What Comes Next?

SUMMER RENTAL is done. Mostly. I’ve finished the copy edits, written the dedication, am working on the acknowledgements. Also the recipes still have to be written. Which means that my writing plate is, metaphorically speaking, clean. So, you ask, what comes next?

Next comes the fun. Starting a new book is like starting the first day of school–you know, back before you hated school and worried about passing math and whether or not you’d ever get a date, or get accepted to a college, any college. I like to think about starting a new book in terms of getting up excited in the morning, putting on a starched cotton plaid dress with a big sash bow in the back, and marching off, newly sharpened Number 2 pencils in hand, along with a crisp new notebook, to find knowledge and new books in the library.

I don’t want to tell you too much about What Comes Next, because I’m Irish, and deeply superstitious, and don’t want to hex the little embryonic book that is even now growing and developing in my warped subconscious.

What I will tell you is how this little puppy was conceived. I dreamed it. Yup. For several nights running this summer, I dreamt of a woman. She was sitting in a church and she was righteously PISSED. Hmm. So one night, in my dream, or maybe it was while I was driving, I asked that dream woman what she was doing. And she told me–“I’m watching my ex-husband get re-married.”

Reaallly? “Yup,” she said. “And I’m okay with it.” Reallly?

I mentioned to my agent and my editor that this woman was bothering me with repeat appearances. Since it was time for me to tell them exactly what my NEXT book would be, I thought it might be good if I went back to dream woman and asked her a few more questions.
I scribbled down some options. Cobbled together a proposal for the NEXT book. And they like it, they really like it.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I thought I might share with you the twisted process I go through when hatching an idea. Because readers ask me this all the time. Where do you get your ideas? When my children were younger, I frequently got them during carpool, either driving to school in the morning, or waiting in the school parking lot in the afternoon. I got them while reading the newspaper. Once, a dear friend’s son was involved in a searing custody battle, and I sat in the courtroom with her, and the idea for a book was born from her pain. I got the idea for HISSY FIT while sitting in a bubble bath. I had to scribble down the idea for SAVANNAH BREEZE on a paper napkin in a restaurant in Charleston, after I eavesdropped on a conversation at the next table.

Once I have an idea, I pester my agent. What do you think? Could this be a book? Is there a story here? Is this a character my readers will love? And is it I story I could tell and tell really well? Does it seem like a Mary Kay Andrews story?

Stuart is a very, very patient man. He’s used to these deranged phone calls and knows exactly how to keep me on process. Sometimes, he hates the idea, and he’ll tell me why, and I’ll go away and sulk for a while, but almost always, I come to realize he’s right. Other times he loves the idea, and he’ll brainstorm with me. That’s how the plot of SUMMER RENTAL came about, over dinner (and wine) before a book-signing two years ago at the Jersey Shore.

Once Stuart likes the idea, I noodle around with it some more. In the meanwhile, he has a conversation with my editor, just to see if she likes it too. Fortunately, Jen seems to love the idea for the NEXT book. We have phone discussions, and I scribble some ideas. What’s the name of this character? Names are incredibly important to me. For protagonists, I like a name that sounds unique, which is why my books are peopled with characters with names like Callahan, Neva Jean, Weezie, BeBe, Mary Bliss, Keeley and Dempsey. For the protagonist of my next book, I chose the name of my late great-grandmother, whom I only met as a very young child. I love that name so much I could hug it, I could eat it for dessert, that’s how much I love this name.

Where is the book set? A real town, or a made-up place? Georgia, or someplace else? It’s looking like someplace else, this time around, probably a made-up small town in North Carolina. What does my character do? Oh, what fun I’m going to have writing about the world of this next book. I’ve already started researching that world, and at the risk of sounding smug, it’s gonna be good.

What’s my protagonist’s dilemma? Hmm. I guess we start with the fact that she’s actually attending her ex-husband’s wedding. What’s that all about? Now we’re getting down to brass tacks. Now comes the hard part. Actually plotting the story. For me, characters and setting are the icing, the sweet part that comes quite naturally. Now I’ve got to bake the cake, making sure I have a strong, stable, tasty platform to support my characters. I’ve got to figure out how to get her out of that church pew–and into and out of all kinds of plot complications.

Lucky for me, my writer’s group is having our twice-yearly retreat next week. We’ll meet up at the Weymouth Center in Southern Pines, N.C., lugging our laptops and crockpots and notebooks and index cards–and peanut M&Ms and cheap Chardonnay. We’ll all share the ideas for our next books, brainstorm, set goals, write like women possessed—and then, at night, meet to bitch and whine, discuss progress, and most importantly, play word games like Scrabble, Balderdash and Taboo.

Hopefully, at the end of the week, I’ll come home with the strong foundation–and lots of new pages, of the NEXT book. I’ll put away my little plaid dress, climb into my black yoga pants, and get down to work.

How about you? Is there a novel raging inside you? Did you know that today is the first day of National Novel Writing Month? (Also known as NaNoWriMo) Check here for the details, and let me know what you decide. Who knows? Maybe November will be the month we all get a book going.

14 thoughts on “What Comes Next?”

  1. Thank you for this post! I am always interested in a writer's process. I am an aspiring author (by aspiring, I mean "one who thinks about it, talks about it and writes thoughts down but never writes a book"!).

    Quick question — if you are someone just starting out who doesn't already have an editor etc. – would you write your entire book and then send it out or write an outline and pitch that?


  2. MKA great post and thanks for sharing some of your process. I love reading and you are one of my FAVORITE authors so It's a real treat to 'hear you think' about writing a new book. Can't wait for Summer Rental and the next one and the next one and the next one…well you get the picture!!!

  3. I love hearing your process of hatching a new book! I just read this post while taking a break from Nanowrimo-writing, in fact! A timely word, indeed. 🙂 Can't wait for Summer Rental and now the NEXT one!

  4. I found this just fascinating. As for the book lurking inside of me – I think I'm cut out for Twitter-size dispatches, not something with pages.

  5. Love it! I've read your books ever since my brother went to high school with Andy. I'm so glad it was introduced to me then, and that I continue to follow you now 🙂

  6. Thank you for sharing all this, it was such a treat, a bit like listening in on a private conversation!!!

    I especially love that this character came to you in a dream. My dreams are so vivid and often where my best ideas and solutions come from. Probabably, because I am not awake stressing about it!

  7. I just wanted to let you know I just finished reading your Callahan Garrity mystery series-loved the books. I was a t a party and mentioned your name and a friend of a friend brought me all of this series to read. Thanks for another great reading experiance!

  8. Hi Stephanie. For fiction, especially for a newbie, you usually write the whole daggum book first, writing and rewriting, polishing and perfecting before you send it off to an editor or agent.

  9. I'm very excited that you are almost finished with your latest book. When should we expect it to hit the book store shelves? I'm taking a trip to Scotland next June and it sounds like the perfect book to read on the plane.


  10. I'm always hatching book ideas, but I'm afraid that if I actually write it down, it'll be nothing but a sleep-producer. In that case, I'll call it 'Insomniacs Almanac.' Can't wait for the next good read; 'The Fixer Upper' was awesome.

  11. I am so excited that I will have a new book to read! I love all of your books and they take me to a place that I would love to be! My grandparents are from the south and the books make me feel like I am back with them.

  12. Dear Mary Kay,
    How awsome are you to share your process with us. For those of us MKA fans who love the world's you create in your books, like to share in you real world.
    Thanks for shareing.
    All your MKA books have a special place on my old mantel.

    Krysstyna Shcmitt

  13. Well call Stuart and Jen and tell them you have to write a sequel to The Fixer Upper!!! Ridiculous leaving me hanging like that, wide awake at midnight, thinking I had ten pages left and, blip, turn the page and there's RECIPES! With PICKLES! Bleh. 😉 WTH? Tee, Dempsey, Ella Kate, Birdsong?? Don't make me drive all the way down to Guthrie, GA to find out what happened to them!

    Would LOVE to know more about the conversation in Charleston you were eavesdropping on! Savannah Breeze is still one of my favorites and Charleston is my home. That was interesting…I wonder what the people were talking about that made you turn it into a great book!

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