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Interview: March 21, 2008

March 21, 2008

Mary Kay Andrews, the author of such bestselling novels as SAVANNAH BREEZE and BLUE CHRISTMAS, spoke with's Carol Fitzgerald and Terry Miller Shannon about her latest release, DEEP DISH.

In this interview, Mary Kay explains how she developed her love for cooking at an early age and recalls meeting television personality Paula Deen while researching the production process of TV cooking programs. She also reveals the stories behind a few recipes included in the book and shares some of her favorite comfort food dishes to prepare while writing. DEEP DISH has two chef/cooking show hosts. Which did you conceive first?

Mary Kay Andrews: I conceived of Gina first, and Tate came up quickly after that.

BRC: Moonpie, Tate's dog, is such an endearing character. Is he based on a real-life canine?

MKA: Moonpie is based on our English setter, Wyatt, who really is my husband's sidekick on their quail- and dove-hunting expeditions.

BRC: Your books have so much humor in them. We always call them smart witty fiction. We read them and smile, thinking, “that line was perfect” as we chuckle away. When you are writing, do you laugh out loud? And do you write with the right comedic timing right from the start, or is this something you tweak over and over?

MKA: Occasionally, I'll admit, I do crack myself up. Mostly, I smile and keep going. I guess my sense of comedic timing is the result of long practice, and the sharp editing pen of my terriffic editor at HarperCollins, Carolyn Marino.


BRC: You say in your acknowledgments that you were able to watch Paula Deen "in action." We see a picture of the two of you in the photo gallery on your website. Tell us about that. Besides meeting her, have you been part of the TV audience for her show?

MKA: Watching Paula Deen's show being taped was crucial to my understanding how a television cooking show is produced, not to mention a ton of fun. She's very funny, warm, generous and genuine. In short, she's the real deal, and freely answered all my questions. I haven't been in the audience of "Paula's Party," as that show got underway after I'd finished my research for DEEP DISH.

Q: Do you watch any Food Network shows regularly? Any favorites?

MKA: I love Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, and find Rachael Ray really entertaining too.

BRC: How did you learn to cook?

MKA: I'm the second oldest of five kids, and my mother always worked outside the home, so I started learning to cook by mastering cinnamon toast, which was a staple for sick days, and from there went on to grilled cheese sandwiches and spaghetti. As a newlywed, THE JOY OF COOKING taught me a lot about technique and fancier dishes my mom never would have bothered with.

BRC: What do you tend to cook (or order) while you're writing a book? Do you have any particular comfort foods when you are writing?

MKA: When I'm deep into a book I'll do a pot roast in my slow-cooker, or ask my husband to grill something quick when he gets home from work. When I go away to write, my secret obsession is spaghetti with meat sauce. It's fast, cheap, easy to do on a one-burner stove, and filling. I'll eat it nearly every night for dinner, along with cheap chardonnay. If I make my page quota, I get chocolate!

BRC: Cooking and writing are both creative acts; we wonder if they're inter-related in your life. Do you find that one leads to the other? Or that you can't do one when you're doing the other? (For example, are you unable to cook complicated recipes while you're deep in writing a book?)

MKA: I find that when I've passed a milestone with the book, I'll go into a frenzy of cooking and baking, trying new recipes, inviting lots of friends over. But if I'm slogging along, gritting it out, I stick to quick, tried-and-true basics, or go out for a quick bite in the evening. 

BRC: Are shellcrackers a real fish, and have you ever eaten them?

MKA: Shellcrackers are a freshwater panfish, like bream. My husband is the fish person in the family --- I stick to my tuna salad.

BRC: Are any of the dishes/recipes in the book yours, or do they have some significance to you or your family? Is there such a thing as Coca-Cola pot roast?

MKA: The brunswick stew recipe is mine, one I developed to use up leftover smoked pork butt and chicken. I've had Coca-Cola pot roast, but never fixed it myself. You've gotta realize, I live in Atlanta --- we put Coke in just about everything except our cornflakes.

BRC: We’re so intrigued by "Reggie's Simply Sinful Tomato Soup Chocolate Cake" recipe. Where did that originate? When did you discover it?

MKA: I love those old-timey spiral-bound church and community cookbooks, and have several in my personal collection. Lots of Southern cookbooks have the tomato soup chocolate cake recipe with cream cheese frosting, and I just read in a New York Times story about James Beard that he'd included a similar recipe in one of his cookbooks. I can tell you from experience --- since four different stores have baked it for my signings, that it's pretty doggone tasty.

BRC: What are you working on now, and when can readers expect to see it?

MKA: The WIP is called THE FIXER UPPER, and concerns a young woman who loses her job at a high-powered Washington, D.C. lobbying firm when her boss is indicted along with a Congressman in an influence-peddling scheme. With no job and no money, she heads south to a small town in middle Georgia where she intends to fix up and flip her father's grandmother's family homeplace. I think it's scheduled for late next summer.