Golden Heart Spotlight – J. Keely Thrall

J. Keely Thrall writes paranormal romance in the shadows of the Washington National Cathedral. She is the current president of the Washington Romance Writers, the local chapter of Romance Writers of America serving DC, Northern Virginia and Maryland writers. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a degree in American History and Italian Language and received an MFA from American University in Film and Electronic Media. She’s bounced around career-wise with stints as a producer, substitute teacher, office temp, secretary, Mary Kay Beauty Consultant (don’t laugh!), and proofreader. At one time, this flitting from job to job caused her concern until Mary Jo Putney spelled it out in a lecture: the work history of writers is often littered with attempts to fit into a “real” job. Greatly reassured, Keely now stopped worrying and learned to love the bomb. Well, stopped worrying at any rate. She’s still pretty anti-bombs.

Keely won the FFP chapter’s On the Far Side contest in the General Paranormal category in 2008 with Honor Bound, her Golden Heart manuscript. To learn more about Keely, visit her blog.

HONOR BOUND finaled in the paranormal category of the Golden Heart:

An elf walks into a bar and all hell breaks loose.”

King’s Garda Detective Della Fiore has raised following the rule book to an art form. Bartender Joe Tracker has always been a rolling-stone-gathers-no-moss kind of werewolf. Della believes there are good guys and bad guys and not much gray in between. Joe believes in hanging loose, playing the field, and feeling groovy. She thinks hunting down the person who stabbed and nearly killed her foster brother is the right thing to do. He thinks any course of action that might end in his new-found mate’s death sucks the big one. He’s just not into wooing a corpse.

What begins as an uneasy partnership grows into something deeper as Della and Joe search for the reason behind the attempted murder and find more than they bargained for. Something evil is afoot in King City and it’s just beginning to play.

It’s great to have Keely here today! Here’s a little more about this paranormal author: 

1)     How long have you been writing?
I’ve been writing off and on most of my life. I’ve been a member of RWA and WRW for 10 years, but it has only been since the creation of my current CG that I’ve become more focused on publication and working toward a viable career as an author.

2)     Did you always want to be an author or is this something you fell into later in life?
The first time I realized I wanted to be an author was as a teenager. I’d finally read enough books so I could differentiate between, “wow, fantastic, must read this again right now!” and “wow, this book sucked dookie, I could write better than this.”

 3)     What do you do in your “other” life? (Day job, family, etc.)
I’m an executive assistant in a small, dynamic religious organization. I’m “unchurched” myself, but I thoroughly enjoy my job at Church House – my coworkers are like family which makes spending 40 or so hours a week with them no hardship.

4)     Who are your favorite authors?
Hard, hard questions to answer, there are soooo many favorites. I’m a big paranormal reader so Patricia Briggs, Charlaine Harris, this year Rita Nominee Eileen Wilks are auto-buys. Lois McMaster Bujold, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Agatha Christie (she knew evil), Dorothy Sayers, Dick Francis. Carla Kelly, Mary Balogh, Jo Beverly. Jennifer Crusie, Kristan Higgins, and, and, and…where do I end it???

5)     Do you have an agent?
Not as yet. Working on it though!

6)     Where do you see yourself in five years?
I see myself writing full time, possibly with a part-time job to get me out in the world (unlike a lot of writers, I’m an extrovert. I need to balance my alone time with regular people interaction). Fingers crossed, I also see myself with a fabulous new kitchen that I can point to and say, “I made that happen because of my writing!”

And now, in Keely’s own words…


Stories that have had an impact on my life…

 “The Girl Who Would Rather Climb Trees” by Miriam Schlein

 I think the title says it all, really. This was a perfect book for a tomboy who didn’t much like to read, didn’t like wearing dresses, didn’t love her “dolly” and spent much of each summer in the arms of a big maple tree, hidden from the world behind a veil of sun soaked green leaves. My imagination took flight – I would believe it if someone told me the idea for “green screen” movie technology had been thought up by a person who’d spent his/her time the same way.

 “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card

 A story that keeps on giving. This book was one of the first science fiction stories I read and I completely bought into the world. I believed these little kids could go to war school and save the world by basically playing video games. That’s a gross simplification. The character of Ender Wiggin is so finely drawn you feel you are this genius, empathetic, unwanted child who is forced to do horrible things to survive. I re-read this book every few years. It’s a classic.

“Washington Square” by Henry James

Yawn. Barf. I studied in Italy for a semester where there was a real dearth of English language books. I picked up a copy of this nauseating story and got through about 4/5s of it before realizing that I just didn’t care. I didn’t care about the heroine. I didn’t care about the villains. I admit to feeling the same way about Jane Eyre and Rebecca and Sister Carrie and ESPECIALLY Madame Bovery. Please, women, grow some damned backbone. <<shudder>> I think it was after this reading mishap that I realized I didn’t need to “read the classics” to feel like a well educated human being. I’d rather enjoy myself than slog through stories where nobody wins or where I think the victory is hollow.

“Lord Richard’s Daughter” by Joan Wolf and a Harlequin Presents by Violet Winspear

Cannot remember the title of the Violet Winspear, but these two stories were the very first romances I ever read. I was on summer vacation in the middle of nowhere Michigan and had read everything in the cottage. I went down to the IGA and in one of those squeaky metal racks that spin around and around, I met my destiny and it said: Thou shalt love romance. And I obeyed. Interestingly to me, I’ve continued to read widely in the genre from historical to Presents to romantic suspense to paranormal. I wonder if I’d bought two Regencies or two Presents whether the road I’ve traveled would be quite so broad and all encompassing? I love thinking about roads not taken. There are always stories there waiting to be uncovered.

“Honor Bound” by…me

Okay, this is a bit of a cheat. It’s not that I think my book will be life changing for others. It’s that it has been life changing for me. It’s the first story I ever completed and it made it to the final round of the Golden Heart. That’s an accomplishment I will always get to savor, regardless of what transpires on July 31st. This crack at finishing the WIP was all about a fantastic critique group, a reinvigorated sense of purpose, and a dedication to putting in the hours to make it to THE END. I’m proud of that.

What are the books that have gotten you through life? Are there any that were so bad you immediately took up your pen and started to write? Any that have been so good you stopped writing for awhile? Do you tend to read more in one genre, more of one gender, more that will generate a specific emotion from you? What’s on your keep shelf?

15 comments to “Golden Heart Spotlight – J. Keely Thrall”

  1. Lavinia
    May 27th, 2010 at 7:48 am · Link

    I didn’t read Ender’s Game until my son had to read it for school. It’s become one of my favorite books since then because it’s so great for discussion — with everyone. I am alway surprised by how many grocery store clerks will tell me it’s their favorite book ever. Always a great fall back when looking for conversation — and a great book.

    My kids just bought the graphic novel of it, so now even my youngest has read it (sort of).

  2. Keli Gwyn
    May 27th, 2010 at 7:58 am · Link

    Keely, it’s great to learn more about you and your writing journey. I love that you give back to the writing community. I look forward to meeting you in Orlando.

    If I had to pick one novel that changed my life, I’d say Little Women. I have a tear-stained unabridged hardback copy I paid ten dollars for some 35 years ago, which was my life savings when I was a young teen. I loved reading about Jo’s struggle to become a published author, which was what I wanted be when I grew up. I sobbed when Beth died, but I wept nearly as much when Professor Bhaer handed Jo the copy of her debut novel. I dreamed of the day I’ll have that experience. In fact, I’m still dreaming. 😀

  3. Hope Ramsay
    May 27th, 2010 at 8:20 am · Link


    I love Ender’s Game. Read it many, many years ago. And sometimes when I read issue blogs on the internet today, I think about the sequel to it called Speaker of the Dead.

    As for books that changed my life. There are two.

    To “Kill A Mockingbird” is the first one. I read this in 8th Grade and I so identified with the character of Scout that the book spoke directly into my heart. I used to spend my summers in a small Southern town during the late 1950s and early 1960s. I completely related to the situation and the young protagonist in that book. I’ve read it dozens of times since and it never gets old. And, of course, I would put Gregory Peck’s performance as Atticus Finch in the movie as one of the best performances in the history of film.

    The second book is one that you hate. I read Jane Eyre when I was in 7th Grade. I didn’t read it because it was required. I read it because my aunt put it in my hands and told me I needed to read a girly book. (You see at the time I was working my way through the complete works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, from Tarzan to John Carter, Warlord of Mars). And even though there was a pretty hot love story between John Carter and Deja Thorus, Princess of the Red Race of Mars, that love story was told from the male point of view. Jane Eyre was told from the heroine’s view point and my aunt was right. I would disagree with you about whether Jane was a strong woman or not. To me, she was incredibly strong and brave given her circumstances and experiences. But that’s why there is a big world full of many, many books to choose from.

  4. Keely Thrall
    May 27th, 2010 at 8:34 am · Link

    Have you read Jane Eyre since then, Hope? Has it remained a go-to story for you? I’d be interested to know. I read it in HS and I should probably read it again (or at least try) just to see if I have the same reaction!!

  5. Linda Lovely
    May 27th, 2010 at 9:09 am · Link


    Great post. I laughed when I read your reaction to Washington Square and your thoughts about “classics.” It reminded me of a conversation with a neighbor–a book snob. She will lower herself to read fiction only if it’s depressing. Mysteries, paranormals, romance–basically all genre books are in her view a waste of time. I couldn’t disagree more. Humorous romps like Carl Hiaasen’s books can tackle serious subjects, and fast-paced reads from J.D. Robb, Robert Parker, Susan Isaacs, and other mass market authors often make you think about relationships and what matters most in life. I’m with you. I read for laughter and thrills with a side of “deep” insight. Looking forward to meeting you in Orlando.

  6. Yvonne
    May 27th, 2010 at 9:13 am · Link

    My favorite book on your list is “Honor Bound”. 🙂

    Because finishing that first book IS life-changing! And so is finaling in the GH.

    But it’s also my favorite because I’ve read a chunk of it and am in love with Joe . . .

  7. Kimberly MacCarron
    May 27th, 2010 at 10:27 am · Link

    It was great to read about your writing journey, and I look forward to meeting you in Orlando. I also live in the DC area, so our journey will be just about the same. 🙂
    As for books that changed my life….When I was in junior high school, I read Silas Marner, and I loved it. I don’t know whether it would be as engaging to me now as an adult, but I loved the friendship between the young girl and the old man and how the story dealt with betrayals and hurt yet ended on a note of hope and happiness. Yeah…I’m a happily-ever-after kind of reader.
    As an adult, I think my life-altering book would be The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. What a book about dogged determination, overcoming dysfunction, learning what it is to be loyal to family in spite of faults….Wow. I can’t tell you how much I loved this book. I think her memoir moved me so much because she never wrote her story in that “Woe is me” type of voice you hear so often nowadays. Talk about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and then lifting up the people around you, too.
    I could name a thousand other books…Gone with the Wind, being another…but when I think about life-changing books, they all kind of swirl around in this nutty head of mine, and I just love them all. Even the ones I hated at least taught me something. I’ve never abandoned a book, although sometimes I wish I had. LOL.
    I look forward to meeting you!
    I’m a finalist for Young Adult.
    Kimberly MacCarron

  8. Gabrielle
    May 27th, 2010 at 3:42 pm · Link

    Keely, I *love* what you said about not wasting your time and women getting backbones–I feel exactly the same way! (And Hope, what you said about Gregory Peck playing Atticus Finch…sigh)

    Books that have changed my life: many, many, many, but the main one was Arthur Schlesinger’s “Robert Kennedy and His Times.” Whenever I feel despondent, I pick up that book, and Kennedy’s fierce determination and deep compassion buoys me. Even though it makes me bawl every time I read it, especially when his pallbearers get lost in the darkness of Arlington and one quips they can hear RFK saying “Damn it. If you fellows put me down, I’ll show you the way,” it’s also cathartic. It shows me the way.

  9. Hope Ramsay
    May 27th, 2010 at 5:37 pm · Link


    I read it every five or six years or so. It never fails to move me, especially the beginning where Jane is treated so badly by her aunt and then shipped off to that horrible school. I cry every time. When I read Jane Eyre, I had to read every other book by every other Bronte sister. I really dislike Wuthering Heights. But there are several books by Anne Bronte that were very good. My favorite was the Tenant of Wildfield Hall. You should give it another try. I have to admit that the first time I tried to read Pride and Prejudice I hated it. I had to grow up. I didn’t read that book again until I was in my 40s.

  10. Elisa Beatty
    May 27th, 2010 at 9:02 pm · Link

    Great interview, Keely–it’s fun to learn more about you!

    Like Hope, I’m a huge Jane Eyre fan (and I wasn’t caught up in Ender’s Game, sorry…though I read it in adulthood after about a gazillion of my students told it was THE BEST BOOK EVER, and that was probably not the best set-up for it). Anyhow, I think Jane’s a tough, tough girl… I’ve read that novel many times in adulthood, and love the strange, intense, furious, often hilarious viewpoint, and the awesome romance with Rochester: two weird, difficult, stubborn people who really do belong together. (There’s a LOT of humor in the book; if you read it too young, you can miss that, and not recognize Jane’s ironic turn of mind, which is a big part of her strength.) Perhaps give it another try????

    Another book that was life-changing for me was Watership Down…I read it over and over from sixth grade til I left home for college. It’s a great story, beautifully told, but I think it was the first book that I recognized as an artwork. I remember being awestruck that the first line and last line echo one another.

  11. Lynda Bailey
    May 28th, 2010 at 5:27 am · Link

    Love your journey, Keely!
    Books that have influenced me? Growing up, I loved–and still love–Shakespeare, especially Romeo and Juliet. Have his entire collection of tragedies, comedies and sonnets on my shelf. Love the historicals by Jill Barnett and Lorraine Heath. Still have their books with me as well.
    Can’t wait to meet you in Orlando!

  12. Keely Thrall
    May 28th, 2010 at 12:08 pm · Link

    Thanks for posting, everyone! I will definitely take up Jane Eyre and give her another try. At critique group last night, Yvonne had an interesting take on Jane being the one to manipulate Rochester into just what she wanted. I suspect I really was too young to appreciate it.

    Elisa – I’m sorry Ender’s Game didn’t do it for you. I feel the same way about Rebel Without a Cause (the movie). I think I didn’t watch it at the right age so the angsty teenage rebellion thing didn’t ring true to me. But Ender’s isolation and unlikely heroism still flip by bic.

    And Linda – yes, yes, yes – the folks who dismiss genre fiction, I just don’t get. Does a book really have to be depressing or “serious” or un”pop”ular to make it resonate with the human condition? A pox on the houses who think that way (er, my nod to Shakespeare…). Gimme a laugh with my lesson any day!

    Keli – one last comment before I hit “post” – Jo is one of the most spine-filled heroines in literature and I enjoy spending time with her in every incarnation be it book or movie. She’s a keeper and a role-model – and a writer. A triple threat. Woot!

  13. Erica O'Rourke
    May 28th, 2010 at 12:30 pm · Link

    Oh…so many books to choose from!

    A Wrinkle In Time is one of my favorite books, but my love spans the entire series. There is something for everyone — family dynamics and coming of age and a bit of romance and some sci-fi elements, and threading through all of it is this notion that our flaws and quirks and eccentricities can be a source of strength, which is a wonderful, reassuring, powerful thing for a kid to realize. I must have been about nine when I first read the book, and I still have that battered, yellowed copy, which I’ve reread countless times since then.

  14. Misha Crews
    May 28th, 2010 at 3:24 pm · Link

    Hi Keely!

    Oooh, a book “so good you stopped writing for a while.” That struck a chord! I felt that way when I read “Scandalous Risks” by Susan Howatch. Her style seems completely effortless, and the way she evokes whatever decade she’s writing about (in this case, the early ’60s) made me think “Forget it, I’ll never write like that!” LOL. (I couldn’t stay away from writing, of course: once we start we can’t stop!)

    Other books that I’ve gone back to time and again: everything by Agatha Christie, Lawrence Block and Victoria Holt. Also “Merlin’s Keep” by Madeleine Brent and “Through a Glass, Darkly ” by Karleen Koen. And although I’m not a huge fan of Anne Rice, I’ve read and re-read “The Witching Hour” many times through the years!

    Keely, big-time congrats on finalling in the Golden Heart! I can’t wait to read your book. 🙂

    See you on June 5th at the WRW meeting!


  15. Sharon Lynn Fisher
    May 29th, 2010 at 4:39 pm · Link

    I have to stick up for Jane too. 🙂 That book was my gateway to the classics, which up to that point didn’t interest me at all. I also read Watership Down seven times — LOVED that book and it had a huge influence on me. I read A Wrinkle in Time thirteen times — loved the sci-fi/fantasy element and the strong family bonds.

    I can SO identify with those books that make you quit writing for a while. Writing for publication has in some ways ruined reading for me. It’s still as necessary to me as breathing, but I find there’s a level of stress associated with it that was never there before. I’m either picking a book apart, or thinking I’ll never write anything that good.

    I enjoyed learning more about you, Keely, and congratulations on your final!

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