“I always planned to be a writer. As a little girl, I wanted to be Lois Lane,” Mary Kay Andrews told me. “At one point I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll write books,’ but girls from St. Pete didn’t write books…”
So Andrews, now a bestselling author with more than 25 novels under her belt, became a journalist straight out of college. She spent the next 11 years secretly trying to write her way out of the newsroom, but that time on the Cops and Courts beat and then in Features taught her the discipline she relies on now as a successful author.
“In journalism, you have to write on your feet; you have to write even when you’re not inspired,” she said. “I learned how to walk up to a stranger, ask them hard questions, and question the answers.”
Her love of a good mystery shows up in her novels; her first 10 were mysteries published under her real name, Kathy Hogan Trocheck. Then, in 2002, she made the shift to writing Southern-themed novels and crafted her pen name from a blend of her children’s names.
“Mystery readers are very brand-conscious, and this was a huge gamble for me,” Andrews said of the decision to write under a pseudonym. The gamble paid off, but with a mildly macabre side effect.
“People who knew my earlier books come up to me every now and then and tell me they thought I was dead!”
Her newest novel, Sunset Beach, is, she said, a valentine to her hometown of the same name. It was always fascinating and exotic to her, with a definite noir feeling. That undercurrent factors into the plot, which revolves around the discovery of a cold case file inspired by a real cold case from Atlanta.
“I had been talking to a retired cop buddy about how this case was still unsolved, and he mentioned to me that when the head detective on the case retired, the main case file went missing,” she said. “That chance conversation spun me around.”
The story developed from there, sometimes surprising even Andrews with some of the plot turns. She’s a linear thinker, she said, and writes beginning to end, but that doesn’t mean her characters always follow suit. Sunset Beach’s protagonist, for example, revealed herself as much stronger and more stubborn than Andrews originally anticipated.
Or maybe that’s just Andrews channeling some of that little girl into her work—the one who thought girls from St. Pete didn’t write books.