CTG Interviews: Alison Gaylin, author of AND SHE WAS

Author Alison Gaylin

Author Alison Gaylin

I’m delighted to welcome today’s guest – best selling author Alison Gaylin – to the CTG blog. Alison’s kindly agreed to answer a few questions for us.

So, to the interview …

Your fantastic new novel AND SHE WAS came out earlier this month, can you tell us a bit about it?

Sure! It’s the first book in my series that features Brenna Spector – a missing persons investigator with hyperthymestic syndrome (perfect autobiographical memory). In it, Brenna investigates the case of a missing suburban woman — and soon finds ties between her disappearance and a missing child case of ten years ago. The mystery that drives Brenna throughout the first three books in this series is the disappearance of her own sister, which happened when she was just 11. It’s the event that brought on her hyperthymesia (which is a real thing!) and haunts her constantly. And so of course, it plays a strong role in AND SHE WAS.

Your investigator, Brenna Spector, is really compelling protagonist – smart and dedicated to her work as a missing persons investigator, and very human in her struggle to balance the demands of her job while trying to make quality time for her daughter. She also has a rare neurological disorder that lets her recall every detail of every day since it developed. What was your inspiration to create her?

Back in 2007, I read an article about hyperthymestic syndrome. It had just been named a year earlier. And it fascinated and frightened me. I’ve said this before, but it struck me not so much as an ability to remember, but an inability to forget. My own ability to forget unpleasant experiences has been a lifesaver — and to be robbed of that ability would be horrifying. So that was my inspiration. I thought about how a perfect, relentless memory would affect someone like me, how it would affect my relationships. I gave Brenna a daughter because I have a daughter. I thought about what a struggle that would be, trying to be present for your child with the near-constant intrusion of the past in the form of visceral memories. I’m married, but I gave Brenna an ex-husband that she can’t even be in the same room with — not because of the bad memories, but because of the good ones. At the same time, the world is a lot smaller than we think it is, and I figured being someone that literally “never forgets a face” would be an incredible asset for a private investigator.

Much of the book focuses on the residents of Tarry Ridge and the secrets they’ve kept. Is Tarry Ridge a real place or somewhere you created for the story?

Tarry Ridge is a fictional town, but the county that it’s in is real. For people who know Westchester County, New York, Tarry Ridge is White Plains meets Scarsdale on steroids. If you don’t know those places, it’s a very wealthy New York bedroom community with some dark secrets. (The dark secrets wholly fictional!)

AND SHE WAS cover image

AND SHE WAS cover image

How do you set out to write your novels – do you jump right in and see where an idea goes, or do you plot the story out in advance?

A combination of the two. I always have to know where a novel ends up – the key to the mystery. But how I get there is more flexible. So I figure out the basic story ahead of time and then I start writing. After I hit around 100 pages, I start outlining two-three chapters in advance. When I finish, I do a very extensive revision, streamlining and rearranging. I used to make very detailed outlines, but I always wound up diverging from them. This way seems to work better.

When’s your favourite time to write – are you a lark or an owl?

Both! Late night is usually when I write scenes for the first time. I find morning is the best time to edit them, when my head is clear.

What advice would you give to crime writers aspiring to publication?

Be persistent, but don’t be inflexible. If you are getting the same criticism from everyone who rejects your manuscript, and it’s about character or plot (as opposed to “this will never sell.” Or the dreaded, “this isn’t for us”) it’s probably worth listening to. Constructive criticism can be a wonderful thing. Use it to write the best book you can.

And finally, what does 2015 have in store for you?

In the UK, the next book in the Brenna series, INTO THE DARK, will be released. As for me, I am currently working on a standalone novel called WHAT REMAINS OF ME. The main character is a convicted murderer — so she’s very different from Brenna. It will be coming out on HarperCollins in the US.

A huge thank you to Alison Gaylin for letting us quiz her!

You can find out more about Alison and her books over at www.alisongaylin.com and follow her on Twitter @alisongaylin


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