Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Bookish Conversation with K.D. Hays, author of 'Roped In'

Kate Dolan began her writing career as a legal editor and then newspaper columnist before she decided she was finally ready to tackle fiction.  As the author of more than a dozen novels and novellas, she writes historical fiction and romance under her own name and contemporary mysteries and children's books under the name K.D. Hays.  When not writing, she enjoys volunteering as a living history interpreter and riding roller coasters with her daughter. 

Her latest book is the cozy mystery, Roped In.

For More Information
About the Book:

Title: Roped In
Author: K.D. Hays
Publisher: K.D. Hays
Pages: 140
Genre: Cozy Mystery 

Life has settled into a more stable pattern for fledgling investigator Karen Maxwell of DS Investigations, but that stability is precarious. At work, she has an uneasy truce with Rodney, the “office maximizer” hired by her brother to do some of the administrative work she used to do. Her brother has not assigned her any real cases and she thinks it's because he doesn’t trust her after she was fired from her last major assignment.

But she soon gets her chance. The firm's insurance agent calls in a favor and asks them to investigate whether a valuable parrot was killed as a result of snowfall damage to a house. Karen is pretty sure Dave will assign this to her, since the investigation will involve no money or prestige. But it may help earn back his confidence.

Then Gina Callaghan hires DS Investigations to find out who sabotaged her daughter Hayley’s rope at a jump rope competition. Hayley competes in power jumping events, and she failed to make the top four in the regional tournament. If Karen can prove that one of those top four jumpers behaved unethically, then Hayley, (who was fifth) will have a spot at the national competition, and a chance to go to the World tournament. Dave assigns Karen the lead role in this case, so now she has a chance to prove to her brother that she can conclude an investigation before the client is ready to pull the plug.

Karen bribes her son to take a jump rope class on the day when the jumpers she needs to watch have their practices. Initially, Hayley Callaghan does not want the matter investigated so Karen has to be a subtle as possible. Meanwhile, in the parrot case, Karen's investigation seems to indicate that the parrot's owners are telling the truth and not trying to defraud the insurance company. But the picture they offer as proof somehow arouses Karen's suspicion.

At jump rope practice, she finds a lot of masked hostility and a host of possible suspects, but no one who saw anything. Then Hayley's sister steps forward and admits that she saw someone rummaging through her sister's rope bag. Circumstances point to two possible suspects, in addition to the sister herself. But Karen can find no proof of wrongdoing and thinks the break was most likely an accident. Then Hayley changes her position and urges Karen to follow through with her initial suspicions. She immediately wonders why.

But she doesn't have time to wonder. Her brother insists that she stop working on the insurance case and her client insists that she write up suspicions against one of the other jumpers so they can file a complaint with the national sanctioning commission. Working against the clock, Karen finds proof that the picture is fake, proving that the insurance clients were trying to defraud the agency. But time runs out on the jump rope investigation—once again the dissatisfied client fires Karen before she solves the case. This time, she knows an innocent girl is going to face blame and could be banned from the sport she loves. So she digs on until she uncovers the truth —and possible destroys a family in the process.

For More Information

  • Roped In is available at Amazon.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.

Thanks for this interview, Kate.  Can we begin by having you tell us about yourself from a writer’s standpoint?

They say write what you know. But in my case, that could be pretty dull reading. Who wants to read about my efforts to make a palatable peanut butter and jelly sandwich for my daughter when the only bread in the house is made of rye flour and caraway seeds? On the other hand, no one wants to read my depiction of the molecular structure of an antimatter force field since my knowledge of science is less than that of the average first grader. So I can't write what I don't know. I tend to write about things I’d like to know more about. Then I get to research!

I’m a history nut, so many of my stories are set in the past and I love to learn about the commonplace activities of life in different places at different time periods. For
the Karen Maxwell mysteries, however, which are set in modern Maryland, I start with a setting that is pretty familiar. So initially my research focused on the operation of a private investigation firm, and the wrongdoings they’re hired to check out. Roped In is the third book in the series and it involves allegations of sabotage in competitive jump rope. At the time I conceived of the story, my daughter was learning to jump with a precision jump rope team and she performed some simple routines but neither of us knew anything about the competitive side of the sport. I interviewed a number of more experienced team members, parents and coaches before writing the proposal for the book. But although my editor approved the synopsis and first three chapters, the publisher cancelled the mystery series. So I set the story aside and went back to writing in historical settings for the next several years. Meanwhile, my daughter became more involved with jump rope and I became a coach. She started coaching and competing and we eventually started living through the types of experiences outlined in Roped In. We were at practice or some other jump rope event 5 o 6 days of the week all year long. So I decided I had to go back and finish that story, even though I no longer had a publisher for it. Roped In is my first foray into self-publishing world and since my daughter provided the inspiration, it's fitting that she also created the cover art and served as the cover model, too.

When not writing, what do you like to do for relaxation?

Handstand pushups. (And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you …) Seriously, I believe exercise is very important, but for relaxation I’d choose a slow bike ride on a nice flat beach. I enjoy hills but prefer to experience them while buckled into the car of a roller coaster.

Do you have a day job? Or a night one?

I’ve worked at different part-time jobs over the years. For eight years, I coached jump rope. I wrote a newspaper column on religion, and worked as an independent contractor doing bookkeeping and writing promotional material and correspondence. Currently I work with the local chamber of commerce helping to plan and run events and writing and editing various material. 

What is it about the cozy mystery genre that appeals more than any other genre you would choose to write?

One of the most appealing aspects of the genre is the fun attitude that infuses so many of the stories. In a cozy mystery, we see the eccentric side of ordinary people.  Even though the stories usually involve death, they don’t focus on the dark aspects of life. We know that nasty, gruesome things happen to people, but I don’t want to spend my spare time reading about it.

If you had to summarize your book in one sentence, what would that be?

It's hard to be taken seriously as a private investigator when your only cases involve a dead parrot and a broken jump rope.

What makes your book stand out from the rest?

The only dead body is 12 inches tall and covered in feathers. That's true of all my mysteries - the crimes being investigated do not involve murder. The police investigate murders, and I wanted my investigating done without police interference. I find it a lot easier to be silly without police lurking about in the background. I'm talking about in my scenes, of course, though I guess I wouldn't want the police lurking around all the time in real life, either.

Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

Ideas usually hit me when I'm traveling and I try imagine the things that happened in a particular place.  Information, on the other hand, usually has to be sought out deliberately. Whenever I travel I seek out small museums and other sources of local history (both a source of ideas and information).  

Do you have any suggestions to help me become a better writer? If so, what are they?

I think the best thing any writer can do is to get feedback from someone who can be trusted to give an honest opinion about what works and what doesn't work in a story. If you're lucky, you have a good team of editors going through your manuscript, each looking for different things—does the story hold together? Do the characters act realistically? Are they likeable? Does the writing flow? But even big publishers are cutting back on their editing staff, so you can't necessarily count on getting help from a publisher. You can trade critique work with another writer or hire an editor, and I've used both of these techniques. It's great to have family and friends read your work, too, but remember that they might not be looking for flaws. Showing your story to someone else can be very scary, because you're opening up a part of yourself to criticism. But there's no real reward without risk, and when you take the risk of sharing your work with others, you reap the reward of seeing your story become the best it can be.

What’s next for you?

Before my daughter graduates and heads to college in another state, I'm going to finish a book I started writing for her when she was in about 3rd grade. She'd run out of Harry Potter books and had a hard time finding something else. I started writing a Christian urban fantasy story, but I wasn't sure I could find a publisher to take a chance on it, and eventually I went back to writing historicals. Now I want to finish this story while she's able to help me with it. Meg co-wrote Toto's Tale with me several years ago and I value her input with fantasy tales in particular.
After that, I have several more historical settings I want to explore. I have a lot of characters in my head fighting for time on the computer—it will be interesting to see who wins out!

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