Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Kelli Owen

Meghan: Hi, Kelli. It’s been awhile since we sat down together. What’s been going on since we last spoke?

Kelli Owen: To start off with a bang, I got a chapbook banned on Amazon last spring. They’d been selling it for three years and then one day some guy named Charlie V with too much power and not enough friends decided to ban it, block me from selling it, and make my life an interesting factoid. In the end, I published it at a local printer and now offer it through my website. Sorry, Charlie.

Shortly after that, Passages, book 2 in the Wilted Lily series, came out. And in doing so, turned into a series rather than a sequel.

And several short stories have happened—two came out last year, two will this year, and one is slatted for an early next year release. I know, that’s only five, the sixth piece I was ticking off on my fingers was actually an essay rather than a story—released last year as well.

Meghan: Who are you outside of writing?

Kelli Owen: Depends on the moment. I wear many hats, including writing. I’m an accountant (by day), a grandmother, a perpetual 12-year-old full of wonder and questions, a curious but cautious explorer, and a fun-crazy (not to be confused with scary-crazy) girl just trying to absorb it all.

Meghan: How do you feel about friends and close relatives reading your work?

Kelli Owen: I think it’s great. Readers are readers, and not in the sense of “please read my book” but rather in a “reading is becoming rare and any reader is a good thing” kind of way. If I happen to know them and they happen to read my fiction, awesome. I hope they like it.

Meghan: Is being a writer a gift or a curse?

Kelli Owen: Neither. It just is. It can however be an intrusive inconvenience. When you’re actively working on something but are away from it for whatever reason (life, dinner, shower, out with friends) and suddenly have to stop what you’re doing to write notes. That can be fun. And there’s those moments when you’re mid-sentence or watching a movie and just drift off because suddenly you’re plotting or planning or have dialogue running through your head. I still wouldn’t say curse, but I’d definitely suggest it’s an adventure. Just having the imagination that goes with writing can fall into both categories, and usually at the worst times.

Meghan: How has your environment and upbringing colored your writing?

Kelli Owen: My father loved thrillers and horror novels, introducing me to everything from Lovecraft to Dean Koontz. My mother loved horror movies, and supported my love of all things creepy—though with a raised eyebrow on occasion. While I did read my way through a fantasy phase, writing fantasy was as brief as a firefly’s blinky butt. Thrillers and horror were the things that moved me from a very young age, and made me want to move others. The atmosphere in my house nurtured it, never suggesting I “write something nicer” or otherwise steering my interests, themes or topics.

Meghan: What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research for your books?

Kelli Owen: Returning blood to a liquid state after it has clotted. Even typing that is gross and reminds me of some of the nastiness of that research. Thank goodness I found a lovely phlebotomist to make friends with who could answer all the questions with science and make it less gross for me, even though I turned around and wrote it with gore and upped the gross factor for the readers.

Meghan: Which do you find the hardest to write: the beginning, the middle, or the end?

Kelli Owen: The first paragraph. I will write and rewrite and rewrite it. Then I’ll move past it and come back, and rewrite it. And rewrite it again. I honestly rewrite that first paragraph at least six times before I get to the end. I never start a piece of fiction without knowing the end, and the middle is the fun part where I have a rough sketch and let the characters tell me the details, but that beginning? It has to not only punch, it has to lead into the middle and the eventual end with grace.

Meghan: Do you outline? Do you start with characters or plot? Do you just sit down and start writing? What works best for you?

Kelli Owen: I outline, or what I call an outline. It’s more of a list of scenes and/or conversations, in order, which does usually get followed fairly closely.

I usually know the story before I know the characters. I know this thing is happening in the universe, then I work out who is present for it, whom among them have insight and therefore voice. Story arc and character arc often work in opposite directions, passing each other somewhere in the outlines.

Once all that is ready, and that dang first paragraph is good, then yes, I just start. It becomes a living thing to the point that one of my biggest issues is tense change—because it’s happening present time in my mind but I write mostly in past tense, so I’ll catch myself switching between them.

Meghan: What do you do when characters don’t follow the outline/plan?

Kelli Owen: Smile, sit back, and follow them with glee. I love when characters come to life and start surprising me, and my outlines generally allow for it to happen. Only rarely have I had to reel a character back in, and it usually causes me to pause and wonder why they went off that way.

Meghan: What do you do to motivate yourself to sit down and write?

Kelli Owen: Deadlines work! Haha. I’m actually blessed, and I say it that way because I know there are many who aren’t and I don’t want to get slapped by colleagues. When it’s time to write, I can basically just do that. I start the music, read what I previously wrote, and then continue the story.

Meghan: Are you an avid reader?

Kelli Owen: Oh I used to be such an insanely voracious reader. For years, I read enough to keep the TBR pile(s) under control. Now, I’m pulled so many ways for time, I have three different TBR piles, and while I am reading from each of them (the top book), I’m not doing it anywhere near the speed I would like.

Meghan: What kind of books do you absolutely love to read?

Kelli Owen: I still love the thrillers and horror. Dark stories about normal people in screwed up situations. Wicked twists or supernatural undertones, paranormal or apocalyptic, I’ll take anything that falls under dark, but is only one step left of reality.

Meghan: How do you feel about movies based on books?

Kelli Owen: I think people could enjoy both more if they all just remembered it’s two different mediums and sometimes you need to make changes because things don’t translate one way or the other. That said, I think there should be more movies based on books. Hollywood is so fixated with built-in audiences and unwarranted remakes, I swear they’ve all burned down their bookshelves. There are so so many books, in just the last twenty years, that would make amazing movies, but unless they’re agented or connected, they’ll never be seen that way. It’s a shame.

Meghan: Have you ever killed a main character?

Kelli Owen: Absolutely. One I knew was going to happen from the beginning, the other was a bit of a surprise (see that question above about characters going off script). And of course, in the Atrocious Alphabet, the coloring book based on a horror poem I wrote, pretty much everyone dies.

Meghan: Do you enjoy making your characters suffer?

Kelli Owen: It sounds so dirty when you say it that way, but yes. It’s my job. By definition, a thriller or horror story is boiled down to: something has gone wrong and it affects the protagonist. For a short story you can end there, but for longer works, usually more things goes wrong. A lot more if there are layers and/or multiple characters in the mix. Do I enjoy it? I don’t necessarily enjoy the issue or problem at the core, but seeing how it affects the characters, or how they’re going to deal with it, is always interesting.

Meghan: What’s the weirdest character concept that you’ve ever come up with?

Kelli Owen: “Weird” is a subjective term, and in the realm of the darker genres, it’s actually normal, or at the very least expected. So I’m not sure how to answer this. Re-inventing vampires (in Teeth) who don’t burn in the sun or fear the cross, perhaps? I also have a school full of psychically gifted kids, with some new twists on paranormal abilities (Passages).

Meghan: What’s the best piece of feedback you’ve ever received? What’s the worst?

Kelli Owen: Actually, I recently had an editor question the tone of the ending to a short story, and it made me rethink it and change it—strengthening the entire story. We’ll call that the best. The worst? I don’t know if there is such a thing. There’s feedback you disagree with, or decide not to heed, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it bad. And oddly, can’t think of anything I disagreed with hard enough to even mention.

Meghan: What do your fans mean to you?

Kelli Owen: Everything. I’m delighted to have them, and am constantly humbled by their kind words. I have included them in my works via submitted names for characters, and thanked them in the acknowledgements.

Meghan: If you could steal one character from another author and make them yours, who would it be and why?

Kelli Owen: Odd Thomas. And you should know, in my head, I answered that with definitive vulgarity punctuating those words. I’d make him a teacher at McMillan Hall (Passages) and have a lovely time with scenes in his classroom.

Meghan: If you could write the next book in a series, which one would it be, and what would you make the book about?

Kelli Owen: There’s not a lot of series (I’ve read) which are still open ended enough to take somewhere. Though it may be more fun to hijack someone else’s work and write a sequel. In that case, I would love to take Jack Ketchum’s Off Season—which is one of my all time favorite books—and continue the story beyond his existing sequel (Offspring) to round it out to a three-part series.

Meghan: If you could write a collaboration with another author, who would it be and what would you write about?

Kelli Owen: I would have loved to write with Dallas, aka Jack Ketchum, but sadly that window has closed. As both a hero and a mentor, and later a friend, it would have been a beautiful opportunity to see how his magic was created from the inside. What would we have written about? Easy. Life askew, washed in horrific Technicolor. Also, see the previous question.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Kelli Owen: For starters, what I thought was a simple sequel to Wilted Lilies became book two in a series. So after Passages there will be at least three more, which are currently plotted. While those will likely remain novella length to fit the theme so far, anything could happen. Outside of that, I’m very excited about my next two novels—a coming of age tale, followed by what I hope is a truly scary ghost story. I’ve made a career out of making people nervous or uncomfortable, let’s see if I can’t make their hearts race and perhaps scare them…

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Kelli Owen:

Facebook (author page) ** Facebook (discussion group)
Twitter ** Instagram ** Goodreads

And of course, my website where you can find links to other bits and pieces of me scattered about the web. Also, depending on when this is published, I will be at four signings this Halloween season, please see website for details.

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview or the last?

Kelli Owen: Thank you so much for reaching out to me to come back and be part of the extravaganza again, I’m delighted to be included. To the fans, thank you so much for reading—please tip your waitress (ahem, please leave reviews, it’s lifeblood in this business). And may everyone have a safe and spooky Halloween!

Kelli Owen is the author of more than a dozen books, including the novels Teeth and Floaters, and fan-favorite apocalyptic novella Waiting Out Winter, and the Wilted Lily Series. Her fiction spans the genres from thrillers to psychological horror, with an occasional bloodbath, and an even rarer happy ending. She was an editor and reviewer for over a decade, and has attended countless writing conventions, participated on dozens of panels, and spoken at the CIA Headquarters in Langley, VA regarding both her writing and the field in general. Visit her website for more information.

Teeth

All myths have a kernel of truth. The truth is: vampires are real.

They’ve always been here, but only came out of hiding in the last century. They are not what Hollywood would have you believe. They are not what is written in lore or whispered by the superstitious.

They look and act like humans. They live and love and die like humans. Puberty is just a bit more stressful for those with the recessive gene. And while some teenagers worry about high school, others dread their next set of teeth.

Vampires are real, but in a social climate still struggling to accept that truth, do teeth alone make them monsters?

Wilted Lily 1: Wilted Lilies

It’s not that Lily May Holloway is a broken, battered teenager recently escaped from her kidnapper. 

It’s not that she may or may not have killed him to escape. 

The question on Detective Travis Butler’s mind is — what exactly does the death of little Tommy Jenkins have to do with her kidnapper? 

And why does the man behind the one-way glass want the detective to entertain Lily’s tales of speaking to the dead… and being able to hear the thoughts of the living?

Wilted Lily 2: Passages

Lily May Holloway can hear the thoughts of the living, and speak to the dead. She’s done so since she was little, and been shunned for it.

As a new student at McMillan Hall, a private school with other teens who possess a variety of psychic gifts, she finds she isn’t necessarily unique. Or safe.

Acceptance is no longer her only concern. 

Staying alive is.

Passages, book 2 of the Wilted Lily series, picks up where Wilted Lilies left off…

Left for Dead/Fall from Grace

LEFT FOR DEAD

When Susan’s 8-year-old daughter is brutally attacked, she becomes consumed by her need for revenge but mere punishment is not enough. Susan learns that sometimes those being given the lessons are not those doing the learning.

FALL FROM GRACE

Grace has spent seven years adjusting to the tragedies of her youth. She has become a smart, sexy, complex teenager, who is nothing short of dangerous, as she teeters on the edge of the abyss and smiles at the monsters inside.

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