We had the good fortune of connecting with Kelley K. Gusich and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kelley K., how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, but raised in Grand Junction, Colorado. My father owned a used bookstore in Salt Lake (the first one in the US, I’m pretty sure), and he commuted there from GJ for forty years. He was an excommunicated-by-choice-Mormon and an unrepentant reader, and his influence turned me into an irreverent-high-school-teacher-turned-writer. Also an unrepentant reader, although I’ve never driven a car with my knees holding the steering wheel, a book opened in front of me. I guess he used to commute across Spooner Summit like that. Seriously. I’m not a good enough driver, AND I’m on much busier streets. Those are the only reasons I don’t do that the way my dad did.
I’m extremely lucky, though, in that I can read in the passenger side of the car without getting nauseous. A miracle, really, because if I couldn’t do that, I’d never go anywhere. Anyway, I don’t know if that’s answering the question, but …
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I have always loved writing, the way words can be combined in so many ways to create so many feelings. Stories can go anywhere I want them to go. Unlike life, which is much harder to control. I’ve always liked messing around with words—stories for my Barbie dolls, captions for my yearbook—but I didn’t really start working on fictional stories and poems until my college creative writing class. I wrote a sci-fi story while listening, over and over, to “Unforgiven” by Metallica (betcha didn’t know I was a Headbanger from way back). My professor, Charles Clerc, thought it was good enough to enter it into an L. Ron Hubbard short story contest. I didn’t win, but the process of letting the story in the song inspire me to write a totally unrelated story was intoxicating.
I have loved writing since birth, practically. But I’ve only been writing to share since my first published short story—a horror story called “Wobegone” published in Crimson online magazine in 2000. I’ve only been able to write full time since October of 2013, when both of my sons got into full-time school schedules.
I’ve always felt that books can save lives. Whatever it is that’s going on in your life, there’s a book for it, something out there that will teach you, heal you, inspire you or shelter you.
For me, the shelter aspect was key. The young version of Kelley was a total nerd, forty years before nerds became cool. I hated sports, sucked at foursquare, and did really well in school—thought knowing how to spell was the “awesomest.” Translation: big ol’ geek. The playground was not a respite for me; rather, it was a black hole.
I only wanted to escape back into the classroom, where I felt much more surefooted, or, escape into a book, where I felt…indomitable. Plunged into a world I controlled by a turn of the page, I can still picture myself, propped on the playground curb, one skinny leg stretched out to one side, with the book splayed open on the concrete. Catty little girls or thoughtless little boys took a back seat in this world, where space travel is as easy as a Sunday drive, telepathy is real, and if you want it, the good guy always wins. It saved my life.
As a teacher, my motto was “If you don’t like to read, you just haven’t found the right book yet.” I still believe it, even though I’ve been trying for over twenty years now to find the right one for my husband. I’ll keep trying. As a writer, I’d like to write one of those books that’s right for you as the reader, but I also think it’s pretty cool that there are so many others to choose from if you don’t like mine.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
As a family, we regularly haunt a couple of places in downtown San Diego, although Covid sure put a monkey in THAT wrench, didn’t it? We like the beach, from La Jolla Cove to Del Mar, at least a couple of times a month. Since I love reading, anywhere and everywhere, we love going to the Civic Center (that fountain in front) where I can sit and read while the guys throw the football or the baseball or anything they can run around with. We love the theater and go to summer Shakespeare at the Old Globe–so excited to start THAT tradition again, and we love the new Rady Shell! We’ve already been to the symphony and two concerts there.
Any live music is good for us–we just got tickets for Garth Brooks at Petco Park in March. I’m not really a country music person, but … it’s Garth Brooks!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
First, my husband, Jim Gusich. The outlook you have about our mission to support our family’s dreams has allowed me to go after this achievement “Writer” with all the passion I have, and I am so grateful. You may never know what a gift you’ve given to me and to our sons as they experience that support and encouragement. Thank you. I love you to infinity and beyond—to quote Buzz Lightyear, and because that is much further than to the moon and back. Speaking of our sons, I want to shoutout to them here, because I can’t believe I get to do that!
I waited so long for you Grey and Griffen, and you guys were definitely worth the wait. How long will I love you? That’s right, always. The fact that you are such wonderful young men makes this parenting job easier, too.
My life success is due in large part to my father, Donald Wilson Bowles, who died in 2012 but whose influence is still so present in my life. His love for books and the language and culture of books exceeded anyone else’s I have ever known. I can only aspire. I’d like to do a shout to him and my late mother, Shelley Rochelle ‘Rachel” Frick Bowles, for being THOSE parents. You know those parents—the ones for whom every achievement of their children, no matter how small, is placed on a stage and applauded and oohed and aaahed over so much—that those children will succeed no matter what. That kind of unconditional love and support is cherished by those children, every day. Thank you. I miss you both so much.
Shawn Clingman, you are my superhuman superstar superhero. It’s so very helpful to have a friendship where I can just throw my ideas against the wall with you, and you always let me know whether or not they stick. You know I heart you so much, and I value our friendship like mad.
To everyone who helps me continue telling stories: Kristin Gibbar, Richard Lai, Cherie Kephart. Jaxon Crow-Mickle for the “Chalkboard Outlines” stroke of genius. Kim Orozco, Misty Martinez, Kirstie Pfeiffer, John Trotti, Ken & Lori Khoury, Rheanna Hightower, Leslie Anderson, Lisa Burns, Sandy Haulman, Shanna Miller and Sherry Schreiner. You all rock.