Saturday, May 13, 2017

Weekend Guest--Tammy Kaehler

When Tammy Kaehler discovered the racing world, she was hooked by the contrast between its top-dollar, high-drama competition, and friendly, family atmosphere. Mystery fans and racing insiders alike have praised her award-winning Kate Reilly Mystery Series (Dead Man’s Switch, Braking Points, Avoidable Contact, and Red Flags), and Tammy takes readers back behind the wheel in her fifth entry, Kiss The Bricks. She works as a freelance writer in Southern California, where she lives with her husband and many cars. Find out more:

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Hook

I turned the television on last weekend to watch the Kentucky Derby. It’s not totally out of character: I grew up riding horses and went to plenty of races, since I lived a mile from a horse racetrack. But as another auto racing fan said on Twitter, “I’m watching the Kentucky Derby, because I like all racing.”

But these days, my racing of choice typically has hundreds of horsepower, not just one (sorry, that’s the easy joke). And the races I watch or attend usually last longer than a couple minutes. But still, I turned on the Derby—while simultaneously searching for the article I’d seen earlier in the day: Derby storylines.

See, it’s easy to say “Tammy likes racing” or “I write about racing.” That’s the quickest and most memorable hook about my mystery series, and I do a lot to promote my racing approach (you may have seen me in racing team gear at a mystery convention). But of course the simplified message never tells the whole tale.

Because as much as it’s about racing for me, it’s more about the stories. Last weekend, I wanted to know the details behind the Derby runners and teams. When I’m at an auto race, I wander the paddock looking for the buzz around the drivers and teams. I like setting everyday characters, problems, challenges, wins, and losses against the backdrop of a gritty but glamorous pursuit. Racing is a microcosm of the real world, with every type of person from crook to hero to celebrity—and the added drama of a lot of money and life-or-death stakes.

I write about auto racing like Dick Francis wrote about steeplechasing. Like Cara Black writes about Paris. Like Patricia Cornwell writes about a medical examiner. Like Michael Connelly writes police procedurals. That’s not all our books are, but those are the settings for (hopefully) universal stories.

What I choose to write about is a woman who’s trying to be successful in an uber-competitive, male-dominated arena. She’s got to deal with sexism, the struggle to represent herself well to the rest of the world (especially to sponsors that will fund her racing), and the pressure to be outstanding at her job. Don’t tell me that’s not a universal story! Of course, where Kate Reilly differs from the rest of us (I assume) is that she ends up needing to investigate murders and other crimes.

But all of that took a paragraph to describe, and when you have ten seconds to tell someone what you write, you go with the hook—and don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to have one that stands out. And I’m guilty, too! I’ve caught myself thinking, “I don’t want to read about beermaking, I don’t like beer” and “I don’t want to read about Cleveland, that doesn’t sound exciting.”

But I’m getting better at the snap judgments. The decisions made based only on the surface information. I’m trying to dig deeper, too. I’m trying to see beyond the hook (or the cover) and find out more about the story. Because I know there are a lot of great stories out there, and I want to read them all…

So tell me, do you find yourself making the same kind of judgments about a hook or a cover? What influences you to check out a book?


Rick Blechta said...

I've done much the same thing with my novels (up until now). I tell people, “Think Dick Francis but with music instead of horses.” It’s a good way into the book, but yes, you’re right when you say that these sorts of novels – when done well – are about a lot more than horses, music or car racing.

Thanks for dropping by. Gotta pick up one of your books now!

Tammy said...

We ALL do it! Thanks for checking my books out, Rick...I'll return the favor. :-)

Roland Clarke said...

I saw the word racing and thought of horses but that's because I'm a retired equestrian journalist - my debut novel was a mystery set in the three-day eventing world.

Then I saw the cover and realised what sort of horsepower you wrote about or rather used as your setting. So I kept reading as I am an avid Formula 1 fan, and I have even photographed races at Brands Hatch and Zandvoort, when I was a sports photographer.

Good luck with the books - off to check them out.

Donis Casey said...

Hi, Tammy, sorry to be slow commenting, but I'm just back in town. Your books are wonderful human stories, and do I EVER empathize with your experience of readers jumping to conclusions about the novel from it's theme. You look great, by the way.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Hi Tammy. I was in AZ this weekend at my granddaughter's graduation. I broke my portable computer so couldn't comment. Of course I was familiar with your post since I was the weekend host, but your cover and your wonderful photo is coming through so well now that I am back home. Love your photo and your books are a must read.