Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode 17 · 1 month ago

WB S1E17: Ron Block with Mary Kay Andrews

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

WRITERS' BLOCK: Ron Block talks with Mary Kay Andrews about her newest Christmas book, The Santa Suit.

I was writing in the early morning inbed in the dark, you know, me and my laptop glow and I put myself in thatworld in that sort of little cone of light and if I had written this book inthe reality of daylight, maybe it wouldn't have worked so much. But Ithink I was in that magical hour. Welcome to the Friends and fictionWriter's Block podcast. Four new york times, bestselling authors, one rockstar librarian and endless stories Join Mary Kay Andrews, Kristin Harmel,Kristy Woodson, Harvey and Patti Callahan Henry, along with Ron Block asnovelists. We are four longtime friends with 70 books between us and I am Ronblock please join us for fascinating author interviews and insider talkabout publishing and writing. If you love books and are curious about thewriting world you are in the right place. Welcome to a holly jolly episode ofFriends and fiction Writer's Block podcast featuring one of our own. It istime to celebrate the release of the santa suit by mary Kay Andrews who someof you may or may not have heard of and she is my guest today on the podcastand I'm so thrilled because I read this book this week and there's a lot I wantto say about it but I'm gonna let her start so welcome mary Kay, Thank youRon it's great to be here with you on the eve of Christmas in Atlanta whereit's a wintry, I'll take it Okay, so let's dig in. So the santa suit, whydon't you give us like the overall brushstroke of what the story is. Yeah,the santa suit is a story of ivy Perkins. She lives in Atlanta. She'sjust come through a bruising divorce. Her ex has betrayed her with theirbiggest client. She's been in business with her husband in a marketingbusiness. So she gets a divorce and she decides she needs a do over oneverything on a whim. She goes online and she decides to buy an old whitefarmhouse in the mountains of north Carolina and she buys it sight unseen.So she packs up all of her stuff and her dog Punkin, we love pumpkin, YeahPunkin Perkins and ivy drive up to this little town in the mountains and theyarrive at four Roses Farm the week before christmas and for roses is notreally what she anticipated, It's dilapidated and a man meets her in thedriveway and he tells her he's her real estate agent, Ezra. And as I said, I'vebought this house without ever walking...

...through it and she's pictured her realestate agent, Ezra as being a kindly old gentleman in a bow tie and asweater vest. But when she gets as hot Ezra and so the farmhouses dilapidatedand to her surprise, she bought it from an estate and all the former ownersbelongings, most of them are still there. And the agent tells her That forRoses Farm was owned by Bob and Betty Rae rose who were Mr and mrs Santa forthis community for 40 years. So every year they decorated the house, lit itup And they played Mr and mrs Santa Claus for the community for 40 years.So the first night I. V. Is in the house by herself. She dumps all theclothes out of the closet because it comes complete with the previous owners.Old lady clothes. And on the top shelf of the closet she finds a beautifullywrapped box with christmas paper. And in it is a beautifully made vintage redvelvet santa suit. And in the pocket of that santa suit she finds a crumpled upnote in childish handwriting. And it's a dear santa note and it starts theball rolling. It does, it's such a the book is so full of magic and there's somuch about place and time and small town nous. How did you research all ofthat and pull that together? You know, I just I put myself in that place andyou know, I guess we can talk about this at some point. But I wrote thislast fall, I started working on it right after I turned in the newcomerbecause I turned in the newcomer early for the first and only time in mycareer. And I was writing in the early morning in bed in the dark, you know,me and my laptop glow and I put myself in that world, in that sort of littlecone of light. And if I had written this book in the reality of daylightmaybe it wouldn't have worked so much. But I think I was in that magical hour.That magical time when it's not really night. It's not really day, it's uhit's um it's dusk. No it's gone, it's gone. I'm sorry dusk is later. Don ismorning. It starts with a D. Yeah. Um and you really kind of sprung it on us.We didn't know that we were going to get this amazing gift uh for theholiday season this year. So why why did you keep it quiet? You know, I wasafraid I was afraid my editor in my agent would say stop, don't do that.You don't have a book under this book is not what we're paying you for. Umyou know I since my first book, I sold my first book in 1991 and I've neverwritten a book on Spec, that's what you call it, writing on Spec without acontract since. And so I was nervous. I didn't know ifmy editor would like it or my agent would like it. Um I did confide to myum friends and fiction sisters. Um what...

I was up to, we had been talking aboutdoing this that are we had our first retreat last november. Um are my beachhouse on Tybee ebb tide and one of the gals brought it up, let's do christmasanthology or let's all do christmas stories and I said no, absolutely notnot doing that. But I was driving I don't know where I was going but I wasgoing to her from savannah I think. And I called Patty Henry one of the galsand I said have got this idea for a book about an old santa suit with anote in the pocket. And so we started, we've been doing these seven am writingsprints and Patty was finishing up holiday book,the wardrobe and so we are both writing working on these holiday books at thesame time. And then Christie what's in harvey Who is a Phanom. She just poppedup. She popped up one morning and said I think I'll write 12 and by the timeyou know she wrote a book that's twice as long in my as mine and half the time.But I was, I was really nervous about it. I was self conscious and I thoughtI'm not going to tell, I'm not gonna tell my age and I did tell him when Iwas about halfway through because I knew he would be asking like what areyou doing? So I told him and then he told my publisher when I was about twothirds of the way through and they said yeah okay go ahead what do we got tolose and look what we have in our hands now. This is just such a charming book.But I do also want to make sure that people know that it's not your averagelittle story. There are lots of surprises in here. We're not gonna givethem away, but there are lots of surprises. So come for the holidaycheer for the good feel, but you'll stay for the the stories and especiallyfor the character. So let's talk about the characters a little bit. Eachcharacter actually felt so very real and true to me as a reader. Um I couldactually imagine being part of their lives and knowing them in that town andthe setting and everything and I just immersed myself into it and I think Itexted you that it made me want to bake fudge and decorate for christmasalready. It was really, it really did a number on me. Um but talk about thecharacters, how you develop them and where they came from, what's theirorigin. Well I? Ve of course was the first character to um manifest herselfand then very quickly after that came Israel, the hot real estate agent andthen I had her meet a young woman who is the city clerk. Um and she think hername is, is her name Phoebe, I can't even remember. Yes Phoebe Phoebe is thecity clerk and that's Phoebe's our first friend in this town. Um and she'sasking Phoebe if she knows anything about the previous owners of four rosesfarm and um as I said I've is found...

...this note in the pocket of the santasuit um from a little girl named carl it and she asked Phoebe if she knowsany carl it's and so Phoebe, you know, they sort of become friends veryquickly and Phoebe, as it turns out, it's very excited about christmasbecause she is going to marry, she's gotten engaged to a man she's metonline. Mhm. And it turns out that Phoebe hasn't been exactly honest withher online bow and you know, the idea for that came because I'm always on, ifpeople follow my social media, especially on instagram, I'm alwaysgetting friend requests or follow requests from scammers and they'realways, you know, invariably their generals in the army and their flightsurgeons and their kind loving single fathers and of course they're allscammers there never what they pretend to be and I always block themimmediately, but I thought, you know, a young girl like Phoebe um from a smalltown and she's pretty naive, maybe she maybe she would fall for this guy. Yes, yes, that's such a great part ofthe, of the whole book, how that all plays out. We also have met uh Lawrence.Lawrence, Yes, I love, I love crotchety old men and that's why I love you Ronwell, you know, I did ask you if I could play him in the movie. Yes, youdid. Yes. You know, I think you're actually afraid to tell you're tooyoung to play Lawrence jones. But Lawrence, yeah. Lawrence uh lives aloneand he's he's pretty spry and he's lived in this house for many years. AndLawrence, uh Lawrence is lonely and so one day Ivy knocks on his door and ask him some questions and theybecome friends. And Lawrence particularly likes Punkin IV's dog whovisits with him. So Yeah, I really love, I love a cranky old man. I mean I'mmarried the one he's not listening is he? Now he's mowing the lawn. I can'tbelieve you can't hear it. Whatever I'm doing a podcast or a webcast orwhatever. Invariably he feels the need to start blowing with gas blowers aremowing. So of course, or the dog or someone comes to the door and thedoorbell rings, the dogs go berserk. That's my life. That is, it sounds verytypical, very typical. So um through the story we, we, you alsotouch on some very, very um important and relevant topics and one of them isthat we, the little girl who wrote the...

...note, her name is carl it we learnedthat her father had been M I A in Vietnam. So can you talk about that andand we even that into the story and uh and why um uh the note that, that Ivyfinds in the santa suit says dear santa. My mommy sad all the time, please. AllI want for christmas this year is for you to bring daddy home from the warsigned your friend carl it and so I? Ve of course her imagination. Hercuriosity is piqued. She sets about trying to find out not only who is carlit but did her daddy come home from the war? And so what she finds out is thatum and I don't think this is a spoiler. Do you think this is a spoiler on? Yeahit is. If I say that her daddy is M. I. A. Oh no no that's not spoiling herdaddy um did not come home from the war. I'd be finds out out pretty quickly. Her daddy was M. I. A.In Vietnam and so I went down that rabbit hole. I started researching whathappens and you know they're still digging up remains um in remote partsof the jungle in Vietnam from soldiers especially ones who died in um crasheslike Um Carl It's Daddy died in a separate died in a helicopter crash.And so I finally had to like say you have to come out of this hole you can'tmake this whole book about that. But it was really interesting and it touchedme you know I'm I'm at the age I'm 67 and so I'm old enough to remember whenI was in high school we wore bracelets for POWs and M. I. A. S. And they hadthe P. O. W. M. I. A. Soldiers names on them. So yeah I remember that and thensome people were dog tags and stuff. So I just thought it was important to um, you know, when you're writing a, whenyou're writing a christmas novel, you wanted to be heartfelt and heartwarmingand like a warm cup of cocoa, but you can't have light without dark, you needthat contrast I think. And so, um, and IV's, you know, come out of a kind of adark, lonely place. So, um, I think, I think the best way to do that is to say,well yeah, there's been some sadness. All of us have had some sadness in ourlives, but um, the way you, you know, you move forward through that if youcan. And so that was the reason to do that. It was really good. And I thinkthat's part of what draws the reader in is that it's not just um they did this,they went there there here, it's really the people are really well for lack ofa better term. They've got meat on their bones, they have a story and youreally tell it so beautifully that you just cheer for everybody or not, but,but you really have strong feelings about each of the characters. Um, solet's talk also about um, christmas...

...books in general, this is your fourthchristmas book, you approach these differently than since you just talkedabout it a little bit, do you approach these differently than your summerbooks? I do when I wrote my first Christmas book, it was blue Christmasand that came out and had to look it up, came out in 2006 and it was actually myeditor's idea at the time, she said my daughter was getting married and I waslike, I I got to pay for a wedding and she said, well I know how you can, Iknow how you can do that, you could write a christmas novella and I wantyou to write about savannah at christmas, the characters that I hadwritten about before. Um Louisiana Beibei from blue crisp or from savannahblues and savannah breeze and I said, I don't know how to do this. And onething she said was because you're writing a novella, it's a fairlycompact story. It helps if your characters have some kind ofestablished relationship and it also helps if you have a closed ended story.And I, so I started reading other christmas novellas and uh one of myfavorite ones I read when I was getting ready to write blue christmas wasFannie Flagg's red bird christmas, which was sweet, but it wasn'tsaccharine sweet. I I really don't want to write a story that's so saccharinesweet. Um it hurts your teeth, I want to write a story, you know, that'srealistic, but heartwarming and um so yeah, close ended story, it helps ifthe, now the characters in the santa suit don't know each other to beginwith. But um so that was a bit of a hurdle getting them getting I vinsinuated into that community quickly and a good way to do that is if youhave a tight time period. I mean it's just the week before christmas, it'snot ages and ages and ages. Um So after I wrote um blue christmas before Iwrote that I wrote, I wrote a mystery series, the Callahan Garrity mysteryseries. And I wrote a christmas book in that series called Midnight Clear. Andum and that was another book that the characters were continuing characters.And there was a strong family element to that story. Um there's a questionabout um Callahan's brother um who's sort of the bad seed of the family. Um up until Iwrote that book, I didn't even know she had a brother. And then um I wrote, Iwrote christmas bliss. Um uh I guess that book has been out about eight ornine years. And that's another of the savanna series. So again, I want, youknow, and each one comes with different challenges, a different set ofcharacters. And and for me, um I write these big long complicated plots and sofor me it's a great um it's a great...

...exercise in, you know, plotting something that's smaller andmore compact and not as complicated. Yes. Yes, I think that these give youmore of an opportunity to, to put more of you in the book as I was reading it.I said, oh I know where that came from. Oh, I kind of know where that came frombecause of all your hugely popular social media. There's a lot of vintagechristmas items in the, in the book. There's a, as you said, the internettrolls and try yeah, and there's cottage porn um you know, I love to fixup an old house and and ivy is not is not accustomed to doing that. So I? Veis a city girl. And the other part of that I forgot to mention was I lovecity mouse, country mouse story and so that was fun to ride, She's a fish outof water, she's a city mouse and the country mouse and there actually aremice in the house, so that helps. And chickens for it. Oh, chickens, yes,yes, can't forget the chickens, they get their own little cottage, Do you do that on purpose or is it justsomething that kind of comes to you as you're writing these? I think it justsneaks in there. Not every book has it. Um The newcomer didn't have a whole lotof it because she was living in a motel room. Um and there wasn't any, therewasn't much vintage that one either. Um But then you, you know, I write a booklike the high tide club or although there wasn't that much of that in there,but the fixer upper was was the ultimate cottage porn house porn plot.So this, yeah, this one I needed, I had to have something to do. She had toshow how inept and out of her, out of her depth she felt. I mean the heatdoesn't work, The hot water heater doesn't work, they're mice in the attic.Um and so she needs those challenges and what a great tool for her to reallyget to know the people in the community, the people that are just so kind.There's a lot of kindness in this book. She's reluctant, she's coming from thebig city, she's very suspicious about people just offering her unsolicitedhelp. I mean she's she's very suspicious when as were the real estateagent um wants to help her do something as simple as unlock the front door,right? Um so uh it's hard for her to um except to ask for help and then toaccept help and and to make friends in this small community. You know, shejust really wants to burrow away and hide that first christmas there. Shedoesn't feel christmassy and her friend, her new friend Lawrence tells heryou're never too old to make a new friend and that's that's sort of the,that's sort of a through line for the...

...santa suit. It absolutely is. And yes,the candy shop owner, it's a good one. That's a good one too. So I heard arumor that you've been accused of reverse engineering a hallmarkchristmas movie. That's what my agent said that he said you you have reverseengineered a hallmark movie and I sort of didn't know what that meant. Um buthe told me and I think what it really means as is that you put the elementsthat you generally seeing a hallmark store and, and there's not a single Fbomb in this book by the way, Ron I hope you noticed that. I did noticethat I was looking for it. My characters sometimes have a tendency ofwith some salty language, so I tried to leave that out of the santa suit and there is one romantic scene, but itreally just consists of some, some tossed quilts, I think something likethat, something like that. It's very tasteful between two chickens. So yeah,it's really between chicken. So you would never even notice that that's outin the chicken house. Um but you know, I, I wrote um people said, well youwrote another hallmark movie. I didn't actually write a hallmark movie. Iwrote a premise for um I wrote a premise for a story called um merry and Bright. Yes, and that was all,it was, it was a premise and to my surprise, my shock and awe, myHollywood agent sold it to Hollywood to hallmark and so they made a christmasmovie called Merry and Bright a couple years ago and it takes place at a candycane factory. Um but the movie itself has almost no relationship to thepremise I wrote but you know I cashed the check wouldn't you? Absolutely andnow I can say yes I I have a oh and I got producing credit too. Oh I didn'tnotice that without ever leaving the comfort of my home. I got a hallmarkmovie producing credit. Does that mean you have an imdb page? I don't know Ineed to check that. I think if you look at the I. M. D. P. Imdb page for merryand bright and there's more than one merry and bright movie by the way makesure you get no shoddy substitute Marion bryce. Well in my house lastseason uh every few days I'd hear up from up from downstairs I'd hear likemary Kay's movies hot again. Yeah we had a we had a watch party over here uhI ordered online, everybody got matching plaid pajamas. It was quitefestive festive. So in the santa suit...

...again as I said before it's just fullof magic and hope and kindness and it reminds me of an old song that was kindof running through my head we need a little christmas which is I think fromthe Rosalind russell film. Um name any name but and I've heard you use thephrase two we need a little christmas to talk about why we really do need alittle christmas right now. Normally I hate it when you go to Target and umyou know, in september, they're taking down the Halloween stuff that they putup in july and they're putting christmas out. But I think this yearlast year, you know, we've come out of a dark place with the pandemic and somuch loss in this country and so much fear and anxiety, you know, after theelection last year, it was just a dark time last year. And that was one of thereasons to write this book. So I wanted to bring some shine, some light andbring some warmth and some joy um, into, you know, my readers. And um, I hopethat's what I've done. I want to, I always want to make people smile. Ialways want my readers and I think about them all the time when I'mwriting. I want them when they turned that last page, I want them to sigh andsay, uh I wish I could start all over again. Iwish I hadn't already read it. And that's what I want. I want to give youa big, juicy sweet candy cane chocolate coated sea salt warmhearted christmasstory with just a little salt, not a lot of salt. Yeah, yeah. It's adifference between giving somebody a, like a piece of very inexpensivechocolate or a piece of Godiva chocolate, which I just ate a handfulof. It's so gross. I think it's made entirely out of candle wax. It's, Iheard there's a shortage of Krakow and so it's, it's really reducing thequality of chocolate product. Yeah, this was just some cheap chocolate mydaughter bought to put to put out his decorations at the launch party inAtlanta coming up and I thought, oh, I'll have a handful of that. I'm angstybecause I'm going on tour sunday and I was like, oh, I wish I hadn't moistenthose calendar calories. Now my chocolate of my book is warm, delicious.Dear Deli. Salted chocolate, Salted caramel. Okay, so you, you mentionedyour launch and you always do such an amazing job at MK World headquarterswhen you're going to launch a new book. You have lots of activities. You give alot of yourself to people. So talk about um what you've got in store forthe santa suit well, the santa suit the party will be over by the time thispodcast comes out, but we do uh we do door prizes. Um we always have asignature cocktail this year's signature signature cocktail. Oursponsor is cat had vodka. So we're gonna make a little something calledsanta's Little helper with cranberry...

...edges. You can see me making it on myinstagram page and delicious bites of food and fun. We're gonna have naughtysanta. So that ought to be fun. Unfortunately with Covid precautions. Ican't ask, I can't allow people to sit on santa's naughty santa's lap, buthe'll be circulating and people can have their photos made with him andthen we'll do another launch and we're the door prize. Um proceeds you buyraffle tickets. Those will go to um a great Atlanta charity called helpingMama's that um provides um diapers, infant formulababy food and period products for moms who need some help. And then insavannah monday, um we're doing a launch there and um the proceeds fromthose tickets will go to in fact, the event is sponsored by um childhood iscalled cure for childhood cancer. So those proceeds will benefit childhoodcancer. That's amazing. What a great way togive back. And um and for readers who are already huge fans of yours to loveyou even more. The um christmas time, let's talk about christmas time, Isuspect that that's your favorite time of the year. I have just a feeling, Idon't know tell me what what what christmas means to you, how youcelebrate? What are your, some of your favorite parts of it? Well we buy thetree, usually thanksgiving weekend and then after several hours of bickeringand death threats. Um my husband has it puts it up. We always buy a freshfraser her in the living room and he um he and he alone puts the lights on thattree, there must be white twinkle lights of a specific kind and they mustbe space with engineering precision And then he steps away and I fling as muchstuff on that tree as I can. I have a huge collection of vintage shiny brightornaments and old ornaments I've been collecting for Gosh! 30 years probably.And the front of the house gets lit up with white lights. Never colored lights.No, no, no. Must be colored lights every year we have an argument aboutyou are not allowed to get up on a ladder, you cannot get up on the roof.I go inside and then I look out, he's up on the roof. So that happens, we goto midnight Mass, but it's not at midnight, we go at about five o'clockbecause of the young grandchildren come back to my house and we have theritualistic baked ham, big ass ham and green beans and mac and cheese andeverybody can open one present that night. And then the next morning, bedlamensues, we have specific Dishes for...

...breakfast and then we basically eat andgorge ourselves for 48 hours straight. That's great. And then we fall into afood coma. What's your favorite christmas movie? Oh, that's easy. Whitechristmas, yeah. In fact, I, when I wrote Midnight Clear my first christmasbook, I had a costumer make me a replica of Rosemary Clooney's dress.Mrs santa claus dress from the finale of white christmas. Now I still have it,but I can no longer wedge myself into it because I've had it for 20 years. Soand I don't, that was my body 20 years ago, but if you look at the, on mysocial media, you'll see a picture of me and the mrs santa claus dress. Ohwhat a cool behind the scenes, so I I just saw that picture this morning.Yeah, now I know you and Rosemary, Clooney, Yeah, me and rosemary. Whattunes you have spinning in your ears around chris well, my favorite is thePhil Specter merry christmas to you album that he made with all of the Philspecter groups and of course my favorite song off of that, these areall songs from the late fifties, early sixties is christmas, baby please comehome with the incomparable Darlene love Yes, yes, that's awesome, I see youbrought me right back, I want to go make some fudged, this Is okay, beforeI let you go, I have a few last questions, one is who are you castingin the movie? I might know a really good looking realtor. Oh God, yeah,Jeff Curtis would be an awesome effort. Great idea, I'll as soon as we sellthose movie rights and my people will call your people okay, that's calledJeff people, you know, I don't think about that that much, I should, but Ijust don't I'd be happy to take casting suggestions. Okay, well we'll put thatout there, release the podcast and see who people think because by theneveryone will have read this book, so christmas since we're talking about itis always also a time for people to give and we talk about gifts and thingsand friends and fiction has been such a gift to readers internationally, reallyinternationally and growing numbers all the time. But what has the friends andfiction phenomenon given to you? It's given me an appreciation for whatmy hard work means to folks. I love the community that has formed around us,then they're caring, giving people, they've made friendships online andthen they meet up. What we've discovered is when we last year wefinally did some live events and we're gonna do some live events together inflorida in october we found out that people have, you know, they're like, oh,you live in Atlanta, I live in Atlanta, go ahead, let's meet up and have adrink and that's, that's really been wonderful and the idea that that booksare, it's not us, that's the glue, it's...

...books, that's the glue of thiscommunity, The common love for books and ideas and also the people'swillingness to open themselves up to new books, new authors and newviewpoints and I really love that. That's been amazing. That is sobeautifully said. Uh we're going to end with me wishing you a very merrychristmas, even though it's only october and the mantra for the seasonis by her book damage. Absolutely. We need a little christmas right, thisvery minute we do, we do. So thank you so much for joining me for this. It'sbeen lovely as you know, I just love the santa suit and I know everybodyelse is going to love it too. Thank you Ron I appreciate that merry christmaseverybody thank you for tuning into this special episode. Did you know thatwe've just launched a bookshop dot org affiliate page. Just go to the websiteand search for Friends and fiction there. You'll be able to purchase thelatest books from the friends and fiction authors but also those of everyguest on both the Wednesday live shows and every podcast cast all purchaseshelps support local independent bookstore. We're so glad you joined ushere and you've been listening and please tell a friend, thank you for tuning in to the Friendsand fiction writer's block podcast. Please be sure to subscribe rate andreview on your favorite podcast platform, tune in every friday foranother episode And you can also join us every week onFacebook or YouTube where our live friends and fiction show airs at sevenp.m. eastern standard time. We are so glad you're here.

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