Until Kendra Elliot immersed herself in Diana Gabaldon’s work, she really didn’t see herself as a writer. But after reading Gabaldon’s books over and over she noticed how satisfied she felt. “I’d loved the entire experience and had become lost in the world she had built. At that moment I wondered if I could do that for a reader and decided to give it a try. I wasn’t interested in writing a historical novel and decided to try writing a contemporary romance, but my characters kept tripping over dead bodies. I realized I needed to focus on suspense.”
From that beginning Kendra, now working on her seventeenth novel, has authored three series (Bone Secrets, Callahan & McLane, Mercy Kilpatrick), co-authored another (Rogue River with Melinda Leigh), and has started her fourth series, Columbia River, with the appearance of THE LAST SISTER.
When starting a series, Kendra doesn’t know the stopping point but she does know when she is getting burned out on the characters. Then she and her editor decide when to start a new series. For the Columbia River series, each book will have different main characters, but readers will recognize them from previous books.
“The concept for THE LAST SISTER was developed in a day-long brainstorming with my editor and public relations manager. They wanted a domestic thriller. We came up with several dozen elements we liked including the three sisters, the KKK, big family secrets, and the Oregon coastal setting…They helped me build the skeleton of the story and I fleshed it out.
“It was only supposed to be a domestic thriller. We’d worked out the basics of the book but when I sat down to write it, I struggled and struggled. I finally realized I needed the police procedural structure I’ve used in nearly every book. I added Special Agent Zander Wells and was delighted I could also give my regular readers his story. It got even better when I brought in Agent Ava McLane from the same series and added all the forensic elements I love to write. So it wasn’t the straight domestic thriller my publisher expected. It was a blend and they were pleased.”
Speaking of her main character, “Zander first appeared in Vanished, part of my Callahan & McLane series as a secondary character. He was attracted to my heroine, but she only saw him as a friend. I hinted at his tragic backstory for a few books and finally revealed it in Targeted. By then my readers were begging me to find someone to make him happy.”
Along with using the three sisters from the brainstorming session, Kendra delights in her secondary characters as manifested by Emily’s three aunts. “I love writing colorful secondary characters. I try to keep my main characters relatively normal so the reader can relate to them, but I go all out when I am developing a secondary. It’s a place where I can include fascinating or weird aspects that I’m too nervous to assign my main characters. I add behavioral quirks, or odd fashion choices, or unusual hairstyles. I knew with the aunts I wanted to present a tight trio of sisters that shared familial similarities but also were distinctly different from each other.”
The setting for THE LAST SISTER, the town of Bartonville is not real. Kendra says, “I often make up towns because I know I won’t get any of the facts wrong, but Bartonville has many aspects of the real towns in the area.” The mansion where Emily, her sister Madison, and their three aunts live and its history “is loosely based on a real person in Astoria.” The diner where the sisters work “was inspired by a place in Seaside.”
“I stayed in Astoria for a few days to pick up the flavor of the area and search for things that inspired me. Shanghaiing is part of the area’s history and so is a strong connection to the timber and fishing industries.”
With so many novels under her belt, one would think writing would come easier with each book. Not so, says Kendra, who finds each book harder to write than its predecessor. “I’ve written all the easy books and their ideas that smoothly popped into my head. Now I exert a lot of brainpower searching for original ideas. Even action scenes are getting harder. I’ve run people off roads, bridges, and cliffs. I’ve had more foot chases through the woods and characters get shot than I should. I’ve blown up cabins and homes. Written kidnappings, hostage situations, plane crashes, snipers, mass murders, serial killers, and hangings. I don’t want…readers to wonder why I can’t come up with something new.
“I try to keep things fresh for each book but also maintain the type of story my readers expect. It’s a tough balance sometimes.”
Kendra uses plot boards for each novel and to help keep her characters straight, she maintains character bibles for most of her books. “I hired someone to go through each one and create Word documents that list every character, along with their looks, their likes, their dislikes, pets, injuries, living situations, and how they relate to other characters. It’s embarrassing how often I forget the eye color of a character that’s been in five books.”
With each book, Kendra hones her craft. She reads books by authors she admires and studies what it is about a particular story that makes it tick. She also attends a number of conferences every year where she takes a craft workshop or two. She finds that even if she gets one precious nugget to use, it was worth it. She also attends the Writer’s Police Academy each year, a hands-on conference taught by law enforcement that covers a variety of subjects including weapons, forensics, and even driving police vehicles.
Currently immersed in writing The Silence, the second book in the Columbia River series, Kendra, who is proud of writing so many books in so few years, has decided to cut back her publishing schedule. “I look forward to having more than six months to get a book finished.”
Her 2017 release, A Merciful Death, was a #1 Amazon overall bestseller and has been optioned for TV.
She is an International Thriller Writers’ finalist and a Romantic Times finalist. She grew up in the lush Pacific Northwest and still lives there with her family, three cats, and two Pomeranians. She’s always been fascinated with forensics, refuses to eat anything green, and can’t wait to wear flip flops every day.
For more on THE LAST SISTER, Kendra Elliot and more, please visit her website.