My guest today is Gail Lukasik. Gail is the author of the Leigh Girard mystery series, which is set in the resort community of
. Kirkus Reviews described Death’s Door, the second book in the series, “as fast-paced and literate, with a strong protagonist and a puzzle that keeps you guessing.” Her debut stand-alone mystery, The Lost Artist (Five Star/Cengage, June 2012) received praise from Publishers Weekly who said, “Rose’s present-day sleuthing and the intertwined tale of the original homeowners command our interest until the final page.” Before settling on writing mysteries, she was a ballerina for the Cleveland Civic Ballet and a published poet. Her books are available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Door County, Wisconsin
Anne – Welcome, Gail. It’s always a pleasure to chat with a fellow author. Do you have a fear, phobia, or habit you’d rather no one knew about?
Gail - I’m not sure if this is a habit or a guilty pleasure that became a habit. But I’m addicted to several of the real housewives shows. And before you stop reading, please let me explain why.
My favorite is the
housewives, followed closely by New York and Orange County . These shows are like the soaps on steroids. I’m aware that the shows are heavily edited and sometimes the “drama” plays to the audience. But from a writer’s point of view, it’s interesting to see how the story lines are strung together, how the characters interact, and how the conflicts are developed. The settings are lavish, the clothes expensive, sometimes outrageous, and there’s always someone delightful to hate and/or love, which can change from show to show, season to season. Beverly Hills
Anne - Of all the characters you’ve created, does one hold a special place in your heart? Why?
Gail - The character that holds a special place in my heart is Emily Lord Braun, a nineteenth-century woman who was stymied by the times she lived in. I created her for my latest book, The Lost Artist, which will be released June 2012.
The book is about the hunt for one of the greatest lost art treasure of sixteenth-century
. And the secret to finding this lost treasure is hidden under about one-hundred-and-seventy-five years of wallpaper and paint in an old southern America farmhouse. Illinois
Without giving away more of the plot, I can’t tell you what Emily’s connection is to this lost art treasure. But I identified with her struggles to be her own person and not to conform to what family and society chose for her.
To be clear, Emily’s story is the underpinning to the main plot of The Lost Artist, which centers on Rose Caffrey, an edgy
performance artist, who hunts for this lost art treasure. Chicago
Anne - What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about yourself from writing?
Gail - The most surprising thing I learned about myself is how my writing process changed when I switched from writing poetry to writing mysteries. (Though on occasion I do still write poetry.)
I began my writing career as a poet and wrote poetry exclusively for many years. My writing process was often mysterious. Meaning that a poem, more times than not, would just come to me, sometimes a whole poem, sometimes a line or two. I remember walking from Union Station to my teaching job at the
at University of Illinois and a poem started coming. It was so urgent and exciting, I had to stop walking, write a line, walk, stop again, and write another line. By the time I reached my office on campus, I’d written an entire poem. Of course, I honed that poem. But its essence was there. Chicago
When I started writing mystery novels, my process radically changed. Because I was working with a larger canvas with many moving parts over a year ‘s time, often longer, I had to approach my writing more like a job. From writing the first novel, Destroying Angels, I learned my best strategy was to be at the computer everyday no later than , if possible.
Now when I’m writing a mystery, I work a five-day week, with weekends off to recharge though I’m usually mulling over something subconsciously. Then I’m back at the book on Monday. This method keeps the plotline and characters present in my mind. I learned that if I take more than a weekend off, it’s almost like starting all over.
This doesn’t mean I’m not inspired. I am. Currently I’m writing the third book in the Leigh Girard series, Peak Season for Murder, and about mid-book a character showed up on the page that I’d given a very minor part to early in the book. But there he was mid-book taking center stage. I’m enjoying him so much I might bring him back for the fourth and last book in the series.
Anne - Tell us about the defining moment when you felt as if you’d finally made it as an author.
Gail - My defining moment came when Kirkus Reviews described the first book in my Leigh Girard mystery series as “A riveting debut novel. Plan on an all-nighter.” It took me ten years and two publishers before Destroying Angels was published. When my first publisher went out of business just prior to publishing Destroying Angels, after eight years of rejections, I was ready to quit. My husband encouraged me to continue writing and sending the book out. Two years later I landed a publisher. When my publisher emailed me the Kirkus review I sat in front of my computer with tears streaming down my face. Finally all my hard work and persistence has been rewarded.
Anne - Any words of advice for struggling, unpublished writers?
Gail - My best advice to struggling writers is—write the book you’re meant to write, don’t follow trends, or try to guess the market. Also read deeply and broadly in your genre, and above all never give up. Persistence and talent with a little luck thrown in are the keys to a flourishing writing career. There are overnight successes. But those are the exceptions that prove the rule. The need to write has to be an overriding passion. That’s what keeps you going when the rejections pile up. It’s a tough business but if you write what you love, in the long run it’ll be very satisfying for you.
Anne - Did you find any differences between writing a series and writing a stand-alone mystery? If so, what were they?
Gail - The main differences were in terms of characterizations and setting. Because a series has continuing characters, which I’m already familiar with, it’s a matter of staying true to those characters while having them grow.
In my stand-alone I had a difficult time creating the main protagonist. All I knew was she had to be an artist capable of interpreting the four murals. I tried out various types of artists from painters to photographers. Finally I settled on a performance artist because after researching different performance artists, I thought their edginess suited this protagonist’s journey. And that’s how Rose Caffrey was created. She’s a character who’s not afraid of taking chances.
In a series the setting pretty much stays the same. My Leigh Girard series is set in the resort area of
. It’s a contained setting, though in Death’s Door and Peak Season for Murder, Leigh ventures to Door County, Wisconsin and Chicago respectively as part of her investigations. The Lost Artist has multiple settings, such as Milwaukee ; Anna, Illinois ; Chicago ; and Boston . I had to familiarize myself with each of these places in order to give a realistic rendering. Gatlinburg, Tennessee
Anne – Would you share an excerpt of The Lost Artist with us?
Gail – Of course!
The empty grave changed everything.
She stood on the porch, watching the car’s taillights disappear down the gravel road, until only darkness and thunder remained, and the old house looming over her with intent.
She could smell the rain coming, feel the electricity sizzle the night air.
Rain; it had begun with rain—insistent, unrelenting, washing away the soil, loosening the old oak roots, exposing the empty grave.
The local press would be all over the story, all over her, all over her house. She could see the front-page headline: “Early settler’s body missing from grave.” Below it, a grainy photo of her house. And the tag line: “The 1836 Braun house still stands in
. Professor Karen Caffrey is the house’s present owner.” Anna, Illinois
But there was no way anyone could tie her to the theft. She’d been too careful.
Suddenly a scissor of heat lightning illuminated the landscape, and a dark figure appeared at the edge of the woods near the house. He was back.
“Sick, sick, sick,” she said, digging in her skirt pocket, yanking out her cell phone. She held it up in his direction so he could see it. Then she flipped it open. “I’m calling the sheriff,” she shouted. Even as she said it, she knew it was an idle threat.
The restraining order said “one hundred feet.” The woods were more than two hundred feet from the house. Besides, the police were the last thing she wanted now.
The phone rang off to message and she heard her sister’s voice, then the beep. She must have mistakenly hit Rose’s number. With her eyes still riveted on him, she finished the charade, then put the phone back in her pocket. Slowly he disappeared into the woods, until all she could see were the trees swaying in some silent dance only they knew.
Anne – Suspense and mystery all in one. Loved it! Final question. Where can readers find you online?
Anne – Thanks for dropping by today, Gail. I can’t wait for the release of The Lost Artist. J
Readers, to ensure you receive future Anne K. Albert posts, interviews or giveaways, why not become a follower on either GFC (Google Friend Connection) or NetworkedBlogs? It’s as easy as a click of the mouse. Thank you, and as always, happy reading!
* * *