Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes Tonya Kappes.
Ms. Kappes is the author of A Ghostly Demise (Witness Impulse)—the fourth in the Ghostly Southern Mysteries, out Tuesday; previous titles include A Ghostly Undertaking, A Ghostly Murder, and A Ghostly Grave. She has written twenty-six novels placed in and around the small towns of her native Kentucky. Those titles have graced numerous bestsellers lists, including USA Today, and have garnered both reader praise and favorable critical reviews. A full-time writer, Ms. Kappes also enjoys reading, gardening and cooking. She lives in Northern Kentucky with her husband, four children, two schnauzers, and an ex-stray cat.
Praise for A Ghostly Demise:
“… a wickedly funny entry! Once again Tonya keeps you glued to the pages … Consider it your secret vice … another winning novel … Do NOT miss this one!”—Bless Their Hearts Mom Blog
“… a very entertaining Ghostly Southern Mystery … GHOSTLY DEMISE did not disappoint.”—Talk Supe Blog
From the publisher:
The prodigal father returns—but this ghost is no holy spirit
When she runs into her friend’s deadbeat dad at the local deli, undertaker Emma Lee Raines can’t wait to tell Mary Anna Hardy that he’s back in Sleepy Hollow, Kentucky, after five long years. Cephus Hardy may have been the town drunk, but he didn’t disappear on an epic bender like everyone thought: He was murdered. And he’s heard that Emma Lee’s been helping lost souls move on to that great big party in the sky.
Why do ghosts always bother Emma Lee at the worst times? Her granny’s mayoral campaign is in high gear, a carnival is taking over the town square, and her hunky boyfriend, Sheriff Jack Henry Ross, is stuck wrestling runaway goats. Besides, Cephus has no clue whodunit…unless it was one of Mrs. Hardy’s not-so-secret admirers. All roads lead Emma Lee to that carnival—and a killer who isn’t clowning around.
Now, Tonya Kappes extends some southern hospitality to readers …
Hartford Books Examiner: You have two new books – A GHOSTLY DEMISE and A GHOSTLY MURDER – on the way in your Ghostly Southern Mystery series. How do these titles represent an evolution of your craft – and in what ways do they stay true to your unique and enduring brand of storytelling?
Tonya Kappes: I’ve gone a lot deeper into these characters and really start to develop their characters with each book. I’ve been able to keep the quick pace, punch, and southern charm all my readers love about my voice.
HBE: What most intrigues you about the paranormal – and why do you think that it remains such a popular element in pop culture?
TK: I believe people love the possibility of things that go bump in the night and unexplained. We can go back to television shows or even movies like Frankenstein, Twilight Zone, Bewitched, Mork & Mindy, just to name a few. I love how I can play with around with the “what if” my ghost can do this? Why not? Does anyone really know for sure? I get to make a lot of stuff up and create my own paranormal characters and bring the reader right along with me. That’s pretty good freedom for a writer.
HBE: Your books tend to mix mystery and romance but are all rooted southern charm. How do Kentucky locale and lore influence your creative output – and in what ways do you think that setting enhances narrative?
TK: I’m born and bred in Kentucky. I grew up in a small central Kentucky town where sweet tea and moonshine was stored on the counter. I definitely have used my own life experience and quirky characters I grew up with to help shape and influence the southern charm of the series.
I truly believe the town is just as much an important character as the sleuth. I want my readers to feel like they have stepped into the small town and really get the feel of what it would be like to live there or just visit.
HBE: Tell us a little bit about your experiences with self-publication. In what ways did they prepare you for your crossover to a traditional publisher – and how have you found working with William Morrow/Witness Impulse in comparison?
TK: Great question! I began self publishing when it was taboo. I was ridiculed and made fun of, but I didn’t care. My main goal was to help ONE reader escape from their daily grind, even if it was a great day, I just wanted them to sit down and forget about the world for a few minutes just like books had done for me. That was and still is my goal today.
With that said, I didn’t just write a novel and throw it out into the world. I joined writing groups, learned the in’s and out’s of marketing and did a lot of dancing outside of the box. My husband would come home from work and research how to format. At the time, each device had a different format you had to upload, now it’s just one format and easy. I found a great editor and cover artist. I used a lot of beta readers and really learned from the process. A month after I released my first book, I had sold over 10k copies. I was pretty happy since most writers had turned their noses up. I was making a lot of money, more than a publisher would have given me in an advance. I had even made my own deal with Barnes and Noble to have my print books carried in their store. I also made sure I was on every platform including audio. I’ve got my own little Kappes empire going.
When I hired an agent, it was to do all the foreign rights and film rights. I had a lot of interest and even though I could have done it myself, I just wanted to write the next book. That was when he asked me if I was interested in doing a traditional deal. What could a traditional deal give me that I wasn’t doing for myself? Maybe more readers? I wasn’t sure. I do know they can not market me better than me, but they had more dollars to put me places I couldn’t get in.
My number one goal is to reach ONE more reader. Needless to say, here we are today and I’m what you call Hybrid. Witness Impulse has been great. They didn’t bat an eye when I told them I couldn’t do a deal if the books were a year apart. My readers have gotten use to getting a book from me every couple of months. Plus I had already self published A Ghostly Undertaking and sold over 80k copies on my own. I was sorta shocked they wanted it. I was overjoyed to hear they were publishing the first four in the series this year. It was a self publishing/traditional merge come true. And I’m happy to say that William Morrow/Witness Impulse has opened doors that I couldn’t do on my own (boy, did I try on my own). I have gained new readers and love getting reader mail (which I’m VERY connected to my readers) telling me how much they laugh and enjoy trying to solve the crimes. Here’s a big secret…readers don’t care how you are published or who published the novel. They just want a good book. So when I announced I was doing a traditional contract, they could’ve cared less.
HBE: You are a strong proponent of social media. What have you found to be most effective means to develop and maintain an audience – and how does communicating directly with your readers help to diminish the solitude of writing?
TK: Connecting with a reader is the most important thing to me. Social media has really given authors a GREAT tool to connect on more of a personal level. I can’t even express to you how amazing it has been for my career. I have amazing readers. I started my street team on a Yahoo loop before Facebook was really popular, but have since moved the group to Facebook. I have the die hard fans who love to promote me, which I never ask my readers to promote me, and they have started a private Facebook page called Kappes Krew Promo Team. I love to pop in over there and yell hello! I have over three address books filled with readers mailing address. Every month I handwrite a note or post card to at least twenty readers and mail them. I just really want them to know how much I appreciate them. I also mail out birthday cards and holiday cards to everyone.
Social media has let me get to know their family as well as mine. My husband gets recognized more than me when we got out of town to conferences. I mainly try to do only reader conference so I can host my own get together with them while in town.
Every year I host my own reader get together weekend in different parts of the United States. This year I rented a real train with a mystery theatre, Murder on the Toledo Express, on board while we eat. It sold out in a matter of hours. I’m so excited and honored and grateful readers want to travel to spend a weekend with me.
I really respect my readers. I love when I ask them for titles and they come up with the best ones!
HBE: Leave us with a teaser: what comes next?
TK: Gosh! I never take a break from writing. I’m currently working on a couple more books in the Ghostly Southern Mystery Series along with a couple self published titles, plus I’m stepping outside of the mystery arena to write a . . . shhh . . . it’s a secret.
With thanks to Tonya Kappes for her generosity of time and thought and to Lucy Gibson, Assistant Publicist at HarperCollins Publishers, for facilitating this interview.