California, by way of Ohio, Here I Come

I’ve got a busy few weeks coming up. There’s that pesky deadline thing, of course. And I’m writing, I really am. But I have some long-standing commitments to get to first. For instance, this weekend, I’m headed up to Yellow Springs, Ohio to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Antioch Writer’s Workshop.

Twenty years ago, I was a totally frustrated, pissed-off newspaper reporter. I wanted to write fiction, and be a stay-at-home mom to my two children. Katie was eight and Andrew was four. My husband was tired of hearing me bitch and moan about my mean editors. So I did something. I started writing a mystery. One night a week, I’d sneak back to the newspaper office and write on their computer, which was a big no-no, which made me want to do it even more. Subversive streak, you see? I finished that first mystery,and sent it out to thunderous silence. Then I saw an ad in the back of WRITER’S DIGEST magazine, for a writer’s workshop in a place I’d never heard of, Yellow Springs, in a state I’d never been to, Ohio. Sue Grafton, who was my total mystery author hero, was giving a class at the Antioch Writer’s Workshop. And for like, fifty bucks or something, you could have her critique your manuscript. I was so there!

In July of 1990, I used up all my frequent flyer miles and my last week of vacation, and flew up to Ohio. Antioch College, it turns out, was this hippy-dippy little liberal arts school, and Yellow Springs was the totally chill college town, where, instead of having a town drunk, they had a town stoner, sitting on the curb across the street from Weavers Supermarket. Coolest of all, though, was Sue Grafton, who gave a three or four hour workshop every night for a week. That workshop changed my life. I went in a wannabe and came out a WRITER. I had my manuscript conference with Sue, who was incredibly encouraging about my finished novel, telling me I was ready to find an agent and a publisher. Later that week, I read the first chapter of a new book I’d started to the workshop attendees, and afterwards, Sue told me that book would be published. Less than four months later, I had a book contract for EVERY CROOKED NANNY with HarperCollins Publishers.

In May of 1991, I gave my notice at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and in 1992, my first book was published. And I’ve never looked back. I’ve been back to the AWW several times since 1990, a couple of times to teach at the workshop, most memorably, in 2000, when Sue Grafton came back to teach, and I was on that same faculty, and again, to be the AWW keynote speaker, which was a huge honor. In the 20 years since I first travelled to that hippy-dippy college town, I’ve made lots of friends in the writing community there, including my dear junk buddy Barb, at whose home I stayed on my first trip back to AWW, and on every trip since. Oh, and I’ve also had 17 novels published.

I’ll fly up to Dayton with a half-empty suitcase early Friday, so that Barb, and my hometown friend Sue and I can have a whole day of Ohio junking before I give my talk at the AWW celebration. Have I mentioned how much I love Ohio junk? They have AWESOME junk in Ohio. I’m looking forward to seeing my book club and writer friends in Yellow Springs, and also to tip-toeing over to Young’s Jersey Dairy Barn for some of their home-churned ice cream.

I come home from Ohio on Sunday, and then on Tuesday, Mr. Mary Kay and I are flying to San Francisco, where he has a two-day meeting. Then it’s on to Sonoma, and some wine-sipping, and hopefully, more junking. Although my chick trip friends and I were just in Sonoma in November, there was no time for junking. This trip, it’s different. I have already warned MMK that there WILL BE junk stops. And I’d appreciate any junk tips anybody has to offer for junking in Northern California next weekend. I’m totally bummed that we have to fly home early Sunday, and I’ll miss the Alameda Point show, so, somebody give me the 411!

13 thoughts on “California, by way of Ohio, Here I Come”

  1. I just love all of the books you have written under your own name! I wish there were hundreds of them (except then I would never get anything done!). I can't believe I never knew you had books under another name. A whole new series for me to read, I love it!

  2. Love this post and finding more out about how you started! I featured you in my blog as one of my favorite writers( and I have a friend I am sending one of your books to! I have read every one of your books. I loved the mysteries also. Just a fan and a fellow junker! I hope to meet you one of these days. I live in the burbs of Atlanta.

    Linda from the blog
    A La Carte

  3. Oh poo!! you just missed Springfield's Flea Market (april 17 and 18) the extravaganza is May 14-16 and it is HUGE.
    Yellow Springs is a cool little town with lots of little shops-always a fun time.
    I may have a couple of swimsuits for you if you are interested for Breeze Inn-just email me and I'll send you some pics-they are from the 50's and come with an unbelievable story.

  4. So inspiring! I love to hear authors share their writing journeys. How fortunate we all are that you knew your talent could take you far beyond the ho-hum of newspaper.

    Have you ever considered writing about your writing process? I'd love to read it–I'm sure many others would too.

    Anyway–I'm a huge fan and I can't wait for the next novel!

  5. I know for one, I am ever so greatful that you do write fiction! I look forward to every book – especially your new one SUMMER AT TIFFANY! I have also taken you adviced and traveled to Tybee for a family vacation with the family – we had so much fun. Thank you for all you do!!!!!!!!

  6. No junking tips 'cause we live in an apartment and minimalism is key here, but why not try the Napa side of wine country (anywhere in Yountville, just about, is great for food), or if you don't mind a little extra driving, go a little further up to Calistoga.

    I'd totally recommend Mendocino for a feel for what Napa used to be like back in the day, but you really don't have enough time, unfortunately.

  7. Check out,an awesome diy blog, I bet she can give you tons of tips for Junking in No Cal! Enjoy your trip!!!

  8. Hi, your story is so inspiring!
    Your books are amazing. I came
    across your Fixer Upper video game
    first, and loved it so much that
    I had to go and buy the book.

    Its nice to know that there's
    someone else who loves jumble
    sales and diet coke as much as
    I do! 🙂

    I love the fact that your
    book heroines are smart and
    sassy, and that they have
    very human flaws. The world needs
    more women like that! 😀

  9. Hi MaryKay,
    I just loved seeing the photos of you and Sue. You girls sure know how to have a junkin good time.

    I'm so glad that I found out you are a junker, I love you even more now.


  10. Wow, I loved reading about how you got your start! As for the good junk in Ohio…I KNOW! I used to live about 25 miles north of Dayton. Been to Yellow Springs many times and I really miss the Springfield Antique Show and Flea Market. I live in Savannah Ga now and there are a few good antique shops, but no good flea markets. Hmmmm. Maybe I should start one!

  11. You are in luck MKA!!! I just returned from Ohio and I was no where near Yellow Springs so there is still junk left in the state to be had!!! Have a blast! I sure did!

  12. I love this story! You inspire us always to pursue our own dreams. Enjoy wine country to the fullest! (Alameda is, well, okay. There's nothing like Scott's honey!)

    Miss you!

    Eddie + Jaithan

  13. I have been on a Mary Kay Andrews binge, Also as well as your series about Callahan Garrity, I am so glad Hooked on Houses talked about you. I had just a question though, In one of your books I was reading about your character stopping to get groceries at a market called Food Town. I thought that was just quaint as My Dad owned grocery stores named Food Town in the 60s to 90s. Then today as I was reading Hissy Fit,
    The bad guy was released from jail, from Bakersfield California.
    I of course live in Bakersfield California.
    As were the grocery stores. So is this coincidence? I have laughed and laughed about it. Have you been here?
    I have a whole stack left to read and they are just fun. I just wanted to say thank you.

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