Jane Kelly is an award-winning Philadelphia mystery writer with an affinity for the Jersey shore. She's a graduate of Chestnut Hill College, Drexel University, and Trinity College in Dublin. Jane is a former president of the Delaware Valley chapter of Sisters in Crime, and a former board member for the New York chapter of Mystery Writers of America. The sixth book in her Meg Daniels mystery series, STRANGERS IN THE AVALON DUNES was recently released and has been called "clever, well-paced, and delightfully twisty." Jane has graciously taken a few minutes to answer some questions.
MB: Let's start by talking about your Meg Daniels mystery series. Each book in the series is set at one of the many cities along the Jersey Shore, such as Atlantic City, Seaside Heights, and Ventnor City. What is it about the Jersey Shore that draws you to using it as a setting for each of your books?
JK: I like the idea of trouble intruding where you least expect it and for me that meant the shore towns where I vacationed as a child. Actually, towns I visited over my entire life. For years before I was born, my family had gone to Wildwood Crest for the summer. I only got to go for three years before my mother declared, “Everyone else gets a vacation and I move my job.” After that, I got to visit a lot of towns as “a friend,” the person parents bring along to keep their kids entertained. Because of that I have fond memories of many different shore points. Murder was the last thing I expected to happen in any of those towns.
MB: Each of your Meg Daniels books is steeped in detail about the cities in which they are set. When using real life locations like you do, how much literary license do you take in changing details to suit your story as opposed to working within the confines of the real-life locations?
JK: When I use real-life locations, I try to stay true to the setting. That involves a lot of research. Driving around. Walking around. Standing in the exact spot to check the view. And, doing it all in the appropriate weather at the right time of day. I once made a trip from Philadelphia to Somers Point to check on the upholstery on a bar stool to see if someone could slide off it. Of course, that restaurant has since been redecorated, sold, and eventually torn down. At the time the book went to press, however, the description was accurate. I do not always use real locations. I never want anything bad to happen in an identifiable spot. That allows a lot more freedom to create the setting I need but I still make sure the specifics are true to the general location.
MB: You've just released the latest book in the series, STRANGERS IN THE AVALON DUNES. What was the hardest part of writing this latest book?
The Avalon book was particularly challenging because it was written during the pandemic. Luckily, I had already decided to put Meg and her fiancé Andy in one of the houses in Avalon’s high dunes which to my knowledge are unique among Jersey Shore homes. Because the houses are so isolated, COVID would not affect how I could envision the characters at home. It did, however, have an impact on my research in two ways. First, I could not spend as much time as I normally would in Avalon to refresh old memories. My strongest memories of Avalon were very old dating from the days when my parents would take me on visits. My recollections definitely needed to be brought up to date but I couldn’t just relocate there. For many months, I couldn’t even visit. I had to do a lot of verification after I wrote which ties in with the second effect Covid had on my research. Everything was fluid and unpredictable. STRANGERS IN THE AVALON DUNES is set in a March/April timeframe. During the pandemic, I couldn’t know which season closings were routine, which were COVID-related, which would be permanent. After I delivered the manuscript to my publisher, I had to let him know that Meg had to cancel her pizza order. Not only did the shop close, the building had been torn down. It wasn’t the only change I had to make but it was the one that created the most panic.
MB: Every writer has specific nuances when it comes to writing. Some have special places where they write. Some plot every detail before writing, while others fly by the seat of their pants. Talk for a moment about your writing process.
JK: I love taking the book out for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I’ve done most of my writing in public places. I have traditionally been a pantser and flown by the seat of my pants. I am trying, however, to become more a plotter. The change has been forced on me. I recently had some medical issues and the prescribed drugs seem to turn my brain to mush. I did not write at all. However, I could think of plot points and dialog segments. I’ve recorded about a thousand of them. If I can organize them, I think I will find myself with an outline. At least, I hope I will. I would always want to be somewhat of a pantser. I love getting to know my characters and letting them take me places I had no idea they would go. I don’t want to lose that spontaneity, but a little bit more organization couldn’t hurt.
MB: If there was one thing that you would do differently as a child or teenager to become a better writer as an adult, what would that be?
JK: I would have accepted becoming a writer as a possibility. I did not have high aspirations. I wish I had started writing earlier. I could not have read more which is great but I would finish a book and think I could never do that. I should have asked myself the question, how do I do that. I should have viewed my classes differently and should have taken writing courses. I wish I had been open to the possibility of pursuing writing as a career. My expectations were too low.
MB: Let's shift gears for moment and talk about reading. What is your favorite under-appreciated novel and why?
JK: I first thing I think of is a mystery series that had a great impact on me. They were successful but not as widely appreciated as I thought they should be. I loved them but those were mysteries that suited my specific taste. The Bonnie Indermill mysteries by Carole Berry, traditional whodunnits featuring an amateur sleuth, were humorous. Her books made me think that maybe I could do that.
MB: What can we expect from you in the future? Are you working on any new projects?
JK: I am just emerging from a bit of health crisis that will have kept me out-of-commission for over a year. I mentioned before that I have a thousand bullet points for the next Meg Daniels novel. I know what happens and now need to get it into a cohesive story for the reader. I also have written a few books that are not part of the Meg Daniels series. I’d like to write more of those and promote the ones I have published. But getting Meg’s next case into book form must be my next priority. It will feel good to be writing again.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today, and good luck with STRANGERS IN THE AVALON DUNES.
You can purchase her latest book at the following retailers.