Friday, May 7, 2010

Gayle Wigglesworth: Mud to Ashes

Gayle Wigglesworth is allowing me to ask her some questions about herself and her books. Gayle, welcome to the hot seat. Please tell us about Gayle.

I became an adult in the 60’s when women still knew their place in the world, but somehow I didn’t. I had read SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL, watched all the Doris Day movies and dreamed of glamour and success. I put a lot of effort into learning to be a banker. I worked hard and I ignored the warnings that said women couldn’t do this or that. Eventually I found myself at a senior management level at the bank. It turned out women could do these things.

When did the writing bug bite, and in what genre(s)?

I am a voracious reader who has always dreamed of being a published author. My first attempt when I moved to San Francisco on a life adventure in the 60’s was a dismal failure. I was living alone in a big city where I knew no one when I started writing my mystery book at night. I ended up frightening myself so badly that I not only gave up writing mysteries, but I stopped reading them for many years. When I started reading mysteries again, I again decided I wanted to write my own. I came up with what I thought was a terrific premise for a series but it wasn’t until I retired from my banking profession that I finally succeeded in getting that first book published.

When you started writing, what goals did you want to accomplish? Is there a message you want readers to grasp?

I wanted to write the kind of book I like to read. That is the kind where good people sometimes get mixed up in bad things and then have to extradite themselves. My mysteries have to be fair to the reader. The clues are in the book. And my characters are not perfect. They make mistakes that sometimes land them in trouble.

Briefly tell us about your latest book. Series or stand-alone? If you have written both, which one do you prefer?

My latest mystery, Mud to Ashes, is a stand-alone. In it my protagonist, Karo Meisner, finds herself in a mid-life crisis. Her daughter has grown up, moved out, and doesn’t really need her any more. Her husband, soon to be her ex, no longer seemed to be the man she married. The dreams she had in her youth had faded so she could hardly remember what they were, and the future was stretching endlessly before her.
Karo wasn’t interested in drinking herself into oblivion, and she couldn’t afford drugs so she decided she would have to remake her life. She moved to a beach town on the California coast to develop her skills as a potter. She would become an artist!

The body her newly adopted dog found in the surf at the beach one day was not part of her plan. Nor was the attitude of some of the potters working at the communal studio she joined. But she was still determined to make it all work for her. Little did she know she was set on a collision course with evil forces that destiny had put in her path. Soon she was going to be catapulted into nationwide notoriety, if she lived long enough.
This novel is a stand-alone mystery which is very different from my previous books which are all part of the Claire Gulliver Series. The advantage in writing a book in a series is the back story, the characters, and the settings are already established. As you write each new adventure the people become more familiar, so they become like family members. You only have to make sure you don’t give away critical information that would spoil a previous adventure for the reader. While in a stand-alone you have to develop all the critical information as you go along. I think a series is easier for the author to write, but a stand alone provides the joy of heading out into unexplored territory.

What’s the hook for Mud to Ashes?
Karo’s dog finds a body in the ocean on the beach near Karo’s home. The woman is unidentified and gives no clue to the police as to who she is. Karo is haunted by this. She can’t understand why someone isn’t looking for the woman. Who is she? Why doesn’t anyone know she’s missing?

How do you determine that all important first sentence?

The most important aspect of that first sentence is to draw the reader into the story and to establish the tone of the book. This doesn’t always happen in the first version. Many times I have to go back to change it, modify it, or even start all over again. What might have seemed perfect when you start the book might not prove to be perfect when you’re half way through with the manuscript. If the tone or the emphasis of the story has changed as you have developed it then you’ll have to change the first sentence.
So don’t let the challenge of creating the perfect first sentence intimidate you and keep you from getting on with your book. Just start and then keep writing. You can hone all your sentences later. That’s why computers have delete keys. Good advice.

How do you develop characters? Setting?

I write pages and pages of character studies on my main characters and the important settings. I want to know who these characters are and what they look like and how they act in different situations and why they act that way. In Mud to Ashes I did an extensive character study on not only the main characters, but on the town of Belle Vista as well. I knew the town so well it’s hard for me to realize it’s only a fictional town. I also drew the plans for the house Karo moved to, and the pottery studio, as they both were the setting for much of the story. I referred to these studies again and again as the story developed to make sure I described the characters and setting correctly.

What are your protagonist’s strengths? Flaws?

My protagonists are ordinary people, the kind you’d like as friends. They make mistakes, and they have to overcome weaknesses which all become part of the story. For instance, in the current book, Karo, has spent years being such a devoted mother that she has forgotten her own dreams, and she has distanced herself from sharing her husband’s dreams to the point that now they are virtual strangers to each other. Yet, when Karo realizes that she is in crisis, she doesn’t wilt and blame others, or turn to drugs or alcohol to mask her pain. No, she takes herself in hand and decides to re invent her life. She is going to find those dreams and make them real.

How do you determine voice in your writing?

I generally write my books in third person as I think it allows the author the maximum flexibility in telling a story, but on occasion I change voices, even in the middle of the book, depending on how I want to present a character. For instance in one book, although the book was written in third person, every section about the villain was written in first person. I decided to do that to help hide the identity of the villain. In some of my books, I write flashbacks in first person to provide more intimacy to that part of the story.

Do you have specific techniques you use to develop the plot and stay on track?

I do not write detailed outlines of the plot, nor develop the syllabus before starting a project. But I do begin with a concept for the plot, protagonist, villain, and the setting already set. I start building the file from those. I develop character studies and descriptions of the settings and start imagining the key scenes. However, I build much of the action as I go, and one chapter or action might send me in a different direction from what I initially imagined.
In my third Claire Gulliver mystery, Claire’s mother, Millie, was only a device to get Claire to Italy for the action, but suddenly she took off on her own story. I ended up writing two mysteries in that one book and I loved it.

How does your environment/upbringing color your writing?

I was the middle child in a large family. That made me a peace maker, a negotiator and a person who fought to be noticed. I continued using those techniques during my career when I felt it was only right that I be paid appropriately and promoted equally as the men I worked with. I think that carries over into my stories. My protagonists are stoic, strong women who are determined to succeed. But like the middle child, they do it by negotiation and strategy, and they try to make peace as they move through life.
My villains are sometimes very dark, but I try to present them in context. I reveal some of the reasons they are the way they are, which doesn’t excuse them in anyway, but at least helps the reader understand them a bit.

Have you started any online networks or blogs to promote yourself and others?

I have had a website since before my first mystery was published, I invite you all to check it out. Additionally, I have a fan page on Facebook, if any of you would like to follow me; I try to keep my fans apprised of significant steps in the process of delivering my books and I share glimpses into the business of writing my books. I do guest blogging and I sometimes blog on my Amazon Author Page.

After hours of intense writing, how do you unwind?

When I’m writing, perched over my computer, fingers flying over the key board, I am just letting out all the information I have been formulating in my mind during the past nights and days pour out. Even when I stop writing, physically, I’m still at in my head. I frequently take an afternoon nap, to quiet my mind and let it sort out all the details. While sometimes I lay awake for hours at night plotting and scheming over parts of a story. I don’t really unwind until the book’s done and usually by then I’m working on another project in addition to the current one.

What are your current projects?

I am completing the final draft of my sixth Claire Gulliver Mystery and I’m well into the first book in a new series, Glenda at Large. I am also planning to reformat all my books in order to publish them on Smashwords so they will be available for a variety of e-readers.

Where can folks learn more about your books and events?

Check out my website, or check out my Author’s Page on Amazon or come to one of the events I’m participating in at . And feel free to contact me and let me know if you like my books and why. I am also happy to add you to my contact list and will notify you when a new book comes out or if I am doing an event in your area.


Pauline B Jones said...

You are always interesting, Gayle! congrats on the new book!

Gayle Wigglesworth said...

Susan, thanks for the interview, as always you do good work and I'm proud to be associated with you.

Vicki Lane said...

Good questions, Susan! Interesting answers, Gayle!

Susan Whitfield said...

Thanks for the kind remarks, gals. I'm proud to be associated with you all too.

jenny milchman said...

I really like this kind of in depth interview, and sometimes they're hard to find...Glad to meet you, and your work!

Annette said...

dog, beach, mystery...sounds like a great read

Betty Gordon said...

Susan and Gayle, a wonderful interview.
I have known Gayle for a good many years and have admired how she created her place in the business and writing world. She offers a voice for women in all aspects of life.

Betty Gordon

Betty Gordon said...

Susan and Gayle, a wonderful interview.
I have known Gayle for a good many years and have admired how she created her place in the business and writing world. She offers a voice for women in all aspects of life.

Betty Gordon

Betty Gordon said...

Susan and Gayle, a wonderful interview.
I have known Gayle for a good many years and have admired how she created her place in the business and writing world. She offers a voice for women in all aspects of life.

Betty Gordon