Today Kelly Brackenhoff is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us about Death by Dissertation her first novel in the Cassandra Sato mysteries series.
Welcome, Kelly. Let’s get started, shall we?
Tell us about your novel. Is it part of a series? If so, please tell us about the series too.
KB: After years of dreaming, writing, and re-writing, Death by Dissertation is my first novel and the beginning of the Cassandra Sato mystery series set in the U.S. in rural Nebraska. After graduating with a Ph.D. and working a few years at a college in Hawai’i—where she was born and raised—Cassandra moves to Morton College in the heart of the Midwest because she thinks it will help her get experience to someday become a university president.
When a student dies two months into her dream job, she struggles with culture shock, academic politics, and threats of violence while she helps the investigation. Cassandra is surrounded by an old friend, hilarious students, and supportive co-workers, but it’s her job on the line if she can’t figure out how to end the nightmarish string of suspicious incidents.
Where did the idea for the mystery that is central to the story come from?
KB: Years ago, I met one of my best friends while my husband and I lived in Hawai’i. I’ve often wished she lived closer to me in Nebraska so we could hang out together in person. Of course, who in their right mind trades the sunny skies and sandy beaches of paradise for miles and miles of cornfields? Right, no one.
When I began writing my novel during National Novel Writing Month in November of 2014, it was my chance to finally bring my wishes to life. So, I invented Cassandra Sato (who is only a little like my real-life friend) and moved her to Carson, Nebraska, to see how she’d handle the face-freezing winters and ethnically homogenous people.
For this story, I combined topics I’m interested in that seem to have no connection: cancer research and cattle feed additives. To my surprise, when I worked out the plot and asked my experts, I was told that my crazy ideas are actually possible in the real world. Which is both exciting and just a bit scary that people out there way smarter than me are working on ways to improve our food supply and cure diseases all within the same system. Amazing!
Is there a theme or subject that underlies the story? If so, what prompted you to write about it?
KB: As an American Sign Language Interpreter with more than twenty years of experience, I’ve worked in college classrooms for fifteen different majors. I actually attend classes with the deaf students and overhear both the most inspiring and the most inane professors you could imagine. I think we all struggle to fit in somewhere, whether it’s a new job, with schoolmates, or who we want to be when we grow up. This story touches on all of those emotions, while also making you laugh. Because when I’m overwhelmed by life, laughter is the best way for me to deal with difficulties and move on.
How do you create your characters? Do you have favourite ones? If so, why are you partial to them?
KB: In addition to writing mysteries, I love to read them. My favourites are the series with a large cast of characters who feel like my friends. For Cassandra’s character, I used my memories of feeling like an outsider when I moved to Hawai’i. The culture and everyday life is so drastically different than living in the Midwest, it was a huge adjustment. Those things are all reversed in Cassandra’s story, but the feelings are the same. Cassandra’s interpreter friend, Meg, gives me a way to write about things I can’t usually say out loud at work without being fired. I also love the student office workers because they say and do hilarious things that real-life students say if you take the time to pay attention.
How do you bring to life the place you are writing about?
KB: I live in Nebraska where we just experienced a six-month long winter that began in October with snow, included fourteen straight December days of below-freezing temperatures, and ended in March with biblical flooding that destroyed farms and businesses in 70 out of 93 counties.
Imagine moving here from warmer climates! Because of the extreme weather, Nebraskans are hardy folks whose survival depends on having a sense of humor. Our state tourism department recently made a new slogan called “Nebraska: Honestly, it’s not for everyone.” For real! #nebraskahonestlyitsnotforeveryone
What research do you do to provide background information to help you write the novel?
KB: My interpreting job has involved traipsing across muddy farm fields, stomach churning medical procedures, and stage interpreting for famous figures. I love the academic world, and strange things happen there that even a talented fiction writer could not make up. It seemed like the perfect setting for a mystery series. For this story, I interviewed a biologist friend and a family member who owns a cattle farm to find out about the cancer research and beef feed additive details.
Readers might like to know that SODs are real enzymes, and there is current research happening to use them to cure common diseases.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers about the book?
KB: Don’t give up on your dreams! It took me twenty years of wanting and four years of writing to get this book published. If you work on projects a little at a time, eventually they become reality! I hope you enjoy the book!
Thanks for answering my questions, Kelly, and good luck with Death by Dissertation, the first book in the Cassandra Sato Mystery series. I’m intrigued by a story set in an educational setting. It evokes memories of my university days for me and I’m eager to read this book.
The novel is available on Amazon and is on a Countdown Deal for $.99 that runs June 22 – 30th: https://amazon.com/author/kellybrakenhoff
About Kelly Brakenhoff: Kelly is an American Sign Language Interpreter whose motivation for learning ASL began in high school when she wanted to converse with her deaf friends. As an American Sign Language Interpreter with more than twenty years of experience, Kelly’s worked in college classrooms for fifteen different majors. From traipsing across muddy farm fields to stomach-churning medical procedures, and stage interpreting for famous figures, Kelly’s community interpreting interactions number in the thousands. Unfortunately, once she’s stepped away from the job, she usually forgets 90% of what happened. Which helps her keep confidential information safe, but also makes it really hard to grocery shop for more than 5 items without a written list.
Kelly wants to live in a world filled with peace, love, and joy, where people who can hear learn enough sign language to include deaf people in everyday conversations and work. Where every deaf child has early access to language and books with characters like them, and dark chocolate is cheap and plentiful. When she’s not interpreting or writing, you can find Kelly cheering for her favorite Husker teams or training for half-marathons because she really likes dessert.