A great welcome to Kaye Wilkinson Barley, author and friend.
Kaye, it is so great to have you visit the Women of Mystery today. You have been such a fan, cheerleader, reader of and friend to so many writers in the mystery community, that no one was surprised when you announced that you had decided to write a book. What did surprise us is that Whimsey is not a mystery. What led to that decision on your part?
Hi, Terrie – thanks so much for having me and for the kind words.
I have been so lucky to have had an opportunity to meet and get to know some of my favorite mystery writers. They’ve allowed me to be a small part of a community I love, and I’ve learned a great deal from so many of them. I am a huge mystery fan, as you said, but I’m also a fan of many non-mystery writers – Pat Conroy, I must say, is my all-time literary hero. I’m a lover of southern literature and women’s lit. Others favorite, and much admired, writers would include Nora Roberts, Anne Rivers Siddons, Cassandra King, and Dorothea Benton Frank.
I knew before writing the first word that Whimsey would be a southern women’s novel. Originally, it “did” include a murder and it was going to be a mystery, but the characters took off in a whole different direction and I just followed along.
I guess, truthfully, I unconsciously followed Toni Morrison’s instructions about writing the book I wanted to read.
No one who follows you on Facebook or reads your blog would be surprised to find your infectious humor sprinkled throughout Whimsey still I know I was surprised and other readers may have been surprised to find paranormal elements in the book. Were they in your mind when you decided to write the book or did they show up as you went along?
The paranormal elements came as a complete surprise. Great Aunt Elizabeth was always going to be a presence and I had intended to let her give readers the background regarding how the Island of Whimsey came to be. That the island ended up being a place of magic wasn’t my idea, but hers. And that she keeps showing up unexpectedly is also all her idea. She’s just one of those strong-willed southern women you can’t keep down – even dead. Earlene though, actually – I think she was going to be there from the beginning. I have NO idea where she came from, but I think she’s been living in my mind for a very long time. We have a long/hate relationship, and she, like Elizabeth, ended up with a bigger role than I had planned. Madeline’s been with me since birth – she’s quite real.
The friendship of women is a strong theme woven throughout Whimsey. You manage to show how the support of friends and family (both the living and ghostly kinds) allows someone to dig down and find the strength and talent she always had. How did you craft these relationships with such subtlety and yet reveal so much?
Oh, gosh – thank you!!!! That was hard. And with complete honesty I have to say it was with the help of a great teacher and editor – Earl Staggs. This being my first novel, I had no idea what I was doing. I knew I wanted to convey some of what I’ve experienced with my own very close girlfriends, and it’s hard to explain that whole “sister of the heart” relationship to someone who hasn’t experienced it. I started out with big blocks of “info dumps” which Earl patiently helped me mold and break up and re-insert through the book which, of course, is how it needed to be done to keep readers interested. (anyone who’s reading this who still doesn’t believe in the difference a good editor can make – BELIEVE IT!) Crafting the relationships themselves came from a lifetime of having strong, supportive women in my life – starting with my mother and a bounty of aunties.
I have to say that if I had to describe Whimsey in one word, that word would be charm. This story positively exudes charm, so tell us, can we look forward to another book anytime soon? And will it be in the same genre of Southern charm with a touch of Pixie dust?
Oh, Terrie, thank you. Charm is good, I love charm. I will NEVER get tired of people telling me how much they enjoy Whimsey. What a rush and a thrill and one I just wasn’t prepared for. I’ll tell you the truth, when I was almost finished writing – actually thought I WAS finished – but was sent back to the drawing board one more time, I was sick to death of it. Didn’t intend to ever write another novel as long as I lived. It was back to narrative non-fiction for me – said I oh so adamantly. And of course, as happens more often than I care to admit – I ate those words. After the very final, really really final version I sat down to re-read it one more time from cover to cover and I fell in love with it all over again. And there was a particular scene that made me cry, all over again. And I laughed out loud. And there were scenes when I thought to myself, “did I write that?” And I knew that those characters had me. I had created a world I would love to have exist, and now it does. Through the magic of books, Whimsey exists. There are some who don’t care for it, and, of course, that’s fine – no one is going to write a book that is universally loved. But the people who do like it, love it. Including me. So yes, there will be more Whimsey. I’m working on the second, but I’m a very slow writer. It’ll take me a while to get it out there, but it will definitely get out there. Earlene and Aunt Elizabeth would not have it any other way.
And I can only hope you and others find it as charming. There will, for sure, be Pixie dust a plenty. With all the same characters, their art, the beauty of the Island of Whimsey, delicious food, lots of laughter with friends and family and, hopefully, the same magic that seemed to just blossom when they were all mixed together the first go ‘round.
And of course if you want to visit Kaye on her website, just click here.