Interview: June 6, 2013
In Mary Kay Andrews’s latest novel, LADIES’ NIGHT, Grace Stanton’s life as a rising media star and beloved lifestyle blogger takes a surprising turn when she catches her husband cheating. Heartache, humor, and a little bit of mystery come together in a story about life’s unpredictable twists and turns. Fortunately, the only real-life plot point that inspired the book was Mary Kay’s penchant for house fluffing --- and, of course, blogging about it. In this interview, the Queen of the Summer Beach Read talks to Bookreporter.com’s Jamie Layton about where her ideas come from (hint: even titles can be aspirational), the thrill of a successful DIY project, and what we can expect from her next. And for all the antique junkies out there, Mary Kay also shares some of her favorite flea markets, as well as the reason she prefers to read a good lifestyle blog to an old-fashioned home magazine.
Bookreporter.com: In LADIES’ NIGHT, a group of strangers meet in a counselor’s office to undergo six weeks of divorce recovery classes thanks to a particular “woman hating” judge, Cedric Stackpole. They have all left cheating spouses in rather memorable ways: Grace drove her husband’s $175,000 Audi convertible into the pool, while Ashleigh painted “HE’S MARRIED” on the other woman’s beemer in blood red paint. These actions were the impetus for the judge’s sentence. However, it quickly becomes clear that the judge and counselor, who is charging as much as $900 a session, are in cahoots. How did you come up with this unique, entertaining and, unfortunately, believable plot?
Mary Kay Andrews: I can never pinpoint exactly where my ideas come from, but I knew all the characters in LADIES’ NIGHT had to have something to bond over --- other than the common theme of betrayal --- so I decided they would all have the same judge presiding over their divorces. After that, things fell into place pretty quickly.
BRC: Is it difficult to create someone like Grace, who you kick the floor out from under again and again? Or do you already know where the book is going and what it will take to get that person there?
MKA: I grew so fond of Grace as a character, it was painful for me to see all the disasters that befell her, but I knew she was a strong, resourceful lady, and that with some help from her friends --- and her mom --- she would persevere.
BRC: LADIES’ NIGHT brings together your talent for writing with your penchant for what you call “house fluffing.” In fact, like Grace from the novel, you’ve been blogging and sharing stories on Facebook about your latest project, the makeover of a Tybee Island cottage. Did that close association make this book harder or easier for you to write?
MKA: Seems like I’m always fluffing something, which is my hobby. The only difficult thing was I was facing a deadline to finish LADIES’ NIGHT --- which was overdue --- at the same time we were buying and renovating Ebbtide, our new house, which we were trying to get ready before our spring vacation rental season started. There were a lot of sleepless nights --- but I finished the book, and we finished the house and it’s rented for most of the summer!
BRC: Grace has a wildly successful eponymous blog, Gracenotes, that supports the rather lavish lifestyle she enjoys with her husband, Ben. What do you feel are the key ingredients to a sustainable, profitable blog? What type of reader do you think is attracted to this type of communication?
MKA: I read lots of lifestyle blogs myself, so I know the type of readers they attract is somebody…like me. Women who are interested in decorating, design, antiques, thrifting, entertaining. It’s an aspirational thing. I think the most successful lifestyle blogs I read are written by women with a genuine passion for their subject, who have not only mastered the art of writing and photography, but have managed to attract advertisers and a huge readership who depend on them for entertainment.
BRC: Where do you think blogs fit into today’s media world? Are they filling the role afternoon talk shows once had? Or, since they are typically so interest-specific, are they more talk radio without a time slot?
MKA: I think the best blogs are a combination of talk-show and great shelter magazine. I love the first-person aspect of well-written blogs, and the before-and-after features and DIY aspects are a big draw. The best blogs are approachable, informed and non-intimidating. As much as I love magazines like Verandah and House Beautiful, most of the time, the homes they feature are not ones I can see myself --- a busy working woman --- copying. But show me a picture of a ratty old flea market dresser transformed with chalk paint and some cheap new hardware from Home Depot, now THAT I can get behind.
BRC: I wondered about the title LADIES’ NIGHT as I read. It kind of made sense, but didn’t seem like quite the right match for what’s going on in the novel. Of course, the next-to-last sentence of the book makes it work perfectly. So was this the working title, or did it become the title upon completion? What is your normal process for naming a book?
MKA: I actually had the title for LADIES’ NIGHT before I had the plot for the book. Maybe because I worked in newspaper journalism for 14 years, I got in the habit of writing my own headlines, even before the copy desk got to my story. Coming up with the title in the beginning helps me focus on what I want the book to be about --- and how it will attract readers.
BRC: LADIES’ NIGHT proves once again that you are truly the Queen of the Summer Beach Read. But you also wear the crown as Queen of Junking. Do you have a favorite flea market, or is that a question that requires one very long answer?
MKA: My favorite flea market is whichever one I’m closest to! The Scott Antiques Market in Atlanta is my hometown favorite, and if I’m home on the second weekend of the month, you can always find me there. I’ve also shopped the Brimfield Antiques Market in Massachusetts, and wow! A whole town full of antiques! Hope to get back there soon.
BRC: You’re getting ready to head out on a six-week book tour, hopefully followed by some beach time at Ebbtide. I can’t help but notice it bears the same name as the cottage that figured so prominently in your Outer Banks novel, SUMMER RENTAL! But we know MKA is always working on another project. Can you share anything with us about your next book?
MKA: I named Ebbtide after the house in SUMMER RENTAL, just as I named our other Tybee house The Breeze Inn, after the motel in SAVANNAH BREEZE. Right now I’m furiously trying to finish CHRISTMAS BLISS, which is out in October.