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Interview: June 26, 2009

June 26, 2009

Mary Kay Andrews is the bestselling author of seven books, including SAVANNAH BREEZE, SAVANNAH BLUES, LITTLE BITTY LIES and HISSY FIT. In this interview with's Lourdes Orive, Andrews explains what inspired the plot of her latest novel, THE FIXER UPPER, and gives a bit of insight into her main character Dempsey's troubles in life and love. She also discusses her own restoring and decorating, mentions some of her favorite Southern writers, and creates an ideal menu for reading groups to enjoy while discussing her book. How did you come up with the plot for THE FIXER UPPER? What inspired you?

Mary Kay Andrews: I was interested in looking at how a young woman survives a political scandal and reinvents herself --- while reinventing an old home --- old home reinvention being a passion of mine.

BRC: The novel’s heroine, Dempsey Killebrew, leaves Washington, D.C. after being embroiled in a political scandal and reinvents herself in Guthrie, Georgia. Is Guthrie a real place, based on another town, or just a figment of your imagination?

MKA: Guthrie is a fictional town, but it’s based partly on Griffin, GA., which is near where Guthrie is --- if Guthrie were real.

BRC: Dempsey has a complicated relationship with her parents, both of whom we get to know a bit in THE FIXER UPPER. How do you think Dempsey's relationship with both her mother and father helped shape the woman she has become?

MKA: Dempsey has been trying to please both parents for so long that I think she’s had a hard time finding out who she really is.

BRC: The Berryhill family contrasts pretty sharply with Dempsey’s own family, and the character of Carter Berryhill in particular also seems to reflect a different type of authority figure than Alex Hodder, Dempsey’s former boss. Did you ever consider involving Dempsey with Carter rather than his son Tee, given her attraction to older men?

MKA: I didn’t consider involving Dempsey with Carter, because I knew Carter was such a different personality from the men she’s been involved with in the past.

BRC: Although a degreed lawyer who specialized in policy, Dempsey taps into her long-simmering passion for interior design upon landing in Guthrie. Long-time readers and those who follow your blog know of your love of junking and interior. What are your favorite HGTV shows? Did anything in particular inspire any of the decorating moments we see in this book?

I was a big fan of "Top Design" on Bravo last summer. A lot of the scraping, kitchen moments were inspired by experiences my husband and I have had over the years, working on our own homes --- although none of ours were as grand as Birdsong was in the past.

BRC: The supporting characters here are really vivid and unique, even those who don’t play a significant role in the story, such as Agents Harrell and Allgood. What process do you go through when developing supporting characters? Have you ever developed a secondary character so unique and interesting that you’ve wanted to spin them off into their own story?

MKA: Once I have my protagonist in my mind, the secondary characters seem to invent themselves --- they’re usually a foil to the main character, so they need to be distinctive enough in their own right to hold their own against other characters with larger parts in the plot. In the case of BeBe Loudermilk, the best friend in SAVANNAH BLUES, BeBe did in fact inspire her own book --- SAVANNAH BREEZE.

BRC: The relationship between Ella Kate and Dempsey is one of the sweetest in the book, although it definitely takes a while to warm up. The theme of “family” (and all the weird ways in which a family comes and stays together, and breaks apart) seems to be a central idea of the story. What does the concept of family mean to you?

MKA: Family --- complicated, essential, rootedness, forgiveness. In this book, Dempsey finds herself surprised by the pull of family --- even distant family, in the case of Ella Kate.

BRC: What’s your writing style like? Do you work with a schedule in an organized fashion, or do you crank it all out stream-of-consciousness?

MKA: Nothing I do is organized! Although I do try to give myself work assignments and page counts. I usually work from a synopsis, and try to know the outcome of my story before I get too far into it.

BRC: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer? If you weren’t an author, what would you be doing with your life now?

MKA: I always wanted to write --- from the time I learned to read before first grade. If I weren’t writing, who knows? Maybe I’d be an antique dealer.

BRC: Do you think of yourself as a Southern writer? What other authors inspire and entertain you?

MKA: I think of myself as a storyteller whose stories are rooted in what I know --- which is the South. I love the work of mystery writer Margaret Maron, Clyde Edgerton and Michael Malone, whose style seems very southern to me.

BRC: You finish off THE FIXER UPPER by providing us with a few mouth-watering recipes --- Ella Kate’s Beef Stew, Lynda’s Fire-roasted Tomato Soup, and Dempsey’s Egg Salad. As a Southerner with a passion for food, do you have a favorite recipe? What would you suggest a book club reading THE FIXER UPPER make to enjoy while discussing your book?

MKA: My grits and greens casserole, from HISSY FIT, is a family favorite, as is the chicken salad from LITTLE BITTY LIES. My most recent favorite recipe is for tequila lime chicken --- from Ina Garten’s website. A book club reading THE FIXER UPPER should have adult beverages….and chocolate.

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

MKA: I’m working on another Savannah book --- not sure when it’ll be published.

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