The One person I’ve Ever Imagined Killing
There’s only one person I’ve ever imagined killing. I’d lay awake fantasizing about stalking his jogging route, hiding in a dark alley in my beat-up Chevy Vega, then running him over. Of course, I wasn’t ever seriously considering murder, even if he’d made my life hell for four years. That was decades ago, when I was one of the very few women graduate students in philosophy. All of my professors were men, and most of them thought women had no place in philosophy. My dissertation director was no exception. The things these guys did to sabotage me were so extreme that if I wrote about them in my novels, no one would believe them. After graduate school, I went to therapy for decades to try to cope with the trauma I’d suffered at the hands of those men, most of them brilliant philosophers and misogynist creeps.
As a professor myself, I had to “publish or perish.” Far from perishing, I became a publishing fiend. I was determined to show those sexist jerks that I could make it in a man’s world. So, I wrote more nonfiction books in five years than most people in my profession do in their entire careers. I figured success was my best revenge; and I’ve kept writing philosophy books so fast my colleagues still ask me how I do it.
A dozen nonfiction books later, my success as a philosophy professor wasn’t quite enough. Writing and teaching philosophy was—and is—very satisfying, but I still wanted more. I’d always wanted to write fiction, but never had the guts. Trained to get to the point, start with the thesis, and reveal the stakes from the start, I figured I wouldn’t be a very good storyteller. I’d give away the mystery from the beginning. Then, I realized that being a philosopher is a lot like being a detective. You follow clues in books and piece together the puzzle, even if that puzzle is the meaning of life instead of whodunit.
Even as a kid, I’d always wanted to be a detective. During recess, I’d eavesdropping on other kids, or hide in the ballbox and peek out to spy on them. Writing detection fiction seemed the best way to actualize my childhood dreams, given my limitations as an academic.
The inspiration for my first novel, WOLF (KAOS press June 2016), came from my experience in graduate school. While I couldn’t kill my first dissertation director in real life, I could kill him in a novel. That was the perfect solution. I realized with fiction, I could create the world as I wanted it to be and not as it actually is. It was a brilliant solution and much better (and more fun) than therapy.
So, I created Jessica James, my gritty protagonist, inspired by my own experiences, but capable of so much more than I am. With more wit than grace, Jessica James stumbles into murder, art scams, rape conspiracies, human trafficking, corruption, and a ring of Ivy League egg harvesters. Former Montana cowgirl and barrel racing champion, Jessica is out of her element as a philosophy graduate student at Northwestern University. Before moving to Chicago for graduate school, she’d never tasted Thai food, stood at the base of a sky-scraper, jumped on an elevated train, or seen a dead body. The queen of the quick comeback, Jessica gives as good as she gets. And, from the world of rodeos to philosophy graduate school, she’s had to swim against the current in an ocean of men. Not being dragged down by the undertow is hard, and she may get soggy and swallow a lot of seawater, but somehow she always manages to swim safely to shore.
In my second novel, COYOTE (KAOS press August 2016), Jessica goes back home to Montana where she grew up. She takes a summer job in Glacier Park, and along with her roommate Kimi RedFox, ends up fighting corruption and human trafficking brought to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation by Fracking and oil drilling on Blackfeet lands. I did a lot of research on Fracking for this novel, and what I found was surprising. Again, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. Like my first novel, this one features strong female protagonists who work together to fight against violent men.
In WOLF and COYOTE sexist professors get murdered, rapist frat boys get their butts kicked, human trafficking scumbags get a slug in the gut, and smart girls have witty comebacks for catcalls from roughnecks and roustabouts. If you enjoy quirky, tough, clever, pretty girls solving mysteries, wisecracking, and karate chopping bad guys, I think you’ll like my novels.
WHEN SHE’S NOT writing Jessica James mystery novels, Kelly Oliver is a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. She is the author of fourteen nonfiction
books, most recently, Hunting Girls (Columbia University Press 2016), and over 100 articles on issues including campus rape, reproductive technologies, women and the media, film noir, animal ethics, environmental philosophy, and Alfred Hitchcock. Her work has been translated into seven languages, and she has published an op-ed on loving our pets in The New York Times. She has been interviewed on ABC television news, the Canadian Broadcasting Network, and various radio programs.
Kelly lives in Nashville with her husband and her furry family, Hurricane, Yukiyu, and Mayhem.
For more information on Kelly, check out her website: