ArtsATL > Books > As Kathy Trocheck or Mary Kay Andrews, novelist’s ability to reinvent herself pays off

As Kathy Trocheck or Mary Kay Andrews, novelist’s ability to reinvent herself pays off

(Photo by Bill Miles)
Kathy Trocheck (Photo by Bill Miles)
(Photo by Bill Miles)

It’s been a while since Kathy Trocheck was a features writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But she still has nostalgia-anxiety dreams, starring her editors from the old days — themselves now long departed from the newspaper — bending over her desk complaining that a story they assigned her is five years overdue.

“And I have to write it right now,” she says. “I try to tell them, ‘But I haven’t worked here in 22 years!’ ”

Trocheck (at right) left the profession, after 14 years, in 1991, when she reinvented herself as mystery novelist Kathy Hogan Trocheck, penning an Atlanta-based, humor-laced suspense series, starting with Every Crooked Nanny in 1992. The books centered on Callahan Garrity, a cop turned housecleaner who kept managing to stumble not only into messy abodes but onto open-ended crimes, which she solved with the help of her sharp-tongued mother, Edna. Those books did fine. Just not fine enough.

After a decade of writing the Garrity books, Trocheck realized that “There are a large number of people who don’t think they like mysteries. They don’t care whodunnit. They care about the relationships. And my strength was writing characters and dialogue and funny situations.”

So, near the turn of the new century, she reinvented once again, rebranding both her genre and her name. Now she’s known far beyond Atlanta as best-selling author Mary Kay Andrews. (And no, she didn’t mean to inspire thoughts of pink Cadillacs with trunks full of cosmetics. It’s an amalgamation of her children’ names, Mary-Kathleen and Andrew.)

She published Savannah Blues, her first title under the pseudonym, in 2002. Ironically, it was the only one of her books to get nominated for the Edgar Award, which honors mystery novels, even though the mystery in Blues was more flavoring than main course. It also outsold all the Garrity books she had written under her own name.

From the start of her fiction writing, Andrews — let’s just call her that from now on — wanted to be a sort of Southern Susan Isaacs, who writes “sassy mysteries.” Though the mystery element has largely fallen away, there’s always plenty of drama in Andrews’ books. They focus on Southern women of a humorous, robust constitution dealing with man problems and sometimes sharing their author’s obsession with “junking,” or trolling flea markets and estate sales in search of dusty hidden gems. Andrews, who lives in Decatur, resells some of her finds at a shop that friends own on Tybee Island, where she has a second home.

The flea market bug came early, by necessity. She married her childhood sweetheart, Tom, in Savannah at age 22, and buying things secondhand helped them through the younger, leaner years.

Those years are behind them now. In 2005, Andrews’ novel Hissy Fit became a New York Times best seller. “It was the extended list,” she clarifies, “but it still made the list. That was my breakout book, and it was amazing because I’d been hoping for it for so long.”

At the time, she had relocated with Tom to Raleigh, North Carolina, for three years. She was sitting on her porch when her editor called to give her the news, and she had . . . well, not a hissy fit, but a good, happy cry. So did her parents, since deceased, in St. Petersburg, Florida. “My dad’s Irish, so he was boo-hooing.”

Ladies Night by Mark Kay AndrewsSince then her books, such as this summer’s Ladies’ Night, reliably hit the Times best-seller list. And not the extended list.

Writing women’s fiction has given the novelist a younger demographic. Her fans now include women in college or recently graduated. Social media have helped foster the fan base. Andrews is adept at posting frequently on Facebook, letting followers know of upcoming appearances — or simply if she’s just lucked out on a great side table at a flea market.

She’s also savvy about using these folks for crowd-sourcing information. For instance, she asked for recommendations on the right china pattern for a character in Summer Rental and got 300 replies. She was similarly deluged when she asked what sort of firearm a woman might carry in her purse. 

Andrews loves touring to promote her novels. “I’m living my dream. I like meeting people who love books, especially independent booksellers, who are so wonderful.”

But the traveling takes away from keyboard time, which can lead to marathon bouts of deadline writing. (Facebook friends are familiar with her self-motivating posts about having to crank out 2,000 words before the sun goes down.)

On a good day, she’ll hang out in bed in the morning with her laptop computer and a Diet Coke. “I’ll prop myself up and bang it out,” she says. “By noon, I have to have 1,000 words, or finish a chapter, or get to a plot point. Then I’ll go into Decatur and grab a bite — or, more efficiently, eat leftovers.”

Christmas Bliss by Mary Kay AndrewsHer next book is Christmas Bliss, coming out October 15. It’s the fourth in her Savannah series, a sequel that includes the wedding plans for Eloise “Weezy” Foley. After that, she’ll be anchoring, so to speak, a seven-day “Sail Away With MKA” cruise, leaving February 8 from Miami and calling at ports in the eastern Caribbean.

But living the dream doesn’t make the old newsroom dreams go away. “It’s so weird to me,” she says. “I’ve been a ‘former journalist’ longer than I was a journalist.”

If there’s anything she pines for from those days, it’s getting instant feedback from colleagues. “I still miss turning around in the newsroom and saying, ‘Does this work for you?’ ”

Now, though, she has countless fans, in social media, book clubs and so on. As far as they’re concerned, what Trocheck — or Andrews — is doing now works pretty dang fine. 

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