May 7, 2020

247 – “Cozy Mysteries & Inclusive Children’s Books” with Kelly Brakenhoff (@inBrakenVille)

247 – “Cozy Mysteries & Inclusive Children’s Books” with Kelly Brakenhoff (@inBrakenVille)
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Buckle up because life is a great ride.

Today’s featured author is American Sign Language Interpreter, half-marathon runner, chocolate lover, and mom of 4, Kelly Brakenhoff. Kelly and I talk about how she got into writing both mystery novels and children’s books, where she finds the inspiration to write her books and more!!!

*For An Entire Special Edition transcript of this episode, scroll below.

Key Things You’ll Learn:

Why she writes mystery novels and why they’re her favorite book genre.

Why she started her own publishing company.

What inspired her children’s book series.

The most important thing you must get right about when you publish a children’s book.


Kelly’s Site:

Kelly’s Books:


The opening track is titled "Good Morning World" by EV Sharp (Formerly Known As MagicMusic Productions). Listen and download the full track by clicking on the following link.


Resources Mentioned:



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Episode Transcript (Courtesy of Kelly)  :) :

Dom Brightmon: You are now tuning in to the going North podcast. With your host, bestselling author, professional speaker, and member of the John Maxwell team, Dominique “Dom” Brightman, and every Monday and Thursday we're going to hear the voice of a different author, sharing their gifts, stories, and expertise to help your charge forward in life.

Now, let's get on with the show.

And today on the Going North podcast, we're bringing some fabulous humans from across the globe. Today is no different. Today is no different because we got another fabulous author from the Creative Edge Crew, baby. That's right. These are some creative folks who have an edge and not Adam Copeland because this fabulous author right here is not only a fabulous mom, but she's also an American Sign Language Interpreter, which is actually a first for this podcast. You we’ve never had an ASL professional well on his podcast, and her motivation for learning ASL actually began back in high school when she wanted to converse with her Deaf friends and she also, and published her first novel a murder mystery, which is Death by Dissertation, which was published back in April, 2019 as well as Dead Week.

In addition to that, a children's picture books series featuring Duke, the Deaf Dog as well. This is a lady of many talents in addition to all that fabulous stuff. She also serves on the Board of Editors for the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf publication, VIEWS. Let's give it up for the fabulous KB, not KB Toys herself. Ms. Kelly Brakenhoff, how are you today, ma'am?

Kelly Brakenhoff: Hi, I'm great. How are you doing?

Dom Brightmon: Doing fabulous, doing fabulous, indeed. We got the fabulous Kind Kelly on the show. I'm talking about.

Kelly Brakenhoff: You remind me when I was younger, and people would try to make fun of my name. You know, they do the rhyming thing. The worst thing they could come up with was smelly Kelly with a belly full of jelly. I was really hurt though.

Dom Brightmon: Or did you even have a belly, at least a huge one?

Kelly Brakenhoff: Well, no. I suppose is that if that was the worst they could come up with, that was okay.

Dom Brightmon: Oh yeah, we can always call you a tree. Well that that could be worse. Why did I do that to myself? Never mind, that's bad, but don't worry. It's about the sensational Kelly. Would you mind filling in some cavities or filling an introduction and tell us a bit about who is the one and only Kelly B. herself.

Kelly Brakenhoff: I was looking over your website and everything. You really have had a lot of inspirational people on before me, and all of the things that you've gotten to do. I was trying to think of what I could contribute to that body of work there. I was intimidated thinking that I'm just a mom and I wrote some books. But I guess one thing that's interesting is that it took me a really long time to write the books. I am quite a bit older, and I've had this career as an American Sign Language interpreter for a very long time. And like you said, I have four kids. I took a lot of time raising and teaching them how to use the washing machine and the dishwasher while they were growing up, until they could fend for themselves and move out.

Once they got older, I got serious. I'd always wanted to be a writer my whole life, and once they started getting old enough, I really buckled down and decided that I wanted to do this badly enough. I was going to do whatever it took. I think it was 2014 when I did my first NaNoWriMo. Dom, have you experienced a NaNoWriMo yourself before?

Dom Brightmon: Oh yeah, I wrote maybe five words.

Kelly Brakenhoff: See, I'm the person where I love that challenge. I'm competitive, like our family. We have these, you know, game nights. Everybody in our family is really competitive. If you set a competition before me, that's the best way to get me to do something.

When I read about National Novel Writing Month, I thought, okay, I can write every day for 30 days and I can come up with 50,000 words. I think I can do this. One year I decided to go for it. Well, I ended up with 50,000 words, and then it took me another four years to edit and revise them to make it into my first book, Death by Dissertation.

Dom Brightmon: Well, hey, that's frigging awesome. Well, I mean, that's a feat within itself to be able to actually write enough words during that month before it ends, or as it ends, and then it's actually published. It actually takes guts because some folks in the past on this show, they've done NaNoWriMo they've had plenty of books, but they never actually published them for the public to read. That takes guts on your follow through, and it looks like we found a new nickname for you, Competitive Kelly.

Kelly Brakenhoff: Yeah, that's right. I mean, definitely it's a great accomplishment to complete NaNoWriMo. Some people do it for their own personal satisfaction, to challenge themselves, but I wanted more. I've always wanted to be an author and I never really saw the path to do that in my life with time and everything. But once I broke it down into the small chunks of like, okay, well I can write 50,000 words and then I can start working on getting them revised. It took me a couple years to get through that whole process and I submitted it around to a bunch of agents and publishing houses.

I had a lot of people who asked me to send in my whole manuscript. And I did that for over a year and worked really hard at that. And then, I never could get anybody that was interested in offering me a contract. And I went through this time where I had to decide, do I start something else or do I keep working on this one?

And I really believed in this story because of the main character, her name is Cassandra Sato and she moves from Hawai’i to Nebraska for her dream job. Who does that, right? But she always wanted to be a college administrator. She works in a small college in Hawai’i, and she wants to become a president of a university someday.

She gets offered the job at this college in Nebraska, but after a couple months they find a student dead on the campus. She has to go and help figure out what happened to the student. Some of the characters in the book are Deaf and use American Sign Language. In the process of writing the book, I realized that one of the things that I wanted to do with this was make people aware of what it's like.

You know, with my day job, I work with Deaf people all the time, and I know lots of really cool Deaf people that have really cool jobs and do great things. But your average person doesn't run into very many deaf people. And you might not know very much sign language except for the alphabet and a couple of curse words, and that's it. I thought it'd be really cool to have characters in the book that are Deaf and use sign language. The more I've gotten into it, and the more I've written in the series and everything, I've realized that’s my thing. I wanted to make the world more aware of what it's like to be Deaf or to know sign language.

A lot of the feedback that I've gotten from reviewers and readers have said that they really appreciated learning about Deaf Culture. The first book is a lot about what it's like to be a college student who's Deaf. If you imagine that you're in your class and the professor is talking, but you're getting all the information through the interpreter and what that's like and how hard and challenging that is.

You know, a lot of people don't think about things like that. And the readers have really enjoyed getting a taste of what it's like through the books. That cemented in my head why I'm doing this.

Dom Brightmon: Ah, yes, indeed. Yes, indeed. And I'm guessing your day to day work with Deaf folks, is that really the main inspiration beyond the novel, the mystery novel.

Kelly Brakenhoff: Yeah, definitely. In my day job, most of what I do is on call. Well, not now, but usually what I'm doing is on college campuses. I actually attend the classes with Deaf students and interpret what the teacher and the other students say in class, and then interpret what the student says to the rest of the class so that everybody knows what each other's saying.

I've been doing this for over 20 years, and I've done 17 different college majors all the way from freshmen English to PhD candidates. A really, really wide variety of things. I've seen really good professors. I've seen really bad professors. I've had interesting classes and some classes that are make me squeamish or things like that.

 It's been a really interesting thing. I noticed college campuses have academic politics. I've worked with faculty members too and sat in on staff meetings and everything. You know, some of that stuff, like how they always say like life is stranger than fiction. I always thought this is a great place to have murder. You’ve got mayhem. You’ve got politics, you got all kinds of good stuff here. Some of the quotes in the book, I didn't even make it up. It was things I’ve overheard.

Dom Brightmon: Not just killing walls but killing humans.

Kelly Brakenhoff: There's quite a few series that are based in college campuses. I'm not the only one who thinks that it’s a ripe setting.

Dom Brightmon: Oh yeah. Cause definitely a lot of folks in the spring, some professors fighting for tenure, right? Of course, administration, the politics and hell, that's everywhere. Shoot, whenever there's more than one person, there's going to be something happening.

Kelly Brakenhoff: Well, there's something about college campuses. You know how it's almost like a little town within a town. There's all kinds of plot opportunities there.

Dom Brightmon: That's right. It's like a little town. It's like an exhibit Pimp My Ride. It's like, yeah, yeah, man. We put a town inside of your town. It's really called Murder Town. It’s a mystery novel where somebody got killed. Yup..

Kelly Brakenhoff: Sorry. I have this visual of a car with a town inside the back. Whatever. Totally taking me off on a tangent now. I'm sorry. I'll come back.

Dom Brightmon: Oh no, we're going to go down a rabbit hole, bunny ears and all . . . about that time we had the mushrooms. Let me start. I’m just messing with you don’t’ worry. But it's all good though. It's all good. Out of all of the types and genres out there of novels and fiction, why mystery?

Kelly Brakenhoff: Oh, that's easy. I love mysteries. That's been my favorite genre since I was little. You know, Nancy drew, except I thought Hardy boys were more interesting cause they got to do more cool stuff. They get to dig and camp and all this stuff. And, and as I grew up, I read more mysteries. I love to read thrillers too, but I don't know. Those are the things that I love to read myself so that's what I write.

Dom Brightmon: Sweet. Yes, indeed. It's kinda funny. It's like whatever we expose ourselves to the most is what we eventually become. It's like you expose yourself to mystery books and then you love them so much that you eventually get to join a business of immortality and write a few of your own.

Kelly Brakenhoff: Definitely. One of the good things that's kept me going here in my extended, self-quarantine, our cable TV company added all the Hallmark Channels to our package. We didn't get them, but now we have the Hallmark Mysteries and Movies channel. I've watched this whole channel, all of these different mystery movies and shows. It's been really nice for me to sit down at night. I feel like I can call it research and then it doesn't seem like I'm wasting time, but it's been really fun. Maybe someday I'll try to sell them my mysteries.

Dom Brightmon: Heck yeah. Probably got two books cooking right now as we speak.

Kelly Brakenhoff: That'd be great.

Dom Brightmon: Yes, indeed. Tony, the tiger approved too. That's right. The sponsors didn't pay me, and they are not going to be feeling great. That was Roy. Tony the tiger. I'm about to show him who the real Tiger King is. Let me see.

Kelly Brakenhoff: Do you watch that Tiger King show?

Dom Brightmon: I've seen photos. I had no idea what the heck it was until maybe yesterday. I'm like, what? In the blue Hill?

Kelly Brakenhoff: Yeah, I kept seeing people talk about it, but I didn't know what they were talking about. Then I saw someone listed all of the things in it, and then I was like, okay. I think I'm okay with not knowing about it. I’m good with that. I think I don't really need to know everything.

Dom Brightmon: One of the few times or ignorance truly is bliss.

Kelly Brakenhoff: Yeah. There are a few times, and this might be one..

Dom Brightmon: Yeah. But the beautiful thing is that you are versatile and yeah, agile in the literary sense. Cause you also have a children's book as well.

Kelly Brakenhoff: Yes, that's right. I do. The children's book I've written is for preschool to second grade age. The kind where your parents still have to read to you or your grandparents or babysitter or somebody has to read you the book out loud and, it's called, Never Mind. it's about Duke, the Deaf Dog. Again, using my professional experience. I’ve been around a lot of really cool deaf people for a long time, and it's changed how I look at the world. I think I was telling you before how it took me a really long time to get my first couple of mysteries published.

But at a certain point, I had to decide if I wanted to get an agent or a publisher or if I wanted to do it myself. And I did a lot of research for about a year before I decided I'm a control freak, I'm going to do it myself. And I hired an editor and a cover designer and went down that path and worked really hard to learn about the publishing industry.

And as I was doing that, I had to file with our secretary of state. Set up my own publishing company that I could publish my own books. I filled out the paperwork and sent in the money. And then about two weeks later happened to be on Christmas Eve.

I woke up in the morning and I had this revelation where it dawned on me that, well, if I'm going to start my own publishing company and I'm really going to do this, then I can do whatever I want. Like I'm the queen, I can publish whatever books I want. Then my mind started racing from there.

It was like flipping a switch. Maybe some deaf people that I know maybe want to write a book and I could publish their book. Or if something inspires me, I could publish that. The next day I had another idea. There's not that many children's books out there that have deaf characters in them. I started doing research on it. The more research I did, I realized that, especially for this age group, there's seriously three or four books.

That's all that have deaf characters that aren't those baby signs books. That’s popular where people have babies and teach them “milk” and “more.” But there's few books that actually have Deaf characters where a Deaf child could open up the book and see that character is like me.

Cause now I'm going to have my own company. I put all these things together. And one of the really cool things about the book is that there's photos inside the book of one of my friends who's an American Sign Language instructor at the university. The book has photos of her signing the 10 vocabulary words in the book. As the kids are reading the story, they can also learn some signs. And I thought, well, a lot of the parents of kids that are deaf, you know, a lot of those parents can hear, and they don't know any signs. This way it would be a good thing for them to start learning sign language at the same time that their kids are learning. Then it took off from there.

Dom Brightmon: Like a big old rocket ship, indeed. Competitive and creative.

Kelly Brakenhoff: You know how you make one decision and it opens the doors to stuff that you never would have thought about before.

Dom Brightmon: Oh heck yeah. Pandora's box on a good way.

Kelly Brakenhoff: Right, exactly. Once I crossed that threshold and said, this is what I want to do. It was amazing. All of the people that I was able to contact and all the things that fell into place. The book was published the end of December. Seeing the response of people and how they are excited about it. Parents are excited about it.

We have videos online. In the book you also get access to videos on my website where Amy teaches you how to do the signs and then she even reads the whole story in sign language on my website. Kids can practice how to do it and learn some signs.

Each thing that we do leads to the next step, you know. If you had told me a year and a half ago that this was going to happen, I don't think I would have even believed it, but one step at a time . . .

Dom Brightmon: One step at a time, and then the jump happens. Yes, indeed. Yes indeed. And definitely got to give you kudos to that cause definitely write this out. ‘Cause outside of the baby signs books, there's really nothing out there for Deaf children at all. Even deaf people, period. To be honest.

Kelly Brakenhoff: A few movies here and there. There's a few. And you know, they're good. There's not very many. Like I think about my four kids. I don't know if you've heard of them Little Critter books by Mercer Mayer. Did you like those when you were a kid? My kids loved those and they each had a little lesson and the illustrations were cute and everything. And I said why don't deaf kids have something like that that they can see themselves in?

The cool thing that's at the end of the book, the last section is all the people who worked on the book with me are Deaf. Except for my sister, ‘cause my sister's the illustrator and she's not deaf.

But the other people who helped me with the book are all Deaf. And I thought it was really cool that I have their stories at the end. What they do for a living and how they got to be where they are. Deaf children need to see what they can become when they grow up. And I wanted them to see some of the people that I know who are really successful. I wanted deaf kids to be able to see a glimpse of the things they can become.

Dom Brightmon: Well, opening up a whole new world for him. That's what I'm talking about.

Kelly Brakenhoff: A lot to ask from 34 pages, but we're trying,

Dom Brightmon: Oh, don't worry. I'm sure those pages are being multiplied as we speak.

Kelly Brakenhoff: My sister is working on the second book. She's drawing it right now. You're going to like this. The name of the second book is called Farts Make Noise.

Dom Brightmon: Yeah. But they catch them on Facebook. I'm like, God, this is going to be given the keys. They were killed.

Kelly Brakenhoff: Well, we do have three boys, we had a lot of research at our house.

Dom Brightmon: Research by force, I'm assuming.

Kelly Brakenhoff: Whether I wanted it or not.

Dom Brightmon: Yeah, exactly. There was no choice.

Kelly Brakenhoff: There's certain things you learn when you're a parent. Definitely.

Dom Brightmon: Beautiful. So for those who are out there, who may be trying to write a children's book, what was the best advice you can give those who want to go the children's book route?

Kelly Brakenhoff: Ooh. You really have to do research. Children's books are very different than adult books. I had to join a whole bunch of other groups for children and I feel like I'm scratching the surface. I still have a lot to learn.

I'm really lucky. My sister did the illustrating. I know a lot of times when you say, yeah, my sister's doing the illustrating, people think, okay, great. But my sister is actually really good. She's not using crayons and making some sketches. She's a professional artist.

That was a big relief for me that I could ask her, and she would come through for me. Whereas if you're a person writing a book and you don't have any art skills, especially for picture books that’s hard. The illustrator makes the book. I mean, my story while I like it, and it's great. But the pictures make the book.

If you look online and you see the pictures of Duke and the other dogs, they're adorable. They make it much better. And even writing older books like chapter books and young adult books. People think that they're like little adults, but they're not. You have to come at it from a completely different perspective.

Dom Brightmon: Right. You're definitely right about the illustration as being everything, the illustrator making the kids book itself. Because if the pictures are bad or they don't match the words then you're in trouble. ‘Cause I remember one time I was reading a kids book and there were these aliens in the book. I forgot what they originally were supposed to be, but I'm like, wait a second, why are they green space aliens? I thought they were supposed to be little insect people. I said, what's going on?

Kelly Brakenhoff: Yeah, yeah. Well, and there’s many kinds of art. You know, some of them are anime and some of them are old fashioned.

Even my sister, you know, I said, Hey, I want to do this book and I want it to be dogs and you know, what do you think? And she's like looking at me like, you're such an idiot. She didn’t say that out loud, but I'm sure in her head she was like, you have no idea what you're talking about. She was like, well . . . what kind of drawings?

Like I said, I'm lucky I could put myself in her hands because she did a great job. But honestly, the pictures are what make the book good.

Dom Brightmon: Yes, indeed. Definitely fabulous right there. And that's the power of trusting a good specialist that knows the difference. That's something I forgot for a split second, but you're right. Because there are different styles of drawings in the illustrations. It's like, you know. If you go the anime style route, you're going to be in trouble trying to reach certain audiences with your work.

Kelly Brakenhoff: Well, it symbolizes something else, right. Or if you do more of a fantasy type of thing or a science fiction look. People can tell at glance at the pictures, what the meaning is behind it. And even young kids, that's how they get started. If you're watching TV shows, the difference between cartoons and their styles. There's so much thought that goes behind all of those pictures. I took that for granted before I started working with the illustrator. I didn't realize how much thought they put into every single drawing, every single step.

Dom Brightmon: Yes indeed. It's true. And I agree with the cartoons and the anime on the TV and everything like that. Seeing how much behind the scenes work is required to put something like that together. You want to respect those that do that more often cause it's like, Oh, I didn't know how much work was required for that.

Kelly Brakenhoff: Oh sure. Think about even the Pixar shorts. Those take a whole team of people a year to work on, what, a 15-minute video. We don't respect how much time and skill it takes.

Dom Brightmon: Oh yeah. Because folks see the finished product, they don't see the work that was involved.

Kelly Brakenhoff: I mean, I guess that's how it is with anything, right. You know, when you're see something done very well, it looks effortless, but we all know it's not.

Dom Brightmon: Folks finished the book faster than you as a writer and then they want to know when's your next one? I read that in one day. Yeah, we're gonna find a time chamber for you. Shoot. I'll be right back.

 What's on the horizon for Kelly? What's next.

Kelly Brakenhoff: Well, I thought I’d be through my third book in the Cassandra Sato series. I'm working on it right now. I thought with all this time at home, I should be writing thousands of word every day. But the news makes me anxious.  The first week or so it was really hard to get going, but the last couple of weeks I've been moving along pretty good. I'm almost done with the next book. Like I said, my sister's working on the next Duke, the Deaf Dog book. Those should both be coming out later this summer.

Dom Brightmon: Wow, two more books out? That's what I'm talking about.

Kelly Brakenhoff: Well, when we get past all these really difficult times, it'd be great if I had something to show for it. At least a clean house or some organized shelves and maybe a book. That would be nice.

Dom Brightmon: Oh yeah, definitely. I'm in the same boat with you.

Kelly Brakenhoff: Yeah. trying to stay away from people and keep other people healthy and not be the person who causes anybody else, any anxiety or stress. Trying to do my, my part in this little corner of the world.

Dom Brightmon: Some call it the cozy corner.

Kelly Brakenhoff: Right, me and my dogs. They're really confused. They don't understand why I'm home all day. They keep looking at me like, are you ever leaving? Like what are you still doing?

Dom Brightmon: It's like, we're going to mess up the furniture. Why are you still here? Come on. Darn it. It's like the human's been here for a long time. What's going on? This is something going on. We don't know about. There was this thing with beer, I don't know, maybe it was a chocolate chip cookie. No, that was probably the beer.

Kelly Brakenhoff: Probably one of the first days I was home. I was making a sandwich for lunch and I put the ingredients on the counter, and I made the mistake of walking out of the room. One of our dogs is a German Wirehair Pointer. He's about nose level with the counter. When I came back, my, my bread was gone and I was like, dude. What kind of coworker are you?

Dom Brightmon: Who's the real breadwinner now?

Kelly Brakenhoff: Clearly hiring in this place is bad..

Dom Brightmon: Yes, indeed. Not too bad. The HR office is closed on this one.

Kelly Brakenhoff: Yeah. Nobody wants to hear your complaint.

Dom Brightmon: Woo. But there's one thing we definitely want to hear and that is the advice you would give to your 25-year-old self. If you were 25 and it occurred in the year of 2020.

Kelly Brakenhoff: Wow. 25-year-old self. Buckle your seatbelt and enjoy the ride, because it's going to be a lot of fun. There's a lot of ups and downs, but it's going to be a lot of fun. I had my first son, my first child when I was 25. It got better and better after that.

Dom Brightmon: It's still hard to believe. Listening to your voice that you’re old enough.

Kelly Brakenhoff: Yeah. I know I have a young sounding voice. When I lived in a different state from my parents and I was probably about 25. Some telemarketer called the house and he said, Hi, can I talk to your mom? And I said, my mom lives in Nebraska, and I hung up. I know I have a young sounding voice, but my mother does not live with me anymore.

Dom Brightmon: Yes, indeed. Age could be an advantage too. It's like, yep. Had a child at 25 you get to stay at 25 metaphorically,

Kelly Brakenhoff: That's right. I wish my face and my gray hairs and my wrinkles would stay 25 but you know, Hey.

Dom Brightmon: You can say gray or some call it silver magic.

Kelly Brakenhoff: I know. All the young girls are dying their hair gray and I’m trying to cover mine up.

Dom Brightmon: That's the thing. I'm still confused about it. I'm like, why is your hair gray? I thought, y'all don't want to rush that process. Nobody wants to rush that process.

Kelly Brakenhoff: You know what's funny though? I think it’s stunning if you have the right skin tone and the right style. Some of those girls are really pretty with it. But yeah, people my age are saying no way.

Dom Brightmon: Exactly. It's like, stop rubbing it in. No, I'm the original on the natural hair.

Well for those who want to keep in magical contact with a competitive, kind, and creative Kelly, what's the best way for folks to reach out to you?

Kelly Brakenhoff: I would love if people would check out my website, which is my name, or you can see me on Facebook @KellyBrakenhoffauthor.

I'm really trying to post funny things on Facebook. Try talking to people and not be too salesy. Especially at this moment, like I said earlier, I'm an extrovert. I'm dying here. I need people to talk to me. Follow me on Facebook and talk to me ‘cause I'm stuck in my house all day long. I'm not built for that.

Dom Brightmon: Yeah. I guess the dogs can only woof so much.

Kelly Brakenhoff: That's right. They're very cuddly, but you know, I do like to talk to people also.

Dom Brightmon: That's right. Fabulous having you on today folks, and also our Facebook page. Give us some likes, some magical hearts. Check out our Amazon page and check out some of the magical books. Those who love mystery, or who wants something with the kids. Any parting words for the folks still listening, Kelly?

Kelly Brakenhoff: I'm really hope everybody can, stay healthy and stay safe. Hug your family and your loved ones and take care of each other.

Dom Brightmon: How's it going? You're super special, you awesome human. Since you made it to the end of episode, it looks like you really enjoyed yourself. Since you enjoyed this episode, be sure to share with at least three people in your network and tell them what you really liked about this episode. And even shoot myself or the guests an email and let them know what you like most about this interview that way they can stay inspired to keep pushing out great work.