Just in time for beach reading, New York Times bestselling author Mary Kay Andrews will be talking about her new book “Sunset Beach” at a launch party at the Atlanta History Center May 5.
The book, which goes on sale May 7, was inspired by one of Buckhead’s unsolved mysteries – the 1965 disappearance of a woman from the parking lot of Lenox Square mall.
Mary Kay Andrews – the pen name of Kathy Hogan Trochek — marks her 27th mystery novel with “Sunset Beach.” The successful novelist, who divides her time between Atlanta and Tybee Island, worked 14 years as a newspaper reporter for the Savannah Morning News, the Marietta Daily Journal and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
She left the AJC after 10 years to stay home with her two children and got the bug to write a mystery novel. The result was a popular series of eight books featuring the exploits of feisty woman detective Callahan Garrity.
Ten years after her first Callahan Garrity mystery was published in1992, Andrews reinvented herself and took a new name and a new direction, women’s fiction. It has taken her and her readers to Savannah and to southern beach and island locales with intrigue, twists and turns in the plot and, usually, a murder.
To date, her novels have been published in German, Italian, Polish, Slovenian, Hungarian, Dutch, Czech and Japanese. Although her books have a Southern vibe, the characters and their experiences relate to people across many cultures.
For details about the launch party, see AtlantaHistoryCenter.com.
The Reporter spoke with Andrews about her journey from reporter to bestselling author.
Q: Tell us about your newest book.
A: “Sunset Beach” is set in St. Petersburg, Florida, where I grew up. It is a valentine to my hometown, and, yes, there is a real Sunset Beach in St. Pete. The protagonist is a flamboyant woman who inherits a beach house. The book is based on a true mystery in Atlanta that has always intrigued me, the disappearance of Mary Shotwell Little in 1965.
Q: You have a degree in journalism from University of Georgia and began your writing career as a newspaper reporter. Did you always aspire to write novels?
A: No. Fiction writing was not my goal. I I thought I would stay with newspapers, specifically, the AJC, where I worked for 10 years. But in the late 1980s newspapers had changed and I wanted to be home with my two kids, so I retired as a reporter. I thought that maybe I could write a book.
Q: How did you get started writing your first book?
A: I gave myself a do-it-yourself course in fiction writing and I also joined a small writers group of AJC people. That gave me structure and support, and I started writing in secret.
Q: What led you to write mystery novels?
A: I have always loved mysteries. When I was in junior high, my two sisters and I acted out Nancy Drew mysteries. It seemed natural that the first book I wrote was a whodunit with a woman detective as the main character.
Q: When was your first book published?
A: My very first book was not accepted when I submitted it in 1990. From October 1990 to May 1991, I rewrote it, then submitted it again. This time it sold and was published in 1992. That was “Every Crooked Nanny.” The main character is a woman detective, Callahan Garrity. She became very popular, and I wrote a series of eight Callahan Garrity books. They are still out there and are widely read.
Q: You wrote those books under your real name. What led you to take on the pen name Mary Kay Andrews?
A: In 2002, I had an idea for a different kind of novel: women’s fiction with a Southern and beach vibe. It was a big departure, and I decided to reinvent myself. I combined the names of my two children, my daughter Mary Kay [Mary Kathleen] and my son, Andrew. People are still surprised when they find out I am Kathy Hogan Trochek and am still alive. Some fans have said that they thought I had died since they had not seen new Callahan Garrity books, nor my name on new novels.
Q: Most of your books are set in Southern and islands beach towns. What is your connection to the beach?
A: I was born in St. Petersburg, Florida and the beach is a part of me. Tom, my husband of more than 40 years and counting, and I have two homes, Breeze Inn and Ebbtide, on Tybee Island [in Georgia], which we have restored and rent out and where we stay. We live in Atlanta and go back and forth.
Q: The count is just about a book a year. Do you have a writing regimen you stick to?
A: I try to have a quota of 2,000 words a day rather than a number of hours per day. But the discipline becomes more strict as the deadline approaches. I do usually complete a book a year. A couple times I wrote two books in a year, but I hope never to do that again.
Q: What inspires your novels?
A: I usually have a protagonist in mind – a woman facing life-changing challenges. Readers have to care about her as she faces the twists and turns of her life, even if she is not always pleasant. I especially like to write about cranky old ladies. I have known some and am inspired to become one myself someday.
Q: How have you developed/evolved in your book-writing career?
A: I want each book to give me and my readers a new challenge. Like most authors, I take pride in my work. I want every book to be different with distinctively individual characters and some surprises in the plot. My goal is to give readers a big, juicy, delicious barn-burner of a book.
Q: What do you do when you are not writing?
A: I am a serious junker and house fixer-upper. I love to go to estate sales, and I have a few secret places I go to find treasures. My family, including my grown children and grandchildren cook together almost every Sunday. Our love of cooking and being together inspired “The Beach House Cookbook” (published in 2017). It is filled with family recipes and many that we developed especially for the book.