HALLIE EPHRON: An active imagination is a crime fiction writers best friend. Provided she doesn't mind being kept up all night be all the what-ifs that scary sounds trigger.
Today we're happy to welcome Mary Keliikoa, a terrific writer with an active imagination which she's managed to harness. Her new novel, Derailed, is getting heaped with praise - Publisher's Weekly calls it a "winning series and debut launch... this is definitely a series to watch"!
MARY KELIIKOA: I have always had an over active imagination—and not always in a good way. As a kid, I would occasionally spend nights at my grandmother’s home. The creaks of her fifty year old home during the day were enough to spark my thoughts of the boogie man coming to get me, but it was at night when my brain went into overdrive.
My brother and I would sleep upstairs in an attic-like room over the garage, accessible through a separate set of stairs from the main living area. A rickety coiled radiator clicked on throughout the night. I swear it glowed red, although that might be an exaggeration. I only remember believing the house was going to catch on fire and I wouldn’t be able to get out, so I would stay awake as long as I could until I just couldn’t, hoping I’d survive.
The home I lived in with my family wasn’t much better. I grew up on the Oregon coast in a double wide trailer next to an ash tree that scraped like sharp nails across top of the metal roof when the wind picked up. At the coast, that was most every night. My bedroom window also looked out into a bleak, black forest where coyotes roamed. Or wolves. Or serial killers. It also didn’t help that our trailer park was located in Fort Stevens, right next to military forts, batteries and bunkers built in 1863 and used until 1947. One old man at the end of our street spoke of the ghost of a young soldier who walked the outlying paths searching for enemy soldiers and unruly children. Try walking those paths as a kid and not be scared to death.
Sometimes my fears were justified. My dad was a charter fisherman and I’d listen to the CB on the dryer waiting for his return each afternoon. On more occasions than I’d like to remember, the calls were terrifying as the boats battled the jetties to get back home safe. Sometimes they’d capsize when a rogue wave hit. One of those fishing boats lost everyone aboard. I lost a friend that day. I never wanted to go out on the boat with my dad after that.
And there was that time when my imagination didn’t have to work hard to imagine the worst. I was 14 and a classmate was abducted from the roads I walked regularly. She was found murdered a hundred miles away. Even now I rarely walk country roads alone.
With so many things terrifying me in my youth, and spilling over into my adulthood, it’s a wonder that the genre I chose to write in was mystery. Even now I can’t watch thriller movies or read books where the crimes are too graphic. But maybe it’s the fact that I do have these fears that I chose the way I did.
When writing my own mystery story, I get to create a protagonist that is much stronger and much braver than I am. Ghosts wouldn’t give them pause and squashing a bad guy who was messing with them would be an instant reflex. Even when they’re afraid, they’re willing to face and overcome those fears no matter how bad I make it for them. And I do work to make it rough.
I also get to create the world in which those characters live. The reasons for the bad actions are justified, or at least explainable. Best of all, the outcome is completely under my control.
Maybe more than ever I like that aspect the most because so much in our world now has felt very much out of my control. Storytelling is my way of making sense of the senseless. At least I know how the story will end. And I assure you justice will prevail.
What keeps you up at night?
HALLIE: These days, I find there's plenty to keep me up at night. And as I've gotten older I'm more likely to BE up i the middle of the night. For comfort, I come downstairs and read whatever mystery novel I'm in the middle of. And somehow that helps me get back to sleep. Go figure.
A dying wish. A secret world.
Can this grieving investigator stay on the right track?
PI Kelly Pruett is determined to make it on her own. And juggling clients at her late father’s detective agency, a controlling ex, and caring for a deaf daughter was never going to be easy. So she takes it as a good sign when a letter left by her dad ties into an unsolved case of a young woman struck by a train.
Hunting down the one person who can prove the mysterious death was not just a drunken accident, Kelly discovers this witness is in no condition to talk. And the closer she gets to the truth the longer her list of sleazy suspects with murderous motives grows. Each clue exposes another layer of the victim's steamy double life.
On a crash course with a killer, she must piece together the puzzle of what really happened to the victim that rainy night, before her own fate is sealed and she loses everything near and dear, including her life.
Mary Keliikoa is a Pacific NW native and 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 has had a short story published in Woman’s World and is the author of the PI Kelly Pruett series which debuts with DERAILED in May 2020. When not in Washington, you can find Mary on the beach in Hawaii where she and her husband recharge. But even under the palm trees and blazing sun she’s plotting her next murder—novel that is.