The American Le Mans Series (ALMS) paddock is an international mix of technology and personalities who come together forming a close knit racing community. Among the drivers, engineers, crews, and series officials is Tammy Kaehler, an author who has launched her first mystery set in the world of the ALMS.
Mecca of Speed: How did your become involved with the ALMS before writing Dead Man’s Switch?
Tammy Kaehler: It started when I was working as a freelance writer doing technical and marketing material. At the time, I knew nothing about motorsport. In 2004, the company I was working for became the series sponsor for The American Le Mans Series and a Porsche GT team. I was given the opportunity to attend the events, doing hospitality and entertain their customers at the races.
I volunteered to do it because I like learning about new things, it included travel and was quite interesting. Working for a sponsor allowed me access deep inside the ALMS world with plenty of onsite education and access to areas the regular fan doesn’t get. It was fascinating to learn from the inside out something I previously knew nothing about.
I have always devoured fiction; I love mysteries, especially ones that teach you about an industry or hobby. Being involved with the ALMS I thought, there is nothing out there like this. I would love to share this world with other people in the way I’m experiencing it. Then I came up with the idea about a mystery with a racecar driver as the main character and that turned into Dead Man’s Switch.
Mecca of Speed: When you were working for the sponsor in ALMS, did you approach the series with your idea for Dead Man’s Switch and did they put you in contact with Corvette Racing?
Tammy Kaehler: I never asked anyone in the series for help with the book, I just started writing. As I developed friendships in the series and told them about the book, they introduced me to the Corvette drivers.
Johnny O’Connell was a huge help. He sat with me for an hour at Lime Rock and told me how you drive the track and what the car was like. The team managers put me in the Corvette for a driver’s point of view. I have always been so grateful that they took the time to give me an insider’s view.
All I did was say “hey, I’m writing a mystery” and they took me at my word. I didn’t know if they figured it would come to something or not, but they gave me their time and information.
It took five years for everything to come together. As I started writing and talking to people about the book, they offered to help. In 2005-2006, after I was done working for the sponsor, I continued coming to races, volunteered to do hospitality. I continued asking questions and got to know some really good people. I gained a lot of support over those two years.
I came back when the book was completed and told them I was going to be published. The series has continued to be supportive. Corvette Racing, Doug Fehan in particular, has been very supportive.
Mecca of Speed: You can purchase Dead Man’s Switch at the track and on the ALMS website, where else is the book on sale?
Tammy Kaehler: A small press that only does mysteries, Poison Press, publishes Dead Man’s Switch. You are more likely to find it at an independent or mystery bookstore, but it’s on the shelf at some Barnes & Nobel stores. It’s also in their system and can be ordered along with being available online at Amazon.com.
Mecca of Speed: Is there going to be a Kindle and Nook version?
Tammy Kaehler: The electronic version is in progress and hope it will be available soon.
Mecca of Speed: Can you describe the experience of being a new author trying to shop your first book to a publisher?
Tammy Kaehler: It’s tough, publishing is a tough world. It took me about two years to write the book and was luck to quickly get an agent. Then it took four and a half years to find a publisher. You have to hang in there and believe that writing is what you want to do no matter what, which is true for most aspiring authors. You have to do it because you want to do it. There are a lot of good support groups for new writers going through the process.
Going out with a racing book was interesting because there is nothing like it, so you have a hook, but it’s also unusual.
The book takes place during the Lime Rock race, so I went there to launch the book this year.
Mecca of Speed: So the time frame of the book is over a race weekend?
Tammy Kaehler: It’s set at Lime Rock before the restructuring and resurfacing of the track, when they would race on Monday. The book opens on Saturday morning and goes through the traditional off day on Sunday and finishes on Monday.
Mecca of Speed: Do you have prospects for a follow up book?
Tammy Kaehler: I do, a series in fact. My plan is for books to take place at all the cool racetracks in the ALMS series and around the world. Kate Reilly is a driver and central character in Dead Man’s Switch. She is fictional, so she can drive everything.
I’m in the process of writing the next book and doing some research here this weekend. The book is going to start at Road America and end two weeks later at Petit Le Mans. If I can get all the technical issues right, I hope the readers may allow me a little poetic license with the schedule.
For the third book, I’m considering the 24 Hours of Daytona, which will involve the Grand Am series. I live in Long Beach and would love to write about that track, but I have to write about the Indy 500, the 24 hours of Le Mans, and would like to get to Monaco.
Mecca of Speed: How is the interest for the book outside of the motorsport community?
Tammy Kaehler: There is a fair bit of interest out there. Honestly, I wrote the book that I wanted to read. My goal was to make it interesting and accessible to anyone who doesn’t know about the motorsport world, but still accurate for those who do. It was important to get the technical details correct so anyone who races or knows racing would not say, that’s not right and put down the book.
It’s received a lot of good reviews from book bloggers. The assistant editor in my publishing house emailed me a few weeks after the book was in process and wrote, “Tammy, there was racing on this weekend and I watched some of it. It was really interesting.”
Some people have skimmed through it and said there is a little too much technical detail and I expected that. Other people say it’s really fascinating and they now understand more about racing. Some have started to turn a race on over the weekend to learn more about the sport.
I expected a level of interest from people who knew nothing about racing because that is where I came from. But, I don’t think the racing world expected it to appeal that much to a general audience. There are some reviews stating they really don’t care about racing, but found the book really interesting.
I run across a lot of people that you would never expect to have a car or racing background. For example, in my local business improvement association, there are people who grew up SCCA racing with their family. There are mystery writers who grew up in Indianapolis and always watched the Indy 500, it’s not what their life is about, but there is that soft spot for the sport. There are more tendrils of racing knowledge then you might expect and that is where the book is finding a lot of readers.
Mecca of Speed: How have you employed social media to help with the launch of the book?
Tammy Kaehler: Twitter has been the big thing. I was using Facebook, which is great for the high school reunion, but started expanding more into two areas, authors and race fans.
What I find interesting and fun is being on Twitter while watching a race. That allows me to have a conversation with other fans, similar to when you go to an event. It’s not the same conversation you would have if you were at home in front of your TV, but still a conversation. Twitter gives you additional insight and links to additional information. For example, the detailed interviews on your website will be useful to me as I do research and work on developing my characters.
I’ve met a couple of fans in the Bay area and we are excited to see each other at the race in Monterey. In a way, it makes it easier to reach people that would be harder if the only way we could meet people was face to face.
It’s easy to look at how other mystery writers have promoted their work and do the same thing, going to bookstores in a lot of different towns. It’s very time, money and labor intensive. With social media you can meet so many people without as high of a cost. We don’t really know if it gives you the same results, but it has really expanded the possibilities.
Mecca of Speed: When is the target release date for the next book?
Tammy Kaehler: I’m going to take a short break to time it with the start of the 2013 racing season.
Mecca of Speed: Thank you for your time and insight into Dead Man’s Switch.
Tammy Kaehler: Thank you.
Content credit Tammy Kaehler and John Vatne. Photo credit Tammy Kaehler.