Formerly a local elected official, Kris Calvin’s debut political thriller, “One Murder More,” was recently released. For this interview, Kris Calvin, who says she knows politics from the inside out, reveals how she became a writer and how her work as an advocate for children and passage of a law restricting the use of cell phones while driving helped her realize she should write a book.
“The inspiration for the plot came with California’s passage of a statewide ban on holding a cell phone while driving,” Calvin said. “It doesn’t sound dramatic or sexy, but what interested me was the idea that even a relatively mundane proposed law could provide the motive for murder, given the dysfunction present in politics.
“Then, a few years back, the 14-year old daughter of a friend of mine died suddenly. I’d recently been elected to the local public school board. Her daughter had worked on my campaign.”
Kris Calvin said she wanted to establish a public memorial garden where those who had a child pass before them could experience a healing setting in nature and might encounter others who had similar losses. Calvin noted that though each loss is unique, her friend embraced the idea with a passion.
“Permanently taking over public property, no matter how good the reason, is a political decision, and not one that is taken lightly.” She added, “We needed an advocacy strategy, a plan, a budget for initial landscaping and upkeep, and more. None of it was easy, but with my friend’s persistence and the help of many, we got it done.”
The opening of the garden was billed as a community celebration. “The new garden was filled with the laughter of children running along freshly planted paths, and climbing on rocks inscribed with beloved names. There were tears, too, as parents and politicians in their speeches honored the children who could play no more. Sometimes the political process gets it right, this felt like one of them.”
Calvin had an epiphany about politicians
Thanks to her participation in the cell-phone ban and the memorial garden project, Calvin had an epiphany about politicians. “I’ve come to believe that while a person’s partisan political outlook may matter immensely on any given issue, for most of us, most of the time, our integrity and capacity for compassion mean more.”
Kris Calvin said that led her to want to write a novel depicting Sacramento’s state legislators and lobbyists as multi-faceted, with the core conflict in the story driven by each individual’s “goodness” or lack thereof, not by party labels.
While Calvin said she’s been an avid reader most of her life and produced policy briefs and memos, she’d never attempted fiction until “One Murder More.” A single parent, Calvin wrote early in the morning. After several months, she’d finished. “I thought it was funny and smart, and was proud of myself for having done something creative, maybe for the first time in my life.”
With manuscript in hand, Calvin hired an independent development editor. The editor felt Calvin wrote clearly and had a strong voice, but the manuscript was weak in other ways. “I’m not a crier,” said Calvin, “but I wept for a day. Three years and several drafts later ‘One Murder More’ was published, I’m happy to say to strong reviews.”
Kris Calvin said the experience taught her a lesson she now shares with friends. “If there’s something you want to do, whatever it is, even if it requires ‘talent’, the most important factor in getting it done is working really hard, and being willing to take a few stinging slaps to the face along the way.”
‘One Murder More’ began as the exploration of an idea…
When people ask her how she knew she wanted to be a writer, Calvin tells them she didn’t know until recently. “I never thought I had ‘a book in me.’ I didn’t grow up telling stories. ‘One Murder More’ began as the exploration of an idea, not as a career path to becoming an author. But, midway through the first draft, I experienced a serious health scare.”
Healthy now, Calvin said that for a period of six weeks, she was unable to find out whether she had a life-threatening cancer.
“My son was 15 at the time and it was just the two of us at home, I couldn’t hide from him what was happening. We were riding in the car, returning from yet another medical test when I said, mostly thinking out loud, ‘There’s only one thing that makes me truly sad when I realize I might not have a lot of time left…’ The expression on his face reflected an openness that isn’t often there with a teen. Then I said the rest, ‘It’s that I won’t get to complete my book. It will never have an ending.’
“I realized then that he’d expected me to say something about how I would miss seeing him grow up, or meeting his children—my grandchildren. But, being the person that he is, my son quickly recovered. ‘It’s okay, Mom,’ he said. ‘I’ll finish it for you.’”
Kris Calvin noted that her son is an exceptional writer and, while she felt he might need some help if he was forced to finish for her, she knew he’d be up to the task. “Then I wasn’t frightened about dying anymore. It seemed crazy to me, but it was how I felt. Now, I say I’m a writer. Now, I know.”
Learn more about Kris Calvin on her website at kriscalvin.com.