Interview with Lee Kelly, A Criminally Talented Author

Please welcome Lee KA Criminal Magicelly as the Deb Class of 2017’s first guest! Let it be known: we’re starting with a bang. If you haven’t yet read her novel, A Criminal Magic, you’re missing out on a rich and charming historical fantasy that takes place in an alternative Prohibition-era America, where magic instead of alcohol has been prohibited. The story follows an up-and-coming sorcerer and an undercover federal agent as they become entangled in the magic underworld.

I’ve read it. I loved it. And I also enjoyed getting to know Lee better from her interview below. 


Who is one of your favorite (fictional or non-fictional) characters?

I still have to say Eric Northman from The Southern Vampire Mysteries / True Blood series – calculating, loyal, violent, interesting. I loved him in the books, loved him in the series, and developed a crush on the actor who played him, Alexander Skarsgard (though that crush was put to rest thanks to a Zoolander re-watch).


When you were a teenager, what did you think you’d be when you grew up?

A writer (surprise!) Sometimes it changed from novelist to screenwriter to journalist – and I went through a brief period in middle school where I truly believed I’d be an astronaut – but for most of my life, I thought and hoped I’d tell stories of one sort or another.


What time of day do you love best?

This is new, but between 6 and 7 a.m. (and my teenager self would have LAUGHED OUT LOUD if she’d been told that back in the day). I have a one-year-old who just recently settled into a consistent sleep pattern (fingers crossed!) and so, for the past month, I’ve been getting a solid night of sleep, and willingly waking up before the kids rise to start the day with an hour of writing. It feels like stolen, special time, and I’m incredibly energized when the kids wake up around 7:30.

A close second is between 5 and 6 p.m., especially on the weekends, when my husband and I will be with the kids in the yard, working on an art project, or in the midst of a pre-dinner dance party.


What is your advice for aspiring writers?

Someone told me “if you put words down on a page, you’re a writer” and I’ve always loved that: that “aspiring” writers are people who think about writing, but haven’t done it yet. Everyone who writes is a writer. So for those “contemplating-writing” writers, I’d advise:

  1. Make the leap. I used to imagine a future version of myself that was wittier and smarter (and had more time than I did now), and that “future me” would write. Years passed this way, until I realized it never got any easier to start, and so one day I just sat down and began typing.
  2. The leap doesn’t have to be large. When I first started writing, I committed myself to one hour a day. Just one hour, and it didn’t matter what I wrote, only that I did. But that commitment can be a half-hour or even a ten-minute sprint, especially when you’re first developing a pattern.
  3. Read, read, read. I know there are writers out there who think reading compromises their own voice, but for me, reading regularly helps me internalize story structure, flow and pacing. I honestly think reading is the best writing class there is.
  4. Rejection is both inevitable and essential. From agent and editor rejections to friends, family and beta readers not liking your latest work, negativity about something as personal as writing really Now, I still struggle with this, but I try very hard to think of rejection as constructive criticism, as a necessary step to getting better.


Have you ever tried writing in a different genre? How did that turn out?

I never actually thought of myself as writing in one genre until I tried writing in another one. I think the stories that attract me – as a writer and reader – are ones that are based in the real world, and yet there’s some sort of “twist” (supernatural or otherwise) that serves as both a world-building element and a basis for exploring themes about human nature. I think most people would call this speculative fiction (I think?)

Well, there’s been a surge of high fantasy on the shelves in recent years, particularly in the YA space. And as I struggled for the next project I was going to work on after A Criminal Magic, I thought writing a high fantasy might be just the thing to get me out of my slump – after all, it’s selling!

Well, 200 pages in, and I just couldn’t care about where it was going – I think the last epic fantasy I read just for pleasure was The Phantom Tollbooth (which I’d argue is actually portal fantasy, not a high fantasy). Then I realized: if I didn’t want to spend 10 hours of my life reading a high fantasy, why on earth did I want to spend 1,000 hours writing and revising one?

It was a great lesson for me in writing what I wanted to read, versus writing to trends. After all, there’s no guarantee that anything you write is going to make it off your computer… so why not enjoy it while you’re making it up?

Thanks so much for joining us, Lee!! We’re eagerly awaiting whatever makes it off your computer next 🙂


Lee Kelly Lee Kelly is the author of CITY OF SAVAGES and A CRIMINAL MAGIC. She’s wanted to write since she was old enough to hold a pencil, but it wasn’t until she started studying for the California Bar Exam that she conveniently started putting pen to paper. An entertainment lawyer by trade, Lee has practiced in Los Angeles and New York. She currently lives with her husband and two children in Millburn, New Jersey.

For more information about Lee and her books, she’s just a click away on TwitterFacebook, and at

Author: Jenni L. Walsh

Jenni L. Walsh spent her early years ​chasing around cats, dogs, and chickens in Philadelphia's countryside, before dividing time between a soccer field and a classroom at Villanova University. She put her marketing degree to good use as an advertising copywriter, zip-code hopping with her husband to DC, NYC, NJ, and not surprisingly, back to Philly. There, Jenni's passion for words continued, adding author to her resume. She now balances her laptop with a kid on each hip, and a four-legged child at her feet. BECOMING BONNIE (Tor Forge/Macmillan, 5/9/2017) is her debut novel that tells the untold story of how church-going Bonnelyn Parker becomes half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde duo during the 1920s. SIDE BY SIDE, telling Bonnie and Clyde's crime spree story, will be released in the summer of 2018. Please learn more about Jenni's books at

3 Replies to “Interview with Lee Kelly, A Criminally Talented Author”

  1. Lee, thanks so much for joining us as our FIRST GUEST! A Criminal Magic sounds amazing; I’m looking forward to reading. And I absolutely agree with you on your advice to writers – even an hour day is monumental. Thanks for being with us!

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