Interview: June 10, 2011
Mary Kay Andrews is the New York Times bestselling author of such novels as HISSY FIT and SAVANNAH BLUES, and has penned 10 critically acclaimed mysteries, including the Callahan Garrity series. Her latest book, SUMMER RENTAL, sees three best friends from grade school now in their mid-30s and at the crossroads of life. Together they rent an old beach house on North Carolina's Outer Banks, hoping to solve all their problems.
In this interview, Bookreporter.com's Jamie Layton (herself from North Carolina) asks Mary Kay about her fact-based setting, characters and plans for future projects. Mary Kay also sheds light on weaving fact and fiction, how she ends her books, and a trip she once took with her own best girlfriends.
Bookreporter.com: You've obviously spent some time on North Carolina's Outer Banks. What attracted you to using this area as the setting for SUMMER RENTAL? Had you been there before, or did you visit it as part of your research for the book?
Mary Kay Andrews: I'd always been interested in the OBX, and decided SUMMER RENTAL would give me the perfect excuse to visit. I actually visited three times, the first time on a scouting trip to decide where exactly to set the book. Nags Head just seemed to speak to me, so I came back for a week at a time two more times, renting a tiny cottage called Windswept.
BRC: Some of the issues faced in SUMMER RENTAL mirror current economic woes: job loss due to corporate downsizing, the foreclosure crisis, the struggle to make ends meet even with two incomes. As an author, do you ever worry about incorporating up-to-date events in your books? Is there a danger in dating a book too much down the road by doing so?
MKA: Trying to make a novel seem timely without dating it is a bit of a juggling act, but it seemed to me only natural that the girls (as well as the owner) of Ebbtide would not live in a vacuum, but would be affected by the same problems we are all facing these days.
BRC: It feels like the story started with Ellis and the other characters developed from there. Am I right?
MKA: I write in a pretty organic way, starting with the main protagonist of the story, and then creating the characters who seem to fit in the world she inhabits. Dorie and Julia just seemed like the kind of women who would be friends with Ellis.
BRC: Ty and Ellis seem like polar opposites: Ellis is tightly wound, has every day planned to the minute, has worked for BancAtlantic for 11 years and, even after being downsized, still foresees a future in banking. Despite a college degree and two years of law school, Ty lives day to day in the garage apartment of a beach house he's barely able to hold on to, making ends meet with a few shifts behind the bar at Cadillac Jack's, a converted Piggly Wiggly. Their relationship definitely embodies the old adage that "opposites attract." Did you make them this different knowing they both had something to learn from the other?
MKA: I wish I could say I planned to make Ty and Ellis polar opposites, but the reality is that they just showed up in my imagination, and I wrote them as I saw them. Ellis is a planner and a list-maker, Ty is a master of improvisation. I guess their attraction is rooted in their emotional needs.
BRC: I need to share that I actually live in Kitty Hawk, NC and know of several homes with weathered, whale-shaped signs and at least one named Ebbtide. Often authors can go so overboard on factual detail that the writing seems forced, but you have achieved the perfect combination of fact and fiction when building the scenes for SUMMER RENTAL. Is it difficult to learn how to blend these two components? As a writer, how do you stop yourself from incorporating what you know and use your imagination instead?
MKA: I love to research a setting for a book, incorporating the physical aspects of a place, the flora and fauna, geography, and all the senses a place can evoke, but I don't feel any constraints about adding in whatever additional elements the story needs. That's the joy of fiction. Some days you color inside the lines, other days you get to finger-paint!
BRC: By the end of SUMMER RENTAL, it is easy to imagine where each girl's "fairy tale" is headed, with the exception of Maryn. If you could write an epilogue for the novel, bringing the reader up to date on each character, where would Maryn be? What would she be doing?
MKA: Ah, Maryn. She's a hard girl to read because she's so used to keeping secrets. But I do think her experiences at Ebbtide might be the catalyst for real change in her life.
BRC: Is there a follow-up to SUMMER RENTAL in your plans, or are you content that the girls are all headed down good paths and brighter futures? As a writer, how do you know when to bring a book to a conclusion you're satisfied with?
MKA: I don't have any immediate plans for a sequel to SUMMER RENTAL, mostly because I'm up to my eyeballs in next summer's book, which has a whole different cast of characters and a different setting. Every book has its own set of challenges and experiences, but I suppose I figure a book is "done" when my protagonists have overcome whatever obstacles I've thrown in their way, and figured out their way to whatever passes for happy ever after.
BRC: You seem to have a lot of interests --- cooking and "junking" for instance --- that sometimes play starring roles in your books. In SUMMER RENTAL, with the exception of some minor "old home reinvention," these hobbies are absent. Is it hard to keep your passions from infiltrating your writing? Is it easier to write when you allow them parts in your novels?
MKA: It was hard to resist redecorating and junking up Ebbtide, but for this story, that wasn't appropriate for these girls, who, after all, are only planning to stay in their summer rental for a mere four weeks. I do enjoy incorporating my passions in the novel, but only when it's appropriate for the storyline and doesn't pose a threat to derailing the plot.
BRC: If you were going to rent a beach house for a month and spend it with your best girlfriends, where would you go? Would you look for a house like Ebbtide with a lot of history and character, or would you go for something new?
MKA: I'd love to explore an area I'd never been to with my best girlfriends. Maybe Martha's Vineyard? An old gray-shingled house, with expansive views of the water? History and character are definitely preferable, but bugs and rodents need not apply to join my fantasy getaway.
BRC: What was the best time you ever had with girlfriends? Did you use that experience in writing this novel?
MKA: My junior high girlfriends and I did a chick-trip to San Francisco and Sonoma a couple years ago. We had a total blast. Bits and pieces of things from that trip crop up in SUMMER RENTAL, but I'm sworn to secrecy on the details.
BRC: What are you working on now, and when might readers expect to see it?
MKA: I'm working on a book about a woman who attends her ex-husband's wedding. Right before the "I-Dos" are exchanged, Annajane, the protagonist, discovers she's not as over him as she thought. It should be out summer 2012.
BRC: And my final question: On your next trip to the Outer Banks, would you stop by Duck's Cottage Bookstore and let me buy you a cup of coffee?
MKA: I'd love to stop by Duck's Cottage, but can we make it a Diet Coke?
• Click here now to buy this book from Amazon.