Today, Hartford Books Examiner welcomes local author Susan Kietzman.
Kietzman is celebrating the publication of her debut novel, The Good Life (Kensington Publishing, $15.00), and will appear at Bank Square Books this Thursday evening, February 28th, for a launch party. (See event details below.) A state native, the author has a bachelor’s degree in English from Connecticut College and a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University. She has worked in both magazine and newspaper publishing and currently writes grants for the Mystic Seaport Museum. Kietzman and her family make their home in Mystic.
The Good Life is now available in paperback and digital editions. Holly Chamberlin, author of Last Summer, praised the book as, “The moving story of a family’s rebirth through the simple but profound acts of daily kindnesses and sacrifice.”
From the publisher:
Ann Barons lives in the Midwest with her CEO husband and two teenage children. Wealthy and infatuated with status, she’s long ago forgotten the values instilled in her as a child growing up on a farm in eastern Pennsylvania. Instead, she fills her days with exercising, shopping, and making appearances at board meetings and charity events. Ann skims along life’s surface, seeking only the pleasurable, and drinks to numb the void. Then her headstrong mother and dementia-laden father re-enter her life, needing somewhere to stay. Their old-fashioned ideas create confusion, frustration, and an unexpected transformation in all the Baronses – Ann’s workaholic husband Mike, her self-absorbed children, and especially in Ann. Gradually, Ann comes to re-evaluate her choices, her shortcomings, and the lessons she learned so long ago…
Now, Susan Kietzman invites readers to experience The Good Life…
1) What inspired you to write THE GOOD LIFE – and which came first: characters or plot?
“The good life” is an expression often associated with wealth and the freedom to do whatever one desires. It is not, typically, a story about someone with a minimum-wage paying job and children to provide for; someone who lives in a rent-controlled apartment and drives an old car with an unreliable ignition history. Instead, it seems to conjure up images of corner offices in sleet skyscrapers, mansions in the country, and foreign cars and vacations. We are all taken in by these images, guilty of sometimes feeling inferior and thinking that those who have great wealth must in some way be more important, smarter, or simply better than the rest of us. I wondered about the complications or pitfalls that can come with money but that may be hidden behind the bank vault door. I further wondered what those who appear to have everything thought about the quality of their lives. Did they still compare themselves to their richer acquaintances, or did they think they’d arrived at the summit? Were they happy? The Good Life is an exploration – using a modern-day wealthy family as the vehicle – of materialism and the pursuit of happiness.
The second part of your question is like the chicken and the egg, in that I alternated between the two. Ann Barons was the first character I worked on, but she is the result of my ruminations about who best could tell this story. I don’t work with an outline, so I often go back and forth between character and plot.
2) Tell us about the title’s significance. How do the generational differences between your characters influence their perspective on what the good life is?
Different generations absolutely view and live life differently because experience increases and perspective changes with age. Nate and Lauren Barons are teenagers who are absorbed in an adolescent existence. Their lives revolve around high school, its classes, crushes, sporting events, and parties. “The good life” for them is both immediate and uncertain. Ann and Mike Barons, in their 40s, are more stable financially and emotionally than their children. The amount of money they have accumulated guarantees that they can have “the good life,” if they know what it is. And Eileen and Sam, in their 70s, know exactly what “the good life” is. For them, it has very little to do with money and everything to do with health, family, and charity.
3) While the book’s main focal point is on examining the relationships between parents and children, there are several secondary topics (dementia, alcohol dependency, affluence, etc.). What do these elements add to the tapestry of the novel – and how did you go about achieving balance between them?
These topics shape and define the characters – without them other subplots would not be possible. For example, Sam’s dementia is the reason Eileen takes him from Pennsylvania to Michigan for an extended visit. So much of what happens in the novel would not work if Sam and Eileen were simply at their daughter’s house for a week-long Christmas holiday. The same holds true for Ann’s dependency on alcohol. Her nightly habit of seeking and choosing cloudiness over clarity gives the reader more information about who she is and what she is missing. The pieces are an integral part of the whole, balanced or otherwise.
4) How did writing this novel compare to working as a journalist? Do you find that there’s a distinct mindset for each (fiction and non-fiction) or is writing simply a matter of discipline?
In some ways, they are remarkably similar. Both require research, concentration, and a refusal to succumb to writer’s block! However, the writing environments for non-fiction and fiction couldn’t be more different, at least for me. The newsroom, where I was writing for a daily newspaper in the 1980s, was noisy, vibrant, chaotic, and at times caustic. It’s where I learned to curse like the boys. When I am writing a novel, I write at home, in a quiet house. This atmosphere creates its own distractions though. I am not so focused that I don’t throw in a load of laundry or walk the dog when I need a break. And yes, one needs discipline to be a writer. But one needs discipline to do anything well.
5) Your first event will be at your hometown bookstore, Bank Square Books. What is the personal significance of this – and how does BSB enrich your community?
While I didn’t grow up in Mystic, I have lived here twice, for a combined total of 15 years. Over the last three decades, Mystic’s downtown has gone through a transformation. In the 1980s, there was a convenience store, a pharmacy, a sporting goods store, a family-run department store, a family-oriented restaurant (Who could forget Bee Bee Dairy?), and Bank Square Books. They are all gone, save the bookstore. We live in a different world today, with internet and big box store shopping. And I understand the appeal of this. But I try to shop locally. Oftentimes I pay more to do this, but I like to support small, individually-owned businesses. Without them, America’s downtown storefronts are either vacant or filled with national chain stores.
Bank Square Books has undergone a transformation, too. Rather than fight the digital age, the owners have embraced it, offering services and products found online and at large retail bookstores. And I think they have survived, thrived even, because of this attitude. Bank Square Books is the cornerstone of downtown Mystic. It has the reading nooks we all love about small bookstores. It has the personal service we enjoy (They wrap all year ‘round!) There’s no better place downtown – or in any downtown – to while away a couple of hours than in the local, independently run bookstore.
With thanks to Susan Kietzman for generously sharing of her time and thoughts.
Ms. Kietzman will appear at Bank Square Books this Thursday evening, February 28th, from 5 PM – 7 PM, where she will read from/discuss/sign her novel. Copies of The Good Life will be available for purchase. This event is free and open to the public. BSB is located at 53 W Main Street in Mystic.