There’s a new female driver tearing up the track, running into and over other drivers (allegedly) and getting into off-track brawls. Dark hair. Petit. Fiery.
No. Kate Reilly.
Kaehler did make Kate with the same fiery competitiveness and hair color as Danica, but Kate is far more prone to more angry outbursts. Plus Kate has a more fractured family background and tendency to stumble upon dead people. But the biggest difference between the two is Kate Reilly doesn’t actually exist, at least not in physical form. She’s the fictional main character in Kaehler’s two books, Dead Man’s Switch and Braking Points.
The two books are “Kate Reilly Racing Mysteries” starring Kate as an up-and-coming American Le Mans Series driver who has a penchant for solving murder mysteries at or near famous American road racing circuits.
Full Immersion Awakening
Before 2004 Kaehler was working as a marketing writer and oblivious to the world of racing. She started working for a client who was a main sponsor in ALMS and eventually was assigned to work for the sponsor client at ALMS events. That’s where the racing bug big … hard.
As a representative of a major sponsor, Kaehler instantly went from total outsider to VIP. “I was treated incredibly well and introduced to everyone and given hot laps at every track,” she said. “I went from knowing nothing to being immersed in the middle of this with the best access and information possible. I looked around and I just went, ‘This is amazing. This is fascinating and unbelievable. How did I not know about this? How do more people not know about this?’ I wanted to teach people the way I learned about it, from the inside out.”
It was Pattie Mayer who provided Kate Reilly with some legit racing DNA. Among other things, Mayer gave VIPs like Kaehler hot lap rides around various tracks.
“There’s nothing like this lovely 37 -year old woman who had just handed off her nine month old to someone else getting behind the wheel of a Porsche and hauling ass around the track,” said Kaehler, “and very calmly with one hand pointing out the window at the thing you're speeding by as she’s going through the turns.”
Besides giving Kaehler the physical sense of serious driving, Mayer also provided introductions to other drivers who were generous with their time, Kaehler said. Kaehler took copious notes, hung around in the background and talked informally with members of the ALMS traveling circus, soaking up as much as she could about racing while Kate gestated in her mind. Emboldened by the access and her own growing affection for racing, Kaehler overcame her fear of writing fiction and plunged in. Kate Reilly was born, and she had a definite mission.
Fictional Driver on a Mission
“I've always been someone who likes seeing the backside of a theater performance or under the hood, the inner workings of the factory, or whatever it might be just to understand how things work to make this performance out front,” she said. “I spent a lot of the time that season, showing people around and giving tours and telling people all this knowledge that I was gaining. Somewhere late summer I had this idea (to write a book), because what I like reading best is fiction that teaches me something. A lot of times that’s mystery set in a particular hobby or genre or historical period or whatever it might be. I enjoy it if there’s a story that entertains me, a puzzle to untangle, and then I learn something. I’ve always specifically liked Dick Francis. He writes horse racing mysteries.”
Like Francis, who takes readers inside the world of horse racing, Kaehler’s books take readers backstage at racing events with full pit, hauler and motor home access. Readers also follow Kate along as she navigates the sometimes grueling schedule of off-track meet-and-greets, dinners and schmoozing with team sponsors, as well as personal marketing efforts. Along the way Kate also deals with misogyny, quasi-stalkers and haters.
The Non-Glamorous Author Life
Kaehler started her first book in 2004 and finished in 2006. Then, as with virtually all authors, reality set in. In some ways authors are like race car drivers — there are a lot of them out there, but only a few find a ride, with a “ride” being a publisher. Even though Kaehler found a literary agent willing to represent her very quickly — a rarity by itself — it took four more years to find a publisher.
“So I did what you are supposed to do and started writing the second one,” said Kaehler. Writing a novel doesn’t pay the electric bill, however, so Kaehler had to get a full-time job and work on her books when she could, usually after work. Eventually Poisoned Pen Press took interest and their editor, Barbara Peters, contacted Kaehler.
“She said ‘OK, here’s what you need to do … if you are willing,” said Kaehler. The revision process was arduous, but all of Peters’ edits and advice felt both wise and right, Kaehler said. So she stuck it out and eventually got a contract from Poisoned Pen. Kate Reilly was finally going to see print.
The years between finishing the first book and getting it published, as well as the years it took to produce the second book were rugged at times.
“Yes I was completely despondent at times and occasionally my husband (Chet) would look at me and go, ‘Are you okay. Are you even happy? What’s going on?’”, said Kaehler “A couple of times I would step back and go, ‘Should I just quit every thought of this and not even bother?’ I thought no, I really want to tell Kate’s story so I’ll keep trying and that happened.”
Since then life as a “published author” as been nice, but let’s just say rolling through L.A. in the back of a limo isn’t in Kaehler’s current lifestyle. The big book signings, lavish marketing and star treatment are reserved for Grisham-level bestsellers.
“I knew intellectually that I would need to do all my own marketing and promotions and all of that for myself because even if you’re in a big publishing house, unless you’re Janet Evanovich, Stephen King or James Patterson or whatever, they’re not going to do a lot for you.” So (much like a race car driver these days), Kaehler tries to encourage sales and build a fan base by blog, speak to groups and work the social media including Twitter (@tkaehler), Facebook and LinkedIn.
Revenue from book sales is closer to a trickle than a tidal wave, she said, and Kaehler will be keeping (and remain thankful for) her day job for at least a while longer. As with most authors, revenue is well and good, but ultimate motivation lies elsewhere.
The Racing ... er ... Writing Compulsion
“I’m doing this because I need to do this,” she said. “That was the question. Do I need to be writing? Yeah, I need to do this, so this is what I’m doing.”
There is also payment in other forms, like when Kaehler hears from readers, especially those who have come to learn about racing through her books.
“I think what’s been the loveliest is getting notes from mystery readers who never heard of racing before who say ‘There was a race this weekend, Tammy, and I watched a bunch of it and I thought of you.’ OK. That’s cool.
“The thing I really wanted to do was make this true to what the racing world really is,” Kaehler said. “I was telling a true story. I was teaching people the truth who didn’t know anything about racing. I think I’ve been the most thrilled when people tell me that I’ve done that.”