Kimberly Packard - Love, Identity and Determination in Tornado Alley

Kimberly Packard - Love, Identity and Determination in Tornado Alley

Kimberly Packard is an award-winning author of women’s fiction. When she isn’t writing, she can be found running, asking her dog what’s in his mouth or curled up with a book. She resides in Texas with her husband Colby, a clever cat named Oliver and a precocious black lab named Tully. Her debut novel, Phoenix, was awarded as Best General Fiction of 2013 by the Texas Association of Authors. She is also the author of a Christmas novella, The Crazy Yates, and the sequels to Phoenix, Pardon Falls and Prospera Pass, and her stand-alone titles Vortex and Dire’s Club. She was honored as one of the Top 10 Haute Young Authors by Southern Methodist University in 2019. Her most recent novel, Dire’s Club, was awarded the 2021 General Fiction of the Year by the North Texas Book Festival.  As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her book, Vortex.

Please give us a short introduction to what "Vortex" is about.

Vortex is the story of Elain, a storm chaser who gets too close to a tornado and in that moment has a flash of a repressed memory. From there, she’s trying to uncover what’s locked away in her memory, while trying to finish up her research. And, there’s a really cute TV meteorologist she keeps bumping into who flirts relentlessly (and she likes it ;-) ).

"Vortex" combines elements of romance, suspense, and adventure against the backdrop of Tornado Alley. What inspired you to write a story centered around storm chasing?

I’ve always wanted to write a story that was on the move. Sure, there are some anchor places, but the characters were largely moving around each other. As for it becoming Vortex, I was watching tornado coverage one night and had a “what if” moment. What if a little girl was found in some rubble and had no memory of where she came from. Vortex was born from that.

How did you develop Elaina's character, and what challenges did you face in portraying her journey of self-discovery?

Most of my characters come to me fully formed, so I was pretty lucky that when she walked onto the scene, she had all her strengths, weaknesses and quirks. The biggest challenge for Elaina was allowing her to be vulnerable. I wasn’t originally planning for her to have a dog, but when he showed up I realized that he was her way to show her softer side.

The novel received praise for its immersive descriptions of storm chasing and tornadoes. How did you research and approach writing about such intense weather phenomena, and how did you balance realism with storytelling?

I read a few books on storm chasing, including a great one called Tornado Hunter by Stefan Bechtel with renowned hunter Tim Samaras. And also watched a ton of YouTube videos and Instagram Reels of chasers. And, to my husband’s annoyance, a few times when we were under tornado watches or warnings, I would go outside just to feel the weather (while it was safe, of course).

As for writing it, I didn’t want to linger too much on the science. Innovation changes but storytelling doesn’t, so if someone picks up the book a few years after it’s published, I didn’t want them to be thrown out of the story if something wasn’t up to date.

The book features multiple points of view, offering insights into the perspectives of different characters. Why did you pick this narrative structure?

I love having multiple POVs. I think it’s a great way to enrichen the reader experience and show what’s happening from various angles. Plus, I just love writing characters. Seth and Elaina are a lot alike, but also very different. And then Tuck, he’s a guy who on the surface is someone just out for a good time, but has darkness lurking underneath.

"Vortex" explores themes of identity, betrayal, and second chances. What message or takeaway do you hope readers will glean from this story?

Identity is a theme that comes up with a lot of my work, especially when a character is at an inflection point. For Elaina, is she a researcher or a daughter, and once the memories start coming back, is who she is now who she was then? For Seth, he was on a skyrocketing career path until something knocked him down but was that what he wanted really. Seth and Elaina share the heartbreak of betrayal from people that should have been there for them, but they both keep going. What I hope readers learn from that is tenacity, but also be true to yourself.

Reviewers have praised the emotional depth and relatable characters in your novel. How do you approach crafting authentic characters, and were any of them inspired by real people or experiences?

Thank you! That’s always something I hope I get across. Most of my characters show up pretty fully formed, but I’m sure somewhere in the back of my brain I had been thinking about them (it’s probably the same area that’s responsible for remembering where my keys are!). The key is to not write perfect characters. No one is perfect. Elaina has a temper and the girl is stubborn to a fault. Seth tends to lean into being a martyr until he’s pulled out of it.

I also love to work in a bit of humor to my characters. There’s a scene where Elaina is on a blind date and she’s so out of her element that it’s hilariously cringe-worthy and she keeps making awkward Wizard of Oz jokes. I think there’s a reason that humor and human are closely related words, and it shows us so much about who a character is in the bad jokes they make.

I don’t pull an entire main character from someone I know, and honestly they are probably all a bit of me.

Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?

LOL! This is the hardest question of them all. I do PR and marketing for my day job, but that doesn’t mean I’m that great at it for my writing.

The story intertwines personal struggles with the thrill of storm chasing, creating a unique and compelling narrative. How did you balance the emotional arcs of the characters with the action and suspense of the plot?

It’s all about natural waves of action and then the quiet processing time afterward. There’s definitely a lot of emotion when you’re in a tense situation, but it’s in the aftermath that the why behind those emotions are examined. One of my favorite examples is about midway through when Seth is doing a live stand-up for his national TV show with a tornado behind him. He thought he was safe, but Elaina knew it had turned and he had to move. She couldn’t get his attention with words, so she did what she could only do – punch him while he was live on the air. The scene after that is them at a bar, and wouldn’t you know it, Elaina began to realize she has feelings for the guy. In the moment she thought she was just saving a colleague, it was after when she started digging into the why that she uncovered more there.

As an author known for your women's fiction, how does "Vortex" compare to your previous works in terms of genre and themes? What motivated you to explore the intersection of romance and adventure in this story?

Vortex is similar in the theme of identity, but it might also be my only work that has as much action as it does. My Phoenix series also examines identity and the masks we put on to be the people others expect of us, and it has some action but not as sustained. And, Dire’s Club is completely different with a large cast of characters facing death together.

My closest writing friends are romance writers, and they tease me relentlessly that I’m secretly a romance writer. I think Vortex proves their point. But it’s true that falling in love and chasing a tornado feels a lot alike – that adrenalin and squeezing of the stomach. It felt natural to have Elaina and Seth find each other in this world.

The book contains many suspenseful twists and turns. Did you plan it all out before you started writing, or did some of it just "happen" along the way?

A little bit of both. I like to know some of the big points along the way so I can make sure I’m staying on course, but I also like to leave myself room to explore if the characters tug me in a different direction. One thing I almost always know is how the story will end. I’ll know what the climax will be and then the last chapter. I feel like if I know those things I can get there, no matter where the story leads me.

The novel delves into the theme of memory rewriting, adding an intriguing psychological element to the story. What inspired you to incorporate this concept, and how did it influence the characters' development?

That was a serendipitous moment. I knew that Elaina wouldn’t remember much of her earliest years and thought maybe it would be some sort of protective mechanism of her brain, that she blocked it out. But then I was reading a story about a study for military members experiencing PTSD and the use of drugs and therapy to help rewrite some of these memories so they aren’t as traumatic. I already knew that Elaina’s adoptive mom was a nurse, so it felt natural to explore if she underwent this, for nothing sinister, just to help a child past something horrible. But then again, our memories shape us, so was that the best thing for Elaina?

Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?

Oh I wish I had an average writing day. I still have a day job and it can be pretty intense (media relations for a hospital system). But, I do try to force myself to write every day, even if it’s just 100 words. I do a few writing retreats a year with my writing friends, and it’s in those long weekends that I try to crank out as many words as possible.

What future projects are you working on, and can readers expect more stories set against unique backdrops like Tornado Alley in your upcoming works?

I don’t have anything else in Tornado Alley planned at the moment. My next novel is due June 11. Switching gears again, This Time Around is a time slip novel about a middle-aged woman who has a panic attack and slips 30 years back to repeat her senior year. My very sneaky (and wonderful) editor very casually said to me when she sent it back, “I think you have a sequel in there.” I wasn’t planning one, but a week later, the main character’s BFF spoke up and said “What happens if I slip forward 30 years from the mid-90s?” Then I realized I had set that up perfectly. So, the next story will be in that same world but a character who goes from being a college student to a professional with a fiancée she doesn’t know. I’m really excited about that one and how much fun it will be to explore today’s world through Emily’s very hilarious mind.

Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?

My books are sold wide, so wherever you buy books you should find them.

For interaction, I’m most active on Instagram (@KimberlyPackard) and sometimes on Facebook ( On Instagram you’ll get updates on my writing, but bonus content of my dog and cat’s shenanigans. And you can always subscribe to my newsletter through my website

Kimberly Packard

A close encounter with a tornado during the final months of Elaina Adams’s doctoral studies jogs a lost memory to the surface. Desperate to relive the vision and find answers, the storm chaser continually puts her safety at risk by placing herself in the path of dangerous storms. Vortex is a story of family, love, identity, and determination set against the thrilling backdrop of Tornado Alley.