Sometimes, to grow effectively as a writer, you have to scare the bejesus out of yourself. That's the lesson New York Times best-selling author Mary Kay Andrews has learned over the past year, leaving Harper Collins, her publisher of 18 years, for a fresh start with St. Martin's Press. "It was terrifying but I just felt it was time," Andrews reflected this summer over lunch at Big Tex Cantina in Decatur. "It was time to grow."
The gamble paid off. With "Summer Rental," her latest novel and the first under her new deal, Andrews has hit a career high this summer. After 17 books (10 mysteries were written under her real name Kathy Hogan Trocheck), the Avondale Estates resident finally cracked her career goal of hitting the New York Times bestselling Top Ten list. Ever the overachiever, Andrews overshot her goal by five places, landing in the esteemed list's Top Five for the first time.
This Sunday at 5 p.m. at the AJC Decatur Book Festival's First Baptist Sanctuary, Andrews will appear on the "Summer Loving: Books for Your Beach Bag" panel discussion.
"I got the New York Times list call while I was at a signing in Outer Banks (North Carolina)," Andrews recalled. "When they told me I was at number five, I started screaming. People thought a mouse ran over my foot! Of course, I immediately called my husband Tom and started crying." The tears were a combination of happiness and relief for the writer. "Summer Rental" is a ground-breaking book for Andrews. For the first time, she risked mixing the sun and fun of her usual brand of wit and romance with a few storm clouds of darker themes, focusing on realizing major mistakes and the career effects of the Wall Street roller coaster. The book tracks three best friends Ellis, Julia and Dorie who now find themselves sorting through female midlife crises during a beach getaway to the Outer Banks.
Andrews credits her new St. Martin's Press editor Jennifer Enderlin (who also oversees Atlanta author Emily Giffin's manuscripts) for the inspiration and the perspiration. Recalled Andrews: "Jennifer had four words for me when she read the first draft: 'Put it on steroids!' Ellis is someone who has really been kicked in the teeth by the world. She gets brought into the office and told she's redundant and fired. The character has a lot in common with a friend here in Atlanta who worked in a bank until the FDIC walked in one day and shut it down. They literally took the logo off the building while she watched. I wanted this book to reflect the harsh realities of what's happening to our professional lives right now. Nobody is immune to it. Well, not unless you happen to own a liquor store."
The novelist suffered through three agonizing re-writes. "Jennifer kicked my ass!" Andrews recalled laughing. "You know me, I'm a newspaper girl at heart. I don't like revisions. I like to slap it on the page, get it right the first time and we're good to go. Jennifer shoved me out of my comfort zone. She kept saying, 'Go deeper. Why is this character like this? What's motivating her?' She kept nudging me and kicking me. But we both wanted the same thing. For this to be the best book I could deliver."
Her biggest hit to date, "Summer Rental" has been put back on the press multiple times this summer, garnering national press in People magazine and USA Today. Andrews has traveled from New Jersey to Texas to Chicago for book signings. She explained: "For the first time in my career, St. Martin's Press said to me, 'We're not going to sell you as a Southern author. We're selling you as a beach book. You can still be Southern and write Southern but we're just not going to sell you that way."
Andrews is now finishing up work on her next novel, tentatively titled "Hideaway Lake." "This one's set in central North Carolina," she previewed. "I've probably spent too much time playing reporter with it but a sense of place is very important for me when I write. I'm running around asking people, 'Do you know what kind of weed this is?!' I just need to sit down and write the damn thing!"