Mary Louise Kelly discusses her thriller in this author interview. Discover all the Mary Louise Kelly books- as she navigates NPR, writing, and motherhood.
Looking for your next page-turning thriller? Mary Louise Kelly is best known for her role as an NPR correspondent on All Things Considered, but you might be surprised to discover she’s also a gifted thriller writer.
With her new book released this year, it’s so fun to revisit my favorite thriller from the author.
Let’s chat about The Bullet today!
The Bullet Book Synopsis
When Caroline Cashion discovers a bullet in her body that she was unaware of, it sends her life spiraling in a direction she never expected.
The origin of that bullet and the people around her that it has affected caused this cold case to be reopened.
It also reopens the 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 contacted Mary Louise Kelly to see if she might like to share a little about her life as an NPR reporter and a fictional writer.
Please read through to the end so you can see her publicly challenge her brother in this interview and discover the other books Mary Louise Kelly has written.
Read The Best Mary Louise Kelly Books (Interview)
How did you craft the unique premise of your thriller, The Bullet, which revolves around a woman unexpectedly finding a bullet in her body during a routine scan?
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, “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 or clandestine past and swore she’d never been shot.
Driving home afterward, I kept thinking, how is that even possible? I’m a reporter by training, so I dug into the 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 on 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.
When crafting a thriller like this, what is your process for developing the storyline?
Do you typically have the mystery solved beforehand, knowing where you’re headed, or do you build the story and motive organically as you progress through the writing?
I map out the whole thing to make sure 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 plot twists that fell by the wayside, and it never mentions characters that end up playing significant 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 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 start 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 they kept surprising me as I wrote.
You have skillfully developed endearing characters with Caroline’s family in this book.
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 shouldn’t admit to imagining which Hollywood star would play our characters.
Still, 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 entirely 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?
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 how our high school teachers and college professors taught us.
But that’s not how people talk; 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, 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 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?
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, did you find it easier or harder to write than your first?
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.
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.
I hope I’ll end up with loads of fresh ideas for my fiction; my agent fears I’ll take 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.
New to Mary Louise Kelly? Here are some answers to your most frequently asked questions!
Is Mary Louise Kelly still at NPR?
Mary Louise Kelly is the co-host of NPR’s acclaimed afternoon news magazine All Things Considered.
With non-stop breaking news stories and deadlines at work, she has reported as an NPR correspondent covering various global locations and even war zones.
Her decision to leave NPR twice was influenced by her youngest son’s medical issues, realizing the importance of being present at home.
What are the best Mary Louise Kelly books?
My favorite book is, The Bullet, but I’m looking forward to reading her new parenting memoir soon.
Her highest-rated novel on GoodReads is her debut, Anonymous Sources.
Is it necessary to read Mary Louise Kelly’s books in a specific order?
No, each book is a standalone story.
What are the Mary books in the order published?
- Anonymous Sources (2013)
- The Bullet (2015)
- It Goes. So. Fast.: The Year of No Do-Overs (2023)
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