Kelly has a rich story to tell, so gather ’round as she tells us a bit about her journey. Join the chat below and you’re eligible for a signed copy of Kelly’s latest Amish romance, The Saddle Maker’s Son.
Pre-Author Life of Kelly Irvin
Home Town Roots
I was born and raised in the small rural community of Abilene, Kansas, which has as its claim home of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Library and Museum, the Greyhound Hall of Fame, and being the county seat. I’m one of five children in a working class family. We lived on “the wrong side of the tracks,” and we learned to stick close together.
A Close Family
My dad taught us all sports and I have good memories of playing sports growing up. I wanted to be a professional baseball player. Or a writer. My sister and I had a “newspaper” in grade school and I wrote poems, plays, and short stories. In high school I served as editor of the newspaper and then of the yearbook.
I was a shy kid who dressed funny. (My dad was very conservative at a time when the sixties and seventies fashions were in full swing.) So I lived in books and found my niche in journalism.
In college I spent a year and a half at the University of Costa Rica as an exchange student, learning Spanish and acquiring a larger world view. A friend and I returned to the States via bus with our big red backpacks that identified us as a gringas everywhere we went. It was a wonderful, surreal experience.
Eventually I graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and began working as a newspaper reporter. I always wanted to write fiction, but as a working class kid I was also very aware of the need to be able to support myself. For years, writing nonfiction satisfied me.
Then I married a TV news photographer and we moved to San Antonio where we proceeded to have two children back-to-back. The dream of being a novelist seemed farfetched. I worked full-time in public relations, went to volleyball and basketball games, and science fairs, and sold Girl Scout cookies. I loved being a wife and mother living in the ‘burbs, but as year forty-five arrived, it dawned on me if I didn’t make my move soon, I would never realize my dream.
So I sat down and wrote my first book in 2003. It took another two years to find an agent and five years to publish my first book.
Debut Experience of Kelly Irvin
A Deadly Wilderness by Kelly Irvin
Now I feel as if I had two different “debut” experiences. My agent, Mary Sue Seymour, worked hard to sell my romantic suspense novels early in my career. It took three years, but she never gave up. She sold A Deadly Wilderness to mainstream publisher Five Star Gale in 2008. They publish library quality hardbacks sold primarily to libraries. There’s no widespread circulation to bookstores or much marketing, but I was over the moon. I spent many, many happy hours in my hometown library as a kid. To have my book in a library was the thrill of a lifetime. A perfect circle.
Opening that box of books and seeing my name on a hardback was an incredible high. So was pulling the book off the shelf of my local library. Having one of my co-workers tell me she’d checked it out, read it, and loved it, blew my mind. Publisher’s Weekly called A Deadly Wilderness “a solid romantic suspense debut novel.” Sales were good. I was ecstatic.
No Child of Mine
Then Five Star Gale bought the second book, No Child of Mine. I learned so much from the experience. For example, try not to put much stock in reviews. Publisher’s Weekly panned No Child of Mine, saying it was “full of unhappy Christians. The only likeable characters were the children.”
Hurt would be putting in loosely. Sales weren’t great because librarians refer to magazines like Publisher’s Weekly to help them choose what to buy. I learned it takes a tough skin to be a published author. (Tweet That!)
I love those books and I’ve proud of them, but nothing more was forthcoming in terms of romantic suspense sales so Mary Sue suggested I step outside my comfort zone and try Amish romances.
Amish, a Change of Direction for Kelly Irvin
Although I was reluctant at first, I eventually took it as a challenge and gave it a shot. Mary Sue sold my first manuscript to Harvest House Publishing before I finished it. I finally broke into the CBA with the The Bliss Creek Amish series: To Love and to Cherish, A Heart Made New, and Love’s Journey Home. To Love and to Cherish was the beginning of a new writing direction for me and one that has been wonderful.
Then came The New Hope Amish series: Love Still Stands, Love Redeemed, and A Plain Love Song. And now The Amish of Bee County series: The Bishop’s Son, The Beekeeper’s Son, and The Saddle Maker’s Son.
Realization of a Dream
Seeing my books in bookstores. Having The Beekeeper’s Son and The Saddlemaker’s Son final in the ACFW Carol Awards Contest. Signing on with HarperCollins Christian Publishing. Because I took a chance. It just shows you never know what doors will open for you. You simply have to take a leap of faith.
A Determined Journey
Since I sat down to write that first book thirteen years ago, so much water has passed under that bridge. My kids were in middle school then. I remember Nicholas standing on the stairs, calling, “Kelly, Kelly,” because he couldn’t get my attention with “Mom,” I was so engrossed in my writing. It was so hard to balance a full-time job with motherhood, being a wife, and having my writing dream.
I arrived at work at 6:30 in the morning so I could write before my work day started. I ate my lunch at my desk so I could squeeze in some writing time. Nights, weekends. My husband and my children gave me the space to do that. They sacrificed so I could go to writing conferences. So I could reach my dream. I was and am so blessed.
Now I’m retired and write full-time. The kids are grownup and married. I have two grandchildren and my daughter Erin lives in Virginia with her sailor husband. I miss those days when they were close and all the fun we had as they grew and became who they are today.
Encouragement and Advice from Kelly Irvin
My advice? Never lose sight of what’s important. Reach for those dreams, but don’t forget to hug your loved ones and tell them how much you love them every day. Strike a balance. Persist. Believe in your dream. And never lose sight of the One who has blessed you with the words.
Lord, we stand in awe of You, the Great Storyteller. We writers and readers of faith-driven stories bow in humility at Your blessing of words. And the privilege of sharing Your story. Let us never lose sight of the One who has blessed us with words. ~ For Jesus’ sake …