Author Interview: ‘Down in the Belly of the Whale’ by Kelley Kay Bowles

About the Book:

About friendships and family. For fans of LM Montgomery & Anne Shirley. Irrepressible, irresistible. Modern, classic.

Harper Southwood is a teenage girl who can sense when people will get sick—but so what? She can’t predict her best friend’s depression or her mother’s impending health crisis. Being helpful is all Harper ever wanted, but she feels helpless in the face of real adversity. Now, she’s got a chance to summon her courage and use her wits to fight for justice. Laugh and cry along with this cute, high-spirited teen in her astonishing journey of self-discovery, as she learns that compassion and internal strength are her real gifts, her true superpower.

What people are saying:

“Bowles . . . clearly understands the world of young adults. Her depiction of Harper—her anxieties and excitability; her inner and outer personas; her heightened sense of the importance of “now”—cannot fail to pull readers into a teen mindset. The story is increasingly dark, yet in the telling it neither wallows nor depresses. Harper is allowed strength in her vulnerability. For all her isolation, it is her empathy that makes her special. There is a message here but not one that is pushed beyond the pale. Bowles writes to engage and to confront yet always seemingly with the intent to uplift. The resulting novel, far from being a leaden treatise on teen suffering, spurns literary pretensions and strives instead to include Harper’s generation of young adults and give this group its due. Girls especially will relate, but there is room here for everyone. A sage, vivacious tale of people set apart and brought together.” —Kirkus Reviews (a Kirkus recommended review)

“Bowles’ writing is lively and fun, yet still grounded and full of depth. . . . This is a wonderful book that cleverly explores some powerful and painful emotions.” —Victor Catano, best-selling author of Tail & Trouble

“Tackles sensitive social issues with heartfelt emotion and tender wit. . . . Well-drawn characters and themes exploring the mysterious power of the unseen infuse this inventive, revelatory novel.” —Kathleen Gerard, author of the novels The Thing Is, In Transit, and Cold Comfort

“I have lived through a trauma similar to one described in this book, and Kelley handles it in a careful, tactful, and compas-sionate manner. She illustrates good role models for healthy families as well as a gentle treatment of dysfunctional ones. . . . dense with activity and drama, dealing with difficult topics that are on a teenager’s mind in a sensitive manner that includes a good dose of humor and healing.” —Laura H Kelly, author, contributor to the anthology, Things We Haven’t Said

“An enjoyable and captivating read.” —Brian S. Leon, author of Havoc Rising

“Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes hopeful, always true . . . Down in the Belly of the Whale is Ordinary People for a new generation.” —Jason Parent, author of What Hides Within and Seeing Evil

“Humorous and harrowing, romantic and revealing, and an honest true-to-life lesson about being a teenager in this most interesting of times. . . . definitely a must read.” —Shawn Clingman, English/drama teacher and director, Grand Junction High School.

“A fast-paced, yet heartfelt account of an average teenager whose life takes a series of sudden and unexpected turns. . . . Possibly the most important aspect of Down in the Belly of the Whale, are the messages that it conveys. Some of these messages are to be brave, even when you think you cannot be, that you belong even when you think you do not, that the person you thought you loved is not the right person for you, and that high school anatomy is as awful as I has I remember it.” —Timmie Quitugua, librarian

“This book literally had me crying. It was really good! . . . I would totally recommend this book!” —Erin B., teenaged reviewer and book blogger, NetGalley


Add to Goodreads


Purchase Links:

Amazon – UK / US


Author Interview:

1: Tell us a little about yourself and what got you in to writing?

I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah (and in answer to your next question, no, I am not), but raised in a Western Colorado town called Grand Junction. Because I have MS and my body responds poorly to extremes in temperature (GJ gets really hot AND really cold), we moved to San Diego, The Finest City in America (it’s really called that!) and very temperate, in 2011. I have two sons—10 and 12 years old, and my husband is a high school teacher

I have always loved writing, the way words can be combined in so many ways to create so many feelings. Stories can go anywhere I want them to go. Unlike life, which is much harder to control. I’ve always liked messing around with words—stories for my Barbie dolls, captions for my yearbook—but I didn’t really start working on fictional stories and poems until my college creative writing class. I wrote a sci-fi story while listening to “Unforgiven” by Metallica (betcha didn’t know I was a Headbanger from way back), and my professor, Charles Clerc, thought it was good enough to enter it into an L. Ron Hubbard short story contest. I didn’t win, but the process of letting the story in the song inspire me to write a totally unrelated story was intoxicating.

I have loved writing since birth, practically. But I’ve only been writing to share since my first published short story—a horror story called “Wobegone” published in Crimson magazine in 2000. I’ve only been able to write full time since October of 2013.

2: Do you have a favourite time and place where you write?

I have a small “office”— AKA a chair—in the corner of my bedroom, complete with laptop and picture of my late father, bookseller extraordinaire. There is a schedule taped to the side of my dresser, laying out chunks of time for each writing project and each social media outlet. Seven days a week!

3: Where do your ideas come from?

I people-watch and eavesdrop. A lot.

In Death by Diploma, Emma was my college roommate and current friend, and Leslie is one of my closest friends and colleagues from Colorado. The other names are just random ones I pulled out of my…hat.

The storylines can come from anywhere, I guess—news, television, myths. I taught high school English and drama for twenty years, including mythology—one of my favorite classes to teach. You can get a lot of ideas from mythologies and fairy tales, plus it’s SO fun to tell those stories in the classroom.

POV is tough to decide. I experiment with it all the time—the Chalkboard Outlines series is third person attached, but the Foundation series (YA Paranormal) alters between first and third person. And the YA standalone Down in the Belly of the Whale is first person, present tense. I’ve never done second person—maybe that’ll be next!

4: Do you have a plan in your head of where the story is going before you start writing or do you let it carry you along as you go?

I am a total seat-of-my-pantser in that I am not organized at all. I wish I was. With the murder mysteries, I know the basics—who got killed (that happens in the prologue) and who killed them and why. All the other stuff I have to figure out as I go. For the YA, I start with the general idea of the character and what she or he wants the most and how I think they need to do to get it, and then…I go.

5: What genre are your books and what drew you to that genre?

I write cozy murder mystery and young adult paranormal. I am obsessed with mysteries/thrillers in my reading, and…well…I taught English and Drama for like 20 years, and the high school world is very interesting, the voices, the issues, it’s a lot of fun trying to tap into that mindset in my writing. I think, when I’m finished with the Chalkboard Outlines cozy series I might try a paranormal mystery series. Or maybe a YA paranormal mystery series? Who knows what will happen? I have a narrative non-fiction book—humorous self-help memoir—I’m trying to get an agent for right now. Maybe I’ll go the David Sedaris route, only with chronic illness?

6: What dream cast would you like to see playing the characters in your latest book?

I’ve been TRYING to get Melissa Benoist (Supergirl)’s attention for the past couple of years because I think she’d make a perfect Emma. Leslie’s tough: Charlize Theron? (we are dreaming big, right?) For the YA book Belly I need good teenage actors for Harper and Cora, but I really don’t know any teenage actors—got any ideas? I would love Sandra Bullock or Jennifer Garner to play Isabelle. Uncle Pasta is also tough—Ricky Gervais is funny but he’s too old. Same with Eddie Izzard. Sheesh.

7: Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?

To Kill a Mockingbird is a perfect book, in my opinion. But there are so many others—books inspire me because of the way the author turns a phrase, paints a picture or makes me hungry for the next moment. East of Eden. Cat’s Cradle. Something Wicked This Way Comes.

Harlan Coben is the one who inspired me to write a mystery—I wanted to write something where the reader laughed a lot and didn’t know how the book would end. Dean Koontz has always inspired me because I think he’s such a great storyteller. My friend Shawn told me once to read TickTock because the rapport between the two main characters sounded a lot like my voice as a writer. I read the book and was so flattered to have a comparison made like that! Stephen King is, also, in my mind a genius storyteller. 11-22-63 had so many moving parts to it and he made them all come together in this amazing machine. Plus I feel he’s a romantic and a feminist and an optimist—all wrapped up in this word package that can scare the bejesus out of you. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series is a current favorite of mine—I wanna be like Jack. Seriously. He’s evolving in the series, I feel, in terms of ‘collateral damage.’ I don’t think Jack believes in that anymore, and the stories are reflecting that. I’d like to talk to Lee Child about this. 😊

I am obsessed with reading and wish I could do it more often. As it is I read whenever I’m the passenger in a car or right before my eyelids slam shut at night—mostly mysteries and thrillers, some YA and horror. Lately Frederik Backman and Liane Moriarity or for my book club we’re reading Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons!

8: What book/s are you reading at present?

I have to read Angry Housewives Eating Bonbons for my next book club, which I remember as funny and touching when I read it for my Colorado book club like 12 years ago, so we’ll see how it feels on the reread. I love Frederik Backman (A Man Called Ove), and he has a book box of three—I still haven’t read the Britt-Marie one. I’m re-reading Dean Koontz Fear Nothing because I just got it on sale on my kindle—that’s a great way to get books you want to re-read, by the way—watch for the sales! I’m waiting for the new Liane Moriarty (Nine Perfect Strangers) to come to me on the hold list at the library—it hasn’t been on sale and I can’t spend a fortune on books, although I’d like to!

9: What is your favourite book and why?

My all-time favorite is A Wrinkle in Time, but man, there are SO MANY other amazing and wonderful books out there. Don’t get me started—I might never stop. I think this book is my favorite because there’s so much to it—it’s YA, and Sci-fi, and mystery (where’s dad? Now, where’s Charles Wallace?) and philosophy and religion all rolled up into 200 pages. So, so good.

10: What advice would you give for someone thinking about becoming a writer?

I would just tell them never to give up, and never stop learning and trying new things. Also, and I cannot emphasize this enough: YOU HAVE TO READ. A LOT. People who tell me they want to write but don’t want to read are delusional and will never succeed. This is true, I believe, in any profession: the more you study and practice, the better you will get. The best musicians listen to all kinds of music and learn about the history of music, the best politicians study all types of governments and policies, and et cetera, et cetera. Hmph. I could rant about this for days. You also have to write, a lot, although I don’t ascribe to all of the people who say you have to write every day or this many words a day or X number of hours or whatever. You should figure out your own schedule and make sure it includes study and practice. Oh, and you absolutely have to work on a thick skin. Like, tortoise shell thick. There are always people who have nothing better to do than knock you down, and it takes a long time and many rejections to find your success, but if you take the ones who offer constructive ideas and help and use them, and throw the non-helpful douchebag ideas away, it’ll all help you get better.

11: What are the best Social Media Sites for people to find out about you and your work?  

My website:

My Amazon author page:

My BookBub Pages: and

My Facebook Author pages: and

My Instagram page:

My YouTube channel:

Holy Cow! That’s a lot.

About the Author:

Kelley Bowles Gusich writes young adult novels under the pen name Kelley Kay Bowles. Kelley taught high school English and drama for twenty years in Colorado and California, but a 1994 diagnosis of multiple sclerosis has (circuitously and finally) brought her to the life of writer and mother, both occupations she adores and dreamed about way back when she was making up stories revolving around her Barbie and Ken dolls. Her debut novel, cozy mystery Death by Diploma (pen name Kelley Kaye), was released by Red Adept Publishing on February 2016, and is first in her Chalkboard Outlines® series.

Kelley has two wonderful and funny sons and an amazing husband who cooks for her. She lives in Southern California.

Leave a comment

Filed under Author Interview, Reading Nook Blog Posts

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.