When the good people at the Northeast Spruill Oaks Library Book Club invited me to a lecture by a New York Times bestselling author, I said sure, why not? Get out of the office and live vicariously every newspaperman’s dream – to write “the book.”
Now it doesn’t matter what kind of book – shoot, it can be a cookbook or a travelogue on “Great Goat Farms I Have Known.” But the idea is to cross that threshold of newsroom hack into the world of literature (always pronounced litratour in that snobby English way).
To be an author, one who is paid for his thoughts and not for what he observes – to go from witness to Wilde. Yes, deep within the breast of every journalist lays another Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Bob Woodward or Margaret Mitchell yearning to break free.
But I was taken aback when I found that Mary Kay Andrews is the nom de plume of Kathy Hogan Trochek, a byline I vaguely remembered from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Yes, there it was on her bio, 10 years a reporter toiling among the denizens of Fulton and DeKalb counties with perhaps a foray into deepest darkest Gwinnett County.
So now here she is, pen name and all, to lecture as novelist and telling us poor groundlings how to novel.
Immediately, I knew I was not going to like this woman. Well, perhaps this lecture will be poorly attended. It’s scheduled for 10:30 on a Wednesday. There will probably be a mere eight or nine elderly women with their beaded handbags and dog-eared copies waiting to have them inscribed by her highness.
Instead, the place was packed without an empty chair. Cheri Lawson, the NESO Book Club president, rubbed salt in the wound, saying around 30 had to be turned away. I seethed.
Shoot, in addition to the NESOs, they bused in the Page Turners from Smyrna, more ringers from the Johns Creek Baptist Book Club and the River Farm Book Club, wherever that is.
Now this is too much, really. Do I have to sit here and listen to this jumped up AJC reporter with an alias make nice with her adoring fans? Well, it is hard to sneak out when you are sitting on the front row next to Fulton Library Board of Trustees Chair Stephanie Moody and not look like a jerk.
So I thought I might as well listen to what questions these book lovers might ask, and try to stifle my yawns at the stock answers you always get from Book Tour 101.
But wait a minute. These questions they were firing were pretty good. And Ms. Andrews was giving as good as she got. These weren’t the gushy sort of fan questions one might expect. They were cogent and to the point.
How do you get started as an author? How do you get a literary agent? What are the pitfalls in book business for new authors? How do you get story ideas and what about plot development?
These were all perceptive questions that required astute answers, and Ms. Andrews was firing right back at them. And she was alternately funny, engaging and completely candid.
She was polished, earnest and spoke with a delightful mix of anecdotes and common sense. She was honest about her talent but with just the right touch of self-deprecation. It was about that time that decided I really detested this woman.
It was also the moment that I began furiously scribbling notes. I could see myself safely ensconced among the pantheon of American authors – somewhere below Mark Twain but above James Thurber.
Here was someone who had done it, had gotten into print not once but nearly two dozen times. This is like gold for the would-be writer. I should share this with my readers. Surely there are more than a few who share the dream – to have your name on the cover and a book behind it?
And so my next installment will be the fruits of that scribbling in which our honored speaker made many revelations about the art of writing and the business of publishing. So until next week, dear friends …
How do you like that cliffhanger, Ms. Mary Kay Andrews nee Trocheck?