Author Spotlight: Tammy Kaehler

We ask the L.A. writer about her debut novel, Dead Man’s Switch

Tammy Kaehler used to say she could write anything—except fiction. But eight years ago, she woke up with an idea for a book. Inspired, she took some writing classes and wrote her very first manuscript—now buried in a drawer somewhere, but at least she knew she could do it. Then a company she was working for started sponsoring a racing series, and Kaehler found herself in “a world of drama, competition, money, rock-star status, and danger,” she says. “It was fascinating, and I thought, I’d like to teach people about this like I’m learning about it.” That’s when the concept for her first book, Dead Man’s Switch (one of our Critic’s Picks for August), a mystery starring talented rookie racecar driver Kate Reilly, was born.

During your time at the racetrack, did you ever get behind the wheel?
I went to racing school, I did—a couple of years into this, as part of research. Most people go because they’ve been dying to all their lives; I was terrified. So I really had to screw my courage up. But it was invaluable because I got it in a way that I hadn’t gotten it before. There’s a lot of information you can find online, there are lots of YouTube videos behind the wheel with a racecar driver in a racecar at a particular track, but I got a lot closer to really understanding the sights, sounds, and smells because I had been actually behind the wheel, learning about what you’re supposed to do and not supposed to do. 

How did your background in technical writing help you write this book?
With the level of technical detail that is in Dead Man’s Switch, it helped a lot. I talk to college students interested in technical writing a lot, and tell them it’s really good training for anything. With technical writing, you can’t do a lot of superfluous stuff. You need as few words as possible to get the point across. I’ve been trained to do that, to try and synthesize down to the most fundamental and important point.  

Dead Man’s Switch is the first in a planned series of racing mysteries. How do you plan to keep this world interesting and mysterious?
There’s a lot of drama, certainly. Races are really about preparation and skill and luck—to varying degrees in each race. So there’s a lot of fodder there for different stories. Going to races is exciting for me and keeps me recording little tidbits or little strange things that can happen that I’d never think of, that I can pull together in different combinations later. But I also want to explore different cars. Every book will be a different track and different environment and different city—different country, even.