This week’s interview is with Mary Keliikoa whose debut novel, DERAILED, came out last May and has just been nominated for a Lefty Award for Best Debut. Congratulations Mary!
Below, Mary talks about her love of early mornings and dancing, a co-worker that tried to sabotage her work, and what literary success looks like to her. Enjoy!
Mary Keliikoa spent the first 18 years of her adult life working around lawyers. Combining her love of all things legal and books, she creates a twisting mystery where justice prevails. She is the author of the PI Kelly Pruett Mystery series, has had a short mystery published in Woman’s World and had a short published in the anthology Peace, Love, and Crime: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of the ’60s in late 2020. At home in Washington, she enjoys spending time with her family and her fur-kids. When not at home, you can find Mary on a beach on the Big Island where she and her husband recharge. But even under the palm trees and blazing sun she’s plotting her next murder—novel that is.
What time of day do you love best?
I love the morning time and I have always been a morning person. The smell of hot coffee wafting into the bedroom before I’ve even gotten out of bed, the sun coming through my open window bathing the room in light, the crispness of the air when I take my dog out for her walk, are all things I look forward to. I also think I love it most because it represents new possibilities. I always ask each morning what wonderful things will happen today? And then I look for them. But it’s that morning time, the new beginning, that pulls me the most.
Share something about you that most people don’t know.
I love to dance. I dance in the shower. I dance throughout my house. I break out in dance when a good song comes on—okay I mostly do that when I’m alone or around my husband who sees me in all my dorkiness. But I’ve always loved to dance since I was a kid. One of my favorite memories growing up was I’d go to the library on Wednesdays for the free movie they played in the afternoon. There was an older man who lived in an apartment above one of the shops in the downtown Astoria area. Like clockwork he’d appear in his rumpled brown suit and fedora hat, and he would come in just to play the piano for the people gathering for the movie. And I would dance. Ballet. Jazz. Tap. I had no idea really what it was because I was 6 or 7 and lessons weren’t in the family budget. I just remember dancing and him laughing. We became good friends and he told me I was the best dancer he’d ever seen and I said he was the best piano player I’d ever known. One week he didn’t show, or the next… I never knew what happened to him. But I think of him quite often, and I still dance.
What was the first piece of writing you ever published or saw in print?
My first published piece was printed in Woman’s World in the form of a mini-mystery. What was cool about that, besides actually being paid to write, was that the the story was inspired by true events. I worked as a legal secretary for many years, but one of my jobs was at a law firm where I was the youngest in the group. There was an old-timer who didn’t appreciate my enthusiasm, and her boss asking me to fill in for her when she was on vacation probably didn’t contribute to harmony between us. That said, she liked to mess with things at my desk and set about sabotaging some of my work. Although I could never prove it — I wrote a story about it instead. I love that that stressful time turned out to be such a positive for me and it’s hard to look back on that and not find some appreciation for the inspiration 🙂
If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be?
Without a doubt I would tell my younger self to have more fun! Finishing a book is awesome. Getting a book deal is equally incredible. But finding the joy in the perfect twist in a story. The perfect sentence. Figuring out the plot. Enjoying the writing community and making lasting connections. That is the fun and lasting part of this journey. When I first started writing, I was 27. One of my main motivations at that time was to make more money and try to save our home because we were so broke. So I’d work all day, and I’d come home and write late into the night and all weekend. I wrote 4 books, but at the end of the day, I’m not sure I had much fun because I felt desperate. I wish I could let my younger writer know at the end of the day, it all worked out just fine and to enjoy it a more.
What does literary success look like to you?
My idea of literary success has evolved from the beginning. As I mentioned, early on I was desperate and looking for that Big 5 contract and lots of money. I figured that would be actual success. But over the course of time, I see how fleeting that can be. How much pressure that can be as well and I don’t define success like that anymore. I think it’s wonderful to have that, and I’d wouldn’t turn it away if it came to my door, but the truth is I have a book in the world (and 2 more I get to write per my contract). I have readers that send me messages telling me they love the book, great reviews, community I lean on, and friends who talk story with me most every day in some way. Being able to continue to write and have people read my stories and love them is key for me. As long as I can do that, I have found success.
WHAT THE REVIEWERS ARE SAYING
“Winning series and debut launch…Keliikoa offers believable characters, valid motives, a shifting cast of suspects, and an appealing protagonist who balances her life as a divorced mother of an eight-year-old daughter with her increasingly chaotic career. This is definitely a series to watch.” –Publisher’s Weekly
“With Derailed,debut author Mary Keliikoa introduces us to single momand second generation Portland PI KellyPruett on her very first murder investigation. The story is straight from theKinsey Millhone school of private investigation yet stillmanages to create a unique and complex maincharacter reeling from the recent death of her father and a demandingex-husband. Kelly must decide if following her father’s wishes by pursuing thiscase is worth possibly losing her daughter. It’s that perfect blend of personaland professional that makes Derailed a welcome addition to thegenre. I can’t wait to follow both Kelly and Keliikoa’s careers.”
–Kellye Garrett, Anthony, Agatha, and LeftyAward-winning author of Hollywood Homicide
“Mary Keliikoa’s debut novel is an important addition to the PI genre – strong with voice, a compelling protagonist in Kelly Pruett, and unforgettable family secrets. DERAILED was hard to put down – and I can’t wait to read the next book in this crackling new series.”
–Alex Segura, acclaimed author of Blackout and Miami Midnight
“DERAILED has it all: an engaging heroine, a twisty, twisted crime, and plenty of food for thought about families and their secrets. I loved this debut and can’t wait to read about Kelly Pruett’s next case.”
–Kristen Lepionka, Shamus Award-winning author of the Roxane Weary mystery series
“Intelligent, tightly plotted, and satisfying. Kelly Pruett is a new PI on the scene and I’m eager for her next case.”
–Dianne Freeman, Agatha and Lefty award winning author of the Countess of Harleigh mysteries
“Mary Keliikoa’s DERAILED is a humdinger of a good read. Sharp, detailed writing, ariveting plot and well-drawn characters make it practically unputdownable. And how exciting to have another tough, smart, female PI to follow. I can’t wait for PI Kelly Pruett’s next case!”
–Tracy Clark, author of Borrowed Time
“A request from beyond the grave, a deaf daughter, a failed marriage, and a murder–Keliikoa mixes up the perfect recipe for a great new mystery series. Private eye Kelly Pruett is the new kid in town that will have you rooting for her to catch the killer and simultaneously discover her place in the world.”
–Elena Taylor, award winning author of All We Buried and the Eddie Shoes Mystery Series “DERAILED is a fantastic mystery debut featuring private eye Kelly Pruett, who is one smart and tough mother. Mary Keliikoa has created a compelling new PI series with twists, turns and lots of heart.”–Vanessa Lillie, Amazon bestselling author of Little Voices and For the Best
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