There is just nothing like a good thriller especially the kind that keeps you up at night until the wee hours of the morning because you just can’t put it down. I was lucky enough to receive THE BULLET last month to review for NetGalley and found myself reading at a record pace because I just couldn’t flip those pages fast enough. I had a book hangover for a couple of days, trying to recover from the lack of sleep I had been experiencing while reading this.
It’s that good.
THE BULLET comes out this week (March 17th) and I want you to run right out and get it so you can experience my level of exhaustion. I really doubt you will be able to put it down.
I reached out to Mary Louise Kelly to see if she might like to share a little bit about her life as both a reporter and a fictional writer. I think this interview perfectly captures what I imagine her personality to be which seems to fill the pages in her fabulous new thriller. Please do read through to the end so you can see her publicly challenge her brother in this interview.
She is my kind of lady.
THE BULLET is a beautifully written mystery that echoes some of my favorite thrillers from Chevy Stevens. The premise of the book is when a woman discover a bullet in her body that she was never aware of it, it sends her life spiraling in a direction that she never expected. The origin of that bullet and the people around her that it has affected, cause this cold case to be reopened… reopening wounds of the family and friends around her.
Despite the gravity of the case and the circumstances surrounding it, the book is laced with great humor and a cast of endearing characters. I really enjoyed this one for a quick escape and can’t recommend it enough.
Grab your coffee and let’s settle in with Mary Louise as she shares more about this book!
The premise for your latest book THE BULLET is shaped around a woman going in for a routine scan and discovering that she has a bullet in her body that she never knew about. How did you come up with this unique idea for the storyline for your book?
It’s a true story! I was sitting on the sidelines of my son’s little league baseball game one afternoon, when another mom plopped down next to me, heaved a sigh, and said something like, “Well, I’ve had a heck of a week.” Long story short, she had just had a routine scan that revealed a bullet in her neck that she never knew about. She had no scar, no clandestine past, and she swore she’d never been shot. Driving home afterwards, I kept thinking, how is that even possible? I’m a reporter by training, so I dug into medical literature, looking for examples of people who have survived gunshots to the neck or head. And then the novelist in me took over: I imagined all kinds of wild scenarios, from amnesia to witness-protection programs to CIA plots. My protagonist discovers the bullet in her neck by page 8. What follows are 349 pages of pure fiction, focused on her quest to find out how on earth it got there, and what on earth she’s going to do about it.
What is your process for fleshing out a thriller like this? Do you have the mystery solved before you write it so you know where you are headed or did you build the story and motive as you progressed through the writing?
I map out the whole thing, to make certain it’s a story that can sustain 350 pages. But then I end up throwing out the road map as I go. My original outline is stuffed with all kinds of plot twists that fell by the wayside, and it never mentions characters that end up playing major roles. You get to know characters as you write them, and some prove more interesting than others (the nice thing about fiction is that you can kill off the ones who get on your nerves.) One theme that runs throughout The Bullet is that we should question how well we really know the people we love, and even how well we know ourselves and what we are capable of. I kick off the book with a quote from one of my favorite writers, Robert Penn Warren. He writes that human beings are complicated contraptions, “not good or bad but… good and bad and the good comes out of the bad and the bad out of the good, and the devil take the hindmost.” Isn’t that great? I agree with him, and tried to conceive all of my characters as complicated contraptions. That makes both the protagonist and the forces opposing her more interesting, and both of them kept surprising me as I wrote.
You have created such endearing characters in this book and Caroline’s family, in particular, are just the kind of people every girl wishes she had in her life. Which character did you find the most endearing??
Thank you. I have a soft spot for Beamer Beasley, the grizzled cop who helps Caroline unravel the secrets of her past. Writers aren’t supposed to admit to imagining which Hollywood star would play our characters, but Beamer is screaming to be played by Morgan Freeman, and really, wouldn’t we all want him on our side when investigating a gruesome crime? I also loved every scene with Madame Aubuchon. I could just picture her so clearly, in all her hauteur and brittleness, but also her intelligence and decency. As for Caroline’s family, a lot of readers have commented on how close she is to her brothers. They love and support her, even as they drive her nuts. I confess this sibling back-and-forth is completely autobiographical. My brother C.J. gets me riled up faster than anyone; you do not want to be in the room when the two of us get going on politics or feminism or the relative merits of tofu vs. steak. But as I note in the Acknowledgments, C.J. is also hands down the person I would want beside me in a bar brawl.
How do you think your background as a reporter has helped you as a writer? What skills are you able to use from this profession to be build a good fictional story?
My journalism training helps enormously with dialogue, because when you write for broadcast, you strive to write conversationally. Most of us write in complete, grammatically correct sentences, because that’s the way our high school teachers and college professors taught us. But that’s not the way people talk, and it takes time to unlearn it. Writing for radio gave me a head start. It also instilled an instinct for storytelling. At NPR, we aim for the “driveway moment” – that moment when a listener has made it home, and he’s got the car in park, and he needs to get inside, but he’s listening to something so gripping he can’t turn it off. You want to spool out enough detail that the listener gets hooked, while holding enough back that he wants to keep listening. That’s key to writing a good novel, too, although I suppose the goal shifts to creating a “nightstand moment” – when a reader sits up turning pages, well after he knows he should have chucked the novel on his nightstand and have turned out the light.
Caroline’s irritation with the reporters made me chuckle since you have worked as an NPR & BBC reporter. In one line she says, “Reporters. Honestly. What an exhausting profession, to be professionally trained to be relentless.” Is it exhausting?
Actually, no. It’s exhilarating. There was a great line in a New Yorker profile of Samantha Power, President Obama’s ambassador to the U.N. The writer describes Power, a former journalist, as retaining “a reporter’s instinct for amassing facts and deploying them to extract more.” That’s exactly right. You find out one interesting thing, and it makes you want to dig and find out more. Get a bunch of reporters together, swapping stories about that time on deadline on the Khyber Pass, or banging on voters’ doors in Iowa, or quizzing the President in a White House press conference, and at some point we all break into grins, and somebody says out loud what everyone is thinking: I can’t believe we actually get paid to do this.
Since this is your second book to be published, did you find this one easier or harder to write than your first? How long did it take you to create this story and what did you find most challenging with this book?
This second one took less time. Maybe I’m getting faster, but more likely it’s because the first time around I was working full-time as NPR’s Pentagon correspondent. While writing Anonymous Sources, I kept jetting off on reporting trips to war zones, and when I was home in Washington, I was filing daily news reports from the Pentagon. Writing fiction was my third priority, after my day job and after being a wife and mom.
The Bullet took me 16 months, from sitting down to write Chapter One to handing in a full draft of the manuscript. Then come months of editing and polishing and proofreading. As for Book Three… we shall see how long it takes. Right now I’m ramping up again on journalism; I have dearly (insanely?) missed the daily deadlines, and being engaged in the national dialogue on everything from race to politics to technology. My hope is I’ll end up with loads of fresh ideas for my fiction; my agent fears I’ll end up taking a decade to produce another book. But another side effect of being a reporter is that I write fast, so watch this space!
If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?
I would tell my brother to read Birdsong, the 1993 novel by Sebastian Faulks. It’s about a British soldier in France during World War I, and it is the most gorgeous epic of love and war and regrets. I’ve been telling my brother to read it for twenty years now, and he keeps refusing, at this point out of sheer orneriness. C.J., consider yourself publicly challenged.
You can connect with Mary Louise Kelly on GoodReads or through her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!
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