For four days, “Welcome to Piney Falls” was ranked as the top book in several categories on Amazon's Kindle store. Joann Keder, who penned the story, was amazed at the response.
“That’s surreal,” she said. “I’m not with a big publishing company, and I don’t have that kind of visibility, so that was pretty spectacular for me.”
Keder grew up in Nebraska, graduating from Alliance High School in 1983. With no idea on what she wanted to do with her life, she continued her education at Western Nebraska Community College after receiving a music scholarship. After a couple of decades, she went back to school, earning her bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from Chadron State College in 2005. She then earned her master’s degree in creative writing from National University.
As a little girl, Keder wrote stories around Christmastime to share with her family. At the age of 12, she wrote a novel about a little girl who became president. However, her self-doubt about her writing ability made her believe she did not have the talent to become an author.
Despite getting her novella published, Keder moved with her family to Vancouver, Washington, where she said she “fell off the cliff.”
“I went into a big depression, I couldn’t find a job, my husband was gone all the time and I couldn’t write anymore,” she said.
A couple years later, Keder was preparing dinner in expectation of her husband Doug’s return from being on a hike at Eagle Creek in Washington all day. She received a phone call that changed her life and gave her a new perspective.
“My husband was out hiking in the woods and he had a major heart attack and he died six times,” she said. “Fortunately, he’s still with us.”
He suffered permanent brain damage as a result of his heart stopping six times, preventing him from returning to work.
“That got me thinking, ‘Well, I really want to write,' but I keep telling myself I can’t because I have to wait. I have to make something of myself in another area, and this is just the ice cream topping.’”
Following her husband’s heart attacks, she reflected on her passion and asked herself, “If not now, when?”
She picked up writing again, publishing “The Story of Keilah” about a young woman who lives in a small town in Iowa, although there are similarities to Scottsbluff. The book won the New Apple Award for humor.
Her desire to write continued, so she wrote a sequel before starting her Pepperville and Piney Falls mysteries series. “Welcome to Piney Falls” has won the Literary Titan Silver Medal Award, bestowed on a book that portrays complex characters, intricate worlds and thought-provoking themes.
During a recent book promotion on Amazon, “Welcome to Piney Falls” remained in the No. 1 spot for four days. Piney Falls is Keder’s second series and will have five books by the end of this year.
As her audience engages with the text, Keder wants them to enjoy the ride.
“The first one has a dual timeline,” she said. “Part of it takes place in the early 1900s and part of it takes place in the present day, so I hope they will enjoy the two mysteries. I’ve not yet heard of anyone who has figured it out before the end.”
The book’s characters have the unique quirks of small town residents, which she said is familiar to her because she lived in the Scottsbluff area most of her life.
“That’s probably key in all of my writing is that I include these characters who are familiar to me,” she said.
Keder is a self-published author, which gives her control creatively as she works with an editor and artist to proofread and prepare the copy and cover.
Keder is also publishing a new series called “Charming Mysteries” that will be available in July. That is her third series. She plans to have seven books in all three series.
“Something I realized when I was advertising on Facebook was my audience was people over 60, so I decided to create a series targeting them,” she said. “My heroine is a retiree.”
At any given time, Keder said, she tries to have three books in draft. To keep all the plots separated, she writes herself notes, so when she returns to the story she can remember what is happening next.
“At the end of that chapter, I’ll leave myself notes, so I can just pick up right where I left off,” she said.
Another strategy that helps her in her storytelling is character exploration.
“My whole method of writing is that before I start a book, I get to know my characters really well,” Keder said. “I don’t have to go back and think, ‘Oh, would they do that?’ because I already know. It’s like sitting down to talk to a friend.”
Keder hopes that her books will allow her to get to a level of visibility that they’ll sell themselves. She also hopes her story inspires others to pursue their passions.
“Listen to what’s inside of them that maybe they’ve been ignoring or pushing away that they truly know this is what they were meant to do,” she said. “Listen to that voice and honor it because you don’t know how long you have.”