One of the many delights of Bouchercon
2016 hosted by the City of New Orleans was getting an early read of Alison
Gaylin’s remarkable standalone novel What
Remains of Me. This tale of Hollywood’s dark shadow is being released
shortly in the UK and Ireland [December 1st 2016], and Shots have
copies available here.
Award-winning Alison Gaylin’s ninth novel is a
remarkable slice of Americana and a change of pace with a narrative that is as
hard to put down, as it is exciting.
A standalone thriller
rather than one of her breathless Brenna Spector series novels, we see that
over thirty years ago Kelly [Michelle] Lund shot and killed the renowned film
director John McFadden. Kelly was a teenager at the time, and speculation as to
her motive remains whispered in that Hollywood community, and outside the
Over three decades later,
with Kelly released from incarceration, the controversy continues as another
movie legend, Sterling Marshall is found dead at his home in Hollywood.
Marshall was a friend of the late McFadden, and has a gunshot wound to the
head, just like McFadden. Marshall was Kelly’s father-in-law, so the old
suspicions return about Kelly Lund and her murderous past.
Read the Full Review Here
Though relatively a new name in British Crime Fiction,
she is an award-winning fixture of the American Crime Fiction scene. So while
in New Orleans, we managed to track Alison Gaylin down to record an interview
for Shots readers, as December sees the release of What
Remains of Me in Europe.
AK So as a former journalist, like many
writers did you intentionally turn to journalism as a way of becoming a
novelist, or did the Journalism morph into writing novels?
AG I’d say it is closer to the former, though I feel
that, for me at least, the actual writing process is completely different in
journalism than it is in fiction. In journalism, you’re trying to relay
information in as clear a fashion possible, and in whatever the style is of the
magazine or newspaper you’re writing for. In fiction, you are trying to tell a
story in as exciting and suspenseful a way as possible. And you are doing it,
hopefully, in a style that is unique and true to yourself. I worked
professionally as a journalist for years before ever getting any fiction
published, but I was always writing fiction in my spare time, in workshops or
on my own.
AK So when and where did the interest toward
writing fiction stem from? And what about your childhood? Were books and
reading encouraged in your family?
AG Yes, reading was always encouraged when I was growing
up, and I was an only child with a big imagination and a lot of time on my
hands, so I read and wrote a lot. Fiction has always been a release for me.
I’ve always loved telling stories.
AK And so what were the earliest books you
recall that made an impression on the young Ms Gaylin?
AG First book
that made a really big impression on me was
James and the Giant Peach. Our teacher read it to us in kindergarten and
the story was so vivid I dreamed of it. As I got older, I read a lot of Judy
Blume – pretty much everything she wrote. I also loved I loved SE Hinton’s The Outsiders. The first stories that
genuinely scared me were Edgar Allan Poe’s. Also, since my parents didn’t
monitor my reading very much, I read Helter Skelter when I was 10 years old
(I had thought it was going to be about The Beatles…) That made a huge
impression on me!
AK So after Columbia, with a Degree in
Journalism, how did you end up covering the Arts and Entertainment beat?
AG Well Arts and
Entertainment was always my main interest. I’d studied theatre in college at
Northwestern, where I got my bachelor’s degree. I went to Columbia for graduate
school – I have my Master’s degree in journalism. So the interest in the arts
was there before the interest in journalism. It was always my focus.
AK I guess you are glad you no longer earn
your living by Journalism, as that sector is under huge pressure; so do you
still occasionally pen articles for the Press, be it online or in print? Or do
you keep with your novels only?
AG: I actually do
still work part time at Life & Style magazine as a writer/editor! I’ve
freelanced for other publications as well, so what little journalism work there
is out there, I’m still doing it and making a living at it, together with
AK So tell me how you got your first book HIDE YOUR EYES into print in 2005, and
what was it like to get your debut nominated for an MWA Edgar Award and selling
~ 250,000 copies?
AG I was so thrilled to finally have a novel published.
I’d written a completely different version of HIDE YOUR EYES that hadn’t sold despite getting some very nice
rejection letters, and so I’d read a lot of mystery books and started rewriting
it from page one. That took me around five years. So even though it was the
first book I ever wrote, its publication was a long time coming. It did have a
big print run, which was nerve-wracking, and I was utterly shocked when it was
nominated for an Edgar. It was a paperback original, and I was told it wasn’t
the type of book that got nominated for best first novel. So when it did, it
really came as a huge surprise.
AK So when you introduced Samantha Leiffer did
you consider that she would have ‘legs’ and return in KILL ME AGAIN?
AG I hadn’t
planned on her being a series character when I wrote HIDE YOUR EYES, but when it sold, series books were the way to go.
The publisher asked me if I had ideas for other books in the series, and of
course I said, “Sure, I have a million of
them.” But to be honest, Samantha Leiffer is a pre-school teacher/off-Broadway
box office worker and has a last name that can be pronounced three different
ways. So, while YOU KILL ME was a
logical extension of HIDE YOUR EYES,
with the central crime springing from the fame Samantha achieves from solving
the crime in the first book, I really don’t think she could have lasted as the
main character in a long-running mystery series.
AK Your third Novel TRASHED has the Hollywood Babylon backdrop like your latest WHAT REMAINS OF ME; and I pondered if
they were influenced by your experiences when you covered arts and
entertainment as a journalist?
AG Yes, absolutely! It’s based on one of my first jobs
out of college, which was working as a reporter for Star, which was then a
celebrity tabloid whose main rival was the National Enquirer. Of course, the
book is fiction and takes place during a different time, but the details of
being a celebrity tabloid reporter were taken in part from my own experience.
AK I feel you really hit your stride with AND SHE WAS in 2012, when we were first
introduced to Brenna Spector. I recall being at the PWA Shamus Awards in Albany
[during Bouchercon 2013] when you were awarded a Shamus for Best Paperback Original PI Novel; so tell
us about the origins of Brenna Spector, and did you envision her becoming a
AG Yes, unlike Samantha
Leiffer, I’d envisioned Brenna Spector as a series character from the start.
She’s a private investigator blessed and cursed with Superior Autobiographical
Memory, or hyperthymesia. I first read about the condition in a magazine
article and I was fascinated by it. I thought I would love to write about a
detective with that condition, because, while it might be an asset in her job,
it would be a real liability in her personal life. Imagine not ever being able
to forget anything. She’s the ultimate haunted detective – someone for whom the
past is a constant nagging companion. I got a three-book deal for the series
based on a pitch. I really loved writing those books and hope to come back to
her in the future.
Brenna Spector #2 INTO THE DARK, you
wrote what appears as a departure in stylistic terms REALITY ENDS HERE, so can you tell us how this book came about?
AG REALITY ENDS HERE is a YA book about an unwilling reality star. I
wrote it for my daughter, who was 11 years old at the time and she read it as I
was writing it. It came from my fascination with the kids on that show Jon and
Kate Plus Eight – all of them reality stars before they could even talk, the
cameras a constant presence in their lives. The main character in REALITY ENDS HERE, Estella, is the
older sister of sextuplets. She’s been on a show produced by her mother and
stepfather, called Seven is Heaven, since her younger siblings were born. The
mystery involves her father, who died when she was very young under suspicious
AK Then we have the remarkable third Brenna Spector PI thriller STAY WITH ME, which mines the theme of
memory [and recollection], as well as family; which also thematically is
present in your latest, the remarkable WHAT
REMAINS OF ME; so tell us what fascinates you about Memory, and Family, for
exploration in fiction?
AG I have always loved the
concept of memory and how it can play tricks on us – how two people can
remember the same incident in completely different ways, or the loneliness of
being the only person to remember something. I think that idea, plus the concept
of family – and not knowing those you love as well as you might think – is such
a compelling theme to write about. I like writing about things that scare me,
and while that used to be “outside” things like serial killers, what scares me
more now is more internal.
AK You are often compared to writers such as Harlan Coben, Laura
Lippman, Gillian Flynn, Megan Abbott and Paula
Hawkins. Firstly how do you view these comparisons from the marketing
departments of publishers as well as reviewers, and secondly, do you read the
writers you are compared to?
AG I have read and loved all
of those writers (with the one exception being Hawkins’ GIRL ON THE TRAIN, which is in my TBR pile!) so any comparison with
them is a huge compliment to me. I think it’s fine for marketing departments to
find good comparisons in order to pitch books, but it’s a big mistake as a
writer to take those comparisons too much to heart. What you want to do is be
as true to yourself and to the story you want to tell as possible. It’s why we
write, after all. Nobody should strive to imitate someone else. If I want to
read a Gillian Flynn book, for instance, I’ll read a Gillian Flynn book – not
somebody who is trying to sound exactly like her.
AK So with WHAT REMAINS OF
ME coming to PB in the UK in December, can you tell us the genesis of this
standalone thriller, with the Hollywood backdrop?
AG I’ve always loved
Hollywood crime stories and am obsessed with true crime books. I wanted to
write a novel that felt like a true crime book, about a Hollywood crime. What
inspired me was an actual crime that occurred back in the late 70s/early 80s. I
was reading about it – one character involved in particular – and I thought,
what would I do if that were me? I can’t really say which crime it was or what
I would have done because that would be a spoiler. But I will say that the book
has a lot to do with the power dynamic in Hollywood in the 80s, and what it was
like to be in that world and be young, female and a “nobody.”
it was released earlier in the US, where I picked up a copy during Bouchercon
in New Orleans and enjoyed; so can
you tell us a little about the reception in America?
AG I’m so happy you liked
it, Ali! I’ve been very happy with the reception it’s gotten in America. It’s
gotten some very good reviews, and I’ve heard from a lot of readers who have
told me they “binge-read” it, which is exactly what I would hope for.
Ray Bradbury once said “you need
to read a million words before you can write one good one”, so can you tell us a little about what books you’ve enjoyed recently,
AG I’ve read quite a few
that I’ve loved. YOU WILL KNOW ME by
Megan Abbott was a terrific look at the competitive world of gymnastics, but it
also was an amazing suspense story that really resonated with me as the mother
of a teenage girl. Laura
Lippman’s WILDE LAKE was
wonderful and heart-breaking – a story of family secrets and lies that
literally had me sobbing at the end. Alex Marwood’s THE DARKEST SECRET has the most riveting and fabulously dark cast
of characters, some of whom I loved, others whom I loved to hate, each one
beautifully drawn and real. Lisa Lutz’ THE
PASSENGER was fantastic as well – so very compelling and badass and funny
and sad and great. Also, when you finish the book, you realize it has the most
brilliant title ever. I also loved David Mitchell’s SLADE HOUSE – a haunted house story with great characters, and
possibly the scariest book I’ve read since THE
SHINING and I just started reading THE
LOST GIRL by Tania Carver, whose books I always love. I could go on….
what’s next for Alison Gaylin? And what’s with the A.L. Gaylin name I see in
AG I’m currently working on
another standalone called IF I DIE
TONIGHT. It will be out in the UK next summer, and it’s about a
carjacking/hit and run that takes place in a peaceful Hudson Valley town and
becomes national news, destroying many lives in the process. I’m A. L. in the
UK for my standalones. My new publisher thought it was a good way to
differentiate those books from my series, so people don’t think WHAT REMAINS OF ME is the fourth Brenna
book. My middle name is Lori, so it really is me!
AK Thank you for your time
AG And thanks
for the enthusiasm at Shots
More information about the work of Alison Gaylin is available
from www.alisongaylin.com an d copies
of What Remains of Me are available
from the Shots Magazine Bookstore Here