A Return to My Life in Crime—and to Sunset Beach!

Writing about murder must be in my DNA. Growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida, the setting for my new novel SUNSET BEACH, my family gathered most weeks at my grandmother’s house for Sunday dinner, where my uncle, a career police officer, enthralled us with stories of his latest, most intriguing cases.

When most children my age were reading the comic strips, I was poring over the police logs in the newspaper, and racing through the stacks of Perry Mason and Mickey Spillane paperbacks supplied to me by my grandfather.

With my newest novel, SUNSET BEACH, I’ve returned to the Gulf of Mexico beaches of my youth, to a very specific plot of land called, fittingly, Sunset Beach.

I snapped this pic myself on a recent research trip
during sunset at the actual Sunset Beach.

After majoring in journalism in college, I started my newspaper career as a night shift reporter in Savannah, where, on slow news nights, I’d steal away to the paper’s morgue—that’s reference library in newsspeak—reading up on infamous and unsolved local homicides.

In subsequent years, I covered crime stories all over Southeast Georgia, including writing about the notorious 1981 murder of a down-and-out drifter named Danny Hansford by a wealthy Savannah antique dealer named Jim Williams. Those trials—there were four in all, before Williams was acquitted—later became the basis for the book and movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  (Which, tragically, I did not write.)

Later, I got myself assigned to cover cops and courts, eventually moving to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where I quickly became obsessed with the city’s most puzzling cold case, the 1965 disappearance of Mary Shotwell Little.

The 22-year-old newlywed met a co-worker for lunch at Atlanta’s best-known shopping center, Lenox Square, and after shopping and dinner, Mary parted from her friend, telling her, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 Tomorrow never came. The raven-haired bank secretary vanished that night, the only clue to her fate a pile of her blood-stained clothing folded neatly on the front seat of her car, which investigators found in the shopping center parking lot.

 Although I left journalism in 1991 with the publication of my first novel (a murder mystery titled EVERY CROOKED NANNY), my fascination with crime has never wavered. I wrote two mystery series, one set in Atlanta, the other in my hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida, and then, in 2001, I decided to branch out from crime writing with a novel called SAVANNAH BLUES.

That book did have a murder at its core, but as my editor explained to me, nobody cared “whodunnit” because the victim was a homewrecking hussy who needed killing. SAVANNAH BLUES was really about a woman at a crossroads, fresh from a devastating divorce, who in the process of fixing up a carriage house in Savannah, reinvents herself and finds a new life and a new love.

My subsequent novels, including SUMMER RENTAL, BEACH TOWN, THE WEEKENDERS, and THE HIGH TIDE CLUB, have been called beach reads, because they’re fast-paced, entertaining reads, featuring characters my readers can root for, and because they include a puzzle, sometimes a murder, sometimes not, that hopefully keep you guessing right up until the end.

This summer’s book, SUNSET BEACH, features Drue Campbell, a professional kite boarder who’s suffered a career-ending sports injury. Down on her luck and at a dead-end in her personal and professional life, her fate changes suddenly when her long-estranged father, a flamboyant ambulance-chasing personal injury lawyer, shows up at her mother’s funeral in Fort Lauderdale with the surprise news that she’s inherited her grandparents’ cottage across the state in Sunset Beach. He also throws her a lifeline—the offer of a job working in his law firm.

 With no other options available, Drue reluctantly accepts her father’s offer, moving into the now-shabby and hurricane damaged beach cottage—dubbed Coquina Cottage by her grandparents, that was once the scene of the happy summer stays of her childhood. The roof leaks, and there’s no air conditioning or furniture, but it’s the first home Drue has ever owned. It might need work, but so does she.

That’s not the only nasty surprise awaiting Drue. On her first day on the job she discovers that her father’s latest wife—and the office manager, happens to be Drue’s junior high frenemy, who makes it quite clear that she opposed Drue’s hiring.

Drue also takes takes up a cubicle working on the firm’s “Justice Line” which boils down to answering and screening the unending stream of callers generated by the firm’s non-stop television, radio, and billboard ads. Most of them are hoping for a fast buck and a lucrative settlement for their slip-and-fall lawsuits.

When a grieving grandmother walks into the law firm demanding real justice for her daughter—whose murder at a swanky beach resort has never been solved, Drue quickly becomes embroiled in trying to find a solution to that mystery, despite everyone’s repeated warnings that the case is a dud.

After her roof springs a  new leak, Drue climbs upto the attic and discovers what appears to be a decades old official police file about the disappearance of a local woman who might have had a connection to her father, Drue realizes she has no idea who to trust—or to fear.

Drue is a different kind of character for me. She’s independent to the point of being prickly; wounded, but resilient; and dogged in her determination to get some answers, sometimes to her own detriment.

 Writing this book is a sort of valentine to my hometown of St. Petersburg, and with the inclusion of an old cold-case disappearance inspired by the Mary Shotwell Little case, a return to my life of (fictional) crime.

 My hope is that readers will find SUNSET BEACH a different kind of summer read, with a little romance, a healthy sprinkling of humor, and yes, a double dose of mystery. In other words, a beach book that comes with a twist.

EVERY CROOKED NANNY—My Rookie Book

Maybe you didn’t know, but I’ve been living a double life for some time now. Yep. At home, I’m Kathy Hogan Trocheck, mild-mannered junker, wife, mom, grandmother, recovering journalist (I was a reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for many years) and decorator in denial. But in public, when I’m wearing makeup and not-yoga-pants, I’m Mary Kay Andrews, best-selling novelist and author of 28 novels and (and The Beach House Cookbook) and counting.

Many people aren’t aware that I started my fiction career in 1992 as a mystery writer—penning ten mysteries under my real name, Kathy Hogan Trocheck, including the much beloved Callahan Garrity mystery series. In 2002, when I had an idea for a different kind of book, Savannah Blues, I adopted the pen name of Mary Kay Andrews, which is a combination of my two children’s names—Mary Kay for my daughter who was christened Mary Kathleen, and Andrews, for son Andrew. And poor old KHT went on hiatus. Because of all the hassle of maintaining dual identities, eventually my publisher re-released all the books as being “by Mary Kay Andrews writing as Kathy Hogan Trocheck.”

I always get a laugh when people discover that MKA is in reality KHT. The most common reaction is “I loved those books, but when you stopped writing, I assumed you were dead.”

Not dead at all, I can assure you. And now I’m dropping back onto my sometimes-neglected blog to share the news that my rookie book, Every Crooked Nanny, which is the first in the Callahan series, will be a Kindle Monthy Deal for only $1.99 from Oct.1-Nov. 5, 2018. Download yours now while this deal lasts!

If you haven’t already met Callahan, her irascible mother Edna Mae and the rest of her House Mouse crew, I think you are in for a treat.

Here’s a little of Callahan’s backstory. She’s a former Atlanta police detective, who quits the department due to sexist bosses who don’t think a woman can be a good homicide cop. She gets a private investigator’s license, but when business isn’t as brisk as she’d hoped, in frustration buys a cleaning business called The House Mouse. Callahan and Edna share her home, a Craftsman bungalow in the real Atlanta intown neighborhood of Candler Park.

Her House Mouse cleaning crew “girls” are an eccentric bunch, a loud-mouthed big-boned gal named Neva Jean who is married to good-old-boy Swannelle, elderly African-American sisters Baby and Sister, and the quietly religious Ruby.

In Every Crooked Nanny, Callahan’s first outing, she’s hired by an uppity former sorority sister to track down the family’s missing nanny, who, before running off with the family secrets, has gotten a little too cozy with the man of the house.

Because I wrote the eight Callahan mysteries before the advent of Google, Smart Phones or the GPS, my low-tech sleuth relies on good old-fashioned street smarts and shoe leather to solve the crimes that occur in and around Atlanta with unnerving regularity.

Here’s what the critics have said about Every Crooked Nanny
“Fresh, confident, intelligent and amusing. Grab a cold drink, put your feet up, and enjoy yourself.”—Sue Grafton
“Crisp intelligence and earthy wit.”New York Times
“A clever, colorful page-turner, not to be missed…A high caliber debut.”Publishers Weekly

I hope you’ll agree—and at $1.99 for the first installment, that you’ll want to binge-read all eight books in the Callahan Garrity series. Here’s the list, from first to last. Enjoy!

Every Crooked Nanny

To Live and Die in Dixie

Homemade Sin

Happy Never After

Heart Trouble

Strange Brew

Midnight Clear

Irish Eyes

 

 

Weekending wardrobe

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Getting ready to pack for my upcoming book tour for THE WEEKENDERS means lots of pre-planning. I’ll be on the road, with only a few days at home, for six weeks off and on. But it’s more fun this year, because I’ve recently lost over thirty pounds. Which means basically I’ve “been forced” to buy a whole new wardrobe–including smaller bras and Spanx. Hooray! When I’m home alone, slogging away on the next book, you’ll usually find me in my wardrobe of black yoga pants and tee shirt. But in public, especially when I’m on book tour, I try to look a little more presentable and put together–even if I’m only standing in the security line at the airport, or eating breakfast at my hotel.

That’s why I was so thrilled when my friend Rhoda at Southern Hospitality reached out to let me know about all the fun casual options available from Glamour Farms Boutique. Working with the fun crew over there, Rhoda asked them to send me some cute, packable outfits suitable for weekending and beyond. I was overwhelmed by all the choices–and the range of sizes available. Nothing is more frustrating than finding an outfit you love, online or in a shop, just to discover it’s only offered in sizes extra small to super skinny.

When that big shipping box from Glamour Farms arrived, it was like Christmas morning. Rhoda came over to my house this week and graciously helped me put together three different looks–although we could easily have chosen half a dozen or more outifts.

We had such a tough time deciding which looked best, we decided to poll her readers and mine. Please feast your eyes on all the options posted here, and vote for the one you thinks looks best on me. And as a reward for your assistance, we’ve got a fun giveaway–on Thurs. May 12 we’ll pick a commenter at random–and she’ll receive a $50 Glamour Farms gift certificate. But wait, there’s more! That same winner will also receive a gift bag of MKA’s favorite things, including a first edition copy of my new novel, THE WEEKENDERS, plus a bottle of OPI Strawberry Margarita nail polish, a Red Currant aromatherapy candle, a leather embossed WEEKENDERS luggage tag, and a DVD of BRIDESMAIDS, one of my fave chick flicks perfect for weekend viewing. But wait–we’re not done yet! My friend Lucy, at LucysInspired, who makes gorgeous hand-crafted jewelry from vintage prisms and architectural salvage, has offered to give away one of her beautiful necklaces, like the one I’m wearing with the Pretty Please tunic, to our lucky winner.

weekenders fashion004 (1)

I’m wearing the Keep the Faith tunic in coral.  How great does it look on Rhoda in blue?

weekenders fashion005
Pretty Please Tunic

The Pretty Please tunic has all my favorite colors. Cute, right?

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Lucy’s Inspired Necklace

weekenders fashion008
English Garden Top

The final look is the English Garden top in ivory and teal. What do you think?

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

One more awesome thing before you go…Don’t you just LOVE the Glamour Farms clothing? Guess what? They have been kind enough to offer $10 off your order by using the Promo Code  RHODA3. (Offer excludes sale items) So click here to go over to their website and buy yourself something special.

A LITTLE BACK STORY AND CHANGE OF SCENE

change of scene

A LITTLE BACK STORY

 

The day after I turned in my (very late) manuscript for THE WEEKENDERS, which publishes May 17, I rewarded myself with a mani-pedi. My color choice for my toes was a happy coral called SHE WENT ON AND ON AND ON. Which was hilarious, and totally appropriate. Because once I get going on a book, I have a very hard time getting to the end. I write, well, on and on and on. And on and on.

nails

I have writer pals who say they can’t imagine writing a novel as long as 300 pages. Hah! I’m just getting wound up at the 300-page mark. At the 400 page mark I’m panicking, and as I approach 500 pages, despair sets in. Will I EVER finish?

Fortunately I have an editor with infinite patience and wisdom, who simply tells me that the story takes as long as it takes.

But she can also be ruthless when necessary. Which is what happened after I turned in my manuscript for my summer 2015 novel, BEACH TOWN. “The first 75 pages have to go,” Jen told me. She was right, of course. The first 75 pages weighed the novel down and made it too long to get to the hook—that irresistible dramatic scene that “hooks” the reader into wanting to know more.

Still, my heart sank. I loved those opening pages. They told the “back story” of my heroine, Greer Hennessy, an L.A.- based movie location scout who is the third generation woman in her family to work in the film industry. More importantly, they introduced the reader to Greer’s mother Lise, a has-been sitcom star who these days makes a living as an, ahem, “intimacy counselor”. Lise’s own mother, Dearie, had a short-lived acting career as a bit player, whose most memorable role was as an extra in a Cary Grant movie. After Lise’s birth, Dearie goes to work as a seamstress in a movie studio costume shop.

western costume
Period headpieces at Western Costume

As always, I’d done plenty of research for BEACH TOWN, travelling to L.A., touring a movie studio, visiting Western Costume, which is the world’s largest independent costume company, interviewing seamstresses, movie people, and of course movie location scouts.

paramount studio mka
Touring Paramount Studio

I did some location scouting of my own, visiting a 1920s-era bungalow apartment court that would provide the setting for Lise’s apartment, and later, an avocado farm in the mountains of the Central California coast, where Greer has a location shoot go very, very wrong. And of course, my friend Ki and I took a hilarious “homes of the stars” tour and ate at a Mexican restaurant that would become Lise and Greer’s favorite lunch spot.

I read up on the movie business, and even researched Cary Grant, my favorite Hollywood heartthrob, who, it turns out, might not have been as charming in real life as he appeared in the movies.

I really mourned the loss of those 75 pages, and all that back story. For months after the publication of BEACH TOWN, I thought about Dearie and Lise, and their story, and how their story contributed to Greer’s own story.

Eventually, I came up with a novel idea. Why not spin that story into a prequel to BEACH TOWN? Even though I was supposed to be working on my summer 2016 novel, THE WEEKENDERS, I just couldn’t let go of Lise and Dearie and Greer.

And that’s how CHANGE OF SCENE came to be. It’s a prequel novella, which means it’s shorter than one of my usual novels at only xxx pages, but there’s a very real, and I hope compelling story there.

Because of the shorter length, and the very short lead time I gave my publisher, we decided to make it available only for eReaders. It’s available in all E-formats, for Kindle, Nook and iBooks. I’m hoping my readers will find CHANGE OF SCENE an enjoyable read while they wait for THE WEEKENDERS to publish next month.

And in the meantime? I found another great nail color for my summer toes. It’s called SHORT STORY. No, really!

shorts story nails

 

 

 

 

 

March Madness

bakedpotatosoup
Potato Broccoli Cheddar Soup

March in Atlanta can mean sunny days with temperatures in the low ’80s, or miserable, cold, rainy days in the 40s. You just never know. This morning it was cold and rainy, and I’m so ready for spring, it made me really mad. And chilly. While out running errands, I stopped at one of my favorite lunch spots in Midtown Atlanta, Metro Fresh, which specializes in made-from-scratch soups, sandwiches and salads. I had a great bowl of potato broccoli cheddar soup, and it was so good I decided to make my own version for our dinner–and in the process I made enough to share with my daughter Katie, who was feeling tired and run-down. Soup for the soul, right?

Here’s what I came up with. I started by browning some bacon, but you could totally make a vegetarian version of this by skipping the bacon, and using vegetable broth instead of the chicken broth I used.

LOADED POTATO BROCCOLI CHEDDAR SOUP–makes 6-8 servings

2 slices bacon, roughly chopped

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

1/2 cup carrots, sliced

1 stalk celery, diced

1 small onion, diced

1 Tbsp. minced garlic (I used the bottled kind)

2 Tbsp. Wondra flour

salt and pepper to taste (use salt sparingly!)

1 cup whole milk or half-and-half

3-1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth

3 cups roughly chopped broccoli florets

4 small baking potatoes

1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

1/2 cup Greek low-fat Greek yogurt.

In large heavy-bottom soup pot brown chopped bacon in a bit of olive oil. Add carrots, onions, celery and garlic, along with rest of olive oil and butter, and cook until vegetables are softened–6-8 minutes on medium heat. While that’s cooking, pop baking potatoes in microwave and cook on high, about 8 minutes. Let potatoes cool, peel and rough chop. To saucepan with vegetables,  whisk in Wondra flour, add half and half, stirring well. Add chicken broth, stir well. Add the broccoli florets and cook on medium heat, covered, about 8-10 minutes, until broccoli is softened. Add in potato cubes and stir well. Cook another five minutes or so, until all vegetables are softened. Turn off heat and using hand-held immersion blender, blend soup, leaving some chunks. Turn soup on low, add the cheddar cheese and the Greek yogurt. Stir until cheese is melted. Garnish with chopped chives and serve with cheese toasts.