Writing Comedy and Depth with Kim Hunt Harris

Just like life, Kim Hunt Harris’s Trailer Park Princess cozy mystery novels are a healthy mix of funny moments and challenging times for her amateur sleuth Salem Grimes.

When I read The Middle Finger of Fate, the first book in the series, I was struck by how funny Kim’s writing is, and how touched I was by her character Salem’s ups and downs. Salem is someone really REALLY trying to turn her life around. And she’s going through one of those times in life when no matter what she does things seem to wrong. And the harder she tries to right them, the wronger they go. (We’ve all had times like that!)

And yet, Kim’s writing is so funny, and so sweet, that I laughed outloud throughout the book. Don’t even get me started about the car with the ‘bucket’ seat. Oh my! πŸ˜‰

If you like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, do yourself a favor and try out the Trailer Park Princess books. You can thank me later. πŸ˜‰

You can find out more about today’s guest, Kim, and all her books on her website KimHuntHarris.com. And you will find her on Twitter @kimhuntharris.

Press play (above) to listen to the show, or read the transcript below. Remember you can also subscribe to the show on iTunes. And listen on Stitcher.

You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.

Transcript of Episode with Kim Hunt Harris

Alexandra: Hi mystery readers, this is Alexandra Amor with It’s a Mystery Podcast. I’m here with Kim Hunt Harris. Hi, Kim.

Kim: Hello.

Alexandra: How are you?

Kim: I’m good, I’m excellent. How are you?

Alexandra: I’m very well thank you. I see it’s hot there in Texas today.

Kim: It is hot here today in Texas today, in fact we had a string of 100 plus degrees days for I’m not sure how long now, but for too long. But of course it’s nothing out of the ordinary. But, there are some clouds building up and we have a chance of rain and that’s always welcomed here in west Texas.

Rain, we take it any chance we can get it. So keep your fingers crossed, that always helps bring temperature down, makes everybody happy too.

Alexandra: Yes. Good, absolutely we will keep our fingers crossed for you. So, let me give our listeners a little bit of introduction.

Kim Hunt Harris is the award-winning author of the Trailer Park Princess comic mystery series. Kim knew she wanted to be a writer before she even knew how to write. She loves to not only make her readers laugh and entertain them with a good mystery, but also to examine the issues that everyday people face, issues like faith and forgiveness, perseverance – I always have trouble with that word – and tolerance.

Set in Lubbock, Texas, this mystery series feature a cast of quirky characters, outrageous situations, a drama queen of a dog, and from time to time, a tear or two. Kim lives with her husband of more than 30 years and 2 teenage children in Lubbock, Texas.

Why don’t you tell us about Salem. She’s described on your website and on Amazon as a bit of a hot mess. So tell us about her.

Kim: Well, Salem is a hot mess. She has been so much fun to write. First of all she is a recovering alcoholic, which is not funny, but she has such a great sense of humor. It’s been fun to go through these difficult situations with her and with her kind of odd sense of humor. She’s a little off kilter and plus I do really mean things to her.

She can hardly ever catch a break, but she perseveres and her heart is in the right place most of the time. So she is a relatively new Christian when the first book takes place, and so she’s learning her faith and trying to work the 12 steps, but she keeps getting brought up against these really terrible mistakes that she has made in her past.

And so through the course of the book it’s a painful thing for her, but she also is given the opportunity to face some of the things she’s done, and get right with people she needs to get right with.

And plus, like I said, she has such a sense of humor and so she grows through the process of each book. That’s been a lot of fun and kind of something surprising for me, because I didn’t really set out to do that. I just really set out to try to make people laugh and tell a good story. But you know, gosh, these things just keep coming up, and so it’s a great opportunity to kind of grow with her and grow…as Salem faces these things and I get a chance to kind of investigate them and think about them and meditate on them myself, and so that’s been a lot of fun.

I’m making it sounds really heavy, and there some, you know, kind of really heavy things in there, but I think if you ask anybody who’s read the books, your overall impression is gonna be that it’s funny. It’s fun to read. So, it’s like real life, you know, you laugh and things happen. Kind of the way real life is sometimes.

Alexandra: Exactly, yeah, and I mean that’s the thing that really drew me to the books, was just this interweaving in with the comedic tone and the mystery, the real ups and downs of life.

I think that’s so interesting that you say you didn’t really set out to write them that way.

Kim: I hadn’t really planned to. I wanted to write something kind of like Janet Evanovich, because her humor and my humor are very similar and when I started reading those Stephanie Plum books, I was like this is it. She has paved the way and I still feel that way.

One of the biggest compliments to me that I get is whenever someone compares some of the Trailer Park Princess books to a Stephanie Plum book, because that’s just… I love to hear that.

But I also found that, you know, I set up this situation with her and then she just keeps experiencing things from her past and things that she has learned as she’s struggled with sobriety and people from her past, past relationship and things that I think it really gives just a more textured story, a more full story than it would have been if I had left that out. So I’m thrilled with how that’s worked out.

Alexandra: Yeah that’s great. I noticed in one of the descriptions that the the first book which is “The Middle Finger of Fate” which that title I just love so much, that she is 147 days sober.

Without spoiling anything can you tell us, what was the catalyst for her sobriety?

Kim: Well, she was in jail, she had been arrested for driving under the influence and it was not her first time, and she really had this rock bottom…you know she hit rock bottom as people do, as a lot of us do before we finally face the fact we really have to make some changes.

She was in that moment and Les, who is a mentor character in all the books, he has this ministry where he goes to the jails and he misters to people who are in a bad place. And he talked to her and told her about Jesus and he told her about Christianity and she made that decision that she was going to not only get sober, but she was going to become a Christian, because she had kind of tried to be sober on her own before and she knew that she needed help.

And so in the books, that’s only alluded to just in a very passing kind of way, and so I don’t know if at some point I’m really gonna write more in depth about that or not. But you know, if the opportunity presents itself we certainly might take a little flashback to that time. And that’s the background of her and Les’ friendship and when she started on her path to sobriety.

Alexandra: Right, okay. And speaking of whether or not you’ll touch on that, on your site there’s a question and answer interview with you and I found the section on your writing process really interesting. You describe it as a jigsaw puzzle, and I’ll ask you about this in a second, but it seemed like there was this sort of dip in the process where it starts out great and fun, and then it gets kind of messy and difficult, and then come back out the other side.

Tell us a little about that.

Kim: Well, okay. This is the process that I have unintentionally developed over the course of writing several books. Because I always want to plot things out very carefully, and I want to follow that, and I just have never been able to make that work.

And so, over the past, I guess, three books that I’ve written, I just kind of accepted this is my process. And so I call it the jigsaw puzzle because usually I have just kind of the basics. Since I write mysteries, there’s gonna be a crime involved, I know usually who the people are who are involved. I don’t know exactly how they got to be there or anything like that, but I have the basics.

And so I think of those as the edge pieces that you pick out first, you know? You look for those edge pieces and you put them together, and then I might know the first one or two, three scenes, and I’ll write those, but I don’t know what happens next. But I know at some point this needs to happen, and so I’ll write that. And I know at another point this needs to happen, and I’ll write that. And I’ll kind of go before and after that and see what I can flesh out.

And so that is the fun part, because it’s all discovery, I’m not second guessing anything, I’m not trying to edit as I go. I’m just trying to write as much as I know how to write. And so I have all of these disjointed scenes, and when it gets to the point where it feels like instead of a jigsaw puzzle it feels more like a house of cards that’s about to collapse and I just have these messy piles everywhere.

Then I print everything out and I kind of shuffle around everything and I put it in a three ring binder and I read through and I rearrange scenes, and that is the hard overwhelming part. But like I said, I’ve come to accept that this is just a process, and so when I feel like this is just a mess and it’s never gonna make a good book, I remind myself, “Yeah, you thought that last time, but it worked out okay. And you thought that the time before that, but it worked out okay”.

And so I read it through, and I mark it all up and reshuffle and reorganize and I identify where the holes are that I need to write some more here, and I probably need to take that out, that’s not really going to fit, that kind of thing. And go through it again.

That smoothing out, and reshuffling process, I go through that two to three times. And eventually it’s a story. And I mean, you know, oddly it’s coherent and it makes sense. And we arrived there in such a weird way, but you know, it works.

Alexandra: That’s great. And in the Q&A you mentioned you were trying, you pointed out that readers want more books.

You thought you might try to kind of refine that process, or make it shorter. Have you been able to do that?

Kim: I’m trying very hard on this next one. I’m trying to maybe make a little bit of a shorter book. I don’t want it to be too short because I want the readers to get their money’s worth. But then readers, I have found, don’t mind a 65-75,000 word book. You know, they’re okay with that, that’s not too short. And they don’t have to be 110, which is what mine have been.

I’m hoping for that, but we’ll see. I’ll let you know about it in December or so how that’s working out. It’s July now, we’ll see. I might be through, I might be halfway through, we will see.

Alexandra: The other thing I noticed on the Q&A was that you mentioned that Salem’s sidekick Viv, who is an older lady and one of Salem’s AA buddies, that they actually originally originated as one character.

Can you tell us a bit about that?

Kim: Well, so I started out, so there’s Salem’s grandmother who she calls G-Ma, and she and Viv… way back when I first started this, they started out as one character, and then somewhere along the way they kind of morphed, and some of Salem’s characteristics went into Viv. Because she and Viv are a lot alike.

There’s obviously an age difference, Salem’s in her late 20s, Viv we don’t really know, but I’m saying 80-something, you know? She won’t tell. Some of the things she lets slip make it seem like she’s around 80. In her head she’s also 28.

So despite the age difference they play really well off of each other. And so what started out as two different characters has kind of become three, and so G-Ma’s a little… you know, she’s kind of a grump. And she has her territory all marked out and she doesn’t like anybody messing with it.

Viv is a little bit more free spirited, you know, she’s pretty much up for anything. Viv has been a blast to write because she can pretty much get away with saying anything. So that’s fun.

Alexandra: Does Salem have a job? I wasn’t sure about that.

Kim: She is a dog groomer. She is dog groomer by day, she works at grooming shop, and that’s based on my own life, because I used to groom dogs. And so the whole time I was grooming I thought, you know, “Gosh people, I should use this”. I mean, the weirdest things happen in a grooming shop, just hilarious things and funny things. And dogs are so awesome. I mean, they’re just great. And people with their pets, you know how much they love them. And all the people who were frantically waiting to pick up their dogs after being gone for three hours, you know and they missed it so much. I mean there’s just so much sweetness in that.

And in actuality I haven’t been able to work too much of that grooming world into the stories. Because of course they’re mysteries and the plot needs to be out where there are things happening, but we do see a scene from time to time of Salem in the grooming shop, and those are always fun to write, because I enjoyed those days and I do sometimes miss those days.

I work in an office now and that’s great, no one ever pees on me. Unlike in the grooming shop, but rarely happens anymore. I miss that. But I miss the dogs, I miss hanging with the dogs and playing with the dogs. So that’s how Stump came to be in there. So she’s her drama queen dog.

Alexandra: Salem’s little drama queen dog. That’s great. Getting back to the question of the deeper threads that run through the books and your jigsaw puzzle process.

Do you find that you know ahead of time what those things are going to be or do they show up as you’re writing the story?

Kim: They really show up as I’m writing the story. They just come out of whatever kind of deeper questions that Salem’s encountering as she goes along and questions she has about, “Okay, if I say am a Christian, how am I supposed to feel about this? What is the right thing?”

And she looks to Les a lot, because Les knows a lot about the Bible and he prays a lot and he has a very, very sincere faith and she knows that about him. And so she looks to him a lot, and then the things just kind of evolve. And like I said, I didn’t plan it, but now that it’s happened three times with three books, I’ve decided I’m just gonna go with it. So it’s been a nice surprise for me.

Alexandra: Yeah. That’s great. I find, too, as a writer, writing about those deeper things, even if the book isn’t super serious or heavy, it makes it so much interesting for me for one, as a writer, and I just feel it gives the book a bit of depth and weight that make me happy, and that I appreciate when I am reading a book.

Kim: Exactly, and you know what I hear from readers, that they appreciate it too. And so some of these things that we feel like are… some of these doubts we have, or questions we have, or… what I have learned, if I’m thinking that then of course it is a consideration.

What Salem thinks is usually what I think, at least one aspect of it. We may not have exactly the same kind of philosophy, but I can at least have an open mind and understand where she’s coming from, or I wouldn’t be able to write it.

But I hear from readers whatever we’re feeling, other people are also feeling. I mean, things are so much more universal I guess than what I thought. So I feel like if I write it, it’s gonna speak to someone out there, and then, you know, that’s gonna be a better experience for them when they’re reading that book. I’ve heard from several people along those lines and read several reviews and that’s really exiting. That’s really cool.

Alexandra: It’s always nice to get that kind of feedback. That’s great.

You mentioned that you have an office job. So when do you write? When do you find time to write?

Kim: Well early in the morning, lunch break, evenings. I have a family. I have a husband and two kids. But my kids are a little bit older now. I’ve got a 13 year old and a 16 year old. And so, I’m no longer needed to be on for the every moment. In fact they don’t want me around every moment. They want me out of their hair.

They are really understanding about giving me time to write. But at this point, it’s just as I can when I can. If I’m able to drag myself out of bed early in the morning, that’s a challenge but that’s what you have to do and so, and that’s worth getting out of bed for. So it’s all kind of tucked in where I can. Somehow it gets done. It’s working.

Alexandra: That’s amazing. That’s great.

Do you know the title of the next book?

Kim: I do! In fact that’s is all I know. I’ve been working on plotting it, but I can give you a tiny little tidbit, because there is… in the retirement home where Viv lives, it’s called Bell Court. And there’s a handsome new British guy there who Viv and all the other ladies are after. And so Viv is just very taken by his British accent and his mannerisms and everything, and so she has decided that she is converting to British.

And she starts dropping all these British slang terms and everything. And so it is called ‘Knickers in a Twist’. And so that’s what I’m working on right now, and I have barely started. I have about 5000-6000, words which is just barely a start. But I have been working on trying to figure out who this guy is, this body they found out in the field and all this stuff. It is exciting, it is new discoveries

Alexandra: It must be fun for you as a writer to discover the story as you’re writing it.

Kim: Yes. It really like feels like more of a process of discoveries than it does of creation. It’s almost like there is something buried down there and you’re digging it out, is more what it feels like. Gosh, that feels like magic. There’s so many times it’s like, “Gosh, I don’t know what is going to happen”, and then you get an idea. It feels like magic and that’s is a wonderful feeling. So I do not know if people who plot that, they get all that magic upfront or what. For my process that’s the best moment. I love that feeling.

Alexandra: We should point out that on your website there are a couple of short stories available?

Kim: That’s right. We have, you can read some of the chapters of the novels, and then I have one short story which takes place between the second book and third book. So it’s kind of a fill-in-the-gap thing. You can get that free by just signing up for my newsletter.

Actually there are two short stories out right now and there’s about to be a third one up. We finished it, we just haven’t put it up yet. You can read free stuff if you want to try it out and see. No obligation, see if it’s your kind of thing without any kind of commitment.

There’s a link on my website, it’s just kimhuntharris.com. I think it says read chapters free or something like that. And so you can do that. Or you can sign up for my email newsletter, there’s a link for that on the website, and then you get a book funnel link to whatever format you read in. You can get a Kindle file, or a Nook file, or whatever kind of reader people have. Or even just a .PDF to read on your computer, you can do that too.

Alexandra: Perfect. And the Middle Finger Fate is, I think, 99 cents?

Kim: It is 99 cents, and I think we’re going to leave it at 99 cents, at least for a while. So it’s a full novel, but I wanted to give people a chance to read the first one and see if they like it. Then the full-length books are $4.99.

Alexandra: So you get a bargain on that first one?

Kim: Exactly. And the second one is Unsightly Bulges.

Alexandra: And then the third one is…?

Kim: It’s called Caught in the Crossfire.

Alexandra: Kills me.

Kim: I have to thank my teenage son for that. He was about 12 I think when he said that, but we were just… I don’t even know what we were talking about, but someone said “caught in the crossfire”. And he said, “Caught in the crotchfire? What do you mean?” And I’m like, “That’s it. There’s the title.” I just need a book, I ought to go with that.

Alexandra: I think that’s the best title I’ve ever heard, ever. Well thank you so much Kim, this has been so great chatting with you.

Kim: I appreciate it.

Alexandra: Good, I’m glad. I’ll put a link in the show notes to your website, which is kimhuntharris.com, and people can find you there. Awesome, well thank you so much, and stay out of the heat.

Kim: Alright, thank you. I will. Take care, bye bye.

Alexandra: Bye bye.

2 Comments for “Writing Comedy and Depth with Kim Hunt Harris”

says:

Alexandra – your interview with Kim Hunt Harris was fun to listen to. Her mention of the trials her character Salem faces brought a smile to my face. I was particularly interested in the description of her writing process. Love your interview style. Thank you. Maggie Rayner

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