Kelly, a Washington resident who spent 20 years working as a reporter for several media outlets including the British Broadcasting Co. and National Public Radio, was back in Atlanta to promote her first book, “Anonymous Sources,” a spy novel published last month.
“It is such a pleasure to be here, not just here in Atlanta but also in the Margaret Mitchell House. I think I read ‘Gone with the Wind’ about 47 times,” she said, referring to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author’s book.
Afterward Kelly added, “It’s kind of a dream come true to be here talking about this book, to be here with my family, my friends and people from different stages of my life.”
Full disclosure: I grew up in Vinings, spending 14 years on the same street, Lemons Ridge, where Kelly lived. Fred and Betty Lines, my next-door neighbors then, were among Kelly’s former neighbors attending the event.
“Mrs. Teeny Parker, my first-grade teacher, the woman who taught me how to write, is here,” Kelly said. “She brought two books, ‘Anonymous Sources’ and a book I wrote in 1978.”
Kelly covered the military in both Washington and in war zones abroad. She said she decided to mostly leave journalism (she now works part-time for NPR) and focus on writing after two “light-bulb moments.”
“The first [one] came on a trip to the Middle East, in Baghdad,” Kelly said. “A sand storm came in and the roads were not safe to drive the [U.S.] defense secretary [Robert Gates]. We were getting into helicopter to fly out and I was in a flak jacket. I got a call from my son’s school nurse, who said, ‘Your youngest son is sick. I need you to come get him. He’s barely breathing.’ The phone line went dead and I remember looking down at the snarled traffic of Baghdad. I thought, now it’s time for career plan B.’
“Back in Washington a few weeks later, I was in the shower. I was listening to ‘Crime in the City’ on NPR [featuring crime novel writers]. … I thought, ‘Yeah, why not?’ I asked for a four-day [work] week from NPR and spent one day a week [writing the book] at the local Barnes & Noble.”
“Anonymous Sources” is about a young reporter, Alexandra James, who investigates a murder in Boston and goes abroad in pursuit of the killer, discovering a terrorist plot along the way. She named the main character after her two sons, Alex and James.
“For the plot, I decided to go big or go home,” Kelly said. “I would ask the top military officers about their worst nightmare. … [It was] terrorists getting their hands on a nuclear weapon.”
During a question-and-answer session, a man asked Kelly to divulge her favorite story she covered as a journalist.
“One of the ones I had the most fun reporting,” she said, “was the story of [the CIA’s] Gary Schroen, one of the first people from the U.S. to go to Afghanistan after 9/11. … He told me the most unbelievable story I’ve ever heard.”
Information: visit www.marylouisekellybooks.com.