Interview with J. M. Kelley
By Karen Jones
J.M., would you tell us a little about Drew In Blue?
Drew Doyle is a thirty-six year old loner suddenly responsible for the well-being of the infant son he fathered out of wedlock. Fatherhood doesn’t come naturally to him, and he enlists the help of his lifelong best friend and former love, Kristina Moser. With her assistance, he slowly learns to be the kind of parent his boy deserves, and to open his heart to the kind of love and acceptance he’s always desperately desired.
How did you come up with the idea for Drew In Blue?
My greatest weakness, when it comes to characters I fall in love with, is the flawed hero. I love a good man, a man with honorable intentions, but the male leads that linger in my mind long after I’ve reached The End are those who don’t always make the right choices, or don’t always say the right thing. I struggle to find that in books. Heroes can sometimes be a little too heroic. I wanted to read stories about the guys who struggle to overcome their own shortcomings and mistakes to find their happily ever after. And then one day it dawned on me that if I was having difficulties finding the flawed male lead I wanted to experience, maybe I’d just write one of my own.
Why did you set your story in Pennsylvania?
I was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and can testify to the fact that the state is mired in entertainingly odd tradition. I grew up surrounded by quirky people, strange history, and random encounters that made you wonder what the heck just happened there after you had a moment to reflect. I doubt I’d ever need to look elsewhere for unique plot possibilities.
What was it about your book that made your editor want to buy it?
I wanted to step outside the usual boundaries of romance. I wanted to really view a love story from the eyes of the one who needed that love the most. While it’s not unheard of, a male POV in a romance isn’t the norm, especially one written solely from his point of view. I worked very hard to keep the story in Drew’s perspective, while showing his love interest’s journey through his eyes. I think that effort, and the atypical approach to a modern love story is part of what caught my publisher’s eye.
What was the most difficult aspect of writing Drew In Blue?
The most difficult aspect of the process was definitely trying to stay true to a male perspective. There were times I had to go back and analyze how Drew handled a situation and really try to deconstruct it. Is this something I as a woman would do, or would a man really take this path? And there were instances in which I realized I was applying a female perspective to him, and it was necessary to ‘man it up’, so to speak.
How much research did you conduct for Drew In Blue and what was the most interesting thing you did while conducting your research?
Being a female writing a male point of view is a challenge all its own. I tried to find pieces of Drew in the men around me, from people I know to complete strangers. That hunt led me to Mystic, Connecticut, of all places. I sat on the docks for a couple hours and watched a total stranger working on his boat. Hopefully, he didn’t notice my bizarre stalking, because I’d hate to have my honorable intentions make for an uncomfortable afternoon for him. But there was something about him that made me think that there was some Drew lurking in him. I left Mystic with the vision of Drew that I’d been searching for.
Why did you decide to write contemporary romance?
While reading stories set in other times and worlds can be wonderful escapism, I find myself most intrigued by life in the here and now. I enjoy a hero and heroine who are facing issues that make me commiserate with them. And aside from that, I find contemporary romance holds endless possibilities. I can look at life around me and pick out a potential story in the most mundane activities.
What is your process for writing a book? For example, are you a plotter or a pantzer?
I am the most disorganized writer on the face of the planet, I think. I write whatever is polluting my mind. Overall, it usually falls in place in sequential order, but sometimes I will jump ahead and write backwards to the point I’d left off at earlier. I will write out nothing but dialogue at times, and go back to fill in the story around the words. I have books of handwritten story. I have tablets of nonsensical notes that I can’t always interpret when I refer back to them. I’ve never met an outline that did anything more than give me a migraine. My process is essentially trying to bring order out of chaos.
Do you use any techniques, tools, or aids to help you write?
As I was writing Drew In Blue, I realized I needed some refresher courses in the technique, so I did purchase a few writing manuals, like Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. And I’m a major fan of Stephen King’s On Writing. I don’t believe in sticking too close to the rulebooks, though. The most important aspect is to keep it grammatically sound, the rest should come from your heart.
How do you make time to write?
Sometimes, I’m not the best time-manager. I’m very good at procrastinating. But when I’m being a good writer, I make sure I get at least a solid hour of writing in every night. And I carry a notebook and a digital recorder with me at all times to be ready for any sudden bursts of inspiration.
When you are writing, who is in control? You or your characters?
My characters run the show. I’ve learned to shut up and let them tell their story, because they don’t listen to me when I try to tell them what’s going to happen. They’re quite bossy, too, interrupting my sleep, distracting me from conversations with living people, and refusing to let me go to the grocery when I’ve run out of cinnamon rolls.
Who has had the most influence on your writing?
My dearest friends, Kirsteen, Laurie, and Michele are my cheering section, and a huge part of why I keep pushing through. They coach me through those moments of anxiety and self-doubt, and support me without fail. They are the ones who proved to me that it’s possible to have unconditional friendship, and their unflagging support is a major factor in why I’ve gotten to this point.
Have you had any "ah ha" moments as a writer?
When I began writing Drew In Blue, I was using third person and really struggling with getting the story to flow. After a couple months of fighting, I opened a new document and attempted the first person perspective. Things started to pop then. I realized that for this story, I needed Drew to tell the story firsthand. His insights were essential. And it felt like he took over the writing. I was just recording his thoughts.
What advice do you have for other writers?
My usual advice is to stay the course. Don’t take no for an answer, but be willing to take constructive criticism. I’m stubborn, so I know what it’s like to cling to your vision, but sometimes, you have to be willing to accept that your vision needs a little fine-tuning. Never give up, but never tune out those who might have something useful to share with you.
Why did you decide to become an author?
I’m a right-brain thinker. I have to do something creative as a release, so becoming an author wasn’t a big stretch, at least in theory. I enjoy the outlet, and love thinking up new stories. There is a rush involved in piecing together a story, too, a very exhilarating natural high.
Why did you decide to become a romance author?
I like to analyze the motivation of characters. I like to get inside their heads, and it seemed to me that romances are the best way to do so. Love makes people go to great lengths, and there’s no better way to explore a person’s motivations than when they’re trying to achieve true happiness and love. Plus, the story possibilities are endless.
Would you tell us your story of getting "the call?"
My call was actually an email, and it was not what I’d expected that day at all. I was preoccupied with other things, and saw an email in my inbox. I clicked on it, resigned to another ‘no’. But the email didn’t follow the formula I was accustomed to, and I had to read it a couple times. My friend Laurie was lurking on my instant messenger screen, so I pounced on her and told her what I was looking at. We had our own little celebration via keyboard, and I made the decision to sign with my publisher.
What was the most exciting thing that happened to you after you signed your contract – besides receiving your first check as a published author?
I’m very genuinely thrilled whenever I get a good review from a book blog or a random follower of my social network sites. It’s always unexpected, and often times comes when I can use the boost. I love hearing from people regarding Drew, and that anyone ‘gets’ my stories is an amazing feeling.
If you weren't writing, what would you be doing?
Second to the dream of writing, I’d absolutely adore being a freelance photographer. I’m very amateur in my attempts and to have the skill and equipment to do more would be wonderful.
How does your family feel about your career as a romance author
Truthfully, I didn’t think my family initially understood the undertaking when I started talking about it. But on Thanksgiving Day, they shocked me. The girls in the family disappeared and came out wearing custom Drew In Blue t-shirts and had me autograph each one. I’m not easily surprised like that, but that time I was caught completely off guard!
What are you doing to promote your book?
I’ve been establishing an online presence. I have a website at www.jmkelleywrites.com, I have a fan page on Facebook, I’m active on Twitter, and I’ve been submitting Drew In Blue to various review blogs, to very favorable reception. I’ve also been putting together a review blog of my own, The One Hundred Romances Project. Seeing how difficult promoting an eBook can be, I’m interested in fostering an environment where other ePublished romance authors can get some visibility. I’m looking forward to connecting with other authors this way in 2011.
What support are you receiving from your publisher?
Lazy Day Publishing is a very supportive, interactive publisher. They have been creating book trailers featuring custom music written by Ehron von Allen, and champion whatever endeavors we come up with to promote ourselves. When it was time to create cover art, Lazy Day ensured we had a voice. I know that I sent a very verbose explanation of what my dream cover would look like, and I’m still utterly thrilled by how much the artist took my words into consideration. This publishing journey definitely feels like a partnership.
What books can we expect to see in the near future?
I am working on my second novel, another contemporary romance. My trend remains a very character and plot driven story. This next work is set in small-town Pennsylvania again, this time in Lancaster County. The heroine is a prodigal daughter of sorts, coming home to care for her gravely ill father. She comes to terms with her strained relationship with her father, learns she wasn’t quite the black sheep she thought she was, and finds love in the midst of tragedy.
J.M. Kelley, a lifelong resident of Pennsylvania, is a writer of love stories, a painter, a painfully bad knitter, and a photographer – if the pursuit is artistic, chances are she’s dabbled in it.
After a lengthy break that included adventures in accounting and coffee distribution, she returned to her passion for writing with that old adage write what you know whispering from the deep recesses of her mind. She realized that she knows how to read a book on a moving skateboard, that if you’re riding shotgun in a pick-up truck, ‘mud’ can be used as a verb, Amish traffic jams can wreak havoc on your morning commute, and Hog Maw is not to be experienced by the faint of heart.
While this list of knowledge seemed random and borderline nonsensical, it led her to one rock-solid conclusion: life in the Keystone State is a rich and endless source of inspiration. And so, she sat down in front of her laptop and began to piece together a story about life in small-town Pennsylvania – something she knows a thing or two about. The result of this epiphany is Drew in Blue, a contemporary love story set in the fictional Appalachian town of River’s View, Pennsylvania, and filled with quirky characters that pay homage to the real life characters she’s had the pleasure of knowing all her life.
J.M. Kelley is a member of the Romance Writers of America (PRO), The International Womens Writing Guild, Pennwriters, and the South Carolina Writers Workshop.
Drew In Blue, Lazy Day Publishing, December 1, 2010, ISBN: 9781612580098
To read more about J.M. and Drew In Blue, visit her web site at www.jmkelleywrites.com