New York Family’s Parent’s Book Club Pick for May is Mary Kay Andrews’ Hello, Summer. We’re crazy about this new read, telling a page-turning story about a young woman who returns home to her small town when her big-city job takes a turn for the worse. Once again, she writes for her family’s newspaper, now overseeing the local gossip column, “Hello, Summer.” But when she witnesses an accident that ends in the death of a local congressman, she decides to dig deeper into a web of dangerous secrets. As an old heartbreaker causes trouble and a new flame ignites, it soon looks like their sleepy beach town is the most scandalous hotspot of the summer.
Mary Kay Andrews is the New York Times bestselling author of more than two dozen novels including SUNSET BEACH, THE WEEKENDERS, BEACH TOWN, and SUMMER RENTAL. A native of St. Petersburg, Florida, she received a B.A. in journalism from The University of Georgia and was a newspaper reporter for 14 years. The last ten years of her career were spent as a features reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She left journalism in 1991 to write fiction. HELLO, SUMMER is her 27th novel and will be published on May 5th by St. Martin’s Press. Learn more: marykayandrews.com
Are you caught up with our book club reads? Check out last month’s pick: Mary Kubica’s The Other Mrs.
You worked as a journalist for a while before becoming a fiction author. It’s quite obvious that your journalism background played a role in writing Hello, Summer, but can you tell us more about how journalism shaped your career as a novelist as a whole?
My last few years as a newspaper reporter, I thought I was a failure — because I didn’t have my own column, hadn’t won a Pulitzer Prize, etc. What I didn’t know then was that my 14-year career as a journalist was just a reaalllly long apprenticeship as a novelist. Being a reporter taught me how to ask hard questions— something I use both in research and for my characters, especially Conley Hawkins, the protagonist of HELLO, SUMMER. Because newspaper stories are necessarily limited in length, I learned story structure —beginning, middle and end. I learned how to write a dynamic beginning — or lede, as it’s called in newsspeak, and a memorable ending, or kicker. I learned to listen, which taught me how to write believable dialogue, and I learned the value of a great editor — although all too often I learned it the hard way by having not so great editors.
In addition to Hello, Summer, you’ve written lots of other stellar beach reads, including The High Tide Club, Sunset Beach, The Weekenders, Summer Rental, and Beach Town. What draws you to the beach/summer genre of fiction?
I want to give my readers a fun, memorable read, something to anticipate through those long, winter months, a big, juicy page-turning peach of a book, so I think my novels just naturally fit that summer beach book category.
What was your inspiration for writing Hello, Summer, and what do you hope readers take away from the novel?
I’ve always wanted to write a book set at a small town newspaper because they’re such a quirky mirror of community life. I hope readers will love the time they spend in Silver Bay, see something of themselves in the family relationships, and maybe even come recognize the value of local journalism in the lives of our communities, especially in these crazy times.
Hello, Summer is the name of Rowena’s “gossip” column in The Beacon, which Conley has to oversee. Why did you decide to also make this the title of the novel?
The title was my editor’s idea. I resisted at first, because I’m stubborn that way, but eventually came to realize that could be the name of Rowena’s gossip column — as well as a way to telegraph to my readers that they’re in for some fun.
I absolutely love the dialogue in the novel — it feels so real, like I can actually imagine the characters talking to each other, and it is surely a tool for character development. For our aspiring writers out there, can you expand on your process of writing dialogue in fiction?
Dialogue is my favorite thing to write. But I can’t put words in a character’s mouth until I know who they are, where they came from, what they care about. It all goes back to really listening and paying attention to how real people really speak.
Hello, Summer encompasses a lot- mystery, small town life, career, family, romance etc., but it’s also very much a story of revisiting the past, as Conley heads back home. I’m interested in the threads of memory, the past, and home that this book explores, and especially how these threads connect to identity. Can you expand on your ideas about either of these threads and how you see them playing out in Hello, Summer?
Home is a theme I’m constantly exploring in my fiction. I knew, when I started writing this story that Conley dreaded going home — not just because she equated it with professional failure, but for other reasons she couldn’t quite understand herself. It wasn’t until I started delving into her complicated relationship with her grandmother and sister, and with her oldest friend, who happens to be the “boy next door” that I began to see there was a painful secret in her past.
Reading Hello, Summer totally immersed me into the small town setting, in part because of how vividly you describe the setting, but also because of the relationships between the characters. Can you tell us more about the setting, and how you decided that the story would take place in a small town?
Small towns are the perfect petri dish for secrets, betrayals, feuds, and family drama, all the juiciest ingredients for a great beach read. My only question going in was WHERE would Silver Bay be located? I searched around the South — where all my stories have been set (so far) and finally decided on the Florida Panhandle, a place I’m fairly familiar with, since I’m a native Floridian, although I actually grew up farther down the Gulf coast, in St. Petersburg. A beach house was also a foregone conclusion, because you really can’t have a beach read without a great, creaky old beach house. I had such fun creating The Dunes and furnishing it, by the end of the book I wanted to move right in, along with a cranky old dog like Opie — and of course, a housekeeper like Winnie to cook and clean for me!