Dropping the Pen Name
Lawyer Dee J. Kelly Jr. reveals his identity as a novelist.
Not much happens in Fort Worth that doesn’t involve Dee J. Kelly Jr. Meanwhile, Landon Wallace leads a quiet life in the same city.
Yet the two have much in common.
That’s because they’re the same person.
Such is the double life of Kelly, a top trial lawyer by day and a writer by night.
He has shied away from the author limelight, writing under a pseudonym and wearing a hat to hide most of his face on book jackets. When Kelly’s first book was published in 2015, he wanted to protect his legal career as managing partner of one of Fort Worth’s most powerful law firms.
Come spring, he’ll emerge from the shadows with the international release of his fourth book, The Malachi Covenant.
In addition to being a TCU Trustee, he served as co-chair of Lead On: A Campaign for TCU, which surpassed its record $1 billion goal this year. TCU plans to use the funds to strengthen academics, student scholarships and faculty hires.
His late father, Dee J. Kelly Sr. ’50, was a TCU Trustee for more than 30 years. Kelly Sr.’s name now graces the Alumni & Visitors Center.
The younger Kelly is committed to continuing his father’s legacy at the university. “My family, we’re all very much deeply connected to TCU,” he said. “And TCU is a big part of Fort Worth.”
He recognizes that the strategic plans of TCU, as the university of Fort Worth, are vital to the city’s future.
“Whatever the issue may be — a legal matter, a business challenge, a political question, a practical dilemma — Dee is unquestionably the person you want on your team.”
Marianne Auld, managing partner of Kelly Hart & Hallman
Kelly, who was born in Fort Worth, learned work ethic and persistence from his parents. His father rose from modest beginnings in Bonham, Texas, to become a protégé of Sam Rayburn, a prominent lawyer and political kingmaker who had been speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Kelly Sr. met his future wife, Janice LeBlanc, from Louisiana, while she was working as a clerical assistant at the Pentagon.
Kelly Jr. earned a bachelor’s degree in history and a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin. He’s now an emeritus trustee for UT’s Law School Foundation.
In 1985, he joined Kelly Hart & Hallman, the Fort Worth law firm founded by his father. He was managing partner for 11 years but stepped down from that position in 2016. He’s still a partner and serves on the executive committee.
“Whatever the issue may be — a legal matter, a business challenge, a political question, a practical dilemma — Dee is unquestionably the person you want on your team,” said Marianne Auld, managing partner of Kelly Hart & Hallman. “Dee is a brilliant strategist. In even the most complex situations, his analytical and communication skills are unmatched.”
Ironically, when he started law school, he wasn’t sure he wanted to become a practicing lawyer.
“It was just the next step in my life,” he said. “I had the exposure of my father being in law, and that had an impact, but you push back on following your parents when you’re young. In law school, I became more and more interested in it.”
Before age 30, Kelly had argued several cases before the Texas Supreme Court. He has made U.S. News & World Report’s Best Lawyers in America list every year since 2007.
Kelly has been involved in a number of hot-button issues for high-profile commercial clients, including American Airlines and the city of Fort Worth. For American Airlines, he worked on litigation against its flight booking service Sabre Corp. in federal court in Texas and New York City. For the city of Fort Worth, he has a pending case in the Texas Supreme Court over the constitutionality of eight-liner slot machines and previously represented the city in litigation over pension benefits. Other clients have included the Bass family interests and Anne Burnett Marion.
Kelly is humble, said Mark Pittman, a federal judge for the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Texas who worked at Kelly Hart & Hallman from 1999 to 2004. “What I like about him in court is … there is no arrogance,” Pittman said. “You’re never going to find a lawyer who works harder.”
Working alongside his father for 30 years, Kelly shared his passion for TCU. He and his family — wife Dana; their three adult daughters Cate Kelly McLaughlin, Cynthia “Lynn” Kelly and Camille Kelly; sister Cynthia Kelly Barnes; and brother Craig Kelly — are regulars at TCU football games.
The Kelly family has given more than $5 million in gifts to TCU — for the Dee J. Kelly Alumni & Visitors Center, the stadium, athletic programs and pre-law scholarships.
Don Whelan, vice chancellor for university advancement, credits Kelly and Ronald C. Parker ’76, co-chairs of Lead On, for securing $179.7 million in new gifts and pledges during community outreach in fiscal year 2023, which ended May 31. Kelly “knows everybody in Fort Worth,” Whelan said. He helped court high-profile donors including Marion, whose $50 million gift for the School of Medicine was the single largest investment in the campaign.
“The [Kelly] name itself engenders trust and regard in the donor network in Fort Worth and beyond,” said Parker, a retired PepsiCo Inc. executive. “His father is a legend in Fort Worth. Dee picked up what his father instilled in him, [including] a love and appreciation for TCU even though he’s a graduate of the University of Texas.”
For Kelly, who also personally gives his time and money, it’s all about Fort Worth.
“Dee has long been committed to making a difference in Fort Worth.”
Mayor Mattie Parker
“My view is always local first,” he said about his philanthropic philosophy. “I’ve spent my whole life here, so I care a lot about the future of the city.”
The former head of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce sits on a dozen boards of local nonprofit organizations, including the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, Performing Arts Fort Worth, the crime prevention group Safe City Commission and Southeast Fort Worth Inc., a community revitalization effort.
“Dee has long been committed to making a difference in Fort Worth,” Mayor Mattie Parker said.
Kelly said he aims “to make the city a better place to live. … What I’m most interested in now is for Fort Worth, which is the fastest-growing city in the country in terms of population, to have an economic climate that makes growth sustainable and controlled. You want the economy to be durable.”
Kelly also picked up an interest in government from his father. Growing up, he often met influential house guests such as President Lyndon B. Johnson and Texas Gov. John Connally, eavesdropping on their stories. And like his father, Kelly has become a behind-the-scenes power broker in local, state and national politics.
“There’s not a local candidate that Dee is not involved with promoting their campaign,” Pittman said. “It doesn’t really matter if they’re Democratic or Republican. His goal is who is going to support Fort Worth and its institutions.”
As Kelly put it: “I’m interested in good government.”
He even considered running for mayor of Fort Worth in 2021, but he said the timing wasn’t right.
Writing in Secret
For years, no one knew Kelly also was writing novels.
He began writing in 2009, resuming an interest he had in college.
“I made a commitment to get it done,” Kelly said. “I got up every day at 5:30 a.m. and wrote for an hour or two. I didn’t tell anyone. I had a very important role at the law firm, and I didn’t want anyone to think I wasn’t spending 100 percent of my time on my job.”
He still writes in the early morning as well as at night and on weekends, weaving storytelling, research and personal experience into tales about politics, history, golf and more — often with a Texas twist.
A Kelly Hart paralegal who also wrote fiction suggested he use a pen name. Kelly chose names out of a hat and liked how Landon Wallace sounded. He has written three books under that pseudonym, all published through Trinity River Press.
“I like to find current mysteries that are unanswered or leave questions in my mind and then connect the dots to historical issues,” said Kelly, who writes historical fiction because that’s what he likes to read. In the first book, Come and Take It: Search for the Treasure of the Alamo, published in 2015, he connects a romance with two true events — the defense of the Alamo in 1836 by the enslaved Black man Joe Travis and the search for hidden treasure at the legendary Texas fort.
Without any marketing, people still found Come and Take It, and some figured out he was the author.
So in 2017, Kelly revealed that he was Wallace during a book signing for his second novel, The Election, a tale about a wealthy Texas state senator who meets a former love interest while running for governor against an unscrupulous opponent. The Next Election, his third book, continued some of the same themes and characters.
His fourth book, The Malachi Covenant, will be released in April under the name Dee Kelly Jr. The mystery concerns the disappearance of the relic of St. Nicholas, the centerpiece of the pope’s first trip to Russia and his attempt to heal the 1,000-year schism in the Catholic Church.
Landon Wallace Retires
“I kind of liked the whole obscurity thing for a while … but Landon is done writing,” Kelly said. “I want to take my work to the next level.”
So Kelly signed with Dallas-based literary agent Nena Madonia Oshman ’05 of Nominate Group. She represented him in a deal with Forefront Books, the nation’s second-fastest-growing independent publisher, according to Publishers Weekly. The biggest authors at Forefront include leadership expert John C. Maxwell and media personalities Glenn Beck and Joan Lunden.
Not only will Kelly have a new publisher for the upcoming book, but it also will be distributed internationally, a first for the author. Kelly also plans to embark on his first national book tour, starting with major Texas cities. The plan is to eventually relaunch his previous three books under Kelly’s name, Oshman said.
“Dee’s writing rhythm and pace make for a real page-turner,” she said. “He heavily researches historical events and takes the reader on a rich and dramatic journey. If you love The DaVinci Code, you will love The Malachi Covenant.”
Kelly already is busy writing a fifth book, but he doesn’t plan to give up his day job anytime soon.
“I’m still an active part of the firm,” Kelly said. “I’m not leaving here. It’s a balance between my law career and writing.”