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An Interview with Author Kay Elam

Elam

A born and bred Southern Belle, KAY ELAM took a circuitous route to writing novels but is almost there with her debut book, CALL OF THE CRICKETS, which was a finalist for the Claymore and Page Turner Awards in the summer of 2023. She won first place in the Open-Door Short Story Contest and has short stories published in four anthologies. She volunteered with Killer Nashville for several years as a panelist, facilitator, and reader for the prestigious awards.

Weather permitting, Kay can be found curled up with a good book in her courtyard where she also writes (and naps) while watching her flowers grow. She lives near Nashville, TN, with her husband and the many characters in her head.


Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I had the same English teacher from grades 5 through 8. She taught me grammar, sentence structure, and all things writing. She also taught me how to diagram sentences. At the end of the 8th grade, there wasn’t a sentence I couldn’t diagram. Now…not so much. I started writing because I was confident I could do so correctly, but ironically, to write an entertaining book in a voice relatable to readers, I sometimes have to break the rules. This has been difficult for me. When I first started writing, if I put a preposition at the end of a sentence or broke some other rule, I could feel my teacher sitting on my shoulder, whispering in my ear, reminding me of the rules. But my writer’s voice isn’t perfect, and when I write, I often break rules to keep my authentic voice. Even though my teacher continues to pop into my head from time to time, I still credit her with giving me the confidence to write.

What inspired you to start writing this book?

It was an idea I couldn’t shake. I normally write humorous stories like cozy mysteries or girlfriends’ escapades. I started this book during NaNoWriMo one year, and by the end of November, I was sick of it. I put it in a drawer for several years and worked on other, lighter projects. But the manuscript kept calling me, and I knew I couldn’t focus on a new book until I finished this one. I finished it, had it beta-read, revised it, and started querying. I only had a handful of requests for fulls and no offers, and I decided to put it back in the drawer. But the damned thing wouldn’t let me forget it. During the pandemic, I workshopped it with three very different groups and completely rewrote it. I’m currently querying and have gotten a few requests for fulls, but thus far, no agent.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

Call of the Crickets—it’s obscure, I’ll admit, and it wasn’t the original title. But when I did a rewrite, I wanted to rebrand it, and the title jumped out at me. It just felt right. My protagonist was a first responder and went to NYC after 9/11 where she was given a PASS (Personal Alert Safety System) that would emit a loud chirping sound if she stopped moving for thirty seconds. The devices were dubbed “crickets” because of the chirping sounds they made that indicated someone might be in trouble. Years later, at a pivotal point in the story, she is in Iraq and is on the verge of discovering the grave of her Delta Force husband, who was killed there.

From the manuscript:

The hair on her arms sprang to attention as she followed him down a narrow hallway through a minuscule kitchen to a back door that opened to a porch that spanned the length of the home. Shallow steps led from the porch to the expansive backyard, where willow trees swayed in the gentle breeze. The sweet smell of roses filled her nose while chirping crickets announced her arrival. She shuddered. For a second, the sounds took her back to Ground Zero and the devices worn by first responders so others would know when they stopped moving. Today, it felt like the crickets were calling her name.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

Not that I’ve given this any thought, but these are some songs that would go well with the story:

“Endless Love” – Mariah Carey

“Do the Macarena” – Los Del Rio

“My Heart Will Go On” – Celine Dion

“You Raise Me Up” – Josh Groban

“Wind Beneath My Wings” – Bette Midler

“There You’ll Be” – Faith Hill

“Whole Heart” – Taylor Berrett

“Just a Dream” – Carrie Underwood

“Tears Next Door” – Maggie Baugh

“I Will Always Love You” – Whitney Houston

“I Will Survive” – Gloria Gaynor

Describe your dream book cover.

Vibrant colors with easy-to-read fonts that pop for the title and the author’s name. Something readers would notice when in a bookstore. For an image, perhaps a thirty-something woman sitting on a hill, looking at a sunset or the ocean as though she was contemplating the world and her place in it.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

Most of my career was spent in telecommunications management and sales. Besides that, I worked as a travel agent for ten years (and visited some amazing places) and managed a doctor’s office. But my very favorite job was traveling for five semesters for my college sorority. I visited over 100 collegiate chapters (some multiple times) to troubleshoot, motivate, conduct workshops, and inspire chapters. I continue to work for the organization as an international volunteer. In each of these professions, I had to create a lot of writing—documents, articles, evaluations, training materials, etc. And, with sales and evals in particular, much of the writing was creative.

Something readers wouldn’t know: I tap danced for five years with a group of women in their fifties, sixties, and seventies. We performed in an annual recital (alongside the cute little kids) and entered (and often won) competitions.

What books did you read (for research or comfort) throughout your writing process?

Delta Force: Gulf War Operations in Iraq (Steve Stone), The Maid of Desert Shield (Robert Thomas and Shelagh Woolldridge), On Call in Hell: A Doctor’s Iraq War Story (Richard Jadick and Thomas Hayden), Messages from Babylon (Michael Whitehead), One September Morning (Rosalind Noonan), The Forever War (Joe Haldeman), Inside Delta Force: The Story of America’s Elite Counterterrorist Unit (Eric Haney), Aimpoint (Candace Irwin), The Ultimate Betrayal (Kate Martin), The Last Thing He Told Me (Laura Dave), and Wish You Were Here (Jodi Picoult).

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

Success is sometimes a journey and may not look like one expects it to. There are unexpected obstacles along the way. A person’s resilience, resolve, and reflection can propel them forward toward their goals along any journey. Handling obstacles with intelligence and a sense of humor allows one to move forward instead of getting stuck. My hope is readers will get this from my book. My ideal reader would be an adult looking for a book with mystery, drama, suspense, and a little romance thrown in.


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