Historical fiction, love, tragedy, mystery and suspense are all wrapped up into one novel, Bethlehem, written by Edina author Karen Kelly. Bethlehem explores the real location of Bethlehem, Pa., and delves into the fictional lives of families who were a part of this historic town. The story is told through the perspective of the two wives of the men running Bethlehem Steel. Through their relationships, they discover more about themselves—and gives readers the chance to learn about a history that may not be familiar to them.
Kelly is no novice, however. She did not start her writing career until her youngest two children were in high school, when she found herself with more free time and confidence in her ability to create. Although the thought of writing a book had always crossed her mind, she never seemed to be able to put pen to paper until inspiration struck after spending time at her three daughters’ college in Bethlehem, Pa.
“A lifelong exposure to great writers proved to be a bit of a road block. I intimidated myself out of it until I finally decided that I didn’t have to be Nabokov—I could just give it a go and see how things went,” Kelly says.
She is now not only a mother of four, but also a grandmother—and she still sometimes finds it challenging to find the time and quiet to concentrate fully on her writing, since she wants every word to be not only necessary, but lovely to read and hear out loud.
“As much as I love to write, nothing can hold a candle to rocking a grandchild. But my second favorite activity is playing with words,” Kelly says.
Kelly is the type of writer who can spend forever debating whether a word should be changed or left alone. It is all about creating beautiful, meaningful sentences that flow and let the reader envision the scenes and the characters with ease.
“I’m finicky like that—lyricism is important to me. I will re-write a paragraph obsessively until I’m satisfied that I’ve found the prettiest way to say it,” Kelly says. “Nathaniel Hawthorne said it best: Easy reading is damn hard writing.”
Bethlehem was born when her three daughters all decided to attend Lehigh University. This resulted in Kelly spending ample time with them there, both on and off the campus in Bethlehem, Pa. Her idea came to fruition while she was out exploring one day and happened to wander into the Nisky Hill Cemetery. As she wove in and out of the graves she noticed one in particular that caught her attention, since the only words engraved on it were two simple ones: “Baby Brown.” Kelly was inspired by the absence of information and formulated her character and storyline around this simple gravestone that most people wouldn’t have taken much interest in, or even noticed amongst the other more elaborate tombstones.
“The headstone intrigued me, as did the house,” Kelly says. “And I decided to incorporate them into a love story and a mystery that would layer in the history of Bethlehem Steel and the town of Bethlehem as a backdrop.”
From there, she researched the history of Bethlehem and Bethlehem Steel and began formulating the story in her head. Once she began writing, the book took around a year to finally complete. Currently, Kelly is working on a new book that is set in Duluth, Minn. She decided to write a story about a place a little closer to home and perhaps more relatable for all our Minnesota readers.