Kelly Brakenhoff is an American Sign Language Interpreter and the author of the Cassandra Sato Mystery series. As an interpreter, Kelly often sees misunderstandings and miscommunications between people who don’t share the same language and culture. Because it’s her job to help that flow of communication happen as smoothly as possible, she felt strongly about making that issue part of her latest book. Here’s the story behind Dead Week, the second Cassandra Sato Mystery.
Even simple things can cause big problems
After the release of Death by Dissertation, Kelly started hearing from readers about how much they enjoyed learning what life is like for deaf college students on campus. “I thought Dead Week was a perfect opportunity to help people understand the world from their viewpoint a little more.”
While there is empathy for the Deaf Community and the challenges they face, Kelly said that’s not always the case. “Occasionally, I see communications between people go awry. Sometimes it’s hilarious, and sometimes it’s sad or even oppressive to witness the things people do to others.”
An important current issue within the Deaf Community right now is complete access to information in real time. “For example, during catastrophic weather events like hurricanes or floods, Deaf people want access in ASL to the alerts and updates at the same time as people who can hear are receiving them, without having to rely on family or neighbors to get the latest information. Another problem for the Deaf Community is limited access to the entertaining and educational videos made by professionals and amateurs alike. Many producers don’t take the time to caption their videos before uploading, rendering them useless to an entire group of people who can’t hear the sound.”
“I don’t know why I do this to myself, but I did the same approach for the first book in the series. I threw a bunch of topics I’m interested in onto a list of Stuff I Want in This Book, and then figured out how I could include all the elements together into a murder plot. I also wanted to spend time getting to know the characters at Morton College and the town of Carson more deeply. For Dead Week, I researched adoption, text-based emergency management systems, and Vietnam protests. As the mother of four grown children, I may have had some personal experience with Helicopter Moms, but I refuse to name names. I can tell you that every Helicopter Mom scenario is taken from real life experiences I’ve seen or heard about at the college where I work.”
On the personal side
“I began running about seven years ago when a work Wellness Program challenged me to register for a Couch-to-5K event. I’ve participated in many sports but hated running because it made my side ache and I’m short, therefore I’m slow. To my surprise, I found I could run long distances without dying. Now I run 10K races and half-marathons. The training runs give me plenty of time to think about my books and how to plot the next murder. Bonus, I can eat chocolate cake without the guilt.”
Kelly also said that while many authors are introverts, she’s exactly the opposite. She said she’s been pleasantly surprised by receiving photos of readers enjoying my book while lounging at the beach or watching their child’s softball games. “I love getting messages about what readers’ favorite scenes were, or how they couldn’t put the book down. Some send me recommendations about books I might like to read or authors who are similar to me. Please feel free to follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, BookBub or wherever you like to go to chat about books. I really enjoy getting to know my readers.”
Once again, truth is stranger than fiction
“In my more than twenty years of experience as an ASL Interpreter, I’ve worked in college classrooms for fifteen different majors. I actually attend classes with the deaf students and overhear both the most inspiring and the most inane professors you could imagine. At faculty meetings, I’ve seen the jockeying for position that happens on a daily basis. The most jaw-dropping dialogue in my books are often exact quotes I’ve overheard people say in real life.”
For Death by Dissertation, Kelly wanted to have her stalker have a prior arrest for harassing a former girlfriend even though he didn’t cause physical harm. “I turned to Google and typed something like ‘Creepy stalker stories not murder.’ My search feed filled with very disturbing scenarios that I gingerly picked through until I found one I could read without losing my lunch. Photos of weapons and cringe-inducing stalker articles popped up on my social media feeds for weeks afterwards.”
Learn more about Kelly Brakenhoff at /kellybrakenhoff.com/.