Carolyn Kaufman Psy.D.

Psychology for Writers

Q & A with Kylie's Heel Author Susan K. Perry

Read about one writer's psychological journey from nonfiction to fiction.

Posted Aug 17, 2013


Susan K. Perry and the cover of Kylie's Heel
Today's interview is with psychologist and writer Susan K. Perry. Or maybe that's writer and psychologist—she's published over 1000 blog posts, articles, essays, and reviews, and now she's adding fiction writing to her resumé with her new book Kylie's Heel. In it, loving mother and rational humanist Kylie Moran struggles to cope when a shock involving her son turns her world upside down. Read on to learn more about Perry's creative process and about her novel!

Susan K. Perry and the cover of Kylie's Heel

Q: You've already made a name for yourself as a successful nonfiction writer. What influenced you to want to write fiction? 

To tell the truth, I was getting bored with the limitations of the kind of how-to and service articles and books I was writing. I've read some great creative nonfiction books, but many of those require more intensive research than I want to do (and I'd done so much for Writing in Flow and for Loving in Flow anyway). Fiction offered me a chance to learn something new; it was a kind of writing I figured I was capable of "mastering" with enough effort. It's good to stretch if you're going to enter that lovely flow state.

Q: What inspired you to write Kylie's Heel? Where did the idea for this story come from?

Well over a decade ago, I began taking notes for what I was calling Baby Dreams. The whole year prior to my second son leaving the nest, I had so many dreams about babies. I wrote a lot of them down. I thought maybe this might become a nonfiction book about how women feel about their empty nest. Then I went back to school for my doctorate, studied human development and creativity and flow, and wrote Writing in Flow based on interviews with authors and poets.

That's when I decided, hey, I want to try that making-up-stuff for myself. So I took my old journals and notes and allowed myself to imagine a good life overturned by a mother's most horrifying fear. I didn't know how it would end until I got close to the end. And I think all this writing was a kind of catharsis for me. It helped me see that, sure, having one's kids grow up is a bit sad, a bit like a death (certainly a death of a way of life), but it's not nearly as bad as what my character had to endure.

Q: How has your extensive knowledge of psychology influenced the story you're telling in Kylie's Heel?

My psychology background helped a lot. Some of that was due to my knowing about certain aspects of human behavior, and some of it was more intuitive. I was able to imagine grief in a way I hadn't experienced, but others have told me I got it absolutely right. I was able to contrast the two sisters in the novel, though I've never had a sibling.

Because I'd learned to be open-minded while studying psychology, I could let myself perceive the world through a variety of lenses, including that of a born-again Christian. Some things, of course, I had to look up to verify, such as how many molecules of a scent are required to smell something across the house, or what some autistics focus on when they watch a couple kissing. The much-used "Emotion Away Spray" is my own invention.

Q: You have said that the novel was several years in the making. What kept you motivated not to give up?

I simply don't give up when something's important to me, whether a relationship or a book. I sent queries out to agents and publishers, and each time I got a batch back (many with encouraging specifics, but no sale), I went back and revised and tried again. I suppose the fact that I'd used my own old journals, and had set it in my own neighborhood, and had "used" everyone and everything I know in one way or another, made this especially hard to turn my back on. I did begin another novel while waiting to sell this one, but I kept coming back to Kylie. Her life is very real to me, and I couldn't let her stay in my computer forever.

Q: Tell us a little bit more about your novel, where people can learn more about it, and where they can get it.

Kylie's Heel is about how a woman who calls herself rational, and in fact writes a column for her local newspaper called "A Rational Woman," copes when all the worst of her fears actually happen. 

Readers can get a head start by reading an excerpt on the publisher's site; you'll also find a Reader's Guide and some of the novel's cool pre-publication praise. Buying info is also there (paperback from the publisher, or ebook from online sellers such as The ebook has photos and a way to share comments with other readers.

Q: Is there anything you'd like both readers, both atheists and theists, to get from the book?

What I hope is that humanists and atheists and other freethinkers will feel a sense of connection to Kylie, to me, and to other non-theists. Not a lot of literary or women's fiction (both of which this is) seem to have outspoken female non-believers as a main character. I hope, too, that some open-minded believers will gain a better understanding of non-theists from reading Kylie's Heel.

And I would certainly love it if both women and men came to realize that one can be intensely connected to family and profoundly emotional, while at the same time be of a scientific and skeptical bent. For me, that's the best way toward a sane future, and that's why I've "come out" with Kylie's Heel and my new blogs