way I ultimately handle it will be my own, but I think her stories were a fabulous lesson for me.

TTS: Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on right now if you’re working on anything at all?

JM Kelley: My second novel, Daddy’s Girl (women’s fiction), is in the editorial queue at Turquoise Morning Press, and is scheduled to be released in January of 2013. I’m midway through another romance that is mildly inspired by my own decision to pack my bags and move from Pennsylvania to South Carolina. And there are a couple other stories in the birth-stage still. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the plot bunnies keep reproducing, and I’m having trouble keeping them in their cages until I’m ready to work on them.

TTS: Once again, I would like to thank JM Kelley for taking the time to be here! I would love to have you back again sometime!

JM Kelley: Thanks for having me, Misty, and thanks for the fun questions!

J.M. Kelley is the author of
Drew In Blue, a contemporary romance available for download from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, All Romance, and OmniLit. Drew In Blue was nominated for Best Contemporary Romance of 2010 by The Romance Reviews. Please visit her website at for links, excerpt, reviews, and more. While J.M. Kelley drools when she sleeps, it rarely contains Extra Tasty Crispy residue. It may, however, contain essence of chocolate ice cream….

Synopsis: Drew Doyle’s done a lot of stupid things in his life, but the biggest mistake by far was not paying attention to that 2% failure rate listed on the back of the condom box.

Drew in Blue is the story of a thirty-six year old loner unexpectedly saddled with the task of raising a baby while trying to sort out his mess of a life. Problem is, he just keeps making things worse for himself. It’s a running theme in Drew’s life, considering he never does anything the easy way. The River’s View, Pennsylvania gossip mill is watching each misstep as Drew juggles a price-gouging babysitter, a major case of artist’s block, and a best friend with an opinion to share on every bungled choice he makes.

His love life isn’t faring much better. Despite a long history of relationships that never really get off the ground, he falls head over heels for someone new, hoping that she might be the one to end his romantic bad luck streak. Things finally start looking up for Drew, until he finds out (the hard way, naturally) that this new love interest isn’t the one for him after all. Turns out, it’s actually lifelong pal, and high school girlfriend, Kristina Moser.

Drew’s feelings for Kris intensify as he witnesses her growing bond with his son, and he finally realizes where he belongs. Now all he has to do is convince Kris he’s right… and she’s just not buying it.

Buy it now at:
Amazon (Kindle) $3.99

Misty graduated from Capital University in 2005 with a degree in English Literature. She is an avid reader and is the owner of The Top Shelf

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