A guest post by Kathleen Marple Kalb (Nikki Knight)
Saved by the Work
When my husband and I walked our son into his first day of kindergarten, I knew our lives were changing. But not quite the way I thought they would.
I came home that morning and started writing fiction for the first time in more than twenty years. As a teenager, I’d written for fun, and even tried, unsuccessfully, to sell an historical novel. Now, with several free hours a day, I wanted to try again with everything I’d learned as a journalist and a person.
I didn’t know then how much I still had to learn.
That first book, a mystery set at a Vermont radio station, featuring a young, single woman – think Stephanie Plum with moose, only not as good – didn’t sell. Neither did the next book. The third one did, but that was only half of the story.
While I was querying that third book (you may know it as the Ella Shane mystery, A FATAL FINALE) my husband was diagnosed with cancer. He was in remission by the time my agent sold it, and there was a brief period where it looked like everything was coming together.
Then came Covid.
And suddenly, my fun little escape project became a lifeline.
During the run-up to publication, I had enough time to work on other things, including a new version of that Vermont mystery. This time, the main character was a grownup and a mother, but the place was the same. A warm, wonderful, safe little town with a diverse cast of people who borrowed from my colleagues.
The first Vermont book was done when the lockdown hit, but I was working on the sequel. And as that short lockdown wore into months and more than a year of virtual school, that little town became my happy place.
I’d sit on the couch in the basement office we’d fitted out as a schoolroom, keeping an eye on my son’s virtual fifth grade, first finishing the second book, and then writing short stories.
The work saved me.
Even as the real world fell apart around us, I was able to return to my happy place whenever I opened my laptop.
Not just that, I learned a new form, short stories. Initially, I wrote one for my Sisters in Crime chapter anthology. I wrote it only to be supportive and assumed it would be rejected. Turned out I loved writing it, and it was accepted.
Soon, I was writing short stories set in the world of the Vermont book and enjoying both the pleasure of hanging out in my happy place, and the satisfaction of producing a finished piece of work in a short time.
Relishing the challenge of creating a good story in a small space.
Exploring the world of my characters for story ideas.
But growth as a writer, too.
These days, as we settle back into whatever life looks like after the pandemic, we’re starting to forget how hard it was to stay focused and sane during the height of it. Writing, and particularly writing Vermont stories, pulled me out of the anxiety and kept me moving forward – even if I didn’t know what was out there.
The first Vermont book, and many of the stories are out in the world now. And so am I – a better writer, and a more focused professional. I hope, too, a much more aware and understanding person.
Kathleen Marple Kalb describes herself as an Author/Anchor/Mom…not in that order. An award-winning weekend anchor at 1010 WINS Radio in New York, she writes short stories and novels, including the Ella Shane Historical Mysteries for Kensington and, as Nikki Knight, LIVE, LOCAL, AND DEAD, a Vermont Radio Mystery from Crooked Lane. Her stories are in several anthologies, and she was a 2022 Derringer Award finalist. She, her husband, and son live in a Connecticut house owned by their cat.
Are you a writer who’d like to contribute to this series? Leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!