On the first Friday of August 2015, we are having breakfast with Mystery Author Gayle Carline. Gayle began life as a software engineer until she chewed her way out of the cubicle to become a storyteller. In addition to writing a humor column for her local Orange County newspaper, she is the author of the fun and entertaining Peri Minneopa Mysteries, including Freezer Burn, Hit or Missus, The Hot Mess, and Clean Sweep, featuring a housecleaner-turned-detective living in the OC.
For this August breakfast, I’m having bakery granola with a brown turkey fig from my garden, a tbsp of chia seeds, and coconut milk. Gayle, what are you having?
I love virtual breakfasts, because it means I can go anywhere and eat anything and not gain an ounce!
I’m in Morro Bay (virtually), at the Hungry Fisherman restaurant, having their Fisherman’s Benedict – eggs benedict with crab, along with some crispy hash browns for crunch. I need a glass of orange juice to cut the richness with some tang, and depending upon how late I stayed up last night, I’ll either have coffee (intravenously if I’ve been up THAT late), or tea (Earl Grey, hot, just like Jean-Luc Picard). BTW, I like my coffee black, like I like my men.
Afterwards, a nice long walk along the Embarcadero, and maybe rent a kayak to toodle around the bay.
(excuse me, I’ll be right back, need to make some reservations for a vacation…)
Is Jean-Luc with you now? Because if he is, I’m heading over there. Focus, Michelle. Gayle, tell us about your writing process from concept to draft to revision.
For Freezer Burn, I was terrified that I would leave a lot of strings untied, clues hanging, and mystery flaws in general (e.g. the wrong character finds the clue, the clue is stupid, I give it a Scooby-Doo, deus ex machina ending). So I created an Excel spreadsheet with each chapter, who is in it, what is discovered, what day, etc. After I finished the novel, I thought that was my process.
I’ve now evolved into 1) Finding a theme I want to explore, 2) Assembling my cast of characters (I spend a lot of time here, getting to know them all), 3) Building a very generic structure of key touchpoints, then 4) diving into the writing. As I write, I keep a spreadsheet of what happened in each chapter, whose POV, what day it’s happening, who is in the scene. If I see that my generic structure is shifting, it’s okay. I can modify it to make sure I can still get to “The End” without Scooby-Doo.
Once it’s finished, I close the file and wait at least two weeks to go back and revise. I’m insane about revisions. I do several types of revising before I turn it over to beta readers and my editor.
Huh. Interesting that you use a spreadsheet to track your chapters. I’ll think about that while you tell us about the Peri Minneopa books. Why this series, why now?
When I decided to try writing a mystery, I wanted a character who was closer to me in age. I’ve read plenty of mysteries starring lovely young women who make some of the stupidest choices. I love ‘em, but I want to scream “What are you thinking?!?” I figured a 50-year-old has survived all those stupid choices, maybe thinks she’s got this thing called Life solved. And in each story, she learns something about herself, that age only filters the big chunks of stupid. The little bits fall through and catch her unaware.
Each one of the books explores a theme, an idea Peri thinks she’s resolved, but of course it comes at her from a different angle this time. While she wrestles with this issue, she also has to solve a case, one with overtones that echo her problem.
For FREEZER BURN, it was about motherhood, something Peri had decided was not for her. She thinks she might be pregnant—she’s so terrified by the prospect, she’s avoiding taking a pregnancy test because as long as she doesn’t know, she’s not pregnant. Call it the Schrodinger’s Cat for Pregnancy.
HIT OR MISSUS deals with Peri’s body image. She’s getting older and suddenly doesn’t know how she’s supposed to look at her age. Having to tail a very beautiful, rich woman and her equally gorgeous friends further erodes her sense of fashion and age-appropriateness, and she has to decide whether she is going to let herself be defined by her looks.
Then in THE HOT MESS, it’s all about family secrets. Peri is investigating a house fire and finding skeletons in everyone’s closet, while she also searches for her estranged brother, and wonders how some families remain close and others drift away.
By the way, CLEAN SWEEP is a short story about Peri’s first, unofficial “case”, when she was still a housecleaner. I’m hoping to write more Peri short stories in the future.
Let me top off your hazelnut coffee, Gayle. What did you find fun/intriguing about writing FREEZER BURN and what was difficult?
This was my first novel, so it was all scary but fun and intriguing. One of the surprises was that I couldn’t “make” my characters do things. I had created them to have likes, dislikes, beliefs, moral boundaries, etc. When I tried to force them into something they wouldn’t do or say, the writing sucked. But I loved writing these people, especially Benny Needles, Peri’s client.
As far as difficult, the middle of the book was the hardest to write. Still is.
Tell us about your next project and when it may be published.
Oh, I have so much in the queue! Where to start… well, first, I’m almost finished with the rough draft of the 4th Peri book. The working title is MARRIED TO DEATH, but I might come up with something different. I’m loving it a lot, but before I finish it, I decided to do something a little different.
I write a weekly column for my very local newspaper and this year is my 10-year anniversary with them. I’ve already got two books of columns out (WHAT WOULD ERMA DO, and ARE YOU THERE, ERMA? IT’S ME, GAYLE), but I decided to put out THREE new books of columns as a big sloppy kiss for my hometown and my readers. One of the books is about my family and home life – RAISING THE PERFECT FAMILY AND OTHER TALL TALES. The second contains columns that are all about my hometown of Placentia, California – YOU’RE FROM WHERE? And the third is a collection of holiday columns – HOLLY JOLLY HOLIDAYS. These three will be launched on October 10, 2015 at the Placentia Heritage Festival. There will be fun, food, and prizes!
Oh, and after Peri’s in the revision process, I have plans to write a fantasy about a girl pirate. Argh, Matey!
Somewhere in there, I also need to write a sequel to my romantic suspense, MURDER ON THE HOOF. The romance portion revolves around a love triangle between three perfectly nice people. By the end of the book, the triangle is paired down to a duo, so I need to write at least one more story to give the losing suitor his HAE (Happily Ever After).
I’m also toying with some stories from my horse, Snoopy. He wrote his memoir, FROM THE HORSE’S MOUTH: ONE LUCKY MEMOIR, about being a show horse and having to change his goals when he suffered a traumatic injury. I’d love to do an illustrated children’s book (or series of books) about his escapades.
As you can see, there are a lot of ideas in the queue. I only wish I could write faster!
I have several of Gayle’s mysteries and highly recommend them. I plan to get YOU’RE FROM WHERE? next. Waiting on tenterhooks for its release.
Thank you for visiting with us, Gayle. Your next projects intrigue me (pirates? really?). Let me pour us all another virtual cup of black coffee before you rush off to Amazon for FREEZER BURN or MURDER ON THE HOOF.
Learn more about Gayle Caline at: