Keeping Up With the Debuts: What Lee Kelly Learned from Her Debut

February 3, 2016 Giveaway, Guest Post, Keeping Up With the Debuts 5

Keeping Up With the Debuts is an original That Artsy Reader Girl feature, where I bring back former debut authors are give them the opportunity to talk about what they learned from their debut novel and what’s next for them!

I’m so excited to welcome Lee Kelly back to the blog today! Lee’s debut novel, City of Savages, came out exactly one year ago today! She’s here to tell us about what she learned from her debut novel and to tell us about her new book, A Criminal Magic, which released yesterday!


What I Learned from My Debut
by Lee Kelly

It’s February 3, 2016 – exactly one day after the release of my second novel, A CRIMINAL MAGIC, and exactly one year after the release of my first, CITY OF SAVAGES. My debut somehow simultaneously feels like ages ago, and also just last week. I think time does funny tricks like that, bends and flexes and knots around big events in people’s lives, and this past year has been no exception.

Whenever I catch up or run into people I haven’t seen in a while, one of the first questions they tend to ask is, “Oh hey! How’s the book doing?” And while this used to feel like an antagonizing inquiry into my personal worth last winter, these days, it just feels like an honest question. I’ve gotten over the vulnerability, the obsession, the insecurity of my debut – and while debuting was truly a rollercoaster of an endeavor, I’d like to think I’m a stronger writer and person for it.

The funny thing is, with my second book, I find myself slipping back into my “debut insanity” mindset a little bit – but maybe this is somewhat inevitable, right? Maybe releasing books is a little like having kids – maybe you just can’t escape that period where life gets turned upside down, where you’re more vulnerable and irritable and feel like you may never be normal again. Here are five lessons I learned the first book around that I’m trying to remember this time:

1. Reading is subjective, and it’s supposed to be. There was a three month stretch, right around release, where I sadly spent waaaay too much time tracking Amazon and Goodreads reviews, pouring over trades, wondering when I noticed someone currently reading my novel if they’d be the type of person who would enjoy a pair of post-apocalyptic sisters, or the type who would make a hate-rant video about their idiocy.
But the truth is, tastes are erratic and completely unpredictable. I’ll hand a novel to my mom, convinced she’ll devour it, and she can’t get through the first twenty pages. My sister and I will see a movie, and at the end she’ll ask, “Wasn’t that amazing?” to which I answer, “Eh.”

Thing is, entertainment is supposed to be subjective – there are many kinds of genres and styles and messages and if we all liked the same thing, we’d all write and make the same things, and what a boring world that would be.

2. Don’t ask people if they’ve read your book. That moment where you know your husband gave a copy of your book to his colleague, and you know she liked the first two chapters because she told you in person a month earlier, and yet here you are at a cocktail party and books come up and she says nothing. VERDICT: As my father flippantly says, “So what! Who cares?” I never bring it up because she either forgot or she hated it, and those are high odds for a really awkward conversation.

3. The online book community is wonderful…. I never knew how incredibly robust and communal and supportive and fun the book community was online until I debuted. I got on Twitter late, and only after I signed my book deal with Simon & Schuster, but I seriously feel so grateful for the amazing community of fellow writers, readers, bloggers, agents and publishers that make the book community so wonderful and accessible online.

4. …But sometimes you have to go dark. For all of its amazingness, thanks to social media, it is so, so easy these days to check in on friends and colleagues and other writers, see all of the wonderful things going on in their careers (New deals! Stellar reviews! Film options!) and feel incredibly small and unworthy. And while it took me a LONG time to figure this out, I finally realized that when I’m in a really insecure place (like waiting on feedback from my editor or agent, or really struggling with a particular scene or a tough revision), I just have to turn off the internet. I’m not intentionally in the business of torturing myself, but for a short period back in 2015, I have to admit I was pretty darn good at it.

5. At the end of the day, I love writing. No matter how my last book or my new book is received, at the end of the day, I write novels because I love writing – the actual act, not everything that might come or does come after it. So I have to sit down at the computer as a writer, not as an author, which helps frame all of the above concerns as privileges.


To read about Lee’s debut novel, A City of Savages, click here!
Continue on to read about A Criminal Magic and enter to win one of two prize packages of BOTH of Lee Kelly’s books!

A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly
February 2, 2016 from Simon & Schuster
Add to Goodreads • Buy from Amazon

THE NIGHT CIRCUS meets PEAKY BLINDERS in Lee Kelly’s new magical realism, crossover novel.

Magic is powerful, dangerous and addictive – and after passage of the 18th Amendment, it is finally illegal.

It’s 1926 in Washington, DC, and while Anti-Sorcery activists have achieved the Prohibition of sorcery, the city’s magic underworld is booming. Sorcerers cast illusions to aid mobsters’ crime sprees. Smugglers funnel magic contraband in from overseas. Gangs have established secret performance venues where patrons can lose themselves in magic, and take a mind-bending, intoxicating elixir known as the sorcerer’s shine.

Joan Kendrick, a young sorcerer from Norfolk County, Virginia accepts an offer to work for DC’s most notorious crime syndicate, the Shaw Gang, when her family’s home is repossessed. Alex Danfrey, a first-year Federal Prohibition Unit trainee with a complicated past and talents of his own, becomes tapped to go undercover and infiltrate the Shaws.

Through different paths, Joan and Alex tread deep into the violent, dangerous world of criminal magic – and when their paths cross at the Shaws’ performance venue, despite their orders, and despite themselves, Joan and Alex become enchanted with one another. But when gang alliances begin to shift, the two sorcerers are forced to question their ultimate allegiances and motivations. And soon, Joan and Alex find themselves pitted against each other in a treacherous, heady game of cat-and-mouse.

A CRIMINAL MAGIC casts a spell of magic, high stakes and intrigue against the backdrop of a very different Roaring Twenties.


Lee Kelly is the author of A CRIMINAL MAGIC and CITY OF SAVAGES. She has wanted to write since she was old enough to hold a pencil, but it wasn’t until she began studying for the California Bar Exam that she conveniently started putting pen to paper. An entertainment lawyer by trade, Lee has practiced in Los Angeles and New York. She lives with her husband and children in Millburn, New Jersey. Follow her on Twitter at @leeykelly and on her website at NewWriteCity.com.


Lee Kelly is offering two winners copies of both City of Savages AND A Criminal Magic! Pretty sure you should enter this giveaway.

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5 Responses to “Keeping Up With the Debuts: What Lee Kelly Learned from Her Debut”

  1. Sarah D.

    So proud of Lee Kelly! I was lucky to be in her HS English classes and know she’s an excellent writer so I can’t wait to read these books!

  2. Stephanie Kaye

    So proud of her! I was super excited for City of Savages last year and this year I am excited for A Criminal Magic, but haven’t had the chance to get either one. But I need to read these both!

    Thanks for the chance to win! :)
    Stephanie Kaye recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday [77]

  3. Summer

    I love reading about the twenties so I’m very interested in this one, especially since it has magic, too. And such an awesome attitude about reviews, and writing for the love of writing, makes me want to read her books all the more.

  4. Cee

    I am so in love with the synopsis of Criminal Magic. You have magical realism + magic + gangs + AU 1920s? Goddamn, it all just sounds so awesome. I’m so excited to see all the rave for Lee Kelly!

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