HomeInterviewsUnveil Family Secrets and Second Chances in Kristy Woodson Harvey’s New Book

Unveil Family Secrets and Second Chances in Kristy Woodson Harvey’s New Book

An interview with North Carolina-based A Happier Life author Kristy Woodson Harvey.

Featured in our 2024 Summer Reading List, Kristy Woodson Harvey’s A Happier Life follows the dual journeys of Keaton Smith and her grandmother Rebecca Saint James as they navigate the throes of life.

After Keaton’s grandparents’ abrupt deaths in the 1970s, their coastal home is left unattended for decades in Beaufort, North Carolina. Keaton, desperate to start over, agrees to uproot her life in New York to prepare the house to sell for her still-grieving mother and uncle. What started as a temporary recess from her old life quickly has Keaton questioning where home really is as she is integrated into Beaufort’s tight-knit community.

Rebecca’s life in the 1970s is also confounded when she is diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer. Reflecting on her incredible journey into the woman she has become, Rebecca grapples with her imminent fate as well as her boundless love for her husband as his health also declines.

Told in parallel perspectives, A Happier Life explores love, compassion and home that illustrates the age-old journey of finding oneself.

Kristy Woodson Harvey is the USA Today, New York Times and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author of 11 novels. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the co-host of the podcast “Friends & Fiction.” She lives in North Carolina with her husband, son and beloved dog Salt. Haley Roberts spoke with Harvey about A Happier Life and what’s next for her in the literary realm.

Haley Roberts: A Happier Life tells such a unique story in seamlessly weaving together the perspectives of grandmother and granddaughter. What inspired you to write these parallel narratives?

Kristy Woodson Harvey: The story was inspired by a great aunt and uncle of mine who passed away in an accident before I was born. I think I just had this thought of what if what we thought happened to them wasn’t what really happened—and how would someone uncover that in the present day. The house came into play, of course, and Keaton’s uncovering what happened to her grandparents, too. I just liked the idea of Keaton being the one that uncovered the truth of about Becks and Townsend and using that knowledge to help her on the next step of her own journey.

HR: Not only do you balance two narratives but also two time periods. How did you go about juggling the 1970s and the present day? What kind of research did you do to portray ’70s Beaufort life?

KWH: I read a lot of old newspapers to try to get a feel for the businesses that were in town and what people were doing and the activities and all of those types of things. There were also some people who had lived in town during that period that helped me as well. But in terms of writing, I always write multiple points of view in my books and, to be honest with you, writing two different time periods doesn’t actually change that process too much. It still felt pretty natural for Keaton’s and Becks’s stories to intertwine even though they were in different eras.

HR: Family tradition and Southern charm are central to the book. How did you balance these elements with the more mysterious and dramatic ones concerning the Saint James’ deaths?

Kristy Woodson Harvey

KWH: Originally, I was going to go into this story knowing what happened to Becks and Townsend because I wasn’t sure about trying to write more mysterious elements. It wasn’t something that I had done before. But I wrote the first draft and thought that the story could be more compelling. I think most of my novels really do center around family or friendships and Southern traditions in particular. I think that if you come to the story for that, then that’s great, and I didn’t mean for it to be this huge mystery to solve. So, if you go into the book knowing what happens right away then hopefully you’ll still enjoy it because the growth of the characters and the relationships are still central to the story.

HR: The house on Sunset Lane is essentially a character itself. How do you think it contributes to the overall story?

KWH: I just love the idea that old houses hold stories. I live in a 1903 house in Beaufort that was sort of the inspiration for the Saint James house, and I just loved the idea that the house still held the secret in a kind of metaphysical way. Of course, it becomes very literal, too, as Keaton is uncovering the pieces of her grandparents’ lives. The house is quite literally telling her the story, and I thought that was a fun juxtaposition between those two things. I really do feel like houses have a certain feeling about them, and I really wanted to let the house be part of the story, too.

HR: I read that your real-life dog is also named Salt. Can you tell us more about how he ended up in the book?

KWH: My Salt—the real Salt—is the first dog I’ve ever had in my whole life, and I had no idea! I never wanted a dog. He was for my son, and it took a lot of arm twisting. But he is the greatest thing that ever happened. I love that dog so much. I thought it would be really fun to write him into the story as an amusement for myself but also in a really practical way. Keaton spends a lot of this story by herself, and I didn’t want everything that happened to her in these beginning chapters to be in her head. So, Salt is there for her to talk to. It was fun to write about him, but he was also a convenient literary device.

HR: What’s next for you? Do you have any exciting upcoming projects?

KWH: Yes! I don’t know exactly when it is going to come out, and I’m hesitant to tell you the title because we’ve changed it a couple of times. Let’s just say I have a new book coming out in 2025 about a “mommune” in coastal North Carolina. A group of mothers come together to raise their children. I’m really excited about it. There is a little bit of mystery, but it’s really about the ways that social media shapes perception and women coming together to create a better life for themselves, which I feel like is a theme I would turn to.

A Happier Life is out now. Read our previous interview with Harvey here.

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