Arts & Culture

Kristy Woodson Harvey on Her New Read, Beaufort, and Book Clubs

The bestselling author’s latest book, A Happier Life, is part whodunnit and part beach read

A portrait of a blonde woman

Photo: Grace Bell

Author Kristy Woodson Harvey.

What would you do if you had never met your grandparents but were asked to prepare their house for sale? And then, when you arrive at their home, you find it frozen in time, with dinner still on the table from the night they vanished decades ago? That’s the intriguing scenario the North Carolina author Kristy Woodson Harvey devises in her latest release, A Happier Life

The New York Times bestselling author of The Summer of Songbirds and the Peachtree Bluff series weaves a tender-hearted tale about aging and agency in a part rom-com, part murder mystery. G&G caught up with the North Carolina resident for a no-spoilers look at the real-life inspiration behind her latest novel.

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How did you come up with this particular story?

When I was ten years old I got to go inside a house that had been completely abandoned. No one had been inside in fifty years. It was like a time capsule. Evidently, the couple who owned it had gotten in a fight on Thanksgiving, and everyone left the house and no one ever came back. So when you walked in, the table was still completely set for Thanksgiving. There was a newspaper on the couch and toys out in the kids’ rooms. It was just as though someone walked out of the door fifty years ago, sealed the door, and we walked back into it the moment after they left. 

What a perfect scene for a book.

I thought it would be interesting for a granddaughter to go back into this kind of house and be able to piece together parts of her grandparents’ lives. 

In the story, Keaton Smith, the granddaughter in question, discovers a journal that belonged to her grandma, Becks, filled with advice on hosting and recipes. Where did that plot detail come from?

Growing up in the South, my grandmothers loved to host beautiful parties. When they hosted a book club, it wasn’t just a book club. It was a chance to get out the tablecloths and the china, the crystal, the polished silver, and do the flowers. The little Southern ladies who cooked in town would come over to do the ham biscuits and the cheese straws. I love those things and I love to host. But in the book Keaton realizes her mother didn’t carry them on. Doing those things seems so easy to dismiss, like, “Oh, mom or grandma didn’t have jobs, they just hosted parties.” But there is a lot you can learn about a person from the way they take care of other people. 

You’re right. It was a different era.

But you know, I look at someone like my grandmother and she was one of the happiest people that I knew. Both of my grandmothers championed so many causes and started so many organizations and changed the places where they lived for the better in so many ways. 

Keaton sort of makes the same discovery. She realizes her all-consuming career in New York City might not be the answer and that maybe taking care of herself and this place she loves, Beaufort, is more important.

Originally, this was going to be set in Key West, but I realized I’d have to do so much research to write about that area. I thought, why don’t I just make it easy on myself and set it in Beaufort? I had a lot of hesitation about that. But I knew the story needed something to link Becks to Keaton between the past and the present. What could be better than the Old Homes Tour

In the book, Becks founded it and Keaton restarts it with the older ladies she’s befriended in town.

In Beaufort, in real life, it’s this huge event. Ten thousand people attend. I work on it every year, and I’m on that board, and I just thought that would be really fun to have Keaton carry it on. 


Art imitates life and helps solve the decades-old missing persons case. 

Yes, and my favorite event of the Old Homes Tour, the champagne brunch, is where I’ll launch this book on Sunday, June 30

How about some rapid-fire questions? Biscuits or cornbread? 

Biscuits.

Beach or mountains?

Beach, but I do love them both.

I know you are a UNC Chapel Hill girl—you studied journalism there. So, football or basketball?

When I was a little girl, we never missed a home football game. But we’re just obsessed with all of it. You know, we’re a women’s field hockey school as well, and this year we didn’t miss a women’s home basketball game either.


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