Summer beach read has taste of Cheerwine

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 1, 2012

SALISBURY — Her answering machine says she’s Kathy Trocheck, and when I caught up with her, she said she was Kathy Trocheck.
Yet, when she comes to Salisbury next week, she’ll be Mary Kay Andrews. It’s a split personality she’s comfortable with — after all, Mary Kay got on the New York Times bestseller list, and Kathy Hogan Trocheck had a successful career as a mystery writer after pursuing Sue Grafton for advice.
On Thursday afternoon, she talks to me on her cell phone from Nordstrom’s department store in Atlanta. “I found a bench I could sit on while I do interviews,” she explains, while bells ring and people walk by, talking.
She explains one basic difference between the two women: “If I’m in makeup and good shoes, I’m Mary Kay. If I’m slouching around in yoga pants, I’m Kathy.”
Her visit will be Thursday at 7 p.m. at Books-A-Million at Salisbury Mall to sign “Spring Fever.”
Why Salisbury? Well, she said, she did live in Raleigh for three years, and when she was a kid, her family vacationed in the Smoky Mountains.
And along the way she tasted Cheerwine for the first time.
Now the plot thickens — or better yet, fizzes up. Mary Kay Andrews writes beach books, stories of love and a little adventure that are just the right diversion for flip-flops and sunscreen.
In her new book, she knew she wanted to write about a family business, she wanted her characters to work for a regional, family-owned soft drink company. “There used to be so many of those around,” she says.
She toyed with a lemon-lime idea, then thought a cherry soda would be more fun. She remembers drinking Budwine as a kid, another local soda. Budwine was cherry-flavored, too, and made in Athens, Ga. It ceased production in the mid-1990s.
But Cheerwine is still alive and expanding, giving her a chance to research the soft-drink making business with the Ritchies, who own the company.
“They were so nice to me and so helpful. … But let me be clear, Quixie Soda is in no way Cheerwine and the Bayless family is in no way like the Ritchies.”
There’s a bit of intrigue and a number of quirky characters in the fictional Bayless family, which owns Quixie Cherry Soda in the book.
The book is set in the small town of Passcoe, N.C., in the sandhills, near a lake. The author and friends make a yearly writer’s retreat in the sandhills, at the Weymouth Center in Southern Pines.
The Ritchies, she said, helped her get insight into the challenges of running a homegrown soft drink company.
Trocheck/Andrews lives in Atlanta, where Coca-Cola is king. “We don’t even acknowledge Pepsi,” she says. “I have a Diet Coke every day for breakfast.”
She describes “Spring Fever” as “a really good summer beach read. … It’s for anyone who has ever fantasized about what if. What if you could start over?” Her heroine is Annajane Hudgens, “a sweet character. She thinks maybe she has another chance with her ex-husband, Mason Bayless.
The book starts as Annajane and her best friend, “Poley” Bayless, Mason’s sister, sit down at Mason’s wedding to the beautiful Celia.
There’s no better place than a wedding for drama, and no better setting than a small town where everyone knows each other, is related to each other or works at the same family-owned business.
Although her writing career as Kathy Hogan Trocheck went well, she wanted to write something with broader appeal. She found readers care more about her characters than whodunit.
“I care about the characters. … Readers want a good plot, but they want characters they can cheer for … they have to relate to a story that’s believable. There’s so much going on in our world, people want real, relatable characters, someone you want to sit at the bar with and have a beer — or a Cheerwine.”
Andrews wanted the story to sound true, but not be the definitive take on Cheerwine. “I want you to care, but not make you nod off” with details.
While she’s on tour for “Spring Fever,” she’s “deep into next summer’s book.” It will feature a group of people who meet in a divorce recovery group. That doesn’t sound like fun, but “I hope it’s going to be funny.”
It’s hard to write funny on purpose. “I just let it happen … the minute you try to make it funny it goes wrong.”
Kathy’s/Mary Kay’s characters talk to her and she tries to write it down as fast as she can.
She’s only stopping in two places in North Carolina — Raleigh and here.
“I hope folks will get a book and come see me,” she says. “I hope there’s some Cheerwine and Krispy Kreme doughnuts.”