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Interview with Kelly Irvin

Kelly Irvin is an award-winning author who makes her home in San Antonio, Texas with her photographer husband and two ornery cats. She also has two adult children and two grandchildren. She has thirty years of experience writing non-fiction and recently retired after twenty-two years working in public relations. She likes to read mysteries and romantic suspense novels in her spare time.

How do your ideas for new books begin? Would you consider yourself a plotter or a pantser?

I really have no idea where the ideas come from. Sometimes they’ll spark from a newspaper article or something I’ve read. Sometimes it’s a place or even a Scripture. With my current series, Every Amish Season, I saw a blurb in The Budget, the Amish newspaper, in which the scribe included the annual statistics for her district (number of families, number of deaths, number of children, number of births, etc.). She included number of widows and widowers as a separate statistic. I wondered what it would be like to be a widow in an Amish community that is so geared toward the family unit with husband and wife at the forefront. My series examines that question through four women in different seasons in their lives.

I’m a pantser all the way. The word “outline” makes my eyes glaze over. I know generally who my characters are. I know how the story starts and sometimes how it ends. I don’t always know which guy gets the girl or if he gets her at all. I don’t outline or do character sketches. I learn about my characters the same way my readers do—as it is revealed to me in the story. I love it when a new character bursts onto the scene or an existing character “tells me” something about her past that totally blows me away. That’s what makes writing so enjoyable for me. I admit I spend a lot of time rewriting and editing, but I’m willing to make that sacrifice to let my imagination have full reign.

How did it take your first book to get published?

Seven years. I realized it was now or never when I turned forty-five. I would never have my lifelong dream of publishing a novel if I didn’t get serious about it. I had two kids in middle school, a husband, and a full-time job in public relations, but I had to make it fit. I wrote early in the morning, over my lunch hour, late at night, on weekends when the kids’ activities and my own job permitted. It took three years to get an agent and another four for the first contract—a romantic suspense novel published by Five Star Gale. It was a beautiful library quality hardback marketed to libraries only. I’ll never forget how proud I was to see A Deadly Wilderness on the shelf in a library.

Do you have a favorite writing place? A favorite writing snack?
I’m fortunate to have my own office in my home. It’s filled with my favorite books and has two windows that allow me to look out at the front yard and watch the birds and squirrels play and see what the neighbors are doing. Anything to procrastinate! The office is also the first room people see when they enter our home—much to my husband’s chagrin. I’m really messy when I’m on a writing jag, which is frequently, now that I write full-time.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve received?
After I completed my first manuscript I went to a small one-day writing conference here in San Antonio. One of the presenters was author DiAnn Mills. I signed up for a 15-minute mentoring session with her. I was so nervous I almost didn’t go. DiAnn gave me three pieces of advice I always give to other writers just beginning on this journey: 1- Join ACFW. 2- Join a critique group and lean to take constructive criticism about your work. 3- Go to writing conferences where you can get your work in front of agents and editors. Particularly ACFW’s national conference. I did all three and it worked for me. I’ve attended every ACFW national conference in the last twelve years except one four years ago when my granddaughter was born that weekend.

There’s all kinds of writing advice out there, but these three tips are very practical ways to further your writing career. Hone your craft, make the right connections, and invest in your writing.

What advice would you give aspiring authors?
See the previous answer. LOL. But also, don’t give up if you really want this. Get your behind in the chair and write every day. Don’t find excuses not to do it. And don’t send your proposals to agents and editors until you are sure it’s your best work. Polish, polish, polish. And then do it!

What drew you to writing Amish fiction?

Forgiveness. And nudging from my agent, Mary Sue Seymour, who sold my first Amish romance before I finished writing it. Mary Sue wanted me to give it a try and I kept putting her off. Then I saw an article about the man who shot and killed several Amish girls in a schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. The article focused on how the Amish families forgave the killer. Could I forgive a man who killed my child? As Christians, we are called to forgive all trespasses, but we so often pay only lip service to this edict. The Amish walk the walk. Out of that examination of my own shortcomings, came my first Amish romance, To Love and to Cherish.

What was your favorite part of writing Upon A Spring Breeze?
Watching a story of tragedy and loss become one of second chances and love. During the writing of this book I was diagnosed with Primary Lateral Sclerosis (PLS), a degenerative motor disease, and a few months later, ovarian cancer. Everything I felt about losing my ability to walk freely and my health was poured into Bess and Aidan’s feelings of loss and grief. Writing fiction can be very therapeutic. I also enjoyed doing research on flowers and plants that grow well in northwest Missouri and learning about chicken farming and raising hogs. It was a well-rounded experience.

Do you consider yourself a morning bird or a night owl? Is there a time of day that you prefer to write?
Working as a public relations professional for the city of San Antonio for 23 years meant I had to get up at 5:30 a.m. every morning. Apparently, that schedule is still ingrained in me, even though I’ve been retired from the job for a year and a half. I write best early in the morning when I’m fresh. I try to be at my computer no later than 8 a.m. six days a week. I’m often in bed by 9:30. I used to dream of being able to stay up all night watching movies. I’m lucky to make it until 9:30.

What books are on your TBR list right now?
I have books by two of my favorite mystery writers on pre-order. Down a Dark Road, an Amish mystery, by Linda Castillo, and Lockdown by Laura R. King, who writes the Mary Russell mysteries series about Sherlock Holmes’ wife. I’m a mystery and romantic suspense fanatic. I’m trying to widen my horizons, so recently I read Vannetta Chapman’s dystopian series The Remnant. I recommend it to anyone who wants to chew off their fingernails while they sit on the edge of their chairs reading all three books. My TBR pile always includes any new Longmire mysteries by Craig Johnson and John Sanborn’s Prey series (and his Virgil Flowers series).

Any parting words?

My writing journey has given me so much joy. I can’t imagine not writing. I’m so thankful and so blessed. To aspiring writers who are struggling, I offer these heartfelt words of encouragement: It’s worth it. Never give up, never give in.


CJ Myerly is a graduate from Clearwater Christian College. She resides in Tampa, Florida with her husband and two children. She’s always loved reading and writing and is currently working on a contemporary romance series. She hates clutter, loves organization, and has a love/hate relationship with all electronics. CJ blogs about books, writing, motherhood, and homeschooling at

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