In Debut Novel, Hoboken Author Set Out to Make Women Feel Seen

Kelly Benoit says …with a splash of Kay explores the nuances in women's complicated relationships with work, friends and dating.

Author Kelly Benoit

Hoboken-based Kelly Benoit, who works in corporate social responsibility, wrote her debut novel, …with a splash of Kay, earlier this year. Photo: Courtesy of Mario Penso

From the outside, New York City’s hustle culture an alluring world. But when Kelly Benoit landed an internship at a top organization nearly a decade ago, she discovered that the gig barely covered her monthly rent. She felt like an outsider among her colleagues—well-paid executives who bought expensive lunches and went out for drinks daily while she, on the other hand, was picking up extra shifts at a Midtown bar. 

These days, Benoit is a proud Hoboken resident—and earlier this year wrote her debut novel, …with a splash of Kay, loosely based on her experiences in Manhattan in her twenties. As her book’s main character Kay Mitchell navigates career moves, messy relationships and imposter syndrome, Benoit highlights the importance of female friendship and staying true to who you are.

Cover of Kelly Benoit's "…with a splash of Kay"

Though it’s a fiction book, Benoit says …with a splash of Kay is “an achingly honest narrative.” Photo: Courtesy of Fay Silverman

NJM: Where did you grow up?
: I grew up in Warwick, Rhode Island, before moving to Boston for college, then New York City in 2014.

Where do you live currently?
Hoboken. In 2020 I moved from New York City and absolutely love it!

Who should read …with a splash of Kay?
…with a splash of Kay is a fun, fast and flirty read for anyone! Especially for women 18 and older who gravitate towards women’s fiction and romance.

What does it mean for you to have written a book that’s relatable for people in their twenties and thirties, figuring out their lives, dealing with imposter syndrome, career moves and messy relationships?
Growing up, I loved comedy-dramas, and would cling to female-driven stories like they were my own. I’ve always valued the characters’ journeys, which also helped shape my world and made me feel a little more seen. I set out to offer that same experience for my readers.

…with a splash of Kay is an achingly honest narrative that offers all the good romance feels you want to devour in a book. Yet it also unveils the nuances in our often-complicated relationships with work, amidst friends and, of course, throughout dating. It means the world to have readers relate to and connect with this kind of writing. 

Do you see parts of yourself or others in the book?
Oh, for sure. Kay’s character is inspired from my lived experiences during my twenties, just hyperbolized in some ways, and altered in others, for a consistent and engaging storyline. Same with many of the characters whose arcs are drawn from people who’ve influenced my life or are a combination of people I’ve come to know over the years.

Readers close to me have tried guessing each character, but without entire success! The fun part of fiction writing is that after each iteration, every character evolves into their own unique identity. So, not everyone is completely identifiable.

Does your writing reflect some of the experiences you’ve had in the professional world?
Absolutely! And I think for many other twenty-something professionals, this will likely resonate, too.

When I graduated college and moved to NYC, I landed a coveted internship at an elite organization that, well, paid me zip. Even when I landed my first full-time role at a top financial institution shortly after, my paycheck hardly covered my rent. I needed a second job just to stay afloat those first few years in the city.

At the same time, I sat alongside talented and wealthy colleagues each day in the office with whom I wanted to fit in. They all had the luxury of buying their food from nearby expensive eateries and going out for drinks after work, without a second thought as to whether they could afford it or not. It was a precarious place to be—wanting to fit in with my colleagues’ lifestyles while silently experiencing financial stress during each group lunch, or judgment for declining happy hours because I had a second job.

What are some of your sources of inspiration?
Hands down, my author inspiration is Candace Bushnell. Sex and the City and Lipstick Jungle encapsulate writing that changed the way the world views women. I continue to be a big, big fan! And over the years, I’ve read so many other fantastic novels that capture the perfect amount of relatability and escapism. Too many to name, but a few that stick out include City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert, Cooking for Picasso by Camille Aubray and Three Women by Lisa Taddeo. These delicious, enthralling stories were part of what inspired me to write my own.

What’s next on the horizon for you? Another book?
I would love to write another book, preferably a sequel to …with a splash of Kay. (A double splash, anyone?) But that’s likely on the next, next horizon! For now, I’m relishing in the release of my debut novel, continuing to learn Spanish and, most of all, diving into all the books that had been on hold while I wrote my own.

What is your hope for the book?
It’s my hope that readers will find a piece of themselves in the main character, Kay Mitchell. Throughout the pages, I want them to relate to her circumstances, connect with her self-reflections and learn alongside her path of self-discovery. And, of equal importance: I want everyone to have a good time reading! …with a splash of Kay is intended to be fun and lighthearted. It may even make you laugh.

No one knows New Jersey like we do. Sign up for one of our free newsletters here. Want a print magazine mailed to you? Purchase an issue from our online store.

Read more Arts & Entertainment articles.