It is not surprising that Joe Kelly’s stories are full of adventure. This author has lived a fascinating life in both the military and as a wilderness guide. His journey has taken him across the country in his RV enjoying what the wilderness has to offer through hiking, horseback riding, camping, canoeing, kayaking and photographing the natural wonders of America’s most beautiful National and State parks. As a single man in his early fifties, he is free to spend his downtime playing his guitar and violin, reading, and of course, writing. Kelly is the author of “The Deadlands Series.”
“One of the reasons I finally published, was because one of the last things my mom told me was to publish something. I had already been considering it, so when she died, I started cleaning up my work and took the plunge. She really wanted to see something I wrote published; it would have meant a lot to her.” In December 2017, Joe published the first book in the series, The Clock Runs Down. The story is about “a group of people who fight to survive in a world turned upside. Struggling against a powerful dark force that is determined to exterminate the last of humanity in an ages-old war.”
Although each book can stand on its own, “five of them are about the same characters, two more are tied in, and the last one is associated only by taking place in the same world.”
After losing his father at an early age, Joe’s grandfather stepped in to fill the hole left in his life. “My grandfather took it on himself to teach me about hiking, fishing, survival, hunting the whole shebang.” As a result of what Kelly was taught, he believes “in being prepared. You can thank my grandfather for that. I’m not waiting for an end of the world moment, but more normal things like floods, snow and ice storms, hurricanes, major storms that kind of event. Even being stuck on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.”
Interviewer: Which is your favorite of all the books you’ve written?
Kelly: I like them all, but two stand out to me, ‘Alone’ and ‘The Hunter’. Both will be published soon.
Interviewer: Who is your favorite character of all your characters?
Kelly: I could go with Jared [the main character in The Clock Runs Down] or swing to Pappy. Pappy is a foul-mouthed curmudgeon and as time goes by in the overarching story, you see more of the inner Pappy, the man most people never saw. I liked the way I ended the Pappy arc in the series and I think readers will end up liking and admiring him.
Amos, is the star of A Few Bats Shy of a Belfry. I used to talk to a friend about the books in the series and would bounce ideas off him and he would suggest new things to me. Of course, many times it turned into jokes, along the lines of Zombie kill of the week, or what have you. Then one day Amos appeared in a short story, didn’t mean for it to happen, but I was just writing to write and low and behold, Amos and Ratty (his best friend and Rat) wandered into the world.
Alone for over a year, except for Ratty, he goes somewhat nuts and is determined to clean his town of undead so that (he believes) living people can move back in. He tries one odd-balled hair-brained scheme after another . . . Some people might not like the humor, but I was rolling when I wrote it. Darius is in The Hunter. He is the hunter to be precise. Determined is not a strong enough word to describe him. I like the character because he had been a bull rider and former ranch hand, and was a normal guy caught up in events that he had to face if he wanted to save his sister and other survivors. That meant trekking across the deadlands hunting down the raiders who had taken them and along the way, a deadlands legend was born.
Interviewer: Who is your targeted audience?
Kelly: The living, I have it on good authority the undead don’t read much.
Why apocalyptic stories? For me, it’s not about seeing the world die or killing off every character or even showing the overdone man’s inhumanity to man. For me, it’s about exploring the “what if’s”. How would I do this? Would this work? Would a character hang on to their values or toss them aside? Would or could they rebuild and how?”
Interviewer: Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Kelly: Original and hope that it will resonate with the readers. If not, well someday after I have passed beyond I will be discovered and have a cult following. If that happens, I want to be called the Grand High Poo-Bah of Apocalyptic fiction, keeper of the sacred assault rifle, protector of wayward puppies, that’s on the record.
Interviewer: What does literary success look like to you?
Kelly: Being published, seeing my book’s in a book store. Honestly, I’m easy to please. As the old saying goes, you can be cheap, or you can be easy but you can’t be cheap and easy.
Interviewer: What are the hardest things you find about writing?
Kelly: Transferring the movie in my mind to the page. Sometimes no matter how hard you try; the words just do not do justice to the mental movie. Okay, yes editing (laughs). Sometimes if I stop writing a book and try to go back to it later, I can’t find the voice again.
Interviewer: How do you feel about negative reviews?
Kelly: I don’t mind them, they can help me improve.
Interviewer: How do you balance life and writing?
Kelly: I don’t. I just remind myself to keep breathing and to have three or four hours of sleep a night. Okay, yes, I forget to sleep on occasion.
Interviewer: What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters of the opposite sex?
Kelly: Making them sound believable; not like a guy in a dress. All throughout my story I have many tough intelligent women, but the voice sometimes doesn’t sound right to me.
Interviewer: What one thing would you give up to become a better writer?
Kelly: Dating. Wait, I’ve already given that up. (laughs).
Interviewer: How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Kelly: It has made me careful about making sure that there is less fluff and that each piece moves the story along.
Interviewer: Do you think that your writing has improved since your first book and what would you change about that book if you could?
Kelly: Yes, the later unpublished books are more polished. What would l change? Story-wise not much. Clean up a few sections, make a cut here and there and expand on some threads.
Interviewer: What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned from being a published author?
Kelly: Writing was the easy part. Don’t give up, take a risk and ask for help, and market before you publish.
Interviewer: What are your writing goals for the next five years?
Kelly: Finish and publish all eight books, do a book signing on a tropical island and co-author a book with one of the writers I really admire or at least get a new laptop and hike the Appalachian Trail.
“There are heroes in life and I think it’s time we started bringing them back into stories and movies, we need a higher standard to reach for. Even if we fail along the way, the fact that we tried is what’s important.”
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