(See my other Author Interviews ) – I have read, enjoyed, and reviewed two of Mr. Kelly’s novels – “Found In Time” & “The Lost Pulse“. Mr. Kelly was kind enough to let me interview him a short time ago.
Myself: When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer?
Kelly: That might actually go back as far as grade school. I liked to tell stories as far back as those years but once I learned how to type in freshman year of high school I had learned something that could keep up with my thoughts and it was on from there.
Myself: What is the first piece that you remember writing?
Kelly: The first writing credit I ever received was in the sixth grade. In response to a question from the editor of Highlights Magazine who posed the question – “Do you believe Martians exist?” – I wrote back that I’d believe it when I saw them walking down main street. They ran my response and a cartoon that made the cover that of two Martians walking down the street as school kids hid behind mailboxes and store facades and watched in awe.
Myself: That is really a special way to begin your writing career. What is your academic and work background?
Kelly: I studied Journalism and Law Enforcement at Penn State University but when I was offered a dream job, that of the PR Director for a NASCAR team in Charlotte, I left the Happy Valley and never looked back. I had been doing freelance writing and photography on weekends while I was in college and that was my first dream job – traveling, writing, taking pictures, and going to the races. A detour due to the needs of my family took me from the NASCAR gig and I thought I was finished but when an opportunity with a small start-up named VP opened in Pennsylvania I was back in racing and spent the next 28 years helping to build that company into the global player it is today. I was able to satisfy my craving to write by contributing PR and marketing materials in lieu of a proper marketing team but once it was time to come in off the road I was able to jump back into storytelling and here we are, four years and three novels later.
Myself: That background is similar to some of the other authors I have interviewed. So many seem to have been interested in writing most of their lives but only were really able to pursue it once they were retired. What part of the world do you currently live in?
Kelly: I live in Media, Pennsylvania with my wife Lisa and the yellow lab she promised me if I ever agreed to stop the global travel.
Myself: Do you think that living there has affected your writing?
Kelly: Only in that like some of the film directors and actors who are from or favor the region in their work, I like to include elements of Philadelphia or it’s historic sites and sports teams from time to time in a scene or two.
Myself: How do you relax? What are your hobbies?
Kelly: Spending time with my kids and grandkids, something I missed a great deal of while I was working in motorsports, is a great pleasure for me. A good film, book, or walk with my wife does the trick but believe it or not, travel relaxes me. Whether it’s a thousand-mile drive or a flight to the other side of the world, it relaxes me and gives me a clear head to develop ideas for what I am writing or what I might like to tackle next.
I still enjoy photography, football, and watching auto racing – primarily rally car racing – very much.
Myself: I agree that being able to spend time with kids and grandkids in retirement is satisfying. My wife and I enjoy driving across the country too, though I would not say that it relaxes either of us. What else would you like to share about yourself?
Kelly: Just that I’ve always considered myself a very lucky person. I was adopted by a great set of parents when I was an infant. I could have been adopted by who knows what but my adoptive parents were fantastic and what they didn’t pass along to me in genes they most certainly did with their love and life lessons and I’ve been on a lucky streak ever since. I touched on adoption in a scene in Found In Time and hope that touched any readers who could relate.
Myself: Did you read much growing up?
Kelly: Actually not that much because the Catholic school nuns in the 60’s used to knock some of us about when we said defiantly that we didn’t see much reason to read the assignments or memorize poems. That might actually have pushed me away from books for a time.
Myself: What have you read recently?
Kelly: In the last few months I’ve read two of Brad Thor’s latest, Navy Seal Brandon Webb’s Mastering Fear, A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin, Murphy’s Law by Jack Murphy, Endurance by Scott Kelly (no relation), Endurance by Frank Worsley, and I’m racing through one of Mark Greaney’s thrillers.
Myself: You have read quite a lot in the past few months What is your favorite genre? book? character? author?
Kelly: Oh that’s tough. I really enjoy autobiographies but of course, thrillers come in an extremely close second. It goes without saying I think JJ Jackson is a real badass with a heart but you might expect that of me. My favorite book is a tough one, it’s like asking favorite movie, of which there are at least a half dozen. I really got into Dan Brown, appreciate James Patterson for his work and taking the time to give me some advice, and I am looking forward to seeing what Brad Thor’s got coming next. There are many more but too many to list.
Myself: I too have been a fan of Dan Brown and have read most of his novels and I have read some James Patterson. Where is your favorite place to read?
Kelly: In bed late at night when there’s not a sound in the house.
Myself: Do you prefer paper or eBooks? Do you listen to audiobooks?
Kelly: I do prefer paper but I always have 2-3 audiobooks loaded so I can dive into something good when I’m driving to a trade show or a race. It’s weird though because I can’t listen when I’m just sitting still.
Myself: What books do you recommend to others? Give as gifts?
Kelly: That’s tough. All of my friends have such different interests in books. If a book lover I know is due a gift they get a B&N gift card.
Myself: What makes you sit down and want to share your stories?
Kelly: I like to entertain people, sometimes with jokes and other times with wild stories so there’s that. When I can up with a concept for a book and it excites me then I can’t wait to get it on paper and get someone to give it a read. If they come back with a smile or a laugh or ask what happens next then I feed off of that. There’s an excitement in a book lover’s eyes and I like fueling that, giving them something they react very well too, fuels whatever it is inside me that’s driving the creative.
Myself: What are your ambitions for your writing career?
Kelly: I’d like to reach the level of success that I’m fueling a much larger audience the way I described a moment ago. I saw how much I had to work and sacrifice to help grow that start-up into a global player and now I’ve turned that same focus and passion into my writing. With a little of that luck I mentioned earlier hopefully more and more readers, an agent and hopefully a publisher, will help me reach that goal.
Myself: Is there anyone who has influenced your writing?
Kelly: I’ve worked with a few editors who throw a lasso from time to time and ask me, “you intended to go there?” and then I either explain it and keep going or listen to their counsel and reel it back in a bit. As far as any authors, I can say, generally speaking, any of those who kept me reading, regardless of how late it was.
Myself: How did you pick the genres for your stories?
Kelly: Oh, that’s an interesting wall I crashed into. I wrote my first novel, Found In Time, as a story that featured good guys killing bad guys, camaraderie, non-stop action, love and heartbreak, science fiction/time travel, history, and a trip to Gethsemane where a group of Marines took a knee to ask for a miracle. Then I had people in the industry told me I needed to pick one. Ok, thriller!
Myself: Where do your story ideas come from?
Kelly: With the fiction, the story ideas just come. When I used to spend a lot of time telling jokes people would ask me, “How the heck do you come up with this stuff?” and the same holds true for my books. The fact that I’ve seen so much of the world allows me to take the readers to places they might not ever get to or even know existed. In the case of the non-fiction Fuelin’ Around, which is about my time in the motorsports world, people often told me they thought I had a very interesting life and should share it so I did.
Myself: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just to see where an idea takes you?
Kelly: I write the first chapter and then layout on a whiteboard where we should go from there. Sometimes we take a left or a right and if it works, we come back to the original bearing or follow the flow. In one case, I wrote the first and last chapters and then built the middle. That was an interesting journey.
Myself: Where do you do your writing? Why there?
Kelly: 95% of the time it’s in my home office. It’s quiet until the dog or the Mrs. decides that it’s time to disrupt things for a bit but I’ve threatened shock collars for them both so they usually leave me to it when they can tell I’m on a roll. In actuality, Lisa works in fashion and is out of the house quite often and we take our lab to a really neat place where she can run around with her friends all day and then comes home worn out, happy, and hoping for dinner.
Myself: What is your schedule like when you are writing?
Kelly: I can sit down at 8am and not look up until I need more coffee. It might be noon or later and then it continues. Most times I know when it’s time to stop and give the brain and the hands a break. Then I might be headed out to play with two of my grandchildren and will come up with an edit that I will dictate into Notes on my phone while I drive.
I can write for three days in a row or one day in a week and then jump back in like I hadn’t stopped.
Myself: About how long does it take you to complete a first draft? How long do your revisions take?
Kelly: It might take six months to get to what might be halfway and then I start feeding chapters to one of the editors I work with for feedback. I keep moving forward and then apply or push back on some of their critiques. In all, from start to finish, it takes me a year but that’s because I’m on my own schedule. I write some things for one of my past employers and if they give me a deadline, I always deliver with time to spare. Hopefully, someday a book publisher will offer me that challenge.
Myself: How much research do you put into a novel?
Kelly: Whatever I need in order to make the story credible. I’ve been everywhere I write about, except Camp David and the ISS. I know a bit about weapons, law enforcement, and the military and find experts who can answer what I need in order to get it right. The next novel is mid-way through at this point and I sought out some extraordinary people in some very high places to make sure what I was writing was dead on.
Myself: What tools (software?) do you use in your writing?
Kelly: Word. I’ve also been using First Draft to develop a screenplay.
Myself: What are the hardest and easiest things about writing?
Kelly: For me, it was the rejection letters. They’re like a drag race. You get one shot and if you don’t get a win light you pack up and go home to race another day. To me, the easy part is telling the story.
Myself: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Kelly: Get feedback from people who will give you an honest opinion on your work and be sure you know what you want to get out of writing and then go for it. Then work with some people who can help you make sure your writing and the work is the best it possibly can be.
Myself: What novels/works have you published?
Kelly: Only three so far:
- Found In Time, my debut novel, October 2017
- Fuelin’ Around, non-fiction, November 2018
- The Lost Pulse, sequel to FIT, October 2019
Myself: What are you currently working on?
Kelly: I had started a new novel, another thriller, a few months back but the JJ [the main character from Found in Time and The Lost Pulse] pulled me back in and so he’s back but not everyone made it home this time. The feedback from the team I work with is very, very good so I’m really looking forward to the next few months of work. I’m still hoping to partner with someone who can help take it all to the next level in publishing.
Myself: What else would you like to share?
Kelly: I’m very thankful to everyone who encouraged me to follow my passions throughout my life and who helped me along the way. The feedback and reviews I have received, and I do very much remember your review of Found In Time, has been so encouraging I can’t thank you and the others who have been so kind to me. Thank you John.
Myself: How should your fans follow you or get in touch?
Kelly: The easiest thing is to visit my website JKKelly.com and contact me there. I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as well, but the website works best for me.