From Silver Screen Magic to Award-Winning Author: An Interview with Kellye Garrett

Kellye Garrett Talks Television, Crime Fiction, and #OwnVoicesWe sat down with Kellye Garrett to discuss her best-selling crime fiction novels Hollywood Homicide and Hollywood Ending. Kellye Garrett’s Hollywood Homicide, about a semi-famous, mega-broke black actress, won the Anthony, Agatha, Lefty, and IPPY for best first novel. It’s also one of BookBub’s “Top 100 Crime Novels of All Time.” The second, Hollywood Ending, was featured on the TODAY show’s Best Summer Reads of 2019 and was nominated for both Anthony and Lefty awards. She serves on Sisters in Crime’s national board and is a co-founder of Crime Writers of Color. Her next project is an #ownvoices domestic suspense novel about a woman looking into the overdose death of a one-time reality star found within blocks of her house—her own estranged younger sister. Kellye’s newest novel, Like a Sister, is on sale on March 22nd.

NS: Thank you for sitting down with us. Before you were a best-selling author, you worked in television. What was your experience like transitioning from TV to writing novels? How did writing on TV prepare you to write books? 

KG: With television you only have a limited amount of time to tell a story. Even an hour show isn’t really an hour thanks to commercials (yes they still exist). This means every scene has to push the story forward in some way. Introducing a character. Planting a clue. Sharing a big reveal. I try to do the same with my book plots.

The other big thing is the “Act Out” where each scene before a commercial needed to end on a climax so viewers wouldn’t change the channel and instead sit through ads for product they’d buy anyway. (Now I suppose it’s so viewers rush to fast forward past the commercials)  I try to do that with my chapters. I picture a reader in bed like “Let me just stay up and read one more chapter.”

NS: Who is your favorite women protagonists in crime fiction?

KG: I could fill a book with this because I have always naturally been drawn to first person stories told from the perspective of women detectives. Some of my all-time favorites are Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, Barbara Neely’s Blanche White, Valerie Wilson-Wesley’s Tamara Hayle and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum.

These characters shaped my reading and made me want to also write characters who were tough but funny, smart but made mistakes, brave but vulnerable.

NS: As the author behind one of the most popular diverse crime series in recent years, Hollywood Homicide, do you believe the mystery/crime genre has changed to accommodate more representation? How would you like to see these genres grow? 

KG: One of the most popular? Did my mom pay you to say that? When I sold my book in 2016—just four years ago—there weren’t many amateur detective novels with diverse main characters—especially black women. I was definitely part of a change in perspective along with Alexia Gordon, V.M. Burns, Olivia Matthews and others. I would like to think the response to our books helped usher in this new era where publishers are actively seeking #ownvoices crime fiction out—especially cozies.

I was a teenager in the 90s, which was the last time we saw publishers actively embracing diverse crime fiction in big numbers thanks to Walter Mosley, Eleanor Taylor-Bland, Barbara Neely, Valerie Wilson Wesley, Grace F. Edwards, Gar Anthony Haywood, Gary Philips, Terris McMahan Grimes, Paula Woods and others. But with few exceptions like Walter’s Easy Rawlins and Gar’s Aaron Gunnar, none of those series are still around for a variety of reasons. So unfortunately, the embracing of black crime fiction was a trend. Can you imagine how it feels to have your life viewed as trendy? Mysteries with main characters who aren’t straight, cis white people need to be status quo. Period.

NS: There are a lot of great crime books out there for folks to delve into, which may be intimidating if they’re new to the genre. What book(s) would you recommend for someone new to the mystery and/or thriller genre? 

KG: My favorite book is B is for Burglar by Sue Grafton. If you read it already, then you’re probably nodding along with me like “that twist!” It came out in 1985 and won the Anthony and Shamus for Best Novel. It’s short but it’s a master class in how to tell a story and set up a twist ending that leaves you both surprised and thinking “That makes perfect sense.” I re-read it every couple of years.