Alive After Reading 144 Kelly Brakenhoff

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This week, Kelly Brakenhoff, an author with a background in teaching American Sign Language joins the podcast.

Check out Kelly’s website to find all her books.

Get Origin of Storms for just 99 cents if you’re in the United States (Only until April 24th, 2020). This is a six-hundred-page space opera novel, on sale for quarantine.

EDIT: Kelly generously wrote up a transcript of this episode herself! You can read it below.

Thanks for listening!

Alive After Reading #144

Tim Niederriter:

Hello and welcome to Alive After Reading. I’m Tim Niederriter and with me today is a new guest, one of these people we love to have on the podcast. A great writer, Kelly Brakenhoff, welcome to the podcast.

Kelly Brakenhoff:

Hi, Tim. Thank you.

Tim:

Well, it’s great to have you on. Tell the listeners a little bit about yourself and what sort of stuff you write.

Kelly:

Sure. I’m super excited to talk to someone other than my dogs today, because I’ve been home all day in quarantine. Normally when I’m not at home with my dogs, I’m an American Sign language Interpreter. Living the dream in Lincoln, Nebraska.

My husband and I are empty nesters and we have two dogs. I write two series. One is a children’s picture book series, which features Duke, the deaf dog. And I have a cozy mystery series called the Cassandra Sato mysteries. The first one is Death by Dissertation, and the second is Dead Week.

In the mysteries, the main character is Cassandra Sato who trades her life in Hawai’i where she was born and raised for a dream job in Nebraska. No one does that, right? She thinks working at a small liberal arts college will help her get experience to someday become a university president. But two months in, a student dies and she has to help with the investigation. Mayhem ensues, and her job rapidly becomes a nightmare.

Tim:

Ooh, that’s a good pitch. Been practicing that one, have you?

[laughs]

Kelly:

I have been, yes.

Tim:

Very good, you delivered it very well.

Kelly:

Thanks. No one moves from Hawai’i to Nebraska, but I actually moved at one point from Nebraska to Hawai’i. I reversed it for my book.

Tim:

That’s a good way to go. Honestly, a funny way. I mean, it’s a good way to get a story. Like that what if question. Actually, I think it kinda does segue nicely. You’ve got the picture book. I mean, obviously it ties into closely with your job because the dog is a deaf dog. It’s right there in the title it fits in very well with the American Sign Language stuff. What inspired you to write a write a children’s book?

Kelly:

Well, it’s funny. Ever since I was little, I always wanted to be a writer. I have a younger sister who’s an amazing artist. When we were little, we used to make homemade comic books about a dog and a cat. I would do the words and she would draw the pictures. It was like Snoopy meets Garfield, except it was really, really bad. That was the beginning. I mean, I always wanted to be a writer. My sister always wanted to be an artist. She actually grew up and became an artist.

Then I grew up and became an American Sign Language interpreter. I took the very long detour through four children and a long career. But it’s something I never gave up on. It’s funny because I actually started writing the mysteries first.

I spent about five years working on my first book Death by Dissertation. I had to decide at a certain point if I was going to get an agent and a publisher, or if I was going to self-publish. It took me about, I don’t know, over a year to figure that out. During that process, I formed my own publishing company. I woke up one morning thinking that I was queen of the world. And I said, okay, if I have my own publishing company, that means I can do whatever I want. I can publish any book I want.

I sat there thinking, what does the world need? What do I know about that I could give? What could I do? I swear this is the truth. I thought one day, I need to write a book for deaf kids because I’ve spent my whole life working with deaf people. I know lots of cool deaf people, and I wanted kids who are deaf to be able to see themselves in books. There are very few children’s picture books that have deaf characters in them, or that deaf kids can relate to. That was how I got the idea to do that book. It actually came very recently.

Tim:

Oh, that’s cool. I mean, it’s interesting because it has both American Sign Language and a book for deaf kids. It’s one of those synergistic things. It’s cool.

Kelly:

All the years that I put off writing, put off the dream of becoming an author, I used to feel that I wasn’t living my dream and everything. But of course, I always have been living, know what I mean? The path is the dream, right. It’s the journey, not the end. It took me a while to figure that out.

But, this is cool because I took the thing that I love. I love interpreting. I’ve met many cool deaf people doing that, and I love writing. To be able to put those two together has been such a pleasure. It’s only been, gosh, a little over a year since I started working on the first children’s book. It’s become a passion. I mean, it’s super cool.

Tim:

That’s wonderful. It’s funny, I mean it’s one of those things that I have been trying to do recently because obviously I write fiction as well. I write science fiction fantasy mostly. There’s this weird issue I’ve run into. It doesn’t sound like you have it. It’s a me problem where I’ve lost track of sometimes–actually, every–morning I wake up and I forgot why I wanted to be a writer. It’s not a good place to be. Let me tell you that. I am working on hard on remembering every morning and making it a habit. It doesn’t go away. Anyway, but it sounds like you obviously you didn’t have that problem. It was always something you had in the back of your mind.

Kelly:

It was always something on my bucket list. A couple of years before I turned 50, I was like, dude, if you don’t start, you’re never going to do this. At a certain point, you have to say, are you doing it or not?

For my first book, the first thing that got me finally going was NaNoWriMo. The first one I did was in 2014. I’ve done this for many different topics or challenges. I can do anything for 30 days. Like I can not eat bread. I can not eat meat. I can run, I can do anything for 30 days, right?

I can be quarantined in my house and not go anywhere for 30 days. I’m past that now. I finished week five as I pause to drink my wine. But you can do anything for 30 days. That was the challenge to me of NaNoWriMo. That’s why I liked it. If I couldn’t even do this for 30 days, how do I think I’m going to write a whole book?

I have to ask you, you said that you wake up every morning thinking, okay, why am I doing this? Do you have to write every day? Is that your thing? Is that your goal to write every day?

Tim:

No, because now that I’m dictating, I can go fast. It’s faster. I mean, my listeners are probably tired of hearing about this, but I used to be a slow typist. I wrote like 30 words a minute at best and that was pretty rare. Now I can dictate a hundred words a minute if I put my mind to it, and I can do that pretty consistently for an hour. Usually to get a clean draft it’s more like 80, but that’s still pretty good. I’ve been doing it since last summer.

Kelly:

A hundred words a minute! Wow, that’s very good! I read, shoot, what’s his name? How to Write 5,000 words an hour. Oh. Chris Fox. Yes. I read that book a few weeks ago. During the first week of quarantine, I stared at the cursor for three days. I thought if I’m stuck home all day long, I should be able to write this book in two weeks. This is awesome! Then I stared at my laptop for hours at a time. I procrastinated in every way possible. I got that book and again, I love a challenge, but it was inspiring. I’ve been trying to put into practice some of the things in that book and it’s helped me a lot.

Tim:

It’s very much a fitness thing. He has a bunch of his books on sale for quarantine. I guess I could do a brief plug for Chris Fox’s books, his non nonfiction books to writers are good.

Kelly:

Strangers to Super Fans?

Tim:

I think that’s actually Dave Gaughran. There’s Plot Gardening, Six Figure Author, there’s a bunch of them. I have them because weren’t they 99 cents each? Launch to Market, Write to Market. I think I dropped like $3 or $4. They’re all 99 cents during quarantine. They probably still are, folks.

Especially I would recommend, Lifelong Writing Habit. The one, I forgot the title before that one. That is good. If you’re starting out as a writer, that’s an amazing book. It also works for me and I’ve been writing for 17 years. That’s over half my life. I’ve been writing for longer than I have not been writing.

Kelly:

I always wanted to be a writer, but I was busy with my family and my life. For years my Christmas letter was my one thing that I would spend a lot of time on and get a lot of praise for it. I didn’t want to be known for my Christmas letter.

Tim:

It’s nice, but you can do both. Could do that and have books. Y’all don’t want the Christmas letter to be the top of what you do.

Kelly:

When that 50-year-old birthday date started coming on the horizon, I had to do something else.

Tim:

That makes perfect sense to me. Not to get too deep into my past, but like I always knew I wanted to be a writer as well, but when I was a teenager, eventually you gotta start. I did and I wrote terrible books back then. Because teenagers don’t know enough to write a book that’s quality most of the time. I mean, they can write a book that’s good. But they won’t know enough to fix it. It’s the first-time thing. I actually, one of the books I did write as a teenager is good enough and it was out there for a while. I’m repackaging and rebranding it. But I wrote when I was 19 not when I was 13, to put things in perspective. It took a while to get there. Anyway, the point about feeling called to do it. When I was a teenager, I thought about the book all day during school. I’d go back home and write, or I’d write during class. If I had a computer class, I would type in the computer class and bring a jump drive. This is going to date me because I couldn’t email it to myself. But there you go.

Kelly:

Did you save it on a floppy drive? No. Then you’re not old. You’re a baby.

Tim:

It’s not dated right now, but maybe in 10 years. Yes, I’m a wee baby. As they say, my six-foot four self is a wee baby. The issue I have now though is that of course that I took on this life. This relates back to you, because people who live a more complete life, maybe you might say, have a lot more to do than a guy who has only ever been a writer. I literally gave up most of the other things I could have been doing to write. And now over the years, he’s turned into– I’m sorry, this is going to be a little personal, but it turned into this grim thing that I have to do. I’m here to write. That’s my thing.

But it’s completely missing the point. I remember now, I wrote a few lines when I was in a creative writing class in college where I realized I’m more about entertainment than working hard. I think that’s still true and I think I need to work. I need to get back to those roots. To enjoying the story. It’s like I’m reading a book, but I’m writing it. Does that make sense to you?

Kelly:

That part especially. I don’t write this way, but I admire writers who talk about how they follow their characters around and write down what they do. I don’t think of it that way when I do it. I think of it as like this stage production that I’m orchestrating. I love the idea I’ve heard other authors say where they follow their characters around and write down what happens. That seems like less pressure.

Tim:

When I feel pressure, I basically can’t write. It’s one of those weird, because I’m the most I am, I react very badly to pressure when it comes to creativity.

Kelly:

Oh, well, that’s why I think this virus and the quarantine has been difficult. It took me a couple of weeks to stop whining basically, and suck it up and be like, alright six, eight weeks, however long is going to go by. At the end of it, what did you do? I mean, not that I have to do anything super amazing, but do I want to say that I spent all this time doing nothing.

Tim:

I mean, it makes sense to me. What is your current project, if you don’t mind me asking?

Kelly:

I have a couple. I wrote a second children’s book and I don’t think I mentioned yet, but my sister is the illustrator. We came full circle from our horrible Garfield and Snoopy comic books. She did the illustrations for Duke, the deaf dog. She’s amazing. I love the illustrations. I wrote the second book and she’s working on the illustrations right now. We hope to have that out this summer. It might be a little faster, because she’s off work too. That’s one thing I’m working on. Right now, I’m working on the third Cassandra Sato book, and it takes place during winter break in between the semesters. Of course, it’s in Nebraska and there’s going to be a large snowstorm. All kinds of mayhem and problems happening around the winter break.

Tim:

Nifty. When you write a cozy mystery and you see your books like a stage production. Do you have to know who the killer is to begin with? The classic question. Because I know Agatha Christie didn’t always know.

Kelly:

You would think. I went to Bouchercon last fall in Dallas, and that was the first conference I’d ever been to. It’s the world crime fiction conference, not only cozy mysteries. I loved listening to those authors because it varies. Like you said, Agatha Christie didn’t necessarily know who did it until the end. Some people have it all mapped out, down to the section and the scene and everything is interesting how people can get there in such different ways.

Tim:

Absolutely. There’s all kinds of approaches to writing. I’ve tried many approaches over the years, because I never settled on one that I think is for me. I’m pretty sure I discovery write. That’s my most effective way to write. It depends on the book. That’s the only thing. A lot of writers will say that different books want different stuff.

Kelly:

Well, and I noticed too, I like to read a lot of thrillers and mysteries. That’s probably the two things I read the most, and I didn’t know at the time when I started writing my first book that I picked one of the hardest things to do. Like I wish someone, I probably wouldn’t have listened if they told me because I’m stubborn, but mysteries are hard. You can write your story from point A to point B to point C, but then you have to go back and check all the clues and make sure the red herrings fit and all that other stuff. You gotta have extra people to blame it on. It’s not a straightforward story between a few people. I think probably the fun part of it is the challenge of it, but it’s also what makes it pretty difficult to do well. When I see a mystery now and the people that I like to read. If it’s good, it makes me respect them so much because I can see how hard it is. Agatha Christie is amazing because she pulled that stuff off, man. I mean it’s hard.

Tim:

Most of the time by at least, if I remember correctly, she even says she didn’t know who the killer was going to be any of them could have done it. That’s one maybe a slightly easier way to go is like any of these people could have done it. Honestly, the Christie book I read was And Then There Were None. I mean, that one’s almost a cop out though at the end. It’s a good book. How did that guy do it anyway? No spoilers and stuff. Anyway, but that, that one’s obviously, she wrote herself into a corner, which I totally understand.

I just had to throw out 80,000 words of an epic fantasy novel, because that’s how it went. I was like, God, this isn’t going anywhere. I’m already back to 20,000. I was halfway through the book. It was a tough decision because I mean, for a lot of people, that is a whole book. That’s 80,000 words I’ve written all the way to the end of a story I’d read. But then I realized that wasn’t the story. I wanted a towel. That’s the problem with being a discovery writer. So as much fun as it is to follow the characters around it, sometimes they go the wrong way and you gotta start, keep filming forever.

Kelly:

Will you chuck those 80,000 words or will you take a different direction?

Tim:

I’ve already moved those 80,000 words into a separate part of the document, I’m not deleting them. I was writing the story for a couple months, actually, like four or five months. It took way too long, and then I realized that the reason none of this is working is this is not what I envisioned in the first place. This isn’t the kind of story I wanted to tell. The book is a fantasy murder mystery was the original idea. Maybe that’s why it’s a hard time with it because I’d never written a murder mystery before. As you mentioned, it’s difficult.

Kelly:

Seriously, give yourself credit for that because I’ve studied mysteries and crime fiction in particular and it’s hard to come up with a good one. I forget who said it, but the famous line is “every story is a mystery.” If you think about it, it’s true. A romance, whatever, there’s always a mystery, you’re searching for something, trying to solve. They’re complicated if you do it well.

Tim:

I started over, now that I know the characters better. I don’t think it’s a big deal. I only probably throw out 75,000 words. I’m over it. Don’t worry about me. There were the wrong words. The time is the only thing I miss now. Writing those words is useful, but it wasn’t what I needed to do for this.

Kelly:

Now buddy you got all the time in the world because literally nothing else is going on except what you are doing.

Tim:

Speaking of time, we are now running low on time. I want to ask you, what have you been reading lately?

Kelly:

I started a new to me author. She’s actually very well known. She’s a bestselling author. Gina Lamanna and she has a cozy series starting with Shoot the Breeze. Kindle Unlimited is having a two-month free trial. My books are in Kindle Unlimited. I signed up for my free two months and then I’ve been loading up my Kindle. I’m excited to read it because I know that she’s a good author. I already mentioned, I went to Bouchercon in Dallas. I left with a suitcase full of books. The one good thing about the quarantine is I’ve been working my way through the books. I just finished another debut author named is August Norman. Come and Get Me. It’s a thriller and a little dark. Got the whole serial killer thing going on. I enjoyed that.

This is embarrassing. It’s kinda funny though. Our TV provider added all the Hallmark channels for free because of the quarantine. I never had them before. They have a mystery channel. At night I watch my mystery channel and they’ve got all these different series in movies. I’m calling it research, right? I’m not being a lazy slug on the couch. I’m doing research.

Then I think you were asking me about non-fiction. My son suggested this at the beginning of the year, the book 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson. I think you would like it. It’s a little dense. I tend to read about three to five pages a day, and then I think about it. I just finished “Tell the truth, or at least don’t lie.” There’s another one about “Don’t make your children do something that you’re ashamed of” or “Stand up and put your shoulders back.”

Tim:

The lobster rule. That’s the one I’ve heard about the most.

Kelly

I think people write them off as glib, but they’re actually really good. They make you think, I highly recommend that book and he has a podcast and lectures on YouTube. If you don’t want to read the book, you can watch the YouTube videos. Very thought provoking.

Tim:

For me, I watched the final episode of the first season, The Magicians this week. I think I watched a few other episodes this week. The Magicians is pretty good. It’s a pretty cool show far, very nice. It’s on Netflix. I think the sixth season recently finished. They wrapped up the whole show on TV, but I’m way behind. I only finished these ones because I haven’t even watched season one.

A bit of a content warning on the magicians. It’s pretty violent and maybe oversexed even full disclosure. There’s cursing and stuff. I don’t know what channel was originally on, but there’s definitely full, full cursing and there’s no censorship. I liked it because it reminded me of another show I liked, even though The Magicians is a fantasy show. Basically, people would become magicians and then they visited a Narnia-style world, but it’s very adult. It’s definitely a Narnia take off because there were books written about this world before in the setting of the show.

The main character basically grew up reading these books about this other world. He always thought, it was real, in the back of his mind, but he didn’t even think magic was real until he becomes a magician. He’s chosen to go to a magic school that’s a cross between an adult Harry Potter and Narnia. That’s a pretty cool, that’s a pretty cool mash up there. This is almost a spoiler, but the end of the first season has a very Farscape twist to it. Wherein the formula for Farscape is that things get as worse as you can think possible happens at the end of the final episode of each season.

That’s how that show works too. In a season. I don’t know if it’s gonna be consistent, but I’m eager to see if it does, because I like Farscape as well. That’s a fun show for similar reasons, but that was space opera. I’m picking up The Dark Tower again in honor of another guest.

A number of guests on the show have talked about Stephen King, and I think, I’m pretty sure it was Kathryn Hudson, who is a huge Dark Tower fan. I’ve never finished the series before. I’m only on book two. I’m gonna dive in. I’ve dug out all six books for this quarantine time. This time I’m going to go all the way to the dark tower. That’s right. Cause like you have to have something to show for this time. you can say, I got through, there you go see the dark tower. It’s going to happen.

Kelly:

The only Stephen King I’ve done is The Shining and 11/22/63, which I loved because if someone didn’t tell you it was a Stephen King novel, you wouldn’t know.

Tim:

I haven’t read either of those, but I like King’s writing style. I think he’s a cool writer, but one thing I think is odd about him. I haven’t finished my many of his books because they’re, frankly, strong horror books. Way too scary for me. And like 2,000 pages long. He’d be a great writer regardless of what genre he was in, although he happens to write horror mostly.

Anyway, we are way out of time, and it’s been fun. Kelly, tell people where they can find you and your work online.

Kelly:

Probably the easiest place is my website, which is my name, kellybrakenhoff.com. I’m also on Facebook @KellyBrakenhoffauthor. Either one of those places will take you to all of my social media and where to get my books, which of course are on Amazon and everywhere. Like I said, my mysteries are in Kindle Unlimited. That’s a good place to read me for free.

Tim:

Nice. As for this podcast, you can find us at mentalsellerpublications.com. I’m still working on Tim Niederriter.com which spelled phonetically, sounds like Tim Need a Writer. The actual words I haven’t got, I have the URL. Website’s not there yet. Go to mentalsellerpublications.com and you can find all my books on Amazon. They’re all in Kindle Unlimited currently.

As of April 19th, when this show comes out until April 24th, 2020 you can get my longest, most Epic novel potentially for 99 cents. That’s The Origin of Storms, the first book of the Forces of Empire series, and that’s epic science fiction. It’s about a thousand pages long. You can buy it or read it on Kindle Unlimited, however you want to read it works for me.

Right, we don’t care where you buy our books. Do you read them on Kindle unlimited? We don’t care. Just read her book. That’s the moral of the story. Pick an author, read them. Review them. Give them a nice review. That’s what we like to see. Thanks for listening everybody. Thanks for being on the show, Kelly.

Kelly:

It’s been tons of fun. Thanks for having me.

Tim:

Everybody have a good week and I’ll talk to you again. That ends it.

This transcription has been edited for clarity and to remove filler words.

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