Thursday, August 14, 2014

A Conversation with Mystery Author Tammy Kaehler

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Tammy Kaehler
with Tammy Kaehler

We are delighted to welcome author Tammy Kaehler to Omnimystery News today.

Tammy's third mystery featuring race car driver Kate Reilly is Avoidable Contact (Poisoned Pen Press; August 2014 hardcover and ebook formats), and we recently had the chance to catch up with her to talk about the series.

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Omnimystery News: What is it about series mysteries that appeals to you as a writer?

Tammy Kaehler
Photo provided courtesy of
Tammy Kaehler

Tammy Kaehler: I always knew I wanted to write a mystery series with a protagonist who grew and evolved over the course of multiple books. I love reading mystery series because I get to spend time with a character and her (or his) friends and family. I also thought it would be interesting to take a young racecar driver through the progression of her career — not just show up when she's already successful or well-known.

What's funny is that I'd thought pretty carefully about the progression of my protagonist Kate Reilly's racing career over the course of a series, but I hadn't thought through how her personal relationships would evolve. I set up quite a family snarl for her in the first book, and I never anticipated those relationships would be so interesting to readers!

OMN: Give us a summary of the latest title in the series, Avoidable Contact, in a tweet.

TK: [email protected]'s 24 Hrs of Daytona: find bad guy who ran over boyfriend, deal with unwanted family, save half-sister, race #corvette to win!

OMN: How do you go about researching the plot points of your stories?

TK: Research is a huge topic for me. I'm not a racecar driver, nor do I work in the industry, so I've got a big hill to climb in my quest for total technical accuracy. Fortunately, I love the challenge!

First of all, I watch a lot of racing on television, and I read a lot of social media posts, blog posts, and news articles about races, racecars, and racing drivers. The available resources are endless, thank goodness.

Second, I attend as many races as possible, in particular, the race or races I'm writing about. So far I've needed to attend a race at least twice to write about it well — once to do the major research and again to check things after I've mostly written the story. I also need to talk with subject matter experts while at the race to gather specific details like speeds and gear selection and track characteristics. This means getting some time with the pros: usually at least one professional racecar driver and a team manager or engineer.

Then, as I'm writing the book, I spot-check or verify what I can with videos I find online (YouTube is the best resource ever!). The third major step of research is fact-checking during the editing and proofreading stages — and it's critical! I write first-person, inside the head (and helmet) of a female racecar driver and behind the wheel of a Corvette C7.R racecar. I need a real, live driver to make sure I'm not putting a wheel wrong, literarily. So the driving scenes go off to whichever driver I've secured to check this round (for Avoidable Contact it was Oliver Gavin, a 12-year veteran and five-time champion for Corvette Racing). Then I check any minor detail of car configuration, racing team function, or official racing process with other experts.

The driving scenes are both the most challenging and the most exciting aspects of research and writing. I love pretending I'm as gutsy and talented behind the wheel as Kate is, but I'm always very nervous — and therefore extremely careful — about getting it right.

OMN: Your books to date have taken place in different locations around the country. How true are you to these settings?

TK: I insist on being technically accurate about racing details, and I also stay true to reality when it comes to the race weekends, racetracks, and surrounding areas that are my settings. Each book centers around a different race (or, in the case of Braking Points, two races) in a different city/state (someday, in a different country) — and each has a different vibe and atmosphere as a result.

It's really important to me to keep the setting true to life, in fact, because so much of what I want to do is convey the history, process, and yes, even the magic of real races, cars, and locations. Part of the fun for me in writing this series is giving non-race fans real knowledge about the racing world, as well as giving race fans an entertaining way to experience the events and world they already know.

OMN: If we could send you, on our dime, anywhere in the world to research a setting, where would it be?

TK: I have two expensive — and wonderful! — trips I want to make some day, both to the same part of the world.

I want to write about the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race that takes place in the French countryside each June. The pre-race festivities go on for most of a week and include outdoor festivals as the racecars are inspected and a parade of drivers through the historic town of Le Mans. One of the best ways to enjoy the week of fun leading up to the competition is to rent a local chateaux and soak up the ambiance. So that's one option for my trip.

But I also want to write about Kate taking part in the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Monaco, and there's no better way to view and enjoy that extravaganza than to stay on a yacht in Monte Carlo's harbor. Of course, when I finally get to that race, I'll be staying in much more budget (and distant) accommodations … but I like to dream!

OMN: Complete this sentence for us: "I am a mystery author and thus I am also …".

TK: I am a mystery author and thus I am also a procrastinator, a fast-typer, a problem-solver, a researcher, a daydreamer, a person who sits still too long at a desk every day, and someone who measures the size of refrigerators and car trunks by how many dead bodies they'd hold.

OMN: Tell us how Avoidable Contact came to be titled. And were you involved with the cover design?

TK: I'd been struggling with the title of this book for a long time. My best option was Black Flagged, which has great meaning in the racing world (it's the flag shown to a driver to inform them they need to pit immediately, usually because they're in big trouble). But that title inescapably (to American audiences, at least) references bug spray. So I tossed the question of titles out to my fans and social media circles, offering prizes for the top three efforts. I received some great ideas — two of which I'm hanging onto for future books — but nothing that was just right for this book. And then a close friend (and race fan) offered up "avoidable contact," which means something to race fans and regular people alike (drivers must avoid contact with other cars in a race or be penalized). Best of all, it fits the book perfectly!

The cover of Avoidable Contact also has special meaning. I've loved all of the covers Poisoned Pen Press has created for me (they hire a graphic artist), but the struggle has always been me insisting that all of the detail on the covers be real racing scenes — pavement stripes of a racetrack, not a city street, or wheels and dash detail of a racecar, not a passenger vehicle. With Avoidable Contact, I finally got smart and sent the designer a bunch of photos I'd taken myself at the correct racetrack, of the correct equipment and cars. So I'm pleased to say that all of the images on the book's cover are technically accurate — and most of them are images I took myself!

OMN: Create a Top 5 list for us on any topic.

TK: Top 5 Facts for the Non-Race Fan to Know About Racing:

1. Danica Patrick. Danica's the female racecar driver most people have heard of, and she's currently competing in NASCAR. But there are lots of females driving at every level of racing — and there are many, many little girls aiming for the stars.

2. It's not all NASCAR. There are three main types of racing in the U.S.:
a. NASCAR: they race every weekend, they mostly race on ovals, and it's enormous business;
b. Open-wheel: low, swoopy cars with no fenders, like the ones that race the Indy 500, they race on ovals and road courses; and
c. Sportscars: mostly look like street cars, they turn right and left and go up and down hills.

3. It's not all turning left and mashing the throttle. On ovals, yes, drivers turn left, straighten the wheel, turn left, straighten the wheel, etc. But most of the racing in the world is on street and road courses, which means up/down and left/right, and usually means lots of passing and strategy as well.

4. Racing is hugely popular. NASCAR touts a fan base of 75 million people in the U.S. And that's not even the whole story. No matter where I am — local community events, mystery conventions, or standing in line at a coffee shop — I run into people who know about racing. Often they're fans who follow current series, but some of the most unlikely people say to me, "oh yeah, I used to go racing with my dad when I was a kid," or "sure, my kids go with me to volunteer as a corner worker for club events." I no longer think racing is a niche interest.

5. Racing really can make our cars better. I've now been following racing long enough to see some new, whizz-bang technology on a racecar, which barely worked in its first season, now come standard in a car I can buy on a dealer's lot. The next frontier in that is the international all-electric racing series that will launch in September 2014.

OMN: What's next for you?

TK: I'm working on the fourth Kate Reilly Racing Mystery, which is going to be great fun to write, because I'm setting it where I live, in Southern California. One of the great races in North America — probably the most iconic temporary street circuit that's still being contested — is run on the streets of Long Beach. I'm going to give Kate the full Los Angeles and Hollywood experience for a ten-day timeframe that starts with finding a dead body (of course!) during the pre-race media day and ends with finding the bad guy during the race weekend.

Beyond that, I'm trying to make plans for a couple books down the line — namely, am I returning to the Indy 500 next year or am I making tracks for the 24 Hours of Le Mans? Some of that has to do with how I want to spend my vacation time and dollars next year, and some of it has to do with what races I want to write about in books five and six. Stay tuned!

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Tammy Kaehler’s career in marketing and technical writing landed her in the world of automobile racing, which inspired her with its blend of drama, competition, and friendly people. Tammy works as a technical writer in the Los Angeles area, where she lives with her husband and many cars.

For more information about the author, please visit her website at TammyKaehler.com or find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Avoidable Contact by Tammy Kaehler

Avoidable Contact
Tammy Kaehler
A Kate Reilly Mystery

Racecar driver Kate Reilly is suited up and ready for the start of the legendary 24 Hours of Daytona. But what lies ahead is not just a racing challenge but a harrowing test of her will and nerve off the course.

Even before the green flag waves over Daytona International Speedway, Kate receives word her boyfriend Stuart is hospitalized nearby in a coma, fighting for his life after a hit-and-run. Stunned by the news, Kate can do nothing better for Stuart than complete her scheduled laps driving her team's car. But more shocks follow as Daytona's clock starts ticking. An on-track accident ends tragically. Some of her complicated family is spotted with other teams — why? And an eyewitness claims Stuart was run down deliberately by someone from the race paddock.

Alternating stints behind the wheel of the team's Corvette with stretches of quizzing colleagues and searching for clues, Kate circles the police and taps every possible source — friend, foe, and family — to find out who's after Stuart and why. As the race clock counts down to zero hour, Kate must come to terms with her own fears rising from her past and decide who she's willing to trust. Only then can she identify who's willing to kill to keep a secret buried.

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