The 2021 Debut group was invaluable for me as a first-time author, so part of my interview strategy is to get authors from other debut groups and invite them to be a part of this series. Kelly Ohlert is one such person, as she’s a member of the 2022 Debut group, and her contemporary romance, To Get to the Other Side, released only six days ago! Described as being “perfect for readers of The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary, and fans of The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez,” the book is delighting readers. One Goodreads reviewer wrote, “Who knew a story that was brought on by a chicken would be a delightful treat for our hearts?” while another called it “an adorable romance that tugs at your heartstrings.” I’ve read the book, and yes, a novel that reminds me of the old “Why did the chicken cross the road?” joke is a lot of fun. Debuting during the holiday season, working full-time, and parenting children is a lot of work, so I’m sending a huge virtual thank-you to Kelly for finding time to answer my questions.
Christina: Congrats on the upcoming publication of your debut, To Get to the Other Side, which features Trixie and a chicken she saves from impending doom in downtown Chicago. What inspired this story? Is the chicken (Chick-Chick) a tribute to anyone?
Kelly: I called one of my high school friends–Gretchen–and asked her what was new. She said she had a new pet chicken. She proceeded to tell me all about how she literally found an injured chicken crossing the road, and adopted it. She was living with a wheelchair-using chicken in her Chicago flat. I asked for her blessing to use that as the opening to my story. I had a hard time imagining life with a chicken in an apartment, so I had the idea for it to become a roommates-to-lovers story, and the characters and the rest of the story fell into place from there.
Christina: The book is categorized as contemporary romance. What draws you to writing romance? Do you think they fulfill a need in you? Do they do something that other genres cannot?
Kelly: The first manuscript I worked on was actually a middle grade or young adult fantasy. I got about halfway through the first draft then got stuck, and stopped writing for a few years. Then, my mom recommended a Sophie Kinsella book to me. It was my first contemporary romance read, and as soon as I read it, something clicked. The genre fit my voice, and I knew that was what I was meant to be writing, and a story poured onto the page. I’ve since read hundreds of books in the genre, and since I promptly read Sophie’s entire catalog, I don’t even remember which one that first one was!
Christina: I always like to hear about an author’s journey to publication. Can you tell us a little bit about yours?
Kelly: My first manuscript is the one that landed me my agent through the traditional querying process. After a lot edits, we put it on submission, but the first feedback we received was all consistent. The writing and the voice were good, but the plot wasn’t enough for a debut. “Add a plot” is not exactly a quick and easy fix. I knew the editors were right, and I also knew that To Get to the Other Side was almost ready and was objectively a much better book. So I asked my agent not to send out that first manuscript to anyone else so that we could get my chicken book out to publishers faster. Then, a few months later, when I was at a salon treating myself to a birthday massage, I got the call from my agent. It was the perfect time to find out and celebrate with the whole salon. Since I work from home, any other day I would have been by myself with no one to share in the excitement.
Christina: You mention on your website that To Get to the Other Side is full of “sexual tension, but is closed door,” while your second book, Let’s Get Quizzical (forthcoming next year) is “open door.” Which do you find easier to write, closed or open door? How do you determine if the story is to be closed or open door? Have you ever started off thinking a book will be open door but you then shut it?
Kelly: Each manuscript I’ve written so far has gotten a little bit steamier. It wasn’t a conscious decision, and has been the natural progression of things. That said, I anticipate most of my work moving forward to be open door. Aside from the current popularity of steamier books, I want to have open door books for a number of other reasons. The more women read open door stories, I hope it gives them the comfort and the confidence to ask for what they want in the bedroom, and to continue to normalize women’s pleasure. I also think that featuring conversations about what we want and consent and safety (STI testing and protection) in fiction will help make those conversations feel more natural in real life.
Christina: The tagline on your website says, “GET KO’ED BY LOVE.” Many people struggle with a tagline. How hard (or easy) was it to come up with? What other taglines might be appropriate for your books? Did anything silly or inappropriate get thrown off the list of possibilities?
Kelly: Funnily enough, it was the first one suggested, and it was what I went with. My initials are KO, which I’ve always associated with a knock out. A friend helped me set up my author brand when I was still querying agents, and she suggested it. I loved it, and it fit even more because that first manuscript that died on submission but hopefully will see the light of day with a bit more plot someday, was a jiu jitsu book.
Christina: Is writing something you’ve always been drawn to? What does your writing process look like? With a family–how much time each day do you devote to your writing practice?
Kelly: Yes, although I wouldn’t say I’ve always had ambitions of being an author. That was something that didn’t happen until I was an adult. I’ve loved books and reading my whole life, and I liked to write short stories for fun as kid. I try hard to be a plotter, but my brain refuses to work that way, no matter how hard I try, or how many craft books I read on the process. I’m a pantser for sure. I have a full-time day job, and then after work I take care of my two daughters. Most days I write for 2-2.5 hours an evening after they’re in bed. I’m not sure what I’m going to do once they have later bed times! It’s a busy schedule, but I’ll keep finding time to be able to do what I love.
Christina: Over on Instagram, you’ve posted some photos of you and the shelf space in a bookstore where your book will live. How did this practice begin? Is it something you do at every bookstore you visit? How excited are your kids when you include them?
Kelly: I think most authors have little goals or moments they’re looking forward to in their publishing journeys aside from just getting published, and one of mine was to be able to walk into a bookstore and see my book on the shelves. I started looking for the spot on the shelves where my books would live from the time I started taking my writing seriously, and I started the pictures once my book sold. I always look for the space, but only sometimes post the photos. My kids are little bookworms, too, and are so supportive and excited for me and my book. Just the other day, my youngest came home from library day at school, so excited to show me the book she had picked out. She’d found a picture book called “The City Chicken” and said, “See Mama? It’s like your book!” It was very sweet.
Christina: I have to ask about the fur babies and any other animals you have! Who are they? Feel free to tell a few details about each pet.
Kelly: Our house is quite the zoo! We have two dogs: an older lab/border collie mix named Cindy and a young Bernedoodle named Oreo. Our two elderly cats are Slipper and Stiletto. Our sugar glider is Pepper. We used to have two, but one unfortunately passed away. They’re not meant to live alone, so we might be finding a new home for her soon so she doesn’t get too lonely. Lastly, we have a salt water fish tank, which is really cool, but more my husband’s endeavor than mine, because that thing is a lot of work! Stiletto is definitely the biggest fan of the fish tank though, and stares at those fish all day long.
Thanks to Kelly for agreeing to this interview! If you know of an artist, author, or podcaster who’d like to be featured in an interview (or you are an author who would like to be featured), feel free to leave a comment or email me via my contact page.