Today’s Author Spotlight features mystery writer Kellye Garrett. In addition to authoring the acclaimed and award-winning Hollywood Homicide, her sequel, Hollywood Ending, was named one of Suspense Magazine’s “Best of 2018.”
The Detective by Day Mysteries features African-American actress turned sleuth, Dayna Anderson, as she solves mysteries both entrenched in the spotlight side and lurking around the seamier side of the Hollywood entertainment industry.
Introducing Kellye Garrett
Kellye Garrett’s first novel, Hollywood Homicide, was released by Midnight Ink in August 2017. In addition to receiving starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, it won the Agatha, Anthony, Lefty and Independent Publisher “IPPY” awards for best first novel. It was also nominated for the Macavity Award for Best First Mystery Novel and Barry award for Best Paperback Original. Hollywood Ending, her second book in the Detective by Day mystery series, was released on August 8, 2018. In addition to writing, she currently serves on the national Board of Directors of Sisters in Crime as its Publicity Liaison.
Kellye previously spent 8 years working in Hollywood, including a stint writing for the CBS drama Cold Case. People were always surprised to learn what she did for a living—probably because she seemed way too happy to be brainstorming ways to murder people. A former magazine editor, Kellye holds a B.S. in magazine writing from Florida A&M and an MFA in screenwriting from USC’s famed film school. Having moved back to her native New Jersey, she spends her mornings commuting to Manhattan for her job at a leading media company—while still happily brainstorming ways to commit murder. You can learn more at KellyeGarrett.com.
Welcome Kellye, and thanks for taking the time to chat with us. What motivated you to choose mystery as your genre?
First, thanks so much for having me, even though my books don’t have much kissing. In terms of motivation, I just chose the genre that I read. I’ve been a mystery lover since Encyclopedia Brown as a kid and discovered cozy mystery series like Claire Malloy and Jane Jeffry as a preteen. (I also discovered Jackie Collins at that time but let’s not discuss that!)
Okay. Let’s talk about Dayna instead! What or who inspired her character?
Well, I knew I wanted to write a black woman character. Partly because I’m a black woman (write what you know and all that) and partly because–as a mystery reader–I know there aren’t nearly enough black women solving mysteries in books. I came up with the story idea for Hollywood Homicide at a time when I was going through a career transition and feeling very lost. I put a lot of those feelings into the character. And because I didn’t want to make her just like me, I made her a semi-famous actress instead of a semi-successful TV writer, which I was at the time.
As far as the series goes, where did your influences come from?
My reading kryptonite is first-person mysteries with strong elements of humor. So definitely Janet Evanovich. It’s not easy to make crime funny but she does it so well with her best-selling Stephanie Plum series. I also love Sue Grafton, Robert B. Parker, Robert Crais, Valerie Wilson Wesley, Barbara Neely and so so so so so so so many more.
Did you have an aha moment when you first dreamed up the series, or was this the cultivation of a lot of years of plotting, planning, and on-the-page mayhem?
I’ve wanted to write a book since I was five years old but could never think of a good idea. (I also was too scared to follow my dream but we won’t talk about that either!) About six years ago, I was dead broke and living Los Angeles. I drove past a billboard offering a reward for information on a murder. I immediately thought, “I should try to solve that for the money.” Dumbest. Idea. Ever. At least in real life. It turned out to be a great idea for a book.
Such a great idea for a book! Speaking of the billboard, one of my favorite minor characters in the Detective by Day series is the beleaguered Tip Line operator. Where did she come from?
Unlike a lot of traditional mysteries, I don’t have a prominent law enforcement character in my books. So The Voice, as she’s called, is as close as I get. I knew I wanted Day’s first call to the Tip Line to be really awkward so it started out just as “Who would be the worst person to pick up the phone?” Then I fell in love with The Voice so she kept popping up and popping her gum.
She’s got a fabulous personality. Do you have any hints for our readers on how to take a seemingly unimportant character and infuse them with so much life that they become unforgettable?
I try to give all the characters a unique voice. For me, I start with one characteristic. For The Voice it was going to be someone who hates their job. Then I build on it from there. The key is the interactions with the main character and how they complement her or antagonize her. And whenever you can add humor, it’s always a good thing.
I’ve always felt in your writing that the city of Los Angeles itself becomes a character all its own. How did you make the entire city take on form and come to life so well?
Thank you! It helped that I lived there. The places I include in the book are places I would go to every day and the streets I’d drive. Plus I love when I read a book and I recognize a location. Interestingly, I had actually moved from LA by the time I’d written the second book. It was a lot harder to have those elements. I actually visited LA for a few days and drove around to reacquaint myself with it when I was writing Hollywood Ending.
Now for the tough question: what’s your personal favorite thing about the Detective by Day series?
This is like asking a parent to pick their favorite child! One of my favorite reviews of Hollywood Homicide was from Book Riot, where they said they liked Dayna because of how realistic her crime solving abilities felt. She’s not Veronica Mars. That was super important to me when I was writing it so I’m glad it came across. So Day’s (lack of professional) crime solving ability is definitely a fave for me. I also love how ride-or-die she is with her friends and how they give her crap for putting herself in danger, which she does a lot. Too much in their opinion.
While your books are definitely mysteries, they also contain elements of romance. Be honest: can you write a book where there isn’t a little love on the side?
Honestly? Probably. 🙂 I admire romance writers so much because it’s so hard! I actually think I’m horrible at writing romance so I was shocked that people love the relationship subplot. I knew I didn’t want to do the standard “boyfriend is a cop” trope so I made her love interest someone who plays a cop on TV.
That’s such a great twist on the trope, and it works beautifully. Tell us, how long have you been writing, and what made you seek out traditional publishing?
I’ve been writing professionally for almost 20 years now–just not books. Writing is actually the only way I’ve supported myself. I started out as a journalist then moved to TV writing. I’m currently a communications writer for a media company. I chose the traditional publishing route over self publishing because I don’t have the hustle mentality needed to be successful publishing my own books. I just want to write and let someone else handle everything else. #Lazy
What do you know now about traditional publishing now that you wish you’d known prior to the release of Hollywood Homicide?
Hmmm. Probably that it’s not Happily Ever After and riding off into the sunset with your publisher on a white horse. The same feelings of insecurity don’t just disappear because you have a book deal. They just transfer to new things. Instead of wanting to sell a book, your new worry is continuing to sell books. Instead of stressing if agents like it, you’re stressing that reviewers do. And let’s not forget sales. It goes on and on and on.
You’re also the new Managing Director for Pitch Wars. Any tips for our readers on how to balance life, writing, and all that comes with Pitch Wars?
I’m really good with deadlines. If you don’t give me a deadline, it’ll take me forever to do something. But I can have ten things due all the same day and will get them done because deadlines make me ridiculously productive. It also helps to set a certain time for each thing. The folks I know who balance well have set schedules. I have a friend who literally writes in the morning while running on a treadmill.
What advice would you give to new writers seeking to follow the traditional publishing route?
Just write. That’s the only thing you can control. You can’t control when you’ll get an agent. When you’ll sell. If your book becomes a bestseller. But you can control when you write.
Thank you so much for being here, Kellye!
Feature image from the author’s Facebook page