INTERVIEW WITH SUSAN BRAUDY AUTHOR OF “KICK KENNEDY’S SECRET DIARY”
Blanche Wolf Publishers (2019)
Reviewed by Carol Hoyer for Reader Views (4/19)
Susan Braudy is the bestselling author of six books. Her writing has also appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Ms. Magazine, New York Magazine, Jezebel, The Week, and the New Journal at Yale. The Men’s Issue she created and edited for Ms. Magazine was the highest selling in the magazine’s history. She’s a recipient of the Dick Goldensohn Fund Award for investigative reporting and was a judge for the J. Anthony Lukas Prize at Columbia University. Alfred A. Knopf nominated her last book for the Pulitzer Prize. Her blogs are Writers Celebrate Writers and Manhattan Voyeur.
Hi Susan, thank you for joining us today at Reader Views! Tell us a bit about your latest book, “Kick Kennedy’s Secret Diary.”
At the dawn of the Blitz, American Ambassador Joseph Kennedy rushes his family from England back home to Bronxville – but his beautiful rebellious daughter Kathleen (“Kick”) has bigger plans. Ignoring air raids and family banishment Kick returns to her forbidden sweetheart in London. Everybody adored fun-loving Kick Kennedy except her cold mother Rose who loved being very-rich and very-Catholic and the Ambassador’s wife. Kick Kennedy’s Secret Diary is an intimate peek behind the spurious facade of America’s royal family.
This historical fiction diary is the whirlwind story of JFK’s little sister and favorite person–she’s a bobby dazzler with an awesome trail of swooning British suitors. Ambitious and daring and the star of every party, Kick earns the nickname la petite questionneuse for asking many many questions, such as “Will God desert me if I marry a good Anglican?” Ever pushing boundaries Kick struggles to balance her strong faith and family loyalty with a marriage proposal from the Anglican and kind William Cavendish, heir to the most powerful duchy in England. As his wife, Kick would one day be second only to the Queen herself. Kick and her beloved Billy-o marry knowing she may alienate her family forever. But when her loyal husband of two weeks disappears on the battlefield, Kick struggles to make a life for herself alone in London where sexual awakening lurks. Praised by author Michael Wolff (Fire and Fury) for exhibiting the “literary charm of Penelope Lively” and the “romantic fervor of Barbara Cartland,” Kick Kennedy’s Secret Diary is damn good fun. Readers will love Kick’s cheeky adventures with Winston Churchill, Aly Khan and the ribald Pamela Digby Churchill. Caught between her father’s political ambitions and her mother’s rejecting jealousy, Kick’s defiance is a treat for lovers of historical fiction: her struggles to be her own person inspire.
I actually love reading this novel — it brings Kick Kennedy to life for me. It took me years of probing and poking to find her life force and tone of voice.
What inspired you to write this story?
I did an article for Vanity Fair magazine about the super-bright American aristocrat Susan Mary Alsop. She wrote that she sensed an uncertainty in “Kick” that Susan Mary believed had a lot to do with Kick’s faith in a just God being rocked by deaths of her young husband and many friends in World War II.
What was Kick Kennedy’s superpower? What set her apart from “traditional” women in her generation?
Kick Kennedy was a free-thinker who defied her envious mother and thought things through for herself. She loved making other people happy and people loved her. In the past many rich women have defied convention because they could.
What part of her life do you find most fascinating?
Her rebellion against her cold, constraining mother and her subsequent escape to live a freer life in London.
Why do you think the world is still obsessed with the Kennedys?
The ruthless family patriarch Joseph Patrick Kennedy constructed a facade that seemed to overflow with the best and the brightest American dreams. The Kennedys appeared to be American royals. The facade was partly true–but Joe Kennedy’s ambition and amorality led to tragedy for himself and his children.
You have authored a couple of non-fiction works. Why did you write “Kick Kennedy’s Secret Diary” as a historical fiction piece?
I wanted to get inside her skin and convey her sexual awakening as a widow in London, her uncertainty about her faith, her generosity of spirit and her daring sense of humor.
What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?
The ethics are not explicit for writing historical fiction. I read biographies and letters and newspaper columns by Kathleen Kennedy. I identified with her strong rebellious spirit and sensibility. I think I did a good job — reading between the lines about such as her friendship with the sexually sophisticated Hon. Pamela Digby Churchill Harriman and Kick’s love for her favorite relative, future President John F. Kennedy. The most difficult task was conveying her life-of-the-party antics and her earnest desire to make people happy.
What kind of research did you do, and how long did you spend researching before beginning to write “Kick Kennedy’s Secret Diary?”
I loved researching more than two years for this book–reading many Kennedy biographies and biographies of English friends of Kick’s. I really liked Lord Moran’s biography of Winston Churchill. He was Churchill’s personal doctor and a constant companion in the great man’s adult life. I read many other biographies about Churchill’s inner circle. Gloria Swanson was a delicious treat (she was Joe Kennedy’s mistress). I am grateful for the assistance of the Kennedy library.
You have had a long career as an author and journalist. Can you tell us about an early experience where you learned that language had power?
When I was in the sixth grade I wrote a “composition” about how scared I am to speak to a large group. I ended it with a sentence about how I decided to direct my talk to one person–the school principal Miss Michaels. I pretended I was speaking only to her. To my surprise my teacher gave her the short composition and the principal read it on the loudspeaker system that went into every classroom. I was stunned. My classmates applauded.
What is one thing you wish you knew when you started out?
I wish I had known how tragedy shadowed the lives of Kick and her friends–as they lived through World War II.
What do you love most about the writing process?
I love to lose all sense of time passing as I relax into finding words and phrases that others will understand and enjoy. I like to put things into words that nobody else has.
What do you like to read? Is there one book that has most influenced your life?
I read all sorts of books from detective cozies to novels by Ann Pachett. I love reading P.G. Wodehouse and Thomas Powers, but I enjoy “the female gaze.”
I love non-fiction and recently finished “Who Is Michael Ovitz”– reminding me of my own novel about Hollywood amorality. I don’t think I can narrow it down to one book that’s most influenced my life–I read all the time.
Which writers have inspired your own work as an author?
I loved reading children’s books and return to them today. They include the Nancy Drew series by Carolyn Keene, Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery and A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. I had one children’s book of historical fiction: I remember vividly the chapter about Alexander the Great. Women writers with the “female gaze” like Anne Tyler and Meg and Hilma Wolitzer just knock me out. I devour many English female writers including Penelope Lively. Joan Didion’s subjective journalism in Slouching Towards Bethlehem made me dream of endless possibilities. I loved Woody Allen’s collection of short stories, Without Feathers. Albert Camus’ The Stranger made a deep impression on me. I love Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetry. Dorothy Parker is great fun. Nora Ephron had perfect pitch as did Erma Bombeck.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received, about writing, or about life in general?
“1: Focus. 2: Research. 3: Rewrite. 4: Rewrite. 5: Focus.”
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
Rewrite. Never never never give up. And don’t write for money, write from love.
Is there anything else you’d like to add for our readers today?
Read “Kick Kennedy’s Secret Diary.” You’ll learn stuff and have fun.