Featured Fiction Author
Chasing the Blues Away
An Interview with Mary Kay Andrews
by Joyce Dixon
Mary Kay Andrews makes her debut as a mainstream Southern fiction author with Savannah Blues, a humorous tale of intrigue set in the antique market of Georgia's first city. Kathy Hogan Trocheck (aka Mary Kay Andrews) is the author of ten mystery novels and is a former journalist who covered two of the Jim Williams trials for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Her pseudonym was created from the names of her children.
The Florida-born author lived in Savannah for a time and now makes her home in Atlanta. An antique picker herself, Andrews drew on her antique experiences to create an informative and on the edge of your seat treasure hunt.
Why did you choose to make “Weezie” a picker instead of an antique dealer?
I made Weezie a picker because I've been a picker. I'm an inveterate junker, and over the years, I've picked just because I found deals that were too good to pass up. Plus, she needed to be starting all over again, trying to find a new life for herself.
Savannah Blues is almost a how-to manual of how the antique trade works. Was that a goal or just a novel extra?
Most people don't have any idea of what a picker is, so I had to explain it. And then, I was having such a good time explaining, I just kept going. I took my cue from Dick Francis's novels, which I always enjoy because he takes readers to a new place. And as a side benefit of Savannah Blue, I've started picking again, for a friend who's opened a new antique shop near me.
Preservation vs. development is always a strong battle. What are your views on preservation? Can a building be too far gone to justify the expense of restoration, or is an historical marker in front of the ruins ever enough?
I've always been interested in preservation. My family and I live in a restored 1926 Craftsman bungalow in an in-town Atlanta neighborhood. It's always a delicate balancing act, thinking about restoration vs. practicality, but I think some things in the built environment are definitely worth preserving, no matter what. For instance, I would love to see an intact working plantation like the fictional Beaulieu which I created in Savannah Blue.
The Antique Roadshow and eBay have caused a boom in antiquing. What mistakes do you see those entering this hobby/trade make?
EBay and Antique Roadshow are so enticing; it's easy for people to think they can make a killing at antiques. But this is a crazy business. Tastes change, buyers are fickle, and condition is always a matter of opinion, and there's always the danger of buying something that appears like the real McCoy, but is in reality a fake or a reproduction. Prices can vary widely by region, too. So if I buy something on the West Coast for the accepted price, and try to sell it on the East Coast, where that item may still be cheap and plentiful, I could get badly burned. There are so many areas of antiquing available, and so much to learn.
Counterfeit and fake antiques have made their way from flea markets in to stylish antique stores. How easy is it to become victim to a fake? What should you ask the dealer about the documentation of an item?
Repros and fakes are a big problem. Martha Stewart's catalog offers repro Jadeite, for instance, that's very attractive. The catalog makes it clear that it's repro, but I'm seeing it turning up at flea markets and gift shops, where it's not marked as such. The best defense against being taken is to be educated. Know what the real thing looks and feels like. Read specialized books on the topic. Find respected dealers who specialize in that item and ask them questions. If I like something, I'll ask the dealer what they know about the item. Where did he purchase it? Where did it come from? If it's priced cheaper than normal, ask why that is. If the dealer has stacks and stacks of one pattern or item, I'd be suspicious.
After living in Savannah for a time, what stands out as the city’s character?
I've lived in Savannah off and on for 25 years, although we've made our home in Atlanta now since 1983. Savannah is unlike Atlanta in that it still has the hallmarks of a small Southern town. There's a sense of memory, that the past is still present, and that everybody knows your secrets. People in Savannah take their history very seriously. I had lunch with friends there recently, and they spent 30 minutes discussing a paid funeral notice of somebody they'd heard of, but never met. That NEVER would happen in Atlanta. It's still very much, who do you know, six degrees of separation.
You captured Ardsley Park and the other communities around Savannah. Does each district within the city of Savannah take on a character of its own?
I think the old-time Savannah neighborhoods very much have their own personality, whether you're talking about downtown, or the Victorian district, or Ardsley Park or Tybee or Wilmington Island. In Savannah Blue I wrote about a dinner party given by the Ardsley Park Supper Club--based on a dinner party I attended given by the real-life Ardsley Park Supper Club. Five courses, four kinds of wine--a long, languorous gossipy evening--heaven for a novelist!
Caroline and the Mayhews are outsiders who appeared to rape the city for easy money. Savannah is known for being slow to accept change, but is the city an easy target for smooth-talking outsiders who break into the social click?
I think it's very difficult to break into a society as hidebound and tradition-steeped as Savannah. But one way to do it is with money. Donate to a church, chair a charity ball, buy and restore a historic property—and you'll have an easier time--but you'll still be an outsider--and some people will still be suspicious about your motives.
As a journalist and observer, what surprised you most about the Jim Williams trial?
I covered two of the four murder trials of Savannah antique dealer Jim Williams, and I was surprised at how many of Williams' clients and friends really believed he was innocent--or just didn't care that he'd murdered a young man. It was fascinating seeing how Williams meshed his life as someone who liked young street hustlers with that of the oh-so-proper socialite antique dealer.
What is your next book?
Mary Kay is working on a novel called Split City, which is set in a fictional suburb of Atlanta. It's about a woman who is obsessed with the failure of so many marriages around her--so obsessed she doesn't notice when her own marriage disintegrates and her husband disappears--with all the family assets.
You may contact Mary Kay Andrews at: KTrocheck@aol.com
© 2002 Joyce Dixon, All Rights Reserved