With ‘Stranger in the Lake,’ Atlanta Author Kimberly Belle Offers a Thrilling Getaway for Our Shut-In Summer
With summer vacations largely cancelled due to the pandemic, the thrilling getaway Atlanta author Kimberly Belle has chartered for us via her latest novel, “Stranger in the Lake” is a perfectly timed escape in these quarantined times. With each of her six novels, Belle, the Midtown Atlanta resident, who first captured mainstream attention with her 2017 book “The Marriage Lie,” has built an increasingly critically acclaimed reputation for carefully plotted, taut and suspenseful tales.
Eldredge ATL had an opportunity to speak with Belle by phone as she was planning her first-ever virtual book tour for this summer’s release of “Stranger in the Lake,” against the backdrop of COVID-19 numbers continuing to spike and the deaths of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery resulting in Black Lives Matter marchers filling the streets of Atlanta to protest the killings.
Q: Charlotte Keller, the main character in “Stranger in the Lake,” is the latest in a series of smart female protagonists your readers have come to love. Where did Charlotte come from?
A: I love women who can ultimately can save themselves. That’s always where I start with a character. I spend a lot of time with friends who own a lake house at Lake Glenville, which is in The Highlands area of North Carolina. Charlotte Keller came out of that. If you’ve ever been up there, you know how the places have been transformed by all these moneyed people coming in and building all these fabulous restaurants, shops, country clubs and golf courses. And then you have the people like Charlotte, who have lived there for generations, who are the ones scrubbing the toilets and flipping the burgers. And that’s when they can find a job. I started with that disparity. Then, I had her marry up. I wanted to explore her struggles with money and status and work through that, all in addition to the discovery of a dead body in a lake.
Q: Speaking of, you certainly know how to kick off a book don’t you?
A: (laughs) Yeah, I like to grab you in the first chapter or two for sure!
Q: How Stranger in the Lake” opens also shows off your evolution as a writer in terms of how you plot and pace a story. Your readers know to expect a thrill ride when they pick up one of your books. How did that develop over the course of your career?
A: If you put all my book covers next to each other, my first two look very different from the next four. In 2020, I’m put firmly in the suspense and the domestic suspense category. But in the beginning, I straddled the line between women’s fiction and domestic suspense. I almost always write from the female perspective. So, they originally marketed me as women’s fiction. When it came time for me to write my third book, my editor said, “We would really like your books to fall more firmly into one of these buckets and we think your voice is very well suited for suspense.” They were one hundred percent right. I love hitting the ground running from chapter one. I love the kind of emotions these stories bring up. It makes it really visceral. I love keeping the action high. I like writing the kind of books I like to read.
Q: You received a Bachelor of Arts at Agnes Scott College. How did the sisterhood you experienced there inform the female characters you create?
A: It goes back to strong women who can save themselves. They don’t need a man. They want a man, maybe, or they love a man or two or three, you know, fathers, sons, husbands. But they don’t need someone else to come in and save them. Ultimately, in all of my stories, it’s about the journey of figuring out how to be their own person outside of the relationships they’re in. Because of the kinds of books I write, it often goes hand in hand with some sort of horrible, awful and scary situation! Ultimately, that’s also the lesson women’s colleges and women’s education teach us. It’s not about all these other people, it’s about you. You’re responsible for yourself. You can do anything you want to do. That’s the biggest lesson Agnes Scott taught me.
Q: Many authors are responding to all of the societal changes we’re in the middle of right now. Others in the public eye are choosing not to insert themselves into the dialogue. One of the most powerful things I’ve read was your recent post stating, “As a white woman, I’ve had the microphone for a very long time, for too damn long. Maybe now is the time for me to listen, to learn, reflect and grow.” You also participated in #blackouttuesday. If you look at the demographics of who voted for our current president in 2016, some of those same women may be your readers. Was it difficult to make the decision to speak out?
A: I’ve had long conversations with my friends, my family and my kids about this. This is also not the time to be quiet. It’s the time to stay respectful but this is not the time to stay quiet. I felt like I had to say something, I had to do something. We’ve all been way too quiet about this for far too long. And when I say “we” I mean, people with my skin color. If that costs me some book sales? I’m good with it.
Q: I’m looking at this very daunting list of virtual signings and online appearances with fans. Aside from all of us learning what a ring light is all of a sudden, how are you preparing for this new kind of book tour?
A: You have to get up and put on make-up and do your hair everyday which is kind of a bummer in the middle of a pandemic (laughs). I love getting out and getting a chance to talk with readers and answering their questions and having conversations. So much of my job is me sitting by myself in a chair pushing words out into the world. So, getting that feedback and having those conversations is fabulous. I’m actually looking forward to this, having conversations with real people again, instead of fictional people. Plus, I’m signing lots of book plates to send to readers. It’s going to be fun for me.
Richard L. Eldredge is the founder and editor in chief of Eldredge ATL. As a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta magazine, he has covered Atlanta since 1990.