Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A glimpse into the life of . . .

            CARLA KELLY
I am very lucky to have such smart and talented women in my life to look up to. Today's glimpse is the perfect example of the happiness that lies within doing what you love. Carla  owes her success as an author to more than just her passion for writing, though. Her remarkable work ethic and love for learning have also helped her get to where she is today - her wit and positive attitude haven't hurt either.

I met Carla and her husband, Martin, many years ago as a small, bumbling child, and grew up going to church with them until they moved to Utah when I was in college. Not a fan of history at the time (OK, I'm still working on it), I was always amazed by her fascination and love for it - and just life in general. You will never have a dull conversation with her, and you will always come away wiser. Read on.

Current profession: Novelist

What types of books do you write? I write historical fiction, with romantic overtones. Although probably best known for my Regency Romances, I also write stories set in the American West in the 19th and early 20th century and the 18th century.

First job ever: I had a little Christmas job working in a gift store in Beeville, Texas. This was during high school. 

First “grown up” job: This would be some years later, as I married and graduated from BYU, then stayed home to have children. My first grown up job was as a ranger/historian in the National Park Service at Fort Laramie National Historic Site. My park service work remains my favorite job, even more than writing.

Dream job: Exactly what I have done – working in the park service and writing.

How did you venture into writing? Writing has always interested me. My first “novel” was a three-sentence thing called “The Old Mill,” which I wrote when I was six. It only had those three sentences, but by golly, there was a plot. I wrote a lot in high school, working for our school newspaper, and then short stories later, which lengthened into novels.

How old were you when you published your first book? Donald I Fine Inc. published it in 1984. Do the math. I was born in 1947.

How many books to date? 30 novels, probably an equal number of short stories, a couple of edited histories and one written history of Fort Buford, in NW North Dakota (I call these my footnote stuff).

What influences your stories and characters?  History does. My interests there have long been the U.S. Indian Wars and the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars, and my novels reflect that. I take my ideas from known, and not-so-known events, and the characters are shaped to that. My characters are also influenced greatly by people I know.

What is your favorite part about your job? In the park service, it was sharing our nation’s past with interested visitors. In fiction, it is creating these little worlds and making them ring true and factual, without being boring.

What is the most challenging part?  Refer to last sentence above. That’s difficult to do right.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career path?  Finding time to balance it all without neglecting too many important things (i.e. children).

What advice do you have for someone interested in pursing a similar career path? If you want to be a novelist, don’t quit your day job. Everyone thinks writers make a lot of money, and some do. Most don’t. Persist in doing what you like, no matter what it is.

What do you wish you could tell your 25-year-old self?  Carla, you’re going to be a good writer someday if you persist. Enjoy the journey.

What are some of your favorite novels others have written?  My favorite novels are War and Peace (what a character study); A Town Like Alice (storytelling at its finest); The Lawrenceville Stories (life in a NJ prep school in 19th century. Love it.); and anything by Richard Woodman.    

What are some of your favorite novels you have written? Of my books, probably My Loving Vigil Keeping, the story of a mine disaster in Utah in 1900. I have given so many talks on that book. Another guilty pleasure was Borrowed Light. Also The Double Cross, first in a series about a brand inspector in the royal colony of New Mexico in the 1780s. New Mexico was a dangerous place to live. Conflict makes a good book.
Who has been your biggest influence? Without a doubt, Jean Dugat, my high school English and journalism teacher. She was hard and exacting, but she taught a generation of us to write and think, no mean achievement.

How do you define success?  Doing what you enjoy and doing it well.
What hobbies? I like to read good crime fiction. I crochet afghans now and then, Holly, as you know! (She does a FABULOUS job and crocheted one for me and my sisters when we graduated high school - and then for my dad when he earned his doctorate!)

What is number one on your bucket list? I don’t have a bucket list. I’ve pretty much done what I wanted to do. One thing I love to do is sit in the hot springs at Hot Springs State Park in Thermopolis, Wyoming.

Favorite ice cream flavor – Ice cream is not a priority with me. (What!?) Maybe butter brickle. I do like New Mexican cuisine - probably more than I should.

Last words of advice to writers – Read extensively. Don’t waste your time with too many writers’ organizations or critique groups. Get in the habit of putting your butt in the chair and leaving it there for extended periods of time.   

Thank you, Carla!

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