Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode 17 · 1 year 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 in bed in the dark, you know, me and my laptop glow and I put myself in that world in that sort of little cone of light and if I had written this book in the reality of daylight, maybe it wouldn't have worked so much. But I think I was in that magical hour. Welcome to the Friends and fiction Writer's Block podcast. Four new york times, bestselling authors, one rock star librarian and endless stories Join Mary Kay Andrews, Kristin Harmel, Kristy Woodson, Harvey and Patti Callahan Henry, along with Ron Block as novelists. We are four longtime friends with 70 books between us and I am Ron block please join us for fascinating author interviews and insider talk about publishing and writing. If you love books and are curious about the writing world you are in the right place. Welcome to a holly jolly episode of Friends and fiction Writer's Block podcast featuring one of our own. It is time to celebrate the release of the santa suit by mary Kay Andrews who some of you may or may not have heard of and she is my guest today on the podcast and I'm so thrilled because I read this book this week and there's a lot I want to say about it but I'm gonna let her start so welcome mary Kay, Thank you Ron it's great to be here with you on the eve of Christmas in Atlanta where it's a wintry, I'll take it Okay, so let's dig in. So the santa suit, why don'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's just come through a bruising divorce. Her ex has betrayed her with their biggest client. She's been in business with her husband in a marketing business. So she gets a divorce and she decides she needs a do over on everything on a whim. She goes online and she decides to buy an old white farmhouse 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, Yeah Punkin Perkins and ivy drive up to this little town in the mountains and they arrive at four Roses Farm the week before christmas and for roses is not really what she anticipated, It's dilapidated and a man meets her in the driveway and he tells her he's her real estate agent, Ezra. And as I said, I've bought this house without ever walking...

...through it and she's pictured her real estate agent, Ezra as being a kindly old gentleman in a bow tie and a sweater vest. But when she gets as hot Ezra and so the farmhouses dilapidated and to her surprise, she bought it from an estate and all the former owners belongings, most of them are still there. And the agent tells her That for Roses Farm was owned by Bob and Betty Rae rose who were Mr and mrs Santa for this community for 40 years. So every year they decorated the house, lit it up 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 the clothes 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 beautifully wrapped box with christmas paper. And in it is a beautifully made vintage red velvet santa suit. And in the pocket of that santa suit she finds a crumpled up note in childish handwriting. And it's a dear santa note and it starts the ball rolling. It does, it's such a the book is so full of magic and there's so much about place and time and small town nous. How did you research all of that and pull that together? You know, I just I put myself in that place and you know, I guess we can talk about this at some point. But I wrote this last fall, I started working on it right after I turned in the newcomer because I turned in the newcomer early for the first and only time in my career. 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 little cone of light. And if I had written this book in the reality of daylight maybe 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 uh it's um it's dusk. No it's gone, it's gone. I'm sorry dusk is later. Don is morning. 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 the holiday season this year. So why why did you keep it quiet? You know, I was afraid 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. Um you know I since my first book, I sold my first book in 1991 and I've never written a book on Spec, that's what you call it, writing on Spec without a contract since. And so I was nervous. I didn't know if my editor would like it or my agent would like it. Um I did confide to my um friends and fiction sisters. Um what...

I was up to, we had been talking about doing this that are we had our first retreat last november. Um are my beach house on Tybee ebb tide and one of the gals brought it up, let's do christmas anthology or let's all do christmas stories and I said no, absolutely not not doing that. But I was driving I don't know where I was going but I was going to her from savannah I think. And I called Patty Henry one of the gals and I said have got this idea for a book about an old santa suit with a note in the pocket. And so we started, we've been doing these seven am writing sprints and Patty was finishing up holiday book, the wardrobe and so we are both writing working on these holiday books at the same time. And then Christie what's in harvey Who is a Phanom. She just popped up. She popped up one morning and said I think I'll write 12 and by the time you 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 thought I'm not going to tell, I'm not gonna tell my age and I did tell him when I was about halfway through because I knew he would be asking like what are you doing? So I told him and then he told my publisher when I was about two thirds of the way through and they said yeah okay go ahead what do we got to lose 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 average little story. There are lots of surprises in here. We're not gonna give them away, but there are lots of surprises. So come for the holiday cheer for the good feel, but you'll stay for the the stories and especially for the character. So let's talk about the characters a little bit. Each character actually felt so very real and true to me as a reader. Um I could actually imagine being part of their lives and knowing them in that town and the setting and everything and I just immersed myself into it and I think I texted you that it made me want to bake fudge and decorate for christmas already. It was really, it really did a number on me. Um but talk about the characters, how you develop them and where they came from, what's their origin. Well I? Ve of course was the first character to um manifest herself and then very quickly after that came Israel, the hot real estate agent and then I had her meet a young woman who is the city clerk. Um and she think her name is, is her name Phoebe, I can't even remember. Yes Phoebe Phoebe is the city clerk and that's Phoebe's our first friend in this town. Um and she's asking Phoebe if she knows anything about the previous owners of four roses farm and um as I said I've is found...

...this note in the pocket of the santa suit um from a little girl named carl it and she asked Phoebe if she knows any carl it's and so Phoebe, you know, they sort of become friends very quickly and Phoebe, as it turns out, it's very excited about christmas because she is going to marry, she's gotten engaged to a man she's met online. Mhm. And it turns out that Phoebe hasn't been exactly honest with her online bow and you know, the idea for that came because I'm always on, if people follow my social media, especially on instagram, I'm always getting friend requests or follow requests from scammers and they're always, you know, invariably their generals in the army and their flight surgeons and their kind loving single fathers and of course they're all scammers there never what they pretend to be and I always block them immediately, but I thought, you know, a young girl like Phoebe um from a small town and she's pretty naive, maybe she maybe she would fall for this guy. Yes, yes, that's such a great part of the, 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 Ron well, you know, I did ask you if I could play him in the movie. Yes, you did. Yes. You know, I think you're actually afraid to tell you're too young to play Lawrence jones. But Lawrence, yeah. Lawrence uh lives alone and he's he's pretty spry and he's lived in this house for many years. And Lawrence, uh Lawrence is lonely and so one day Ivy knocks on his door and ask him some questions and they become friends. And Lawrence particularly likes Punkin IV's dog who visits with him. So Yeah, I really love, I love a cranky old man. I mean I'm married the one he's not listening is he? Now he's mowing the lawn. I can't believe you can't hear it. Whatever I'm doing a podcast or a webcast or whatever. Invariably he feels the need to start blowing with gas blowers are mowing. So of course, or the dog or someone comes to the door and the doorbell rings, the dogs go berserk. That's my life. That is, it sounds very typical, very typical. So um through the story we, we, you also touch on some very, very um important and relevant topics and one of them is that we, the little girl who wrote the...

...note, her name is carl it we learned that her father had been M I A in Vietnam. So can you talk about that and and we even that into the story and uh and why um uh the note that, that Ivy finds in the santa suit says dear santa. My mommy sad all the time, please. All I want for christmas this year is for you to bring daddy home from the war signed your friend carl it and so I? Ve of course her imagination. Her curiosity is piqued. She sets about trying to find out not only who is carl it but did her daddy come home from the war? And so what she finds out is that um and I don't think this is a spoiler. Do you think this is a spoiler on? Yeah it is. If I say that her daddy is M. I. A. Oh no no that's not spoiling her daddy 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 what happens and you know they're still digging up remains um in remote parts of the jungle in Vietnam from soldiers especially ones who died in um crashes like 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't make this whole book about that. But it was really interesting and it touched me you know I'm I'm at the age I'm 67 and so I'm old enough to remember when I was in high school we wore bracelets for POWs and M. I. A. S. And they had the P. O. W. M. I. A. Soldiers names on them. So yeah I remember that and then some people were dog tags and stuff. So I just thought it was important to um, you know, when you're writing a, when you're writing a christmas novel, you wanted to be heartfelt and heartwarming and like a warm cup of cocoa, but you can't have light without dark, you need that contrast I think. And so, um, and IV's, you know, come out of a kind of a dark, 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 our lives, but um, the way you, you know, you move forward through that if you can. And so that was the reason to do that. It was really good. And I think that'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 of a better term. They've got meat on their bones, they have a story and you really 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, so let's talk also about um, christmas...

...books in general, this is your fourth christmas book, you approach these differently than since you just talked about it a little bit, do you approach these differently than your summer books? I do when I wrote my first Christmas book, it was blue Christmas and that came out and had to look it up, came out in 2006 and it was actually my editor's idea at the time, she said my daughter was getting married and I was like, I I got to pay for a wedding and she said, well I know how you can, I know how you can do that, you could write a christmas novella and I want you to write about savannah at christmas, the characters that I had written about before. Um Louisiana Beibei from blue crisp or from savannah blues and savannah breeze and I said, I don't know how to do this. And one thing she said was because you're writing a novella, it's a fairly compact story. It helps if your characters have some kind of established 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 my favorite ones I read when I was getting ready to write blue christmas was Fannie Flagg's red bird christmas, which was sweet, but it wasn't saccharine sweet. I I really don't want to write a story that's so saccharine sweet. Um it hurts your teeth, I want to write a story, you know, that's realistic, but heartwarming and um so yeah, close ended story, it helps if the, now the characters in the santa suit don't know each other to begin with. But um so that was a bit of a hurdle getting them getting I v insinuated into that community quickly and a good way to do that is if you have a tight time period. I mean it's just the week before christmas, it's not ages and ages and ages. Um So after I wrote um blue christmas before I wrote that I wrote, I wrote a mystery series, the Callahan Garrity mystery series. And I wrote a christmas book in that series called Midnight Clear. And um 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 question about um Callahan's brother um who's sort of the bad seed of the family. Um up until I wrote that book, I didn't even know she had a brother. And then um I wrote, I wrote christmas bliss. Um uh I guess that book has been out about eight or nine years. And that's another of the savanna series. So again, I want, you know, and each one comes with different challenges, a different set of characters. And and for me, um I write these big long complicated plots and so for me it's a great um it's a great...

...exercise in, you know, plotting something that's smaller and more compact and not as complicated. Yes. Yes, I think that these give you more 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 from because of all your hugely popular social media. There's a lot of vintage christmas items in the, in the book. There's a, as you said, the internet trolls and try yeah, and there's cottage porn um you know, I love to fix up an old house and and ivy is not is not accustomed to doing that. So I? Ve is a city girl. And the other part of that I forgot to mention was I love city mouse, country mouse story and so that was fun to ride, She's a fish out of water, she's a city mouse and the country mouse and there actually are mice 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 just something that kind of comes to you as you're writing these? I think it just sneaks in there. Not every book has it. Um The newcomer didn't have a whole lot of it because she was living in a motel room. Um and there wasn't any, there wasn't much vintage that one either. Um But then you, you know, I write a book like 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 to show how inept and out of her, out of her depth she felt. I mean the heat doesn'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 really get 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 the big city, she's very suspicious about people just offering her unsolicited help. I mean she's she's very suspicious when as were the real estate agent 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 to accept help and and to make friends in this small community. You know, she just really wants to burrow away and hide that first christmas there. She doesn't feel christmassy and her friend, her new friend Lawrence tells her you'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 a rumor that you've been accused of reverse engineering a hallmark christmas movie. That's what my agent said that he said you you have reverse engineered a hallmark movie and I sort of didn't know what that meant. Um but he told me and I think what it really means as is that you put the elements that you generally seeing a hallmark store and, and there's not a single F bomb in this book by the way, Ron I hope you noticed that. I did notice that I was looking for it. My characters sometimes have a tendency of with some salty language, so I tried to leave that out of the santa suit and there is one romantic scene, but it really just consists of some, some tossed quilts, I think something like that, 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 out in the chicken house. Um but you know, I, I wrote um people said, well you wrote another hallmark movie. I didn't actually write a hallmark movie. I wrote 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, my Hollywood agent sold it to Hollywood to hallmark and so they made a christmas movie called Merry and Bright a couple years ago and it takes place at a candy cane factory. Um but the movie itself has almost no relationship to the premise I wrote but you know I cashed the check wouldn't you? Absolutely and now I can say yes I I have a oh and I got producing credit too. Oh I didn't notice that without ever leaving the comfort of my home. I got a hallmark movie producing credit. Does that mean you have an imdb page? I don't know I need to check that. I think if you look at the I. M. D. P. Imdb page for merry and bright and there's more than one merry and bright movie by the way make sure you get no shoddy substitute Marion bryce. Well in my house last season uh every few days I'd hear up from up from downstairs I'd hear like mary Kay's movies hot again. Yeah we had a we had a watch party over here uh I ordered online, everybody got matching plaid pajamas. It was quite festive festive. So in the santa suit...

...again as I said before it's just full of magic and hope and kindness and it reminds me of an old song that was kind of running through my head we need a little christmas which is I think from the Rosalind russell film. Um name any name but and I've heard you use the phrase two we need a little christmas to talk about why we really do need a little christmas right now. Normally I hate it when you go to Target and um you know, in september, they're taking down the Halloween stuff that they put up in july and they're putting christmas out. But I think this year last year, you know, we've come out of a dark place with the pandemic and so much loss in this country and so much fear and anxiety, you know, after the election last year, it was just a dark time last year. And that was one of the reasons to write this book. So I wanted to bring some shine, some light and bring some warmth and some joy um, into, you know, my readers. And um, I hope that's what I've done. I want to, I always want to make people smile. I always want my readers and I think about them all the time when I'm writing. I want them when they turned that last page, I want them to sigh and say, uh I wish I could start all over again. I wish I hadn't already read it. And that's what I want. I want to give you a big, juicy sweet candy cane chocolate coated sea salt warmhearted christmas story with just a little salt, not a lot of salt. Yeah, yeah. It's a difference between giving somebody a, like a piece of very inexpensive chocolate or a piece of Godiva chocolate, which I just ate a handful of. It's so gross. I think it's made entirely out of candle wax. It's, I heard there's a shortage of Krakow and so it's, it's really reducing the quality of chocolate product. Yeah, this was just some cheap chocolate my daughter bought to put to put out his decorations at the launch party in Atlanta coming up and I thought, oh, I'll have a handful of that. I'm angsty because I'm going on tour sunday and I was like, oh, I wish I hadn't moisten those calendar calories. Now my chocolate of my book is warm, delicious. Dear Deli. Salted chocolate, Salted caramel. Okay, so you, you mentioned your launch and you always do such an amazing job at MK World headquarters when you're going to launch a new book. You have lots of activities. You give a lot of yourself to people. So talk about um what you've got in store for the santa suit well, the santa suit the party will be over by the time this podcast comes out, but we do uh we do door prizes. Um we always have a signature cocktail this year's signature signature cocktail. Our sponsor is cat had vodka. So we're gonna make a little something called santa's Little helper with cranberry...

...edges. You can see me making it on my instagram page and delicious bites of food and fun. We're gonna have naughty santa. So that ought to be fun. Unfortunately with Covid precautions. I can't ask, I can't allow people to sit on santa's naughty santa's lap, but he'll be circulating and people can have their photos made with him and then we'll do another launch and we're the door prize. Um proceeds you buy raffle tickets. Those will go to um a great Atlanta charity called helping Mama's that um provides um diapers, infant formula baby food and period products for moms who need some help. And then in savannah monday, um we're doing a launch there and um the proceeds from those tickets will go to in fact, the event is sponsored by um childhood is called cure for childhood cancer. So those proceeds will benefit childhood cancer. That's amazing. What a great way to give back. And um and for readers who are already huge fans of yours to love you even more. The um christmas time, let's talk about christmas time, I suspect that that's your favorite time of the year. I have just a feeling, I don't know tell me what what what christmas means to you, how you celebrate? What are your, some of your favorite parts of it? Well we buy the tree, usually thanksgiving weekend and then after several hours of bickering and death threats. Um my husband has it puts it up. We always buy a fresh fraser her in the living room and he um he and he alone puts the lights on that tree, there must be white twinkle lights of a specific kind and they must be space with engineering precision And then he steps away and I fling as much stuff on that tree as I can. I have a huge collection of vintage shiny bright ornaments 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 about you 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 go to midnight Mass, but it's not at midnight, we go at about five o'clock because of the young grandchildren come back to my house and we have the ritualistic baked ham, big ass ham and green beans and mac and cheese and everybody can open one present that night. And then the next morning, bedlam ensues, we have specific Dishes for...

...breakfast and then we basically eat and gorge ourselves for 48 hours straight. That's great. And then we fall into a food coma. What's your favorite christmas movie? Oh, that's easy. White christmas, yeah. In fact, I, when I wrote Midnight Clear my first christmas book, 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. So and I don't, that was my body 20 years ago, but if you look at the, on my social media, you'll see a picture of me and the mrs santa claus dress. Oh what 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. What tunes you have spinning in your ears around chris well, my favorite is the Phil Specter merry christmas to you album that he made with all of the Phil specter groups and of course my favorite song off of that, these are all songs from the late fifties, early sixties is christmas, baby please come home with the incomparable Darlene love Yes, yes, that's awesome, I see you brought me right back, I want to go make some fudged, this Is okay, before I let you go, I have a few last questions, one is who are you casting in 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 sell those movie rights and my people will call your people okay, that's called Jeff people, you know, I don't think about that that much, I should, but I just don't I'd be happy to take casting suggestions. Okay, well we'll put that out there, release the podcast and see who people think because by then everyone will have read this book, so christmas since we're talking about it is always also a time for people to give and we talk about gifts and things and friends and fiction has been such a gift to readers internationally, really internationally and growing numbers all the time. But what has the friends and fiction phenomenon given to you? It's given me an appreciation for what my 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 and then they meet up. What we've discovered is when we last year we finally did some live events and we're gonna do some live events together in florida 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 a drink and that's, that's really been wonderful and the idea that that books are, it's not us, that's the glue, it's...

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

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