Interrogation—Dharma Kelleher

DharmaWho: Dharma Kelleher

What: She writes gritty tales about outlaws, renegades, and misfits. Her hobbies include riding motorcycles, picking locks, and getting inked. Her debut novel IRON GODDESS will be published by Penguin Random House’s Alibi imprint on June 28, 2016.

Where: Arizona

Interview conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.

Congrats on the upcoming release of your debut novel, IRON GODDESS! Can you tell us a little bit about how this story came together?

Thanks! I’ve been riding motorcycles for several years now. A few years ago, I saw a news story about a custom motorcycle shop that specialized in bikes for women. I’m 5’6” and there are a lot of motorcycles that are simply too tall for me, especially sport and off-road bikes. So I imagined a female biker that ran her own shop. That was the starting point.

Your protagonist, Shea Stevens, is billed as an “ex-con biker chick turned law-abiding citizen”. How much of you is in this character?

There are some similarities and a lot of differences. We’re both bikers who are willing to go to extremes to protect the people we care about. We both live outside the mainstream of polite society. We are both estranged from our families of origin, though for different reasons. And we both are adept at picking locks.

But you wouldn’t want me working on your bike or car. I don’t even change my own oil. And I’ve never spent time in prison. So far.

Iron GoddessThe motorcycle gangs in the book are over-the-top, but also feel genuine. What was the inspiration for them?

Part of it was Kurt Sutter’s popular Sons of Anarchy series. He really showed the humanity and complexity of the outlaw biker community. So from that, I began to fill in Shea’s back story as the disillusioned daughter of an outlaw biker. On the one hand, she misses the extended family of the motorcycle club, but at an early age, she was made aware of its darker side. I did a lot of research through my contacts in the biker community to make sure I portrayed the characters as honestly as I can.

The violence in IRON GODDESS feels very real, but not gratuitous. How did you strike that balance?

My goal wasn’t to glorify violence, but also not to flinch from it. In the world of drugs, street gangs, and outlaw motorcycle clubs, violence is a regular part of life and a means to power and money. It is also something that members of the LGBT communities face frequently as well. So at least within the confines of my story, violence is usually a means to an end.

IRON GODDESS is listed as an “LGBT Noir Thriller.” What would you consider some good examples of other books in this genre?

I wish I knew. One of the reasons I wrote IRON GODDESS was because I couldn’t find any. There are plenty of lesbian cozy mysteries, most with a strong romance subplot. But few, if any, gritty LGBT thrillers. I have nothing against romance stories or novels that have romantic subplot, but I prefer something a bit darker.

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Your bio says that you have had a love of reading since the age of three. What are your favorite books of all time? What does reading do for you that other forms of entertainment cannot? 

Picking favorites is always difficult for me because it’s always changing. I grew up reading Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. I’m a big fan of Neil Gaiman, Elmore Leonard, Lawrence Block, Jim Butcher, Christa Faust, Gini Koch, Bill Konigsberg, and Sara Paretsky. The list goes on and on.

As for what reading does for me, it gets me out of my own head. It forces me to use my own imagination for what characters and places look like. With movies and television, the visuals are provided for me and they don’t always match what I imagined from the books.

Ink SlingersYou are also a board member of the Desert Sleuths’ Chapter of Sisters in Crime. What do you think these kinds of organizations offer writers, especially newer ones?

I can really only speak to the groups I’ve been a part of. One of the things I love about Sisters in Crime is their dedication to help promote women crime fiction authors.

Sara Paretsky, who is the author of the V.I. Warshawski series, founded Sisters in Crime decades ago because she was getting a lot of pushback from editors and publishers for daring to write gritty thrillers as a woman. And while women tend to do well in the cozier side of crime fiction these days, we still face resistance when we write the darker stuff. So Sisters in Crime helps women (and men, too) learn their craft, find markets, and publish and promote their work.

As important as organizations like Sisters in Crime, if not more so, are the smaller critique groups. This is where aspiring writers can learn their craft, get feedback on their work, and discover markets and resources. I’m a member of two critique groups that meet weekly and they have been crucial to my success.

What other publishing plans do you have for 2016 and beyond?

The second book in the Shea Stevens series is due out sometime in January or February 2017. I have a third book outlined and ideas for more in the series. I have also fleshed out some lighter works, but not sure when I’ll get to them. Writing about Shea is so much fun

Find Dharma Kelleher: WebsiteTwitterFacebook

Previous Interrogations:

BCC Cover FinalS.W. Lauden’s debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, is available from Rare Bird Books. The second Greg Salem novel, GRIZZLY SEASON, will be published in Sept. 2016. His standalone novella, CROSSWISE, is available from Down & Out Books.

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