Interview with Murder Mystery writer Kaye D. Schmitz

By Amber Bell

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How do you answer the question, “Oh, you’re an author? What do you write?”

My answer is, “I write time-slip murder mysteries set in the South.”

How would you describe your writing to someone not familiar with your work? 

My writing is a cross between lighter versions of Steve Berry and Heather Graham, but told in the “girlfriend” style of Dorothea Benton Frank.

Which of your characters would you like to have as a best friend and why?

I’d like to have Opal, the owner of “The Hidden Jewel,” as my best friend. I like her character and personality and believe I could learn a lot from her.

If you had to switch places with one of your characters for a week who would you choose and why?

I would switch places with Kate. The obvious answer is because she learns she is a multi-millionaire, but beyond that, her experiences have served to force her to grow up and view the world with a more rounded perspective.

Which of your characters has been the most difficult to write and why?

My most difficult character, Kate’s grandmother—whom she called “Gramm”–wasn’t even included in the final version of THE CONSORT CONSPIRACY because she just never rang true to me. I simply couldn’t capture her essence and blend it in to the fabric of the novel. Once I eliminated her from the ongoing storyline, everyone else spoke to me easily and jumped onto the page.

Would you say your writing style is more character driven or plot driven?

I wrote the book from plot point to plot point, but I do know that my characters became very strong and believable.

Which of your books did you have to do the most research for? What does your research process look like?

I have a book I’m still working on that takes place in the mid-nineteen hundreds through the early 2000s that has taken a ton of research. At the beginning, I struggled to keep up with all the facts but finally put everything into a timeline that began in 1880 and extended through to 2017. In that manner, I could easily refer to what happened when and where to find more detail.

Your books tend to focus on the history of an area and its residents. Was there anything about where you grew up that helped inspire that curiosity?

Yes. I grew up in a very small, very old town in Maryland where historical buildings and stories had been preserved and retold for, literally, centuries. My parents were also interested in the local history and kept it alive for me. I wasn’t crazy about memorizing dates and battle sites in history class, but teach me the history through a story about a particular family—as Margaret Mitchell did in GONE WITH THE WIND—and it all becomes vivid and meaningful to me.

You’ve said that with your love of Disney princesses like Cinderella that people are surprised that you write murder mysteries and not romantic fantasies. What do you think drew you to write about murders?

I’m not really sure because I still write poetry and whimsical stories about a miniature Christmas village I set up every year. I think the main reason I began writing about murder was that since Katherine died suddenly at the age of 17 and was buried with her infant daughters, I had to figure out why she died and the circumstances leading up to her death. Something more sinister than simply dying in childbirth. Since coming up with that storyline, my mind has naturally gravitated to thinking about murders first and evaluating other details after that.

Do you have any sets rules for yourself about how or when to write?

No and that’s something I want to work on. My friend, author Steve Berry, is very disciplined and forces himself into his office every day, early in the morning and doesn’t leave until he’s written at least 1,000 words. I don’t operate like that. I have quite an extensive flower garden and that takes hours every day, so it depends on whether I go outside first or sit down at my computer first. Although when I’m in the middle of a book, as I currently am, I do set up a spreadsheet with how many words I need to write within a week to finish the book by a certain date. In general, I need six thousand words, or so, per week. In my case, however, that might only be two or three days of actual writing where my output is two to three thousand words per day. Once I get started, I let it go until the idea has been completed—regardless of how many words that turns out to be.

What helps spark your imagination when writer’s block hits or you’re just looking for a new idea?

I have a file labeled “Ideas” and any time something pops into my head, I write it down and file it there. If I’m in the middle of a project and get stuck, I begin rewriting and often the ideas will flow naturally from there. If that doesn’t work, I force myself to sit quietly and let my mind wander until it comes up with something worthwhile. I also get a lot of great ideas for plot points in the shower.

What have you learned about yourself from your writing?

I’ve learned that I have a dark side nobody knew about…not even me. I’ve also learned that I have a way with words that tends to please not only me, but also others as well.

What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

To keep writing. And then rewrite—over and over and over. I would also encourage them to take writing courses and pay attention to passive verbs and phrases that begin with “As” and “While,” because in those sentences, the real action never actually happens. And editors look for that. In addition, the biggest encouragement would be to finish their projects. Every editor I ever talked to congratulated me on finishing my novel and told me that 80% of those who begin manuscripts never complete them. Even my agent said that fewer than 80% of the writers she invites to send her pages never do.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer and how different is the reality from what you had expected?

I’ve always been a writer—my first poem was published in my local newspaper when I was ten-years-old. And I had the idea for my first novel twenty years ago. In fact, it began as a short story. As I got serious about it, however, I really began trying to get it published in earnest around 2004. And it has been very, very different from what I expected. Like 99% of the authors you would talk to, I just want to tell the stories, but in this day and age of publishing, I also have to do the marketing. While I can do that, it is not my first love.

With self publishing being an option, what made you choose to publish with TouchPoint Press?

It has always been important to me to be published through the traditional process—including having an agent. So that’s why I took this route first.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on a story that takes place in North Carolina between two families whose lives have been intertwined for multiple generations. A cold-case murder gets solved in that one, too.

When can we expect your next release?

I don’t have a date in mind. I’m still doing a lot of rewriting and polishing.

What amazes you the most about your life?

The most amazing part of my life is how incredibly lucky I am to have found my darling husband, who is also my best friend. He makes every day beautiful. He is also my biggest champion in my writing. In addition, I am blessed to have amazing children and grandchildren and wonderful friends.

Tell me a random fact about yourself.

In my late forties, I won a national ballroom dance competition in Asheville, NC, by coming in first in 17 out of 21 different dance routines. I came in second in the other four.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I have been humbled at how well received my first published novel has been and hope that my good fortune along those lines continues.

 

Books by Kaye D. Schmitz

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