Today I am interviewing Charles Kelly, one of three potential winner's of Penguin and Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Contest in the adult category!
GC: Tell me about your novel and how you began writing it!
CK: Grace Humiston and the Vanishing is a novel based on a true case in 1917 New York in which a crusading woman lawyer solved the disappearance and murder of an 18-year-old high school girl after the New York Police had dropped the ball. I wrote the novel 20 years ago. A Hollywood screen writer friend of mine, knowing I was a true-crime buff, asked me to come up with an interesting true crime on which we could base a TV movie. The movie never sold, but I became intrigued with the character of the lawyer, Grace Humiston, and decided to write a novel about her. I wrote it and rewrote it, got a New York agent to represent it, but it went nowhere so I put it on the shelf.
GC: When did you hear about Penguin and Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award contest? Were you set on entering right away?
CK: A year ago, a friend of mine named John Schmierer who had self-published a novel said we should both learn e-book formatting so we could self-publish expertly and cheaply. After a month or so of hard work with him, I learned formatting and published a self help book called Finnegan's Way: The Secret Power of Doing Things Badly. My real goal was to self-publish a biography I've been researching for seven years about the amnesiac hard-boiled writer Dan J. Marlowe. To promote Marlowe and get him back in print, I contacted his estate, formatted and published several of his novels for them. Then my friend, who had entered ABNA last year, said I should enter this year. I recalled the Grace Humiston novel and thought I would self-publish it and enter it to get some publicity for it. We both entered novels and followed the competition closely. And things worked out well. My novel became a finalist, and I'm poised to follow up in a couple of months by publishing the biography: Gunshots in Another Room: The Forgotten Life of Dan J. Marlowe.
GC: What was the waiting process like? Do you consider that you were calm, cool and collected, or were you biting off your nails like the rest of us mere mortals?
CK: Oh, yeah, I was biting off my nails. Because it was possible to follow what everyone was thinking on the forums, and to become obsessive about the process, I did become obsessive and checked in constantly to see what people were saying, to figure out what kind of novels might get through, to see how strong the competition was, and all of that. I got depressed at one point because the competition was incredibly tough and there were so many talented people in there with novels. I tried not to think about it, but I kept following up. In the end, getting "The Call" was like an out-of-body experience. I didn't really believe it had happened. And I also thought that, even though I had gotten the call, that something would happen and I wouldn't wind up being a finalist after all. Only when they announced the finalists did I finally relax
GC: When did you hear you were a finalist? What was that moment like?
CK: I heard I was a finalist, or, as they say, a "potential finalist," on May 14. I figured the Amazon offices would open at 9 a.m. Arizona time, and that it would not take more than 20 minutes to call six people. So I figured that if I hadn't been called by 9:20 a.m., it was over. I got the call at 9:06 a.m. Afterwards, I just walked around, not really believing it. Something like this takes so much luck in addition to the other factors that I couldn't believe I had been that lucky.
GC: Have you had the chance to read your fellow nominee's work? What do you think of their novels?
CK: I've started to read both their novels, and they are fantastic. As I told them, if I had read their excerpts earlier, I would have become completely depressed, because they are so good. These are brilliant books, and I'm as thrilled for them as I am for myself.
GC: If you win, what will you do to celebrate?
CK: I will have a very good time with my strongest supporters, the members of the Hard-Boiled Discussion Group at the Poisoned Pen Mystery Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona. The group has been together, with members coming and going, for more than a decade. It would be great to win so I could celebrate with them.
GC: Best of luck, Charles! May the odds be ever in your favor!