Interview with Author Eleanor Kelley

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we interviewed author Eleanor Kelley, about her writing and her recently released novel, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, an engrossing tale of betrayal and murder. (Read the review here.)

A former newspaper reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Ohio, Eleanor is a Chicago native now residing in the warmer weather of Florida.

Why did you decide to place Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead in Ireland, and how did you create a believable sense of “place”?

I placed Before The Devil Knows Your Dead In Ireland to enhance my main character’s quirks and nuances. In my first book, A Pressing Affair, I used Irish heritage as background information, and this time I took it one step further. I also wrote what I knew having been to Ireland and experienced much of the same events in the book.

Which scene or chapter in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is your favorite? Why?

The scene I enjoyed writing and rewriting was the second to last one, where Kate confronts Ettie. It was a battle of two women’s wills and I wanted to expose the best and the worst in both. I also wanted it to wrap things up …or maybe not… depending on what the reader takes away from the ending. Thus the mystery of the mystery.

Has this novel changed drastically as you created it?

I wouldn’t say drastically, but as I wrote it, reread it, and rewrote it there were quite a few additions I made. The storyline stayed the same but I found myself trying to give more detail and add a few more twists and turns to keep the reader guessing till the end.

How do you build a mystery story? Do you start from the end and work your way backwards, start from the beginning and see what unfolds, use a master conspiracy board, something else?

I always need a starting point, be it a phrase, an event or a conversation between characters. I can have an idea and a storyline in my head, but until I get that first line or two out, that is where it stays. Later on I might go back to the beginning and refine it, but I generally can’t write a story until I have the starting page on paper. I’ve never used a story outline so in the words of Shakespeare, ‘there is no method to my madness.’

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

It’s hard to know what a reader wants as writing is so subjective. I’ve used different editors at the same time, and found that what one person thinks works for the story the other does not.

Therefore I write what I like to read; a good story, one that’s not overwhelming with minute details but one that leaves me knowing something I’d never known before. In this book it was a history of Ireland and the origins of phrases and adages. And, I might add, in the midst of the lesson, a good laugh or two helps.

You have a background as a newspaper reporter and editor. Have any of the stories you worked on influenced the story of Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, or the writing process?

None of the stories I reported on have been part of my books. As far as the writing process goes, being a reporter had somewhat of a negative effect on me.

Newpaper reporting is basic facts with short concise sentences. Minimal background information is necessary unless the facts needed support. When I first started to expand into writing a book it took me quite awhile to change my style to be more descriptive. I still work on that, but I don’t focus on it any more. When I read a book with too much detail it only frustrates and exhausts me. I try to steer clear of that.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer?

At the risk of sounding like many in this field, it is coming to grips with the fact that some days the words jump out of you onto the page and other days the empty page stares back at you. Just when you think you are more prolific than you ever imagined, a day without a decent written paragraph brings you back to reality.

What is the most influential thing you’ve learned from writing for newspapers that you’ve carried into your fiction writing?

Getting the facts straight is imperative in good newspaper reporting and I feel the same for book writing. In Before The Devil Knows Your Dead I intertwined some facts about the Emrald Isle with some scences of actual places I’ve been to and characters I’ve met.

What’s next for you?

Canadian author Russell Lynes said: “Every good journalist has a good novel in him—which is an excellect place for it.” I’m on number two so can I defy the odds and go for three? Hoping so.

Thank you for excellent questions!


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