Tilda Harper Interviews Toni

“Where is Toni L.P. Kelner Now?”

transcript of an interview by Tilda Harper
(protagonist of Without Mercy)

Tilda Harper:  Thanks for seeing me.

Toni L.P. Kelner: My pleasure. Though I’m not sure why you wanted to talk to me. I thought your specialty is “where are they now?” articles.

Tilda: That’s right.

Toni: I haven’t gone anywhere.

Tilda: According to my research, your last novel was Wed and Buried, which came out in 2003. Making it five years between that book and Without Mercy.

Toni: Yeah, but I’ve been writing other things. I was nominated for an Anthony and a Macavity for one short story, and got an Anthony nomination and Agatha win for another.

Tilda: My editor promised me a cover for this one, but only if it’s a “where are they now?” piece.

Toni: Pause. In that case, may I say that it’s been a long, hard road back?

Tilda: Good quote. Let’s start with some background info. Family, education, and so forth.

Toni: I was born in Pensacola, FL, and have three older sisters. When I was 12, the family moved back to North Carolina–

Tilda: Back?

Toni: My parents were originally from North Carolina, and two of my sisters were born there. So when an job opportunity came for my father in Charlotte, we took it. After high school, I attended the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English. Cum laude.

Tilda: Yawning. Fascinating. When did you start writing?

Toni: Apart from some early forays—a retelling of Thumbelina that was totally devoid of originality—I started writing in junior high school. I got my first rejection slips in high school.

Tilda: Don’t tell me–you were on the student literary magazine and a teacher told you that you should try to get published.

Toni: Not hardly. The literary magazine wasn’t interested in genre, and I was writing science fiction and fantasy.

Tilda: Searching through her notes. I thought you wrote mysteries.

Toni: I do, now. Back then I was writing science fiction and fantasy, really bad science fiction and fantasy. But it’s what I loved.

Tilda: So no literary magazine?

Toni: Nope, but I did get a fair amount of writing experience. I was features editor at my college newspaper, and also interned at the university public information office. When I graduated, I went into technical writing and published a few small things. Limericks, mostly.

Tilda: When did you switch to mystery?

Toni: It was after I’d moved up to Massachusetts to be closer to my boyfriend. He was in college up here, and I married him about a year later.

Tilda: Was it a big change, coming to Massachusetts?

Toni: Serious culture shock. I think it was homesickness that inspired me to start writing a character sketch about a Southerner in Massachusetts. That character became Laura Fleming for my first book, Down Home Murder.

Tilda: Which you followed with seven more?

Toni: Nods. Betwixt and between the books, I left my day job and had two daughters.

Tilda: But after the eighth book, it all went sour? Your publisher dumped you?

Toni: Actually, it was kind of a mutual decision. I wanted to write something new, and–

Tilda: My editor loves it when things go sour.

Toni: Right. Being ignominiously dropped by my publisher was perhaps the most traumatic event I’ve ever endured.

Tilda: Maybe not that sour.

Toni: Sorry. How about this? Parting ways with a publisher is always difficult.

Tilda: Better.

Toni: But I swear, I really was ready to write something new.

Tilda: Yeah, yeah, that’s what they all say. So tell me about what you’re working on now.

Toni: I’m going in three directions at once. First off, there’s Without Mercy, featuring a freelance entertainment writer who specializes in “where are they now?” articles. Tilda Harper is the protagonist–

Tilda: Great name.

Toni: Um, yeah. In Without Mercy, a murderer is killing the cast members of “Kissing Cousins,” a seventies sitcom that was kind of a cross between “The Brady Bunch” and “The Addams Family.” One of the cast members has never been located, and Tilda is trying to get to her before the killer can.

Tilda: I always liked “Kissing Cousins.”

Toni: No kidding? Without Mercy came out from Five Star in January, and we’re in negotiations to bring out a paperback reprint and then continue the series as paperback originals.

Tilda: You mentioned three directions.

Toni: The second is the series of urban fantasy anthologies I’m co-editing with Charlaine Harris. Many Bloody Returns was the first, and focused on vampire birthdays. It was released in September of 2007, and made it to the New York Times Best Seller List.

Tilda: Yeah, I noticed that on your press release. Several times. In color. Gonna put it on your license plate next?

Toni: I like the way you think. Charlaine and I are just finishing up with the next book. Wolfsbane and Mistletoe brings together werewolves and Christmas.

Tilda: Nothing says Christmas to me like a rampaging beast.

Toni: Haven’t you ever gone shopping the day after Thanksgiving?

Tilda: Good point.

Toni: It’s coming out in October of this year, just in time for Christmas.

Tilda: That’s two directions.

Toni: The third is continuing to write short stories, which I really enjoy. I’ve been nominated for several awards for short fiction, and my story “Sleeping With the Plush” won an Agatha Award.

Tilda: That was on the press release right next to the best seller stuff. If you’ve got two cars, you could see about that on another plate.

Toni: Hmm… Anyway, my story “Skull and Cross-Examinations” was in the February issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and “Kangaroo Court” is scheduled for the May Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. Plus I had “How Stella Got Her Grave Back” in Many Bloody Returns, and will have “Keeping Watch Over His Flock” in Wolfsbane and Mistletoe.

Tilda: Sounds as if you’ve got a lot going on.

Toni: I’m keeping busy.

Tilda: What about your personal life?

Toni: I’m still married to the guy I followed up to Massachusetts: Stephen Kelner. He’s a writer, too, and has published some fiction and the nonfiction book Motivate Your Writing! Our twentieth anniversary is this year.

Tilda: Kids?

Toni: Two daughters: Maggie and Valerie. They’re big gamers, and science fiction and fantasy fans.

Tilda: Cute. Baby geeks. Pets?

Toni: Two guinea pigs. Hershey, named by Valerie for the brown splotch on her nose, and Tama, named by Maggie for no reason that we can determine.

Tilda: Hobbies?

Toni: Hobbies? You don’t have kids, do you?

Tilda: Looks blank.

Toni: I’m a member of several writers’ organizations: American Crime Writers League, Femmes Fatales, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime. And I play Neopets more than I should.

Tilda: Looks through notes. I think that’s all I’ve got. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Toni: How does your editor like to end interviews?

Tilda: She’s big on inspirational endings. What have you got for inspiring other writers?

Toni: Did you ever see Galaxy Quest? That’s got some of the best writing advice ever: Never give up, never surrender!


Updates to “Where is Toni L.P. Kelner Now?”

transcript of an interview by Tilda Harper
(protagonist of Curse of the Kissing Cousins)

Tilda Harper: This is Tilda Harper, returning your call.

Toni L.P. Kelner: Tilda! Good to hear your voice again.

Tilda: Beat. Do I know you?

Toni: You interviewed me? About my books?

Tilda: Um. Right.

Toni: I thought your readers would want an update. A lot’s been going on.

Tilda: Keyboard noises. Okay, now I remember. Mystery author. Why am I talking to you again?

Toni: Updates?

Tilda: Okay, whatever. Shoot.

Toni: First, off, you’re no longer the protagonist of Without Mercy.

Tilda: Look, I’m sorry I didn’t recognize your name. I do a lot of interviews.

Toni: No, it’s not that. My editor at Berkley Prime Crime, the amazingly talented Ginjer Buchanan–

Tilda: Cough that sounds just like the phrase “suck-up.” Excuse me. Go on.

Toni: My editor wanted to change it. They’d recently published another book called Without Mercy, and don’t want to confuse the two books. So mine is coming out in paperback as Curse of the Kissing Cousins.

Tilda: Hey! You stole that title from my article.

Toni: Just a coincidence.

Tilda: Anything else?

Toni: Lots!

Tilda: I’m thrilled.

Toni: Wolfsbane and Mistletoe, the werewolf Christmas anthology I co-edited with Charlaine Harris, debuted on the New York Times Best Seller List! It was also on the best seller list for Locus. The trade paperback of our first anthology, Many Bloody Returns, was released in February, and was on the NYT list, too.

Tilda: Moderately interesting. What else?

Toni: I’ve just handed in Who Killed the Pinup Queen, the next book in the “Where are they now?” series.

Tilda: At least you didn’t steal my title this time.

Toni: I told you it was just a coincidence. Beside, it was my editor’s idea.

Tilda: Editors! Say no more.

Toni: Now Charlaine and I are working on Death’s Excellent Vacation, which is an another about supernatural beings on vacation. It’ll be out next summer.

Tilda: Got it. Well, this has been fun, but–

Toni: I’m not done yet. I’ve also got some short pieces coming out this year. I had an essay about Fredric Brown in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, my pirate mystery “The Pirate’s Debt” will be in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and “A Good Man Feeling Bad” will be in Carolyn Haine’s anthology Delta Blues, published by Bleak House.

Tilda: Beat.

Toni: I think that’s it.

Tilda: Good.

Toni: No, wait! I’ll have a German edition of Wolfsbane and Mistletoe, an Italian translation of Curse of the Kissing Cousins, and a large print edition of Mad as the Dickens.

Tilda: Are you done now?

Toni: I thought your readers would want an update. A lot’s been going on.

Tilda: Well, this has been fun, more or less.

Toni: Shall I let you know next time I’ve got news?

Tilda: Do I have a choice?


More Updates to “Where is Toni L.P. Kelner Now?”

transcript of an interview by Tilda Harper
(protagonist of Blast from the Past)

Tilda Harper: Tilda.

Toni L.P. Kelner: Hey, Tilda. Ready for a blast from the past?

Tilda: Beat.

Toni: It’s Toni.

Tilda: Beat.

Toni: Toni Kelner.

Tilda: Beat.

Toni: Toni L.P. Kelner, author of the novels in which you appear?

Tilda: Heavy sigh. New book?

Toni: And it’s called Blast from the Past. Hence the joke.

Tilda: Hence the uproarious laughter. Okay, give me what you’ve got, and I’ll see if I can scrape an article out of it.

Toni: Awesome. First off, there’s Blast from the Past, which is the third “Where are they now?” book. It’s all about movie making and the black-and-white comic book movement of the eighties and kids’ TV shows. And there’s a mystery, of course.

Tilda: Of course.

Toni: Oh, and it’s a Cape Cod setting. Not in a real town, of course–it’s a fictional version of Chatham.

Tilda: Great. Maybe I can sell it to a fictional paper. Thanks for the scoop. I’ll get right on it.

Toni: No, wait, I’ve got other stuff, too.

Tilda: Naturally.

Toni: This past year, I had two noir stories come out: “A Man Feeling Bad” in Delta Blues, edited by Carolyn Haines, and “Kids Today” in Damn Near Dead 2: Live Noir or Die Trying, edited by Bill Crider. And on the urban fantasy side, I’ve got “Taking the Long View” in Crimes by Moonlight, the MWA anthology edited by Charlaine Harris, and “Pirate Dave’s Haunted Amusement Park” in Death’s Excellent Vacation, edited by Charlaine and me. Did you get all that?

Tilda: Oh, yeah, I got as much as I need.

Toni: Speaking of Death’s Excellent Vacation

Tilda: I felt sure you would.

Toni: It debuted at #8 on the New York Times Best Seller List!

Tilda: Yeah? Okay, that might be worth writing about.

Toni: I knew you’d be excited.

Tilda: I wouldn’t go that far.

Toni: Anyway, those are the high points. There are some audio releases, and translations, and large print editions… But you can get those off the web site.

Tilda: Yeah, I’ll go check on that right now.

Toni: And next up will be Home Improvement: Undead Edition, which is Charlaine’s and my next anthology.

Tilda: Don’t tell me. It’s about home improvement. For the undead.

Toni: For all kind of paranormal folks, actually: vampires, demons, ghosts, even a zombie.

Tilda: Sounds fascinating. Can I get some real work done now?

Toni: You bet. I’ll be in touch.

Tilda: That’s what I was afraid of.


Even More Updates to “Where is Toni L.P. Kelner Now?”

transcript of an interview by Tilda Harper
(protagonist of the “Where are they now?” series)

Tilda Harper: Tilda.

Toni L.P. Kelner: Hey, Tilda. This is Toni Kelner and Leigh Perry.

Tilda: Did we have a conference call scheduled.

Toni: No, it’s just me. Leigh Perry is my new pen name. But don’t worry. I’ll still be Toni L.P. Kelner for anthologies and maybe short stories.

Tilda: I wasn’t worried.

Toni: Ready for the update of what Toni’s been up to.

Tilda: Only if you stop referring to yourself in the third person.

Toni: Oh, sorry. This pen name thing is new to me. Okay, I’ve got a new anthology coming out in April 2014. It’s Games Creatures Play, co-edited with Charlaine Harris.

Tilda: Her I’ve heard of.

Toni: Who hasn’t? What else…? Oh, the Laura Fleming books are now out as audio books, and I’ll be bringing them out as ebooks.

Tilda: Sure you’re willing to try the new-fangled electronic book stuff. It’ll never last.

Toni: Is it my fault the technology didn’t exist when I published the books. But you’ll be excited about this next part. The “Where are they now?” books are available as audio books, too!

Tilda: You overestimate my capacity for excitement.

Toni: Huh. I thought you’d be interested, in that those are the books you come from. You want to hear about Leigh Perry’s Family Skeleton series instead? I mean, my series, published under that name.

Tilda: Yeah, no. Why don’t you just send people to her site?

Toni: Sure, I can do that: www.leighperryauthor.com. Maybe you can interview Leigh on that site.

Tilda: A fictional character interviewing a fictional author? I’ll pass–that’s way too meta for me.

Toni: Beat. Um, okay. Anyway, it was great talking to you. I’ll be in touch about my next project as me.

Tilda: I. Am. Thrilled.