Kelley Kaye is the author of Poison by Punctuation, which is part of the Chalkboard Outlines cozy mystery series. She’s taught high school English and Drama since 1992. Her love of storytelling began in high school, when she created captions in her high school yearbook.
And, just as Kelley wrote those captions for her real-life classmates, Kelley now finds her characters to be very real to her. She said the hopes they become “like flesh and blood imaginary friends” who talk to her readers as they talk to her.
Kelley pointed out that bullying is a topic discussed in this book—and the series—for one sad reason. “I don’t think you can set a story in a school without encountering it. I like how the bullying events dovetail with the whole theme of the story, though, and I think the story came before the theme, so the correlation was lucky on my part!”
The genesis of Poison by Punctuation
“I can’t decide if this is a sad story, or just an interesting story,” Kelley said. “Truthfully, and in attempt to avoid any spoilers, I will just give you the general gist. It came from a person initially. A person I met when I was probably in my late 20s, just getting really comfortable in my role as an adult, and a teacher, and feeling like I was getting better in both of these roles. There were also other important life issues taking place at this time, including a divorce, a chronic illness diagnosis – multiple sclerosis – and basically just a reckoning with myself and my identity. So, a lot of stuff was happening. Stuff that could be considered hard or traumatic or upsetting in many ways. But I was getting a handle on it!
“The person whom I met at this time, who was the original inspiration for the Poison by Punctuation story, didn’t seem to be handling anything very well. This was a nice person I knew, a person I always conversed with, interacted with, and basically considered a friend. But I was always struck by the life issues this person was dealing with and the way those issues were handled that seemed to embrace victimhood. This person always seemed to be asking ‘why me?’ to the world, and more importantly ‘why not YOU?’ to the world.
“So I was trying to figure out a story about a killer, but always keeping in mind I’m still writing a story about a person, I am always asking myself the question: what can turn a person into a killer? And meeting this individual and trying to dissect the way he/she felt about life and the cards that had been dealt, made me say yes! I can see how this outlook can turn someone into a killer! I could see this person getting so frustrated in this victim state of mind that they would kill. And this is what made me choose poison as the murder weapon, because it seemed more removed, less violent, less-in-your face than other methods of murder, which made more sense to me when I was considering this type of person ultimately turn out to be the murderer.”
Be careful what you research
“One of the things I did when I was researching this book was order a bunch of paperwork from different sources, one of which was the military.”
Kelley said she received old pamphlets about methods of poison in the mail. “It was all very formal and wordy, with some parts redacted like it was actual decommissioned intelligence files! And I remember thinking and laughing – is this going to get me into trouble? Is someone going to be knocking on my door one of these days and asking me questions about my whereabouts on a certain time because of somebody that was poisoned in real-time?! Of course it never happened, but my imagination is maybe the deadliest weapon of them all! 🙂 At least when it comes to my brain getting out of control, never stopping and never slowing down.”
A funny thing happened on the way to the play
“It’s only funny in retrospect. In 1998 I was on stage doing acting warm-ups with my actors (I don’t ONLY teach English!), when I broke away from the circle and started walking around in circles of my own. My friend sitting in the front seats of the theatre rushed up to catch me only when she realized I wasn’t acting, but instead having an MS-induced grand mal seizure. All my students saw me have this seizure, and several of them wanted to know if I was embarrassed about flailing and thrashing all about on the stage. I thought this was a hilariously teenagery question, like “OMG weren’t you so embarrassed! All those people LOOKING at you!? Gah!” I wasn’t even conscious at the time, so for me there was no cause for embarrassment 😊 Plus that day was the first AND LAST day I ever had seizures, so . . . yay for me!”
Learn more about Kelley on her website at kelleykaybowles.com.