Not Quite Twenty Questions for Toni Kelner

hank-2013-bioHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I was going to say Toni Kelner leads a double life, both as the Toni I’ve known for the past nine years, and as Leigh Perry, who the world has known for what, two? But truly, Toni leads a quadruple or quintuple life, as an author of her Toni L.P. Kelner mysteries—how many series, Toni?, and editor with Charlaine Harris of the New York Times Best-selling anthologies of paranormal short stories, and as the coolest mom and wife around. I mean, sisters, she dresses up, she participates in all kinds of conventions like Comicon and other cool stuff that many of us (me) don’t even know what it is…and, and…

And she’s always ready with a joke or a laugh or helping hand or a pat on the back. She’s a great and loyal pal with a very surprising personality—all southern drawl, until, bless her heart, she comes out with a zinger that has the entire crowd roaring with laughter.

(And she’s the one who taught me about “Bless her heart,” which is a whole other blog.)

Even in the midst of all she’s juggling—she agreed to our Not Quite Twenty Questions. And you’ll read how her personality—honest and thoughtful and loving and professional and um, so funny—comes out so beautifully in her answers.

tonilpkelnerTitle of your autobiography: 
I Was Rejected by Mickey Mouse

When I was trying to sell my first novel, I met the editor in chief of the brand-spanking new Hyperion Press. Hyperion is the adult publishing imprint of Disney publishing. She invited me to send a partial, and I got a very well-written, thorough rejection letter. But the thing was, Hyperion was so new they didn’t have a logo or letterhead yet. So my rejection was written on Mickey Mouse letterhead. I’ve always pictured Mickey saying, in his famous voice, “Hi, Toni. We don’t want your book.”

What do you think about that now?
Mostly amused. I mean if I got angry at every publisher who’d ever turned me down, I’d have nobody to talk to at conventions. And I’ve been published by several of them since.

Movie you would see again and again?
Lots of them, actually. But I’ll go with Serenity.

I think Joss Whedon, the producer and screen writer, does the absolute best dialog; the actors are wonderful; and the story is pretty close to perfect. It’s a fun romp, and quite exciting even upon re-watching.

Oh, well, um, I’ve never see that. What is it? And why do you love it? Do you think about it when your write your own stuff? Answer any or all…
Serenity is the continuation of the short-lived-but-awesome TV show Firefly, which was basically a space Western. It’s got tight plotting and adventure and humor and great characters and amazing fight scenes—everything I like in a movie. Joss went on to direct The Avengers, which has some of the same magic.

I wish I could write actions scenes like that, but I’m afraid I’m a lost cause. I do bear in mind something Joss said about slang in his shows and movies. Somebody asked him how he researched the lingo for the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which started out with the characters as high school students. He said to make it up, that slang changes so fast it’s impossible to stay current. I do that myself.

So—easy questions: Exotic drinks?
Yes, please. Frozen strawberry daiquiri or frozen strawberry margarita. My philosophy on drinks is that if you can’t put a paper umbrella in it, what’s the point?

Pizza or chocolate?
You promised softball questions! Chocolate.

ToniAndSteveSpouse? Children? Special people in your life?
I’ve been married for 26 to Stephen Kelner, Jr. We have two daughters: Maggie and Valerie.

Technically Spot and Clara are the girls’ guinea pigs, but I have petting privileges. Plus I’m the backup caregiver when the girls are busy.

TV and movies, and playing silly computer games. I don’t include reading, because that’s not a hobby, it’s a way of life.

Nope. Brown thumbs.

Do you watch TV? What?
I binge-watch DVDs more than I watch current stuff, but I make exceptions for Doctor WHO, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and the competition show Face Off. Our current DVD binges are Elementary and Torchwood.

Can you sing? 
Love to sing. I’m rubbish, but it’s so much fun!

Best concert you’ve ever seen.
A tie between Darryl Rhoades and the Mighty Men from Glad and the Velveteen Playboys. The Monkees were great, too.

Book you wish you had written.
The Dreaming Jewels by Theodore Sturgeon.

It’s one of those rare perfect books to me. Generally I can pick at even my most favorite books, but there are some that are just gems.

Fear or phobia?
Bugs. (Not insects, because I include spiders.)

How about a secret talent?
Okay, it won’t qualify me for the Legion of Heroes, or even the Legion of Substitute Heroes, but I can find four-leaf clovers regularly. I can also make up song lyrics to a tune on the fly, but that may not be a talent so much as a way of annoying my family.

I can do that, too! It drives people crazy. Anyway, what someone might not know about you.
I’m much meaner than people think I am. At first, anyway. And I had a chop shop operating out of my back yard once.

Do you have a recurring dream?
I have invasion of privacy dreams, when people come into my house or yard and will not go away. There’s a reason I’m a secluded writer.

If you could meet and chat with one person, it would be…
Joss Whedon, though I’d probably go too fan girl to be able to actually have a conversation.

Huh. I guess I could have predicted that. But can you believe how wonderfully your career turned out?
It depends on the day. On bad days, I think I’m doing everything wrong. But on good days—which is most days, actually—I cannot believe how lucky I am!

Things you say to yourself when writing.
Only 200 more words and you can stop. Only 150 more words and you can stop. And so on…

What are you working on now? Or—what’s your latest book? Or both?
I’m doing something different. Christopher Golden has asked me to write a vampire story for his horror anthology Seize the Night. Now I’ve done plenty of vampire stories, but never as horror.

a-skeleton-in-the-family-cover-186x300Then I’ll jump right into the next Family Skeleton book (by my alter Leigh Perry).

Tell us something else about that!
I don’t know as much about it as I should at this point, but I think it’s going to be set at a summer camp for live-action role-players, much like Wizards and Warriors camp here in Massachusetts. The fact that Valerie is going to be attending Wizards and Warriors camp next week is just a coincidence.

Wait—the Family Skeleton series? Where’d THAT idea come from?
I was toying with the idea of a paranormal mystery series, and our fellow pals Charlaine Harris and Dana Cameron seemed to have the vampire and werewolf tropes so well covered I couldn’t see anything I could add. So somehow the idea of a walking, talking skeleton occurred to me. The funny thing is, I never thought anybody would buy it.

Did you always like scary stuff? Are you brave in real life?
I’m totally not brave at all, unless you count the time I went onto the front porch with a cutlass because my daughter heard somebody out there. Boy, were those raccoons startled!

I write the scary stuff, particularly normal people dealing with scary stuff, to try to convince myself that if something really awful happens, I’ll be able to deal with it and not just squeal like a hungry guinea pig. If anything happens, I’ll let you know if it worked.

Are you enjoying it? The short story? And the Skeleton book? 
The short story? I am, actually. It’s a stretch, but I’ve enjoyed kind of analyzing what makes a horror story horror. And I’m getting down with my dark self. I’ve freaked out my husband Steve, so that’s a good sign that I’m on the right track.

Sid the Skeleton

Sid the Skeleton

As for the next Skeleton book, I know I’ll have fun. They are a romp to write.

Do you have a motto? What?
Fair’s fair.

I have a deep-seated need to see the world as fair, and play fair myself. That’s applies to stuff like letting somebody out in traffic if another driver let me out, emptying the dishwasher because Maggie did it last time, and recognizing that every day can’t be perfect because most of my days are just great.

HANK: Isn’t she…so wonderful? Every time I read one of these interviews, I just fall in love with the person all over again. So how about you, sisters? Do you like scary stuff? To read? Or to write? Have you seen Serenity? (The movie, I mean.)

And a signed Skeleton book to one lucky commenter!


Toni L.P. Kelner is the author of eleven mystery novels: eight Laura Fleming mysteries and three “Where are they now?” mysteries. Both series are available as audio books and e-books.

GamesCreaturesPlayKelner is also the author of numerous short stories, and co-edits bestselling urban fantasy anthologies with Charlaine Harris. Their most recent are Games Creatures Play and Dead But Not Forgotten.

Kelner has won the Agatha Award and an RT BookClub Lifetime Achievement Award, and has been nominated multiple times for the Anthony, the Macavity, and the Derringer.

Writing as Leigh Perry, she recently debuted the Family Skeleton series for Berkley Prime Crime.


Wrong GirlHANK PHILLIPPI RYAN is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate. She’s won 30 EMMYs, 12 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A bestselling author of six mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. National reviews have called her a “master at crafting suspenseful mysteries” and “a superb and gifted storyteller.” Her newest thriller, THE WRONG GIRL, has the extraordinary honor of winning the 2013 Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel! A four-week Boston Globe bestseller, it was dubbed “Another winner” in a Booklist starred review and “Stellar” by Library Journal.  She’s on the national board of Mystery Writers of America and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime. Watch for her next novel, TRUTH BE TOLD, on October 7, 2014.

Visit her online at, on Twitter @hank_phillippi and Facebook at HankPhillippiRyanAuthorPage.


About Lisa Haselton

Lisa Haselton has had several short mystery stories published and has a couple of novels in various stages of completion. She always enjoys learning new tidbits about other writers, and takes great pride as an editor when working with writers on polishing their manuscripts. She's living a life around her passions for writing, photography, volunteering, and anything related to New England, particularly New Hampshire.
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45 Responses to Not Quite Twenty Questions for Toni Kelner

  1. Hooray for Joss Whedon and for Firefly (over some holiday weekend I watched the entire series in sequence) and Serenity–I love what Whedon does with ensembles, and cheer for Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D.

    It’s so much fun to write about not-quite-real creatures and make them convincing, don’t you think? Do you have trouble remembering what rules you created for each, uh, species or type? And keeping straight what they can and can’t do?

  2. Julia David says:

    I do like scary stuff. No gory, but scary. Great story about being rejected my Mickey Mouse. Love it.

    • hankpryan says:

      I agree,’s SUCH a great story! And you can hear the MIckey voice, right? (And when, as I predict, Disney makes the skeleton movie, that’ll be full hilarious circle.)

  3. Deanna says:

    I was so impressed that I put The Dreaming Jewels on my t-b-r list. I also want to read about the skeleton in the family.

  4. Toni Kelner says:

    Shelia, keeping track of the rules for each species isn’t much harder than it is to keep track of the background of any fictional character. (I saw this as someone who almost changed a character’s hair from one book to another without benefit of hair dye.)

    It’s been a little trickier with Sid the Skeleton because while there are established expectations with a werewolf, vampire, witch, ghost, or zombie — all of which I’ve mangled happily — an ambulatory skeleton is new ground. On the good side, I get to evolve Sid’s abilities a bit for the sake of the book, and I did so with THE SKELETON TAKES A BOW, which is the one coming out in September.

    But as long as it’s mostly-consistent, and I stick to limits, it’s doable. (Limits are incredibly important with paranormal creatures. If they’re too powerful, it’s no fun. It’s like Superman solving a mystery by standing in a room, finding the fingerprints by eye, comparing them to the actual fingers of the suspects, and grabbing him with super-speed. Thirty seconds, and it’s mystery solved.)

    • hankpryan says:

      Although that’d be a pretty funny story, right? How he’s driving the detective crazy, solving cases so fast, and then the detective… I mean, (stop me!) think of what Toni just wrote as the opening scene, not the closing scene.

      Okay, going back to my real book now. 🙂

  5. Toni Kelner says:

    Oh, and I should add that if the winner of the giveaway already has A SKELETON IN THE FAMILY, I’ll send an ARC of THE SKELETON TAKES A BOW instead.

    • April Anderson says:

      And if the readers here have not gotten A SKELETON IN THE FAMILY they really need to do so! It is a wonderfully fun book.

  6. Mary Sutton says:

    Okay, based on the Mickey Mouse story, a love of all things Joss Whedon, and Dr. Who, Toni is going to the top of my “authors I must check out” list. Toni, I would KILL to be able to write ensemble characters/dialog/action like Joss. He always strikes me as so fearless as a writer/director. Awesome interview!

  7. Jeanie Dannheim says:

    Congrats on 26 years of marriage! Awesome! I still laugh about your first Sid book, the best cozy I’ve read in recent years! Can’t wait to read The Skeleton Takes a Bow! Great interview snd thanks for sharing!

  8. Roswita says:

    I really love Toni and Leigh…and Sid :-). What a great interview! Thanks! Serenity is my favourite movie, too. Joss is a genius!

  9. Catriona McPherson says:

    I’ve never seen Serenity – and that’s from someone who can recite whole scenes from Buffy TVS. A treat in store. Toni, have you still got the brush-off from Mickey? Framed?

  10. Toni Kelner says:

    Catriona, it’s not framed, but I still have it in the files. I’m going to DisneyWorld at the end of the month. Perhaps I should wave it around and see if I get sympathy from the cast members.

    Obviously, I don’t hold a grudge against Mr. Mouse.

  11. DebiM says:

    I do agree, Toni is just a wonderful person! I can honestly say that I have enjoyed everything she has written and I look forward to more. And shame on Mickey for not realizing talent!

  12. Neely Powell says:

    Love Toni Kelner! So happy to see this interview. Her delightful personality came through and I feel like I just had a conversation with a good friend.

  13. elaineviets says:

    Enjoyed the interview, Toni, and I share your love of all things Josh Whedon. Rejected by Hyperion, huh? What a Mickey Mouse operation.

  14. hankpryan says:

    Elaine Viets, you are a TROUBLEMAKER! (And that’s why her interview will be up in this space very soon! 🙂 )

  15. Kris Neri says:

    Loved the interview, Toni. I’ve never seen Serenity, but since we both love Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, I’ll give it a try. I’m disappointed in Mickey Mouse. I really thought he had better taste.

  16. sallycootie says:

    Another wonderful interview. Remember, Hank, you promised to do these forever.

    I don’t believe the part about Toni being meaner than people think – she sounds like someone you would love to know, fun to talk to and hang out with, she would keep you laughing, and maybe give you an advance peek at her next book!

  17. Toni, I met you at Malice, though I doubt you’d remember. I think we were waiting for elevators from the bottom floor and I saw your name tag and said, “You write about the skeleton!” So, apologies for not being a little more tactful. Malice does that to me.

    I particularly love how you put this: “I write the scary stuff, particularly normal people dealing with scary stuff, to try to convince myself that if something really awful happens, I’ll be able to deal with it and not just squeal like a hungry guinea pig.” Very well said!

    • Toni Kelner says:

      I do remember you Diane, but mostly because of the last name. My husband’s family has Valeria’s in it, so i remember wondering if there were some distant connection.

      And when you write about a skeleton, you expect such questions.

  18. Diane Hale says:

    Tony & Hank–fabulous interview. Tony, I’m so proud of your Browncoat sensibilities, I’ve been a fan since Fox mangled the Firefly series schedule, and rewatch both the series & Serenity on a regular basis. Also love that you’re a Torchwood fan. Looking forward to becoming acquainted with your Sid series.

    • Toni Kelner says:

      I’m embarrassed to admit that we didn’t watch Firefly until it came out on DVD. But after one episode, I was hooked. It took my husband longer. Two episodes.

    • hankpryan says:

      Thank you! (Firefly? Firefly? I am hopelessly behind..)

  19. Dotty Kelley says:

    I hate scary stuff, don’t get why some people think it’s fun to be scared to death. I recently ordered the Firefly/Serenity dvds.

    • Toni Kelner says:

      I promise, Sid is not a scary skeleton. Unless you’re scared by all skeletons, of course. I myself am scared of bugs, and I don’t think anybody could create one I’d like.

      No, wait, I’m wrong. L. Frank Baum and Professor Wogglebug. But that’s about it on the friendly bug front.

      • hankpryan says:

        Friendly bug. Lemme think. No. But I wont kill them, unless they are centipedes, and then I make Jonathan do it.

      • Jeanie Dannheim says:

        Sid is a lovable skeleton! Only he can make that claim. 🙂

  20. Nice interview! No, I haven’t seen Serenity,but I have a number of movie I used to watch over and over;i just don’t have that kind of time now. However, I MUST read the the Skeleton Family, et al.
    They would HAVE to be good to be successful! Best of continued luck to both of you.

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