Author Susan Kelly at library Tuesday
By Deirdre Parker Smith
Greensboro writer Susan Kelly is a keen observer of almost everything.
But in her books, it’s the inner details that really make a difference. Somehow, she knows our hearts.
“My core thing is how we are accountable to each other, how we lean on each other,” Kelly says.
But her most recent book, “By Accident” is “the first time it’s not really had close women friendships.”
The book, which won the Sir Walter Raleigh Award in 2010, is, Kelly admits, a tough one. It deals with a mother who loses her son in an accident right after his high school graduation — very emotional.
“She’s immobilized by grief,” Kelly says. And she’s surrounded by unpleasant changes as her cozy neighborhood goes McMansions
“Meanwhile this 28-year-old tree guy moves in next door.
At some point she realizes he’s either a replacement for her son or an object of desire.
“It’s the story of the demise of marriage, a story of grief, some adultery, and what constitutes betrayal. She finds out her husband is behind some of the McMansions.”
Kelly doesn’t make a judgment in the writing.
“All my characters are both victim and villain; no one gets to be a hero. Everyone is flawed.”
The woman loses her son and marriage, but “she gains perspective on being a human being.”
Kelly says it’s been hard for some book clubs to read it. “The 40-somethings found it too hard to read.”
“I write domestic realism.”
Kelly loves the book. She has not lost a child, she’s still married and she has never had an affair.
“I was fetal when I was writing it. I had to imagine what it would be like. I’m a worrier and worriers make natural writers. We can say what if.”
The book contains some graphic scenes., shocking to Kelly’s 81-year-old mother. “Poor woman. But I’m a writer.”
Kelly uses all sorts of details from real life, “but by the time I put it in a novel, the context is so changed it’s not recognizable.
“I can take anything and make it menacing or funny.”
She’s a meticulous file-keeper and highly organized. She always knows how a novel will end.
Unlike some writers who say their characters write the novel, Kelly listens to her characters, but knows exactly where she’s going.
“I need an organized setting to do things,” she says. Her process is cut and dried — she knows fiction “has to have a heart hurt.
“When you write for eight hours a day alone, you can pull out a lot of stuff. The magic happens when you’re alone. That has nothing to do with my files.”
Kelly enjoys talking to groups such as the friends of the library. She also likes to do a lot of philanthropy. “This week, I went to a retirement home in Greensboro because a 90-year-old man there loves my books.”
The venue she likes best is book clubs.
Since writing is her profession, she is always working on something new. “When I was writing short stories, I had to hire babysitters for an hour so I could write. … A novel you can wallow in for years.
But when a publisher buys a book, it comes out about a year later. “You can’t wait around for that,” she says. She has two things she’s working on and ideas for three more.
“I get up in morning and have something to do.
She changed publishers, editors and agents, and her new agent is “a go getter” who wants to submit her work to a bigger publisher, but she likes the small press she’s with now.
“I don’t have to write to eat; but in the last couple years I’ve done some freelancing; critiquing for North Carolina Writers’ Network, tutoring. …I’m not as solitary as I used to be.
“The children are gone. I need access to larger world.”
She loves answering questions when she talks, too. She loves to share.
“I’ve been writing for 20 years. You can’t embarrass me. Once you start writing it’s like taking off all your clothes.”
Meet the author
Susan Kelly will speak Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Rowan Public Library at the annual meeting of the Friends of RPL. The program is free and open to all.