Mary Keliikoa

Mystery & Suspense Author

Author: admin (page 1 of 3)

No Straight Lines

I began writing again in June of 2016, after a hiatus that began in 2000 to start a couple of businesses. As I entered the new world of what it meant to be a writer and published author in the new Millennia, I joined Twitter. That’s when I first saw a tweet about an upcoming contest called Pitch Wars.

Excited to dive back into writing, I whipped out my novel that I had drafted in 1999, and began revising to get it ready to submit in August 2016. Soon after, I was notified by Kellye Garrett and Sarah Henning that I was chosen as their mentee. Beyond excited, scared to death, and wondering what the hell I’d done to myself, I dove into intense edits with my mentors of what is now called Derailed. (The original title was the first to go when Kellye and Sarah sent their edit letter.)

When agent rounds came, I was excited to have four requests. One of those requesters was Michelle Richter. I’d like to say it was a quick and happy ending. It wasn’t. I received rejections from two of the four agents fairly quick. In the meantime, I queried. Over 100 times—I’ve lost count on the exact number. I had several requests for the full manuscript, but the rejections piled up.

Learning is a process. We absorb as much as we can at one point, and sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error (or crash and burn) to realize there’s more to learn. It was about that time where I was seeking to learn more of my craft when I received a letter from Michelle.

Michelle rejected my manuscript, but she also provided a detailed account of why. She pointed out things that worked, and things she wished she’d seen more and less of. She even offered to take another look if I was willing to make the changes. For those in querying land, these kinds of letters are rare, and are gold. For the first time I understood the direction I needed to go and what I needed to learn to make that happen.

That’s where Jennie Nash comes in. She runs a company where she employs editors and book coaches. I’d met Jennie prior to Pitch Wars, and when I needed an editor/coach for this major revision, she’s who I contacted. She teamed me with Kate Pickford, who challenged some elements of my story. I provided her with Michelle’s letter. Together we ripped the book a part, and put it back together making sure cause and effect trajectory was solidly in place. Instead of taking workshop classes and webinars, I was getting weekly feedback on my progress, and knew right away whether my words and pages worked or didn’t.

By August 10, 2017, I had a polished novel again, and I sent it back out to Michelle, along with a few other agents that had agreed to look at a revision. In 6 weeks, I had an offer and by the end, five offers of representation on the table.

Deciding who to choose was not easy, and made for a few sleepless nights. Until I realized, I couldn’t get it wrong. Every agent that offered representation was solid, reputable, and the nicest people to talk to. But at the end, I went back to the person who had provided me a road map. Michelle had seen something in my writing, and took the time to shine a light on what was missing. And I knew that was the person I would want to have by my side to navigate not only this book, but my future ones as well.

Sometimes the roads are straight and easy. Sometimes there are so many twists and turns, it makes your head spin. But there are a few things that are instrumental in all of this. Don’t give up. Be open to making changes. Be open to being rejected and failure. To starting over. And find people to support you. The Pitch Wars community was a God send. I have found good friends, CP partners, advocates, and kindred spirits. When the days feel long and lonely, and I don’t know which direction to go, I do a shout out on the Facebook page and say, anyone here and want to write. There’s always an “I’m here.”

So here’s to the next part of my adventure. I don’t know what it will bring, or whether the path will straighten out or there will be more twists and turns. But I do know I’m ready. Let’s do this.

A Race to Finish

Sometimes I find it hard to put into words exactly what’s going on in my head. Seems contrary to the way it should be since I tout myself as a writer. But with everything going on around me these days, and having a natural tendency to be an introvert, expressing my thoughts has been doubly hard.

With the political climate, the Columbia Gorge burning down, and the series of hurricanes coming ashore, it feels that there are more important things to talk about. But I woke up this morning thinking I had it wrong. That during these stressful times, that’s exactly when to change the conversation. Or at least to add something else to it. To lighten it up, and to make it about something other than the reality we’re facing.

In that vein, I’m going to tell you about my race. Three weeks ago, along with eleven other women, we traversed 130 miles from Portland to Seaside, Oregon, relay style. I’ve done the charity event before, and swore I would never do it again. So much for resolve. I was walker number 2.

And I’m glad I ignored my nay-saying self and got my butt in that van for the 34 hours that it took to complete the race. I wasn’t in the best of shape I’ve ever been in, and a part of me didn’t think I could get it done. But done I did. I had a goal of 15-minute miles, and I came in on both legs at closer to 14 minutes. I had the comradery of being with five other women in my van, and the chance to cheer them on. At the end, the 12 members of Sassy Chassis crossed the finish line together.  All and all, a wonderful experience. Did I mention yet I’ve already signed up for next year?

The event kickstarted my exercise regimen. Where before I drug myself out for a walk, now I know I have no excuses. I walked to the coast after all. Telling myself I can’t put 45 minutes on a treadmill at 4 mph just doesn’t fly any more. I don’t believe my own B.S.

What I also found fun was how I applied my being a writer to the race. About 4 miles into my last leg, I was breaking it down in my head as a three-act storyline. I’d started out strong, let myself have a decent pace through the middle, and accelerated to the end. The thought kept me moving, and I passed 6 people on my way up a daunting hill and to my hand-off.

I guess the lesson is that you don’t stop. With everything going around us, it’s more important than ever to do the things we love. To believe in ourselves. To write the novels. To take the walks. To spend time with the people we enjoy most. There will always be political climates that are stressful. There will always be storms. And fires. And challenges. We can focus on them, or we can notice them, do our part, and keep moving. It’s all we’ve got.


P.S. Here are some photos of my race. What can you be doing to keep moving?






Signs at a Crossroad and Whispers of the Heart

The last couple of months have been interesting for me. I’ve been standing at some crossroads in my life. Right after I came back from Italy in May, I hit a writing wall. I’d been getting a few rejections (okay, more than a few), and I was plotting and writing Book 2 of my Kelly Pruett series. But I suddenly didn’t know where to go. I was waking up every day and wondering if I should just give up on Book 1, and do something else. I was doubting myself, and uncertain of whether I had what it takes to succeed. It challenged me every day. I was in a dark place.

In early June, I woke up wanting to attend a writer’s conference, in L.A. no less. People who truly know me, know this is not something I would normally do. My husband couldn’t go, and I would be flying off on my own, taking a taxi to my destination, and rooming with an acquaintance who I’d only met once. When I inquired about attending, the conference was completely booked. But suddenly there was one cancelation. I took that as an affirmative sign I was supposed to be in L.A., and I went for it.

It was a great weekend full of learning and networking. I ran into an agent that had reviewed my novel earlier in the year. When I told her I was editing the book based on some other agent feedback, she said she’d be happy to look at it again. It was the spark I needed to push on.

And pushing on I have been. Like a mad woman. I’ve doubled down on writing, and have been reworking Book 1 night and day. I’ve restructured, tightened, worked on cause and effect, trying to get the mystery just right, the clues in the correct spots, keeping the pace moving, and the action going. That’s why you haven’t heard from me in a while. It’s taken all I have emotionally to rip into this book. Every day I have faced my lack of self-confidence that I can pull it off. Every day I have stared down the imposter syndrome that I know what I’m doing. But I show up anyway. Despite the doubt, the thoughts that it’s hopeless, or that I won’t ever get it done. Because I am a writer. And when I stood at the crossroad in late May, I decided not to make any decisions. I decided to wait for the whisper of what to do next. And it did. In the form of that conference.

We all stand at crossroads in our lives. Each day, we must all decide to show up, or not. Show up in our lives, in our relationships, in our dreams. Wondering which direction to go. Sometimes just being willing to go with the inspirational thought or see the one sign makes us move and start progressing down the direction we are to proceed. I’m not sure there is a right or wrong way to move. It’s just a matter of what your heart whispers. And being willing to listen.

So, I’m writing every day and am happy to report that after taking that sign, I have just finished that major overhaul of my novel. And I did it, one step at a time.

In the end, the characters I write about in my books get up each day, solve the crimes, and face their fears. They don’t have any other choice. And neither do I.

What are the crossroads you face?


Roads Less Traveled

My grandmother has been on my mind this week. I lost her 28 years ago on June 4th. I remember the year well. It’s the year I met Robb, and I often wish they could have met. My grandmother would have gotten a kick out of my husband, and I know Robb would have loved the challenge of getting her to laugh.

She was born in the late 1800s, and was the youngest of 10 children. During the depression, she owned and operated the only mercantile store in a small town in Oregon. She and my grandfather farmed nearby. They had only one child, my mother, as my grandmother nearly died during childbirth. Soon after their 50th wedding anniversary, she lost my grandfather. It would be a few years later, but she would go on to have another loving relationship. She ballroom danced into her 80s, held pinochle parties (she and I were unstoppable partners), and while she had a rock hard exterior, she also had the warmest hugs, the biggest heart, and the sweetest smile. In her life, she often took the road that many would not expect a woman of her time to take.

Someone once asked what were the themes that I write about in my novels. “Murder mystery,” I’d replied at the time. But that wasn’t the question. Solving the mystery was the exercise of the book, something my main character achieves, but not the underlying theme. The journey that my characters undertook, not only to solve the crime, but how they changed from the beginning to the end is where the answer resided.

While there are many themes throughout my stories, one prevails. My characters traverse roads less traveled and do so with strong determination to do it their way. My private investigator struggles to step out from her father’s shadow and make a name for herself. My travel writer picks up the investigation her sister left off when she was murdered. Both are choices that throw my characters out of their comfort zones. Strong women, living on the edge, making choices that may seem edgy, but not out of character for the kick ass women I’ve created.

Which brings me back to my grandmother. At 4’11”, and 90 pounds all wet, she always did things her way, had a strong determination to get things done, and the ability to instill fear in us all if we tested her. She took her life in stride, created her own pathways, and came out ahead. She was a tough cookie. But I loved no one more than that little lady. And when I think back to people who influenced me, I would say she was top among the many.

We all have people that have blazed trails for us. Make us think different ways. Who we take after in some way or another. My grandmother is that woman for me, and the inspiration and the why in my writing that I am driven to explore the mysteries of those roads less traveled. Who was that person for you?


PS – The picture below is of my Grandma Ada Barry, and my step-grandfather Don. Her dance partner for 13 years.



When I sat down to write my newsletter this week, I struggled to find the topic. Having come back from Italy, I knew I wanted to tell you about my trip. Talking about the rich history, beautiful landscape, breathtaking art, phenomenal food, and the delectable coffee, would end up the length of a novella. And truth be told, you could open a book and read about much of those items from anyone. But I’m a writer and a seeker, and I search the layers for motivations. The why. So I didn’t want to talk about the visuals. I wanted to talk about what I really took away from this wonderful trip. And that was the importance of gaining a different perspective.

I won’t lie, the prospect of leaving my home to travel across the world, daunted me. But having returned, I truly believe everyone should make that journey. Maybe you don’t have to get on a plane and travel 15 hours one direction. It may be to another state. Or another town that doesn’t look anything like where you live now (although I will encourage that it be an entirely different country). The important aspect is to get out of your comfort zone and see the world through another’s eyes. Gain a different perspective. Appreciate the diversity. Seek for those similarities that unite us—not the differences that divide us.

Italy was full of those similarities. As a whole, they are a warm and generous people. They don’t like their government much, believe it’s corrupt, and wonder where their taxes go. They also have a major issue with immigrants coming in from their beaches and are looking to curtail that. Sound familiar? But they also savor the preciousness and fruits of life. I may never enjoy a better cup of coffee than those from Italy. For them, it is an art form. They believe in family and making time to be with them.  They believe in taking a couple of hours in the middle of the day to enjoy a good meal and connecting with friends. Explains why lunch and dinner can be three and four course meals. Connecting is important. Instead of bringing you the bill to move through the tables at a restaurant, you have to ask the waiter for that bill when you’re ready. They don’t want you to rush.

I also learned how I take communication for granted. I won’t ever look at another person struggling with my language the same. While I’ve never been an impatient person on this subject, I will strive a bit more to find a way to connect. I now know what it feels like not to be understood.

I think that’s what traveling abroad does for you. It allows you to look at life through another window besides your own. Appreciate what you have, but come away with a more colorful view of what’s beyond your own four walls. Makes one more compassionate and, for me, has added to my self-confidence to move outside my box. I don’t believe I’ll ever have the same anxiety about leaving the U.S. as I did before this trip.

Finally, as I sift through my vacation pictures, I’m reminded that to seek joy is as important as any other task we face in a day. Probably the most important. Without it, the world is a million shades of gray, and I’d much rather let the light in. Wouldn’t you?

My question: Where could you plan to go that would give your world view an entirely different perspective? And what’s stopping you?


P.S. Here are just a few of my favorite moments in Italy. Ciao.







A Traveling We Will Go

Ciao my friends. In exactly 13 days, my husband and I will be on a plane to Italy. I’m excited. But I’d be lying if I didn’t add feeling some trepidation as well. Other than a couple of quick stops in British Columbia and a jaunt to Mazatlán when I was 18, I’ve never traveled too far outside of the good old U.S.A.

I’m not sure what exactly makes me nervous. I fly all the time to Hawaii, so I know planes aren’t the issue. We are going with a group of 22, so there will be security in numbers. But I think the hardest part is simply stepping out of my comfort zone. I’m a girl that always likes to know where I’m going, and know the people around me. Somehow that makes me feel safe and sound. And like many, I get stuck in a routine.

But I’m finding as the years are passing, that as comforting as routine can be, it can be constricting. What once felt safe, now feels like a limitation. And I’m not content to play it safe or be limited anymore.

When I sold my retail stores well over a year ago, it triggered a desire in me to reach for that dream that whispered in my ear. To tell my stories. To broaden my circle of connection. It’s not always easy to put myself or my writing out on display. Or to talk about how things affect me. Or to travel places I’ve never been. But it feels worse not to. And that is the true measure of calling, and of passion. Fear or no fear—I’ve decided to heed the call.

Europe here we come. And of course, as a mystery writer, I’m already contemplating the plot of another book where the victim is touring Italy!

I will have much to share soon. Until then—Stammi bene. Fino a quando ci incontriamo di nuovo.

Be well. Until we meet again.

My question for you: Where would you like to go that might stretch you out of your comfort zone?



Here are some pictures I’ve been capturing of Spring in full bloom, and August, my very sassy kitty.









What is time? There’s the obvious tracking of years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds? But how do we define it for ourselves? Often, we measure it in our children. Time’s fast pace is never more obvious than when you hold a newborn in one moment, and the next you are watching them walk down the aisle in cap and gown. Or in the muzzle of our young pets where one day we find more gray than we ever want to see. Or in our once spry parents as we now hold their mottled hand and help them out of the car.

How we view time has as many variations as people on the planet. And while we are assured that time is a constant, where it goes off to, is always a mystery. We make time. We take time. We beg and barter for time. We steal it, we find it, we lose it, we waste it. Always on the quest to organize it better—because it’s the one out of control. And only if time permits—as if it has the authority to tell us what to do.

We fill time. We squeeze in time. And we kill time.  Time flies, it drags, in a blink, it’s gone. I know this to be true for myself, that when I’m in the flow of writing, or doing anything I truly enjoy, time slips away and before I know it, hours have passed. For me, those are some of the best of times.

One thing I’m certain of, whether it is one minute, or one hundred years, none of us feels that we have had enough time. We wish for more. To spend with our families, ourselves, pursuing our passions, being lazy, reflecting, travelling, playing, reading, cooking, giving, loving. So the importance is amplified that spending our time as the sacred currency of life that it is becomes paramount. Because at the end, it’s the reflection of those moments in time that sustain us and reel through our minds like an old favorite movie.

And on that note, I need to head out to see my granddaughter’s softball game this afternoon. Something I haven’t made a lot of time for and want to start. It seems like yesterday when she made her arrival. Now she’s on a Varsity team. In this moment – I wish I could get time back. An impossible task for time is fleeting — and entirely too short.

My question for you: What do you need to make time for in your life?

P.S. Below are some pictures of moments of time I captured the last couple of weeks.






Finding Community

This past weekend I attended the Left Coast Crime Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii. It was a rough gig, but as they say, someone had to do it! I’m so glad I did.

The Conference is primarily a fan and reader event for those who love mystery. Mystery authors of all subgenres – thrillers, cozies, PI, historical and more – attended and held panels where they spoke about different aspects of their work. Faye and Jonathan Kellerman were recipients of life time achievement, and were there, but the list was long of authors in all stages of their careers—debut to multiple series, and of course everything in between.

What struck me the most was the graciousness and generosity of everyone who attended. Whether the individual had a dozen mystery novels out, or their debut was forthcoming, all were approachable and shared their stories, their journeys, and their projects.

The fans of mystery are equally passionate. They know every book of their favorite authors, every nuance, and sometimes remembered details that even the author may have forgotten. It was fun to see the level of commitment and love on all sides of this industry. As a writer of mystery, I am also a huge fan. Spending time with many of my favorite authors was a treat. And having the ability to talk with them about their road to publication and how the landscape has changed so much in the industry was inspiring and eye-opening.

When I boarded the plane Monday morning, I left the islands with a sense of community. That for me is the big take away from this event. I made friends, we exchanged contact information, and I know we will stay in touch. Most important, my weekend reaffirmed what I already knew. Writing mystery is my passion and whether I know every name or face of those attending, the people at this conference are my people. The love of story, of mystery, and of a great puzzle to solve, the tie that binds. I am blessed to have been able to spend time with them and look forward to meeting again soon.

My question for you: Where do you find your sense of community?

P.S. Here are a few fun pictures of people and places I saw this weekend.







Vacation Book Review

Aloha! I have spent the last couple of weeks on the Big Island of Hawaii and did something I haven’t been able to much of this past year. I read! My to read pile has been steadily growing for some time, and it was wonderful to take some time out of my writing and working life to catch up. Here are a couple of books I finished over my vacation, and highly recommend:

LOYALTY – by Ingrid Thoft

This is Book 1 of the Fina Ludlow series. Fina works as a private investigator for her father’s law firm, as do her brothers who are lawyers in the firm. When her sister-in-law goes missing, she’s called in to find out where she’s gone. I enjoyed Fina’s kick ass personality throughout the book, and the family dynamics she had to navigate in order to uncover the truth. I don’t want to give away too much on the family aspect – but suffice it to say my family is near perfect in comparison to what Fina deals with regularly!

Ingrid Thoft does a nice job of making most of the characters relatable, and the motivations clear. While Fina may be less than traditional, and takes a few more brutalities than I think most women would endure, she does it in stride. The story kept me guessing. And even though there are a lot of characters to keep track of, I found the mystery engaging. Highly recommend this book, and am looking forward to reading Book 2, Identity.


I fell in love with Maggie in this Louisiana setting. Maggie is drawn into a case when two of the guests at her parents’ B&B die. Plantation Shudders is a fun and light read, but the author does a great job of setting you right down in Cajun country and giving an education on the culture.

Maggie and her family are relatable and endearing. I wished Gran, Maggie’s grandmother, was in my family tree! Ellen Byron did a great job of making me detest a particular police officer, and rooting for another. Suspects were plenty, and the reveal was unexpected. As a mystery writer, I usually have a sense of where the story is going. But I was pleasantly surprised at the twist. I walked away with a new vocabulary and a desire to head to New Orleans in the future.

I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, Body on the Bayou, and already have it queued up on my IPad!

I’m half way through Dana Stabenow’s Though Not Dead, and learning a lot about Alaska. I’ll let you know what I think soon!

My question for you: How do you like to spend your relaxing time on vacation?


PS – Below are the book covers I read, and a couple of Hawaii shots from my trip!






Standing Still

Aloha! At the writing of this post today, I am playing on the Big Island of Hawaii. As a promise to my husband and myself, I am taking some much needed time away from working and writing. I’ve been driven since last June when I pulled out my novels and have had a whirlwind of activity since I was chosen as a Pitch Wars mentee. So today, as you receive this email, I will be hanging out on a beach and letting my fingers and my mind rest. Filling the well for when I get back home and dig into completing my second PI novel in the Kelly Pruett series.

One of my fun goals for this trip is to see the elusive green flash during a sunset. The green flash is an optical phenomenon that occurs when the conditions are just right, and it’s a mystery of nature I find intriguing. The sun has a green rim around it as it sinks in the sky and can sometimes be seen about ten minutes before sunset. But the atmosphere must be clear to create the mirage and the light refraction to see the actual green flash. The locals and tourists say it happens on occasion, even though not all have seen it. But there are many who try to find it each night. Despite the lack of the flash, no one goes home disappointed from a Hawaiian sunset. The beauty of the blazing sun meeting the dark horizon is cause to pause in and of itself.

As of this writing, I have not seen the flash. But I can tell you this. Standing at the ocean shore, with a group of strangers, all with the purpose of watching the sunset in the islands, is peaceful and reflective and you can feel the Aloha spirit. Maybe it’s enough to just stop and search the skies and breathe in the end of the day. Someday I may see that flash. But today I’m content with the search.

My question: What are you looking for that you might find by just standing still?


P.S. No green flash, but here are a few of the beautiful sunsets I’ve been seeing here on Island.




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