Five Questions with Kellye Garrett
We talk about writing for TV, her mysteries and more
The audiobook of Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister, a thriller centered on a woman seeking answers about her half-sister’s mysterious death, was so good I found myself taking extra-long walks, just so I could get in another chapter or two.
Like her first two novels, Hollywood Homicide and Hollywood Ending, Like a Sister is a mystery set against the backdrop of the entertainment industry, with some laugh-out-loud lines. Kellye excels at writing characters with distinct voices and lots of pop culture knowledge. She currently works at a New York media company and previously spent eight years working in Hollywood, including writing for the CBS show “Cold Case.” Kellye is also a co-founder of Crime Writers of Color alongside Walter Mosley and Gigi Pandian.
Kellye was kind enough to talk to me about her books, writing for TV and what she’s reading.
What was your path to writing and publishing like?
Like A Sister is my third book. The first two are in a series called The Detective by Day. I had the idea for my first book, Hollywood Homicide and worked on it for National Novel Writing Month in 2011. I wrote 30,000 words. I finally finished in 2014 and got into Pitch Wars [a writing mentorship program]. I met my agent through the Pitch Wars agent showcase. It took us over a year to sell Hollywood Homicide.
We got rejected by everybody. Finally, Terri Bischoff at Midnight Ink, which was a midsize publisher, took a chance on it. Once it got published, it was great because it won all these awards. People liked it. The second book came out a year later. It was on the Today Show. And then, Midnight Ink closed while I was working on the third book in the series in 2018.
So, I had a career reset and got the idea for Like a Sister. We sold a proposal in July 2020 and it’s been out since March.
Where did the idea for Like a Sister come from?
I got the idea from a New York Daily News headline. It was similar to the headline that’s the first line of the book — something like ‘Pregnant reality star found dead in Bronx at 26, with cocaine and no pants on.’
Like Lena, the book’s main character, I thought the headline was very disrespectful, but I also thought it could be a good idea for book. I just couldn’t figure out what the hook was. Would it be a PI novel? I was walking down the street one day and I said, ‘Oh, she was going to see her sister and she never made it. That’s why she was in the Bronx.’
Can you preview what you’re working on now?
Sure! A couple years ago, pre-pandemic, I was at a writer's retreat at a friend's house in Baltimore. She had a lovely four-story row house and was out of town. The house was so quiet — I couldn’t hear anything from my bedroom on the third floor. I realized I could go downstairs and find a dead body and not know how it got there. That’s the idea for the book: a Black woman comes from Baltimore to Jersey for what’s supposed to be a romantic getaway with her boyfriend. She wakes up one day, and he’s gone, but there’s a white woman who has been missing for a few days in the foyer.
I’ve been thinking about Gabby Petito and the whole idea of missing white women. I thought it was so interesting that there were whole TikTok feeds of people who had theories, claiming they’d seen Brian Laundrie places. So, I’m playing with that idea a lot, but also writing what I hope is a fun mystery.
How did your TV writing career influence your books?
With TV, you have a set amount of time. Even if it’s a 60-minute episode, you really only have 42 minutes of story because of commercials. So it’s plot heavy; every scene has to move the plot forward and the last scene before the commercial is called the act out. It’s a climactic scene so you’ll sit through the commercials to find out what happens.
For me, I think my books are plot heavy. I struggle with description because you don’t need any with TV. I try to end every chapter with what I call a “chapter out,” where it’s a climactic moment, so you want to read one more chapter.
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Any books you want to recommend?
Amina Akhtar’s Kismet comes out in August and it’s really good. She does such a great job skewering an industry. Her previous book, #FashionVictim, was about the fashion industry and this one shines a light on the ridiculousness of the wellness industry, but it’s also just a good thriller.
If you want something cozy, Mia P. Manansala’s Tita Rosie’s Kitchen books are great. Gigi Pandian’s new book Under Lock and Skeleton Key [ed. note: I recommended this on Monday] just came out. Alex Segura has Secret Identity. It’s his first standalone book. It’s a historical mystery that marries his love of comics with his love of mysteries. It’s just such a great time to be a mystery or crime fiction lover.
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