Interview: February 15, 2002
February 15, 2002
Bookreporter.com presents a special author interview with Mary Kay Andrews, author of SAVANNAH BLUES. Some fans may know her better as Kathy Hogan Trocheck who writes an edgy mystery series featuring Callahan Garrity. Besides being a popular author, Mary Kay/Kathy also belongs to two book clubs. Read on as she shares her experiences as a writer as well as some book club tips and ideas.
BRC: You have a wonderful story about how Sue Grafton influenced your first being published. Can you share this with us?
MKA: In 1990 I'd written one novel which I hadn't sold, and had started another. I signed up to participate in the Antioch Writer's Workshop when I spotted an ad that said Sue Grafton was teaching there. For $75, I got a manuscript conference with Sue, who advised me that my book was probably ready to sell. I mentioned that I'd started another book, which I was more enthusiastic about, but Sue advised me to put that book on the backburner and concentrate on getting my finished manuscript rewritten. But at an evening workshop she taught, we were invited to read from a "work in progress." I stood up and read five pages from a book I was calling EVERY CROOKED NANNY. The class loved it, and afterwards, Sue pulled me aside to say she'd changed her mind, that NANNY was a winner. I listened to her advice, sent five chapters to HarperCollins in July, and by October, I had a two-book deal. Sue graciously gave me a cover blurb for NANNY, and we still occasionally get together for a glass of wine and book talk. She is the best!
BRC: Mary Kay Andrews is a pseudonym for you. How did you come up with this name, and why did you not write SAVANNAH BLUES under your real name?
MKA: My pseudonym is a combination of my children's names --- Mary Kay for my daughter, Mary Kathleen, and Andrews for my son, Andy. Because BLUES is so different from my Callahan books, I wanted a chance to try for a whole new group of readers, people who like women's fiction, Southern fiction, and still, mysteries. That Mary Kay is a pseudonym for Kathy Hogan Trocheck is not a secret from my fans.
BRC: How did you come up with the idea for SAVANNAH BLUES?
MKA:I've always loved antiques, and the hunt, and have even been an antique "picker" like Weezie. Savannah was where my husband and I made our first home as newlyweds, and we've returned there often. I was always fascinated with the old plantations in the low country, so I just combined those elements for BLUES.
BRC: So, we have to ask --- how much is Weezie, the protagonist in SAVANNAH BLUES like you?
MKA: Well, Weezie is Irish Catholic, and so am I. Weezie lives to junk, and so do I. But the resemblance pretty much stops there. The fun of fiction is creating a character who's younger, thinner, sexier, and has more interesting problems than the author!
BRC: Tell us about your own "junking" trips. Do you haunt "sales" when you are on the road? If so, tell us about some of your favorite "finds."
MKA: My family claims I only go out on tour to find new junk. Which is only partially true. I always try to "junk" on the road. If I have time, and a car, and can find my way around a city, I scour the classified ads for estate sale notices. If not, I just ask around about good antique stores or flea markets. Years ago in San Diego I had a free Sunday, a gassed-up rental car, and a map --- which lead me to the outdoor flea market in Long Beach. I had a blast. Recently, down in Stuart, Fla. I found a great shop called "Claddagh" where I bought a sterling silver candle for $20, and a wonderful color postcard of Florida for $3. When I'm down in Savannah, I always make it to a shop called @Home, where I bought a wonderful ivory and silver cakeserver for about $25.
BRC: What do you like about meeting with your readers?
MKA: What's not to like? My readers are like friends I haven't met yet. It's great to connect with them and hear how my stories affect them. Two years ago I met a couple of elementary school teachers who travelled a long way to meet me at a book signing. They later emailed me, and I ended up going to their county in rural Georgia last spring to give two very successful book talks.
BRC: Do you consider yourself to be a "Southern author?"
MKA: Absolutely. I like sweet tea, cheese grits, pimento cheese and quirky relatives.
BRC: Weezie is such a wonderful character. Will we see her again in later books?
MKA: Right now I don't have plans to bring Weezie back, but we'll see. If my readers like her well enough, things could change.
BRC: Tell us about the book clubs that you belong to. How long have they been meeting? What are the differences between each club? How does each group select the books that are read?
MKA: I belong to two book clubs, both women only. My local book club --- loosely called The Chicks Book Club, has been meeting for about four years. All the members have in common a friendship with the woman who started the club, Melinda Ennis. And I just joined a new group, the Goddesses, which is centered around Yellow Springs, Ohio. All of these women have an association with the Antioch Writer's Workshop which I attended first as a student and, later, as a faculty member. Since I live in Georgia, and most of them are in Ohio, we're usually chatting online, and then they'll have the traditional meeting in each other's homes. I've promised to fly up for a meeting in the spring.
The Chicks select books in a random kind of way, sometimes one member picks the book, sometimes we all choose a book by vote. We just finished Doris Kearns Goodwin's NO ORDINARY TIME, a book about FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt in the war years. With the Goddesses we are having our first meeting sometime this month. I believe they're reading my new book, SAVANNAH BLUES!
BRC: Many readers have asked us if an online book discussion can be as lively as an offline one. They wonder if the meetings can be as social without the personal interaction and the munchies. Tell us about what you have found about this.
MKA: My Goddesses group has already had some fun discussions about the books we love and want to read. After New Year's, for example, everybody signed in to say what we'd read over the holidays. My own selection was JACKDAWS by Ken Follett. I gave it a rave.
BRC: When you tour to do book signings, do you ever meet with book clubs along the way? If so, how can our readers get in touch with you about setting this up?
MKA: I love to meet readers, and if people contact me by email and say they enjoy my books, I add them to my mailing list and send them a postcard to say where I'm touring. Frequently book clubs will make it a "Field Trip" to come to the bookstore where I'm signing. I know the Goddesses are planning on hooking up with me in Cincinnati when I sign at Joseph-Beth Booksellers there on March 4th. We'll probably go to dinner either before or after the signing. Readers can also check my tour schedule on my website, MaryKayAndrews.com.
BRC: What are some of the best books your clubs have read? And what are you reading this month?
MKA: The Chicks club recently read MAP OF LOVE, and we all loved it for different reasons. We had lively discussions about GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING and THE RED TENT, too. We haven't chosen this month's book yet, because one of our members' husbands had emergency surgery for cancer, so we're concentrating on helping her out with dinners and such.
BRC: What are you working on now?
MKA: The next Mary Kay is about Mary Bliss McGowan, who comes home one night to discover that everybody in her neighborhood is splitting up --- and her own marriage is the latest casualty. After she finds the note her husband has left on the back of a used envelope, and realizes that he's left her and her 16-year-old daughter penniless, she wants to kill him --- but decides to fake his death instead --- and serve her world-famous chicken salad at his funeral.