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Atlanta author saved her life by writing mysteries

In September 1999 Kim Carter (then North) was on the way to drop her son at school before heading to work downtown when she suffered a grand mal seizure behind the wheel of her Grand Prix. She was 33, a mother of three and had never had a seizure in her life. 

Carter and her 10-year-old son survived the terror and no one was hurt but the event set her on a long path to recovery. Carter credits her immediate survival to the brave couple who helped guide them to safety. But as the weeks of medical exams, medications and despair turned into months, she said it was writing that saved her life.

Eight months after the incident, Carter began writing mysteries like the ones she read by her favorite authors including the late Sue Grafton and Atlanta-based Karin Slaughter. 

“It was my safe place. I had lost so much of my independence that was the one place where I could still be productive,” said Carter. “Even if it was just for me, even if it was a hobby, it was soothing.”

It would take several years, but Carter would eventually publish the books that once lived only on big floppy discs. Her 2016 novel “Murder Among the Tombstones,” -- the first book in a series about two 70-year-old women who decide to become private investigators --  is a finalist for the 2018 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion award for best thriller. The winner will be announced Aug. 25.

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"Murder Among the Tombstones," by Kim Carter has been nominated for a Killer Nashville award.

It is an honor Carter never could have imagined when she was pecking out plots on the desktop computer she set up in her laundry room. After the traffic incident, Carter had developed agoraphobia. She worried that she would have another seizure at any given time. 

She had only learned about what happened that day after the fact. How her foot stiffened on the pedal and sent the car shooting down GA 138 at 70 MPH. How a passing couple realized what was happening and drove their car next to hers to warn other drivers out of the way. How her 10-year old son, Austin, would climb down to the floor, push her foot from the gas and press hard on the brakes until the car rolled across several lanes of traffic and came to a stop near a Saturn dealership.

Carter spent three days in the hospital and underwent weeks of medical testing. She searched for and found the couple that helped her. She even appeared on several televisions shows and in an AJC story. It was an emotional time, said Carter, and the seizures just wouldn’t stop. 

It was hard to shake the anxiety and depression that her condition was bringing to her life. She was a mother of young children but had limited mobility and her marriage was headed for divorce. 

One day, she sat on the swing set in the backyard and resolved to do something to help her find some peace. So she moved an old desk into the laundry room, set up her computer and started writing. 

When the kids were at school or at night when she felt she needed to decompress, she was at her computer coming up with characters.

“I remember thinking, I have always been a reader. I thought about all my favorite authors and I thought about what I liked and didn’t like about certain books,” said Carter. “I said I was going to write the way I want books to be.” 

Initially, no one knew what she was doing. But gradually she would print out her pages, roll them up with a rubber band and share them with neighbors. 

In 2002, she began working on her second book. This time she did a lot of research. She visited a warden at the prison and an inmate on death row. She went to the Fulton County Examiner’s Office and began networking.

The process got her out of the house and lifted her mood. She began outlining her stories using sticky notes and story boards. 

Though she was in and out of the hospital several times with health issues, her kids were thriving and her hobby kept her engaged.

Over time she reconnected with a family friend and after a shared dinner, they married in 2004. Her husband, Julius Herron encouraged her writing and she began sharing more and more of her manuscripts. 

In 2005, she self-published her first book, “No Second Chances,” and threw a big launch party at the performing arts center in Newnan. 

They made the rounds of book fairs, sold books online and when they traveled they would give away books to people all over the globe and watch orders come in from around the world. 

Then the seizures came back. 

Julius set up a new desk and office for her. She cried over her old beat up desk but began writing again. 

For her next book, she worked with a small publishing house. When the book was released she had a signing at Barnes and Noble and sold more than 200 books. But despite what felt like success, the deal with the publishing house wasn’t a good one. Carter was disappointed and tired. Her self esteem plummeted. 

“I felt like I wasn’t really a writer,” she said. So she stopped writing for about a year. She began to feel depressed and the seizures started up again. Julius thought it was because her mind was idle. 

Four years ago, when the couple visited a convention for owners of greyhound dogs, they met Kelly Keylon, co-owner of Atlanta Water Gardens. The became fast friends and Keylon also encourage Carter to write again.

“You have talent. You do not want to give up,” he said to her. Keylon was so sure of Carter that he founded Raven South Publishing to publish her books. 

They had to learn how to run a publishing company from the ground up and learned a lot as they worked with printers, cover artists and editors.

Author Kim Carter poses by the headstone of "Baby Belle" who inspired a plot twist in one of her mystery novels.

Carter began tackling her writing again. One story was inspired by a girl’s trip to Biloxi, Miss. During a cemetery tour, Carter spotted a tombstone with a baby lamb on top. It said only, “Baby Belle.” She wanted to learn more about this little baby who seemed to have no family. It was so heavy on her mind, it became a plot twist in her book “Sweet Dreams, Baby Belle.” 

It turned out to be the book in which Clara and Iris, the nosey widows who launch a second act as investigators were first introduced. She patterned the two characters after her mother and her mother’s best friend.

“Readers love ‘Baby Belle’ but I think what they loved the most were those two characters,” Carter said. So she decided to focus a series around them.

“Clara and Iris offer a humor break but they are also very smart women,” she said. She is now working another Clara and Iris book called “Murder on the Bayou” in which the two women buy and RV and hit the road.  

From left, Kim Carter and Kelly Keylon pose outside an RV. This summer they plan to hit the road to do research for Carter’s upcoming mystery book, part of a series of novels about Iris & Clara -- two 70-year-old women who become private investigators.

Soon after the idea formed, Carter hauled Keylon out to Greenville to look at an old RV so they could all take a road trip in October to do research for the book. 

Carter hopes her readers feel like they know her characters and she loves meeting with fans.

“I love doing book clubs and meeting people who read and hearing what they think about the books,” she said. At the end of book club meetings, she leaves everyone with a note to send out to someone that has influenced their lives in big and small ways. 

Carter also continued her connection to Baby Belle. She and Keylon have donated five large angel statues to the Old Biloxi Cemetery to watch over all of the babies buried there.

The Killer Nashville nomination has helped give Carter the boost she needed to continue to reach higher and write the kinds of books that readers want to read.

“I just remain so shocked and humbled that people are reading, purchasing and enjoying what I have written,” she said. “For anyone who is writing and struggling, don’t give up. Just keep doing it even if you are just doing it for the love of writing.”

About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.

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