Irvin talks "Over the Line," her days reporting from the border, Beeville's Amish community, marketing, and more

"Currently I’m working on another romantic suspense novel set in San Antonio that involves a court reporter, a youth minister, and a serial killer. I’m having fun!"


Lone Star Literary Life: Ms. Irvin, your new book is Over the Line (Thomas Nelson), which will hit shelves on June 11. Please tell us about your new book and your inspiration for writing it.


Kelly Irvin: I started writing Over the Line several years ago and then laid it aside as my writing career veered toward contemporary romance and Amish romance stories. But I never forgot it. I worked in Laredo, so I know how impacted the city is by its location on the border—in both good and bad ways. It’s such a rich bicultural setting and I love the way the language and food and customs meld into something so unique to border towns.


I also wanted to explore the idea that we’re told to forgive everything, but are there things we cannot forgive? Or shouldn’t? Like unfaithfulness. I had friends who said female readers would never like a hero suspected of unfaithfulness. I put that theory to the test. and I believe readers will fall in love with Eli Cavazos.


LSLL: Over the Line is romantic suspense published by Thomas Nelson, a Christian publishing house. What do you try to accomplish within the genre, or expanding the genre, to remain faithful to Christian mores? Do you try to expand what we traditionally perceive to be Christian fiction?


KI: People may have some misconceptions about inspirational fiction. It’s gotten a bad rap for being too preachy or saccharine. I see much more Christian fiction today that pushes the boundaries with gritty, real-life stories that people can relate to. That’s true in mystery, suspense, romantic suspense, and women’s fiction. I do tend to be gritty in the romantic suspense genre while maintaining a Christian world view for my heroine. But I don’t make it easy for her. Her faith is tested; she struggles. We all do and readers can relate to that.


LSLL: You were a newspaper reporter covering the Texas/Mexico border in El Paso and Laredo. Please tell us how long you were a reporter, about the stories you covered, and how this experience informs your novels.


KI: I worked in Laredo as a reporter and editor for five years. That included stints as the city hall reporter, the courthouse reporter, the news editor, and the entertainment/regional editor. It was a dream job in the sense that I did stories that involved interviewing a man suspected of murder in a Nuevo Laredo jail to the plethora of unpaved roads and outhouses in some parts of the city to election night interviews with candidates. I covered city council, zoning commission, and water board meetings. I particularly liked doing in-depth news features on the issues faced by a border town trying to be more than a tourist attraction or funnel for drugs and guns.


I then spent a year working for the El Paso Times as a news feature writer. That also included writing medical and health related stories as well as being a food critic. I wrote stories on mental health issues including depression, sexual addiction, and HIV. I wrote about the plethora of used bookstores in the region and a TV show in Ciudad Juárez where people who were ill or disabled told their stories, and viewers made donations, and many more.


LSLL: You are a Kansas native. How did you come to call San Antonio home?


KI: In a roundabout way. I wanted to use my Spanish language learned through three semesters in Costa Rica in my work, so I took the jobs in Laredo and El Paso. In El Paso I met my husband. He took a job with the CBS affiliate in San Antonio. He was a TV news photographer for twenty-five years. We’ve been here ever since. Our two children were born here, and we now live about twenty minutes outside San Antonio.


LSLL: You may be best known for your several series of books set in Amish communities. You published the fourth installment in the Every Amish Season series, With Winter’s First Frost, earlier this year. Since you’ve covered all four seasons, is this the end of this storyline or will you write a spin-off as you did with the Bliss Creek Amish series?


KI: No spin-offs, but I have written a couple of novellas so that secondary characters get their happily-ever-afters. I loved writing this series because each book involved a different generation, starting with a young newlywed who experiences tragedy and must start over, a widowed mother of seven, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother. Writing romance for people in their seventies and eighties was so much fun, and readers have given me good feedback.


LSLL: One of your Amish series, Amish of Bee County, is set in Bee County, Texas. I didn’t know this community existed. How did you discover the Amish in Texas, and how does the setting affect the story differently than your Amish stories set in Kansas and elsewhere?


KI: The Amish have a nationwide newspaper called The Budget in which “scribes” submit blurbs twice a month about what’s happening in their communities. I happened to see one from a Beeville scribe. I did some digging and found that the tiny community was outside Beeville. It’s very small, maybe twelve or fourteen families, mostly related.


It’s very different from the idyllic scenes you see of Amish farms in Lancaster or Ohio. Extremely rustic to the point of looking poverty stricken. You can imagine living without air conditioning in South Texas. Farming is a challenge in ranching country. In fact, the first book, The Beekeeper’s Son, came from my initial reaction to the district. I wondered why they didn’t clean it up and make it more pleasing to the eye. Which led me to think about the world’s perception of beauty as opposed to God’s. Which is the theme of that first book.


LSLL: You have more than twenty years of experience in public relations with the City of San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department, so you know a good deal about marketing. How has book marketing changed since you began publishing, and what advice to you have to help authors sell more books?


KI: Marketing has become more social media driven. Authors are expected to have strong social media presence, do Facebook chats, be active on Goodreads, be on Instagram, etc. A strong webpage is important. I would urge authors to study their audience, their demographic, and know where to find those readers and go hang out with them. Readers like interacting with authors. Facebook is a great place for that. Amish fiction readers have their own groups and invite authors to do chats and giveaways with them.


Publicity has become more difficult as outlets like radio shows decrease. Getting reviews and interviews can be tough. If your fiction has a news hook, use it to entice media to do interviews. With my last book, Tell Her No Lies, the San Antonio newspaper did a story about the book’s setting in San Antonio, landmarks, and also the topic of homelessness, which is part of the story. One of the morning TV shows also had me on for the same reason.


LSLL: Please talk a little about process. How did you decide to write Amish and Christian fiction? I understand you’ve done a lot of traveling to Amish communities for research. Please tell us about your research techniques and the importance of place in your work.


KI: I checked a novel out from the library that was a Christian fiction mystery/suspense novel. I thought, I want to do this, so I started writing. Initially I published two romantic suspense novels with a non-Christian focused publishing house. Then my agent asked me to give Amish romances a try. So I did. She sold the first one before I finished writing it. From there I wrote another dozen Amish romances before being given the opportunity to write in both genres, which was a dream come true.


I do travel to the locations, such as Jamesport and Beeville. Research is so important. Readers expect you to get it right. Detail about setting is critical to placing the reader in the story, trees, plants, flowers, weather, etc. I’m an introvert so research trips can be hard. My husband goes with me and asks questions when I get nervous. I don’t want to intrude on the Amish folks, so I do more observing than talking to them. Last summer we took a week-long trip to northern Montana for my next series, and there’s no way I could write the series without actually having gone there and seen the beautiful mountains, the valleys, the gorgeous landscapes, and what the three towns I’m writing about look like.


With romantic suspense, it’s critical that you get your law-enforcement tactics and investigative techniques right. I have a friend who is a retired homicide detective, so that helps immensely.


LSLL: Can you tell us what you’re working on now and what’s next?


KI: Next is the first book in the Montana series. It’s called Mountains of Grace, and it debuts on August 11. This series, Amish of Sky Country, explores the impact of the wildfires that destroyed part of the Amish community in West Kootenai. The lives of three women are changed because of the time they spend in other towns during the evacuation. Readers will also see how the entire community, English and Amish, comes together to support each other during this natural disaster.


Currently I’m working on another romantic suspense novel set in San Antonio that involves a court reporter, a youth minister, and a serial killer. I’m having fun!


LSLL: What books are on your nightstand?


KI: My TBR pile is ridiculous. I’m reading James Lee Burke’s new David Robicheaux novel, New Iberia Blues. I also just started Allison Pittman’s The Seamstress. I’ve worked my way through James Scott Bell’s suspense novels, including the Mike Romeo series and the Ty Buchanan series. In nonfiction, I have Dave Furman’s Kiss the Wave on the pile, The Last Arrow by Erwin Raphael McManus, and The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule.


I know. I get a little crazy with the book buying!


Kelly Irvin is the author of more than a dozen Amish books, including Upon a Spring Breeze, which won the 2018 Readers Choice Award from the Faith, Hope, and Love Chapter of Romance Writers of America in the long contemporary romance category. She is also the author of the Amish of Bee County series that includes The Beekeeper’s Son, which received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, and was a finalist in the national 2016 ACFW Carol Awards Contest in the romance category. Kelly’s novel Love Redeemed was a 2015 finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) Carol Awards contest.


Kelly has also penned romantic suspense novels. Publishers Weekly called her first romantic suspense novel, A Deadly Wilderness, “a solid romantic suspense debut.” She followed up with No Child of Mind. Tell Her No Lies was released in November 2018, and her newest novel, Over the Line, will be published in June 2019. She worked as a newspaper reporter writing stories on the Texas-Mexico border. Those experiences fuel her romantic suspense novels set in Texas.


The Kansas native is a graduate of the University of Kansas School of Journalism. She has been writing nonfiction professionally for more than thirty years, including ten years as a newspaper reporter. She retired in 2016 after working twenty-two years in public relations for the City of San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department. She is a member of ACFW and Alamo City Christian Fiction Writers. In her spare time, she blogs, reads fiction, and loves her family.