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Book Chat: Susan Beckham Zurenda on Bells for Eli

I believe most of us carry a story inside that needs to be written down, a story that leaves readers lingering on the final page with a feeling of sadness mixed with satisfaction that all of us who love books understand. Susan Zurenda has such a story – one that stayed with her through her happy, busy years as a teacher, mother, wife and now book publicist with Magic Time Literary Publicity. The difference between Susan and the rest of us, is she brought her story to life in the enchanting novel, Bells for Eli.

“I wrote a short story that won the South Carolina Fiction Project Award that was the genesis for the novel. I always wanted to flesh it out, but when I was teaching and raising children and caring for ailing parents, I didn’t have big blocks of time to write,” Susan told me as we talked about her new novel. “My first cousin, Danny, swallowed Red Devil lye left in a Coke bottle when he was three,” the first-time novelist said, continuing with the story that inspired Bells for Eli. “Back then, they used the lye to blow up balloons. It was Danny’s birthday. I wanted to explore how an incident like that, just one misstep, can change the entire trajectory of a life and the lives of those around him.” Susan added that Danny was a little older and lived several states away, but the story of his accident was one she heard growing up. Eli and Danny’s only similarity is the tragic accident that shaped their lives.

With positive reviews already published in Publishers Weekly and Chapter 16, Susan’s novel is well on its way. “A lot of things that happen in the book world are a result of skillful marketing, but not these journals. I’m very honored,” she shared as we began to chat about her new novel.

The day we spoke, Susan was preparing to leave for her first book tour as the author, not the author’s publicist, and I asked her to tell me about it. “I am excited and a little nervous about the book tour.” Laughing a little, she continued, “I taught school for 33 years, so I am accustomed to being in front of people. The difference is my high school and college students were captive audiences. Now I come charged with the responsibility of keeping my audiences interested!”

This busy writer will appear at over 50 events in eight states during her tour. Her husband, while retired, still teaches part time at Converse and Methodist Colleges in Spartanburg, so he won’t be joining her at every stop, but will be present for one very special event. When she arrives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Susan is looking forward to a private party given for her by the two first cousins to whom Bells for Eli is dedicated. “These are Danny’s sisters,” Susan explained.

“My book is in the category of literary fiction so a number of people have asked me what I want readers to take away from the book; what do I want them to think about when they finish?” Susan began when I asked her about the motivation behind her writing. “F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a letter to Ernest Hemingway that reads, ‘The purpose of a work of fiction is to appeal to the lingering aftereffects in the reader’s mind.’ That’s my purpose. I hope my characters’ lives might resonate with readers after the novel ends.”

“We’re living in a time where books have become the thing – there are so many book clubs, and so many books being written.” As we ended our chat, Susan added, “Almost everyone I know is in a book club. News programs, like the Today Show, have book recommendations, and I believe all of the media personalities promoting books have something to do with the popularity of reading. It’s a great thing they’re doing.”

After the tour is over, Susan will return home to Spartanburg, and resume her everyday life. “Our children are grown, but we have two Boston terriers that we treat like children,” she told me laughing. And, in the evenings, while most of us are engrossed in the latest episode of our favorite television show, Susan will probably be reading. “I don’t really watch television, except for Jeopardy. I think it’s because when the children were little, and I was teaching, there was never enough time, and that’s the one thing I thought I could easily give up.” Books are, and will continue to be, Susan’s passion. “It’s fun to be a part of the book world.”

Meet Susan on May 7th, when she will speak at Coffee with the Authors, in the North Myrtle Beach Library at 10am. Later that day, at 2pm, she will give a presentation at the Books and Bites event at My Sister’s Books in Pawley’s Island. On August 18, Susan will return to the Grand Strand to speak and sign books at Bookends in North Myrtle Beach.

For more information,visit www.susanzurenda.com.

Some events listed may have been postponedor canceled. Please check with event organizer for updates.

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