Sue Monk Kidd has a little trouble with success. Specifically, she still can't quite believe that her first novel, "The Secret Life of Bees," has sold 3-1/2 million copies since it appeared in 2002. "For a long time, I couldn't truly believe it had happened," she said in a recent interview at her home outside Charleston, S.C. Then, about a year ago, she was sitting in a Boston hotel room watching "Jeopardy!" when a contestant chose "Women Writers" for $600. "What popped on the screen was something like 'Sue Monk Kidd's debut novel is about the secret life of these insects.' I remember just sitting there staring at the screen. And that was really almost the first time I got it. And I said to myself, I guess the thing has made a bit of a splash. All right, I'll handle it."
Kidd may not be able to explain why "The Secret Life of Bees" became a favorite of book clubs across the country or why it was picked by dozens of municipalities as their "city-read." But she's sure about one thing: the roughly "80,000 people who begged for a sequel to 'Bees' are going to be disappointed" by her second novel, "The Mermaid Chair." "I didn't want to write the first book again, and I didn't want to write another novel about an adolescent girl. I wanted to write something more complex, something more nuanced." So she wound up telling the story of a middle-aged woman who has a tempestuous affair with a monk. And she's quick to point out that there's nothing autobiographical in the story, "because people do tend to think I'm always writing about myself. I can't tell you how many people came up to me after reading 'Bees' and said, 'So, you had a terrible childhood.' I had to tell them, no, quite the opposite. My mother actually won a Mother of the Year Award." Glancing out toward the tidal creek behind her house, she says, "Maybe I write about things I haven't experienced." Her biggest talent is convincing readers that she has.