Beach read queen Mary Kay Andrews’ new book Save the Date is out this week. We talk to her from her Tybee beach house about writing, weddings and finding true love.
Mary Kay Andrews, or Kathy — she answers to either — named her first Tybee Island beach house Breeze Inn after a hotel in her book Savannah Breeze. In the book, Southern belle BeBe Loudermilk loses all her possessions after dating a con man, except for a ramshackle 1950s motor court on Tybee Island. With the help of her friend Weezie Foley, BeBe transforms the hotel into the charming Breeze Inn. The story is similar to Andrews’ own, taking a rundown Tybee beach cottage and turning it into a retreat for herself and her fans.
Next came Ebbtide, Andrews’ 2013 beachhouse named after the one in her book Summer Rental. With direct beach access, six bedrooms on two stories and plenty of porches for taking in the breeze, Ebbtide isn’t so much a cottage as a luxury rental that just happens to be filled with the authors’ books and personal treasures. Read a review and see photos of the house here.
Her latest novel, Save the Date, is set in Savannah and, while there isn’t a grain of sand to be found, it does include her usual themes of love, independence and the challenges sweet Southern belles face when they stop being sweet. In this case, the protagonist is Savannah transplant by way of Ohio Cara Kryzik, a florist turned wedding planner trying to save her business and find true love at the same time. BeBe and Weezie make a brief appearance, but otherwise it’s a new cast of characters Andrews introduces readers to in Save the Date, which hit shelves on Tuesday.
A former journalist at The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Andrews knows the importance of deadlines and stuck to hers for Save the Date, despite a bad sinus infection and a second book to write. She spent much of the winter writing at Ebbtide and was sitting on the home’s porch when I talked to her by phone earlier this week.
EZB: What made you decide to focus on weddings and have a wedding planner as your main character in Save the Date?
MKA: I’m not very deliberate lots of times, it’s just something strikes my fancy. Last spring, we were getting ready to plan the launch party for Ladies Night, and my Atlanta publicist and I were looking at a venue that mostly does wedding receptions. I was talking to the manager there and I said wow, I bet you have lots of stories to tell and she said you don’t even know. I said, well, tell me one, and she goes, oh I just had a huge wedding scheduled for here and on thursday for a saturday wedding, the groom said to the bride we both know this isn’t gonna work out and then he checked himself into an institution.
I just started thinking, weddings are such an emotionally fraught time, there’s a lot of drama, there are a lot of stories. I’m a really visual person and so I could sort of see stories unfolding. I thought that would be a fun background to give my protagonist. And I love flowers, so …
EZB: I kind of figured that. How much research did you do to get all the different types of flowers and combinations correct?
MKA: I have a wedding stylist friend in Savannah, and she was very generous with her time and her advice and then I hung out with wedding florist for a couple of days during her busy time during her busy time, so that was really helpful. And, you know, you can get anything you need on Pinterest these days.
Cara wrapped a single white rose with green floral tape and inserted it into the already over-the-top centerpiece of white ranunculus, orange parrot tulips, and green and blue hydrangeas that were spilling out of an heirloom Georgian silver soup tureen destined for the buffet table. – Chapter 3
EZB: Why was Savannah right for the setting of this book?
MKA: It turns out Savannah, somebody told me, is the third-biggest destination wedding spot in the country. It’s beautiful and scenic and historic, and I thought what a perfect place to set the book. I wanted a place where old meets new, and when old meets new sometimes things clash. My protagonist is an outsider, she’s from Ohio, she’s not from Savannah and she’s not from the South. You very much still find that attitude in places like Savannah.
EZB: There’s no doubt that your books are “beach reads.” Did you set out to write for that genre, and what does a beach read mean to you?
MKA: I definitely think my books are beach reads. I think a beach read is anything that keeps the pages turning, that has a sense of lighness and deliciousness. I want my books to be like a big delicious, chilled pina colada of a book. I want to keep the reader turning the pages, dying to know what’s next, staying up late, staying too long at the beach. That’s what I set out to do.
I’m not gonna save the world with these books. I get emails all time from people who tell me your books are a great escape for me. Even if we’re stuck at home, even if our vacation exists as a staycation in the backyard, I think you need a sense of escape. If you want a book that’s going to make you cry, go for Nicholas Sparks, but I want a book that, when you turn the last page you’re gonna sigh and wish that you could start all over. I hope that’s what my readers want.
It was dusk now, and the streetlights had come on, and the faintest damp breeze ruffled the fronds of a palm tree on the corner. As they were crossing Whitaker Street, Jack casually reached over and clasped Cara’s hand. And he didn’t let go when they’d reached the other side. – Chapter 47
EZB: I think it is and that’s why you have to give them a book a year.
MKA: If I don’t give them a book every year, then I can’t buy junk.
EZB: I definitely want to talk about your junking, but first tell me how your past career in journalism contributes to being a fiction writer.
MKA: Having been trained and worked as a journalist, the first thing they teach you is really how to observe people and how to listen carefully, because when you’re a journalist, you have to give a sense of who the person is and what the setting is. I think a journalist knowns how to set the scene and how to put the reader in the place where the story is set.
Of course, also deadlines. I worked on a daily newspaper. There is no waiting for the muse in daily journalism. The muse goes out the window, and the only thing that matters is in 15 minutes I have to have written 20 inches, so I don’t get to wait until inspiration strikes. I have to sit down and somehow, even when I have a sinus infection and feel lousy and the book isn’t working, I know that I have to keep writing.
EZB: You live in Atlanta but also spend a lot of time in Tybee. How did you first discover Tybee and what made you fall in love with it?
MKA: We moved to Savannah as newlyweds in 1976. The first time we were here, we wanted to go to the beach and somebody said well go out to Tybee. We came out here [to Tybee] and I was used to the Gulf beaches in Florida where I grew up in St. Pete. I just thought what is this rundown funky beach town? And then over the years it just grew on me, and I realized it’s sort of the last old timey beach tow on the East coast. It’s certainly not Hilton Head, and it’s certainly not St. Simons, but I think what Tybee has is this laid back attitude. There’s nowhere on this island that you can’t go in your shorts and your flip flops, people are friendly, you can ride your bike anywhere you want to go. I can walk over to my neighbors house and be sitting on their porch, sipping a glass of wine and watching people wander down to the beach. It’s very democratic. It’s a beach for everybody, and I love that about it.
EZB: A lot of people who are as well known as you keep their vacation homes private and even secret, but you share yours with readers and fans. Why did you decide to go that route?
MKA: We’re not rich people. It’s an income property, it’s a vacation rental, but I get a huge charge out of fans coming up to me at a signing and saying I stayed at the Breeze Inn or I stayed at Ebbtide. The first thing I do when I get to the house is open up the guest book to see what kind of notes people have left. I’m an extrovert, and I like meeting people. We’re down here a lot in the fall and the winter and the early spring, and the rest of the time I like knowing that other people connect to it.
EZB: Are the beach houses also about having a place for your junk?
MKA: I had to have some place to put all that junk down in my basement. My family accuses me of buying real estate just so I can have a new place to put my junk. My response is what’s wrong with that?
EZB: My final question is about love. You’re married to your high school sweetheart, Tom. Many of your characters have a hard time finding true love, but you don’t seem to have that problem. What’s your secret?
MKA: We’re not perfect. We have knock down dragouts, but there’s a give and take in our relationship. We grew up with similar backgrounds, with similar values. We’re both from big ethnic Catholic families and family is first for us — and mutual respect. He was my friend before he was my love, and he’s still my friend. Sometimes you can’t tell that we’re friends, but we’re in it for the long haul. We’re partners in everything.
The other secret to our relationship is lots of apart time. I was down here for six weeks this winter by myself finishing the new book and he doesn’t feel threatened by my need to be by myself and I don’t feel threatened by his need to go off and go fishing or hunting or play tennis or whatever he’s doing. We don’t need to live in each other’s hip pocket.
His lips found hers. He pulled her tighter, then whispered in her ear. “All of it. Everything. Darlin’, everything I have is yours.” – Chapter 66
One of our featured summer reads, Save the Date is available now from St. Martin’s Press. We also have one copy to give away! Comment here through Monday and tell us why you need the book for your beach bag. (If you’ve already commented on the Summer Reading List, then you’re automatically entered to win.) *We’ll choose one winner on Tuesday.
Listen to an audio clip of Save the Date here.
*Only entries in the United States will be accepted, and winners will be contacted via email on Tuesday.