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Alison Gaylin's first job was as a reporter for a celebrity tabloid, which sparked a lifelong interest in writing about people committing despicable acts. More than a decade later, she wrote and published her Edgar-nominated first novel, Hide Your Eyes. She's since published eight more books, including the USA Today and international bestselling Brenna Spector suspense series, which has been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony and Thriller awards and won the Shamus award. She lives in upstate New York with her husband, daughter, cat and dog.
Below is a Q&A with this author.
1. Where did you grow up, and what was it like?
I grew up in Southern California, in an L.A. suburb called Arcadia. Aside from the Santa Anita racetrack and the palm trees lining the streets, Arcadia was like any suburb anywhere – nothing particularly “Hollywood” about it. I went to a small private school called Polytechnic in nearby Pasadena, which is famous for the Rose Bowl. My dad was a hospital administrator, my mom a medical writer. But she had a strong interest in pop culture, which she imparted on me. We loved driving into Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Century City… those places were about an hour away, but in many ways it was like travelling to another planet.
2. What was your childhood ambition? My ambition was to be a writer one day. My fantasy, on the other hand, was to win the Academy Award.
3. What is your earliest reading memory? I learned to read young – when I was around three years old. I can remember my parents teaching me to read with Dr. Seuss’s alphabet. The first phrase I remember reading is “Aunt Annie’s Alligator.”
4. When did you know you wanted to write?
I wanted to write from a very young age. I am an only child, and when I was upset, happy, anything, I’d get my feelings out in a journal. I loved writing short stories, some of which were dark enough to disturb my teachers a little. I wanted to write right up until high school, when I had a teacher who gave me a “B,” explaining that she only gave As to students who would one day be professional writers. I was young and insecure, and so that was enough to crush my dream. I decided I would act instead and was a theatre major in college, but by the time I graduated, I was in the playwriting program, high school teacher be damned.
5. What are your inspirations?
For structure, I’m in awe of certain TV shows, like Breaking Bad, which plant plot seeds early on and have them pay off in much later seasons. Of course, I’m also inspired by great books, movies and songs that tug at the emotions. For ideas, whenever I read a news story and think, “what if that was me?” I am inspired.
6. How do you prefer to write – by hand, typing?
Typing! I type faster than I write by hand, and I honestly have the worst handwriting ever. I’m embarrassed by it.
7. Do you have any writing rituals?
No, but I kind of wish I did. I usually write in my home office, in silence, but sometimes I like to go out to a coffee place and write there. I tend to write my most imaginative stuff late at night, and do my best editing/revising in the morning. But I don’t burn incense or listen to music or anything like that.
8. What’s the most useful piece of advice about writing you’ve been given?
Write a little every day. Someone once told me that if you write three pages a day, you’ll be done with a book in three months, which is true and makes the whole process feel a lot less daunting. Also, believe in yourself but know that there’s always room for improvement. Writing is great, but rewriting and revising are essential.
9. Who is your favourite fictional character (one you didn’t write) and why?
Mildred Pierce. She’s flawed and strong and tough and vulnerable and fascinating. And she tries very hard to be a good mother.
10. Which fictional location would you most like to visit?
It isn’t fictional, but I’d love to spend time in the San Francisco described by Armistead Maupin in Tales of the City.
11. Not many people know this, but I’m very good at…
Pinball. There aren’t all that many pinball machines around, I know. But trust me on this. I’m good.
12. What is your guilty pleasure?
I really love the Real Housewives shows -- especially New York and Beverly Hills. But to tell the truth, I don’t feel particularly guilty about that! My dream is to someday drink dirty martinis with Dorinda Medley.
13. What do you always carry with you?
My dad’s watch. He passed away in 2002. I used to wear it all the time until it stopped working and now I carry it in my purse. I miss him every day, but somehow it helps to have the watch with me.
14. And finally, what’s the question (and answer to the question) no one has ever asked you but you wish they would?
Drawing a blank on this one! How about: Who are you wearing? (I like questions where the answer comes with an obligatory twirl.)
December 2016 Book of the Month. A clever, thrilling tale full of impact and drama set in the heart of Hollywood. In 1980 17 year old Kelly is convicted of murder, 30 years later and five years after her release, she finds herself once again in the spotlight. Another murder hits the headlines, everyone has already made their decision, but is Kelly guilty or innocent? My attention was snared from the get go, the tale spins between 1980 and 2010, each time change surprising my thoughts as I was so deeply immersed in the story. A. L. Gaylin plays, toys and teases with your reasoning as a number of possibilities open up before you. Kelly is an enigma, other peoples thoughts, reports and articles kept my judgement of her in limbo. There are surprises aplenty, and even when you're expecting them, they are written in such a way, and at such a moment in the story, that they still have the ability to disconcert. ‘What Remains Of Me’ is a riveting corkscrewing rollercoaster of a read, I recommend letting go of reality, throwing your arms up in the air, and just enjoying the ride. ~ Liz Robinson