Interview with Susan Zurenda, Author of Bells for Eli

What is your debut novel about?

In the fictitious small-town of Green Branch, SC, in the 1960s and 70s, two first cousins, Eli Winfield and Delia Green, grow up across the street from each other. After a life-altering childhood accident compromises Eli physically, making him the target of bullying, Delia becomes his great defender.

Later, in adolescence, the outer appearance of Eli’s accident gone, the cousins’ relationship grows into one with deeper, more complicated feelings. Though Eli dates every girl in town and eventually falls in love, Delia is never far away. His wounds of the heart from childhood never leave, however, and are the catalyst for actions that bring Delia to discover a shocking family secret that reveals truths about Eli she has never known.

What were your book launch plans pre-Covid? 

My book (Mercer University Press) launched on March 2. I had fifty-plus author events scheduled across eight states, but I was only on tour for a week-and-a-half. My last public event was on March 9 in Charlotte, NC, with the crowd much smaller than the Womens’ National Book Association Spring “Meet the Authors” evening anticipated because of the virus. Since then, my means of reaching out to readers have been through social media, book reviews and articles in print and online, virtual events, and word of mouth.

What emotions ran through you when you learned your book tour/launch was cancelled? 

My heart sank again and again as events cancelled, one month at the time, from March through May, but I had to accept the inevitable. My situation is perhaps more difficult because I’m a debut novelist, but even some of the best-known authors with books published this spring have been affected.

Are you and your publisher doing anything special/different to promote your novel during this time? Are there any silver linings?

Authors and others in the book world are thinking outside the box and developing all kinds of exciting virtual opportunities. I’ve been fortunate to participate in a number of them. The first was a short Sunday afternoon Facebook Live interview, “10 Questions and a Book” with author Meg Waite Clayton.  Author of the best-selling historical novel The Last Train to London, among other best-selling books, Meg started this series to support authors whose books coincided with the pandemic.

Because Bells for Eli was chosen as a Winter 2020 Okra Pick by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, I was privileged to be included in SIBA’s “Reader Meet Writer Series” and broadcast through Zoom at many participating Southern independent bookstores. The series is continuing this summer.

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