|Jill Orr, photo by Stephanie Atkinson Photography
Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Good Byline and for your character Riley?
A: Most of my favorite books are character driven, so I wanted to make sure that my main character, Riley, grew and changed as a result of what she goes through during the novel. Of course, I wanted the plot to be interesting and fun too, but it mostly exists as a vehicle for Riley's personal growth.
I’ve always believed that part of growing up is learning to live in the gray areas. When we’re younger, we tend to categorize things in a more black-and-white sort of way. Life is good or bad. People are nice or mean. Relationships are going to last forever or they’re over.
Riley is at a place in her life where she is beginning to see that not everything can be so easily sorted. Her feelings for Ryan, her memories about Jordan, her opinion of Holman, and perhaps most importantly, her own self-worth, all exist in shades of gray.
This new perspective can be uncomfortable, but ultimately will allow her to live the kind of life she really wants, as opposed to the disappointing one she’s settling for at the beginning of the book.
Q: Why did you decide to focus on the idea of obituary writing?
A: In searching for the perfect profession for my amateur sleuth, I came up with idea of an obituary writer after reading a particularly moving obituary that went viral online.
Through the magic of social media, the obit in question led me to discover that there is a close-knit community of people who write and read obituaries as a hobby!
It's true! There are thousands and thousands of people who read obituaries everyday just to learn about how other people lived their lives, and what lessons their lives leave behind.
I was fascinated by this. I read a fantastic book by Marilyn Johnson to learn more about this subset of obit-obsessed people and I thought, "Wouldn't this make an interesting quirk for a main character?" And of course since obituaries have a natural tie-in with death so they make the perfect hook for a murder mystery!
Q: The book takes place in a small town in Virginia. How important is setting to you in your writing, and could this have been set elsewhere?
A: From a practical point of view, creating a fictional town frees you up from having to deal with pesky things like “geography” and “the truth” –neither of which I’m particularly interested in as a fiction writer.
And as for why I picked Virginia as the place to set this story, I just love it there! My in-laws live in Williamsburg and I’ve been fortunate enough to spend some time in that region. It’s a beautiful area of the country, rich with history, charm, and that delicious southern drawl!
That said, the book could take place in just about any Southern setting.
Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: Oh, how I wish I was the kind of writer who plots out everything before I begin writing! Sadly for me, I am not (it would be a lot more efficient).
I'm one of those writers who instead follows my characters around all day, writing down everything they say and do, like a transcriptionist... or a creepy stalker.
It makes for a lot of scenes that eventually get cut, but I like to think it also results in some surprising plot twists - I know I'm always surprised, anyway!
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I've just turned in my second book in the Riley Ellison series called The Bad Break, which will come out on April 3, 2018. It was so much fun to write - I can't wait for people to read it.
Next up, I'll get to work on book three in the series slated for April 2019. I'm already thinking of all the ways I can provide Riley with more "opportunities for growth" aka, problems, frustrations, and dangerous situations!
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I love to hear from readers so if anyone has a comment, question or just wants to talk mysteries/obits/humor with me, get in touch via Facebook or my website! Thanks so much for reading!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb