Sunday, June 8, 2014

11 Questions for Samuel W. Gailey, author of the emotionally-involving crime fiction debut, DEEP WINTER

Samuel W. Gailey was raised in a small town in northeast Pennsylvania (population 379), which serves as the setting for his critically-acclaimed debut novel, DEEP WINTER.  Drawn to rural life and the sometimes deceiving atmosphere therein, Gailey’s first novel and his works in progress are suspenseful mysteries and intriguing studies of human nature.  

Clinton Greaves: Tell me about DEEP WINTER.

Gailey: DEEP WINTER takes place in 1984 in a small Pennsylvania town where a woman is found brutally murdered one winter night. Next to the body is Danny Bedford, a misunderstood man who suffered a tragic brain injury when he was a child. Because of Danny’s limited mental abilities and menacing size, the townspeople have ostracized him out of fear and ignorance. When the sheriff discovers Danny with the body, it’s assumed that Danny’s physical strength finally turned deadly. But the murder is only the first in a series of crimes that viciously upset the town order and sets off an unstoppable chain of violence. With the threat of an approaching blizzard, the sheriff and a state trooper work through the pre-dawn hours to establish some semblance of peace. As they investigate one incident after another, an intricate web of lies is discovered, revealing that not everything in the tight-knit town is quite what it seems.

Clinton Greaves: I was originally drawn to your novel because of Urban Waite’s blurb comparing it to Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Scott Smith’s A Simple Plan. Did that generous description put any undue pressure on you once your book was released?

Gailey: No pressure. Just deep gratitude. I didn’t personally know Urban then, so the fact that he was willing to take the time to read something by an unknown author and give such a great endorsement meant a lot and I believe it helped critics and fans take my novel more seriously. And it also never hurts to be compared to Steinbeck or Scott Smith.

Clinton Greaves: Your writing is very descriptive. I remember early on reading a passage that described the main character, Danny Bedford, as soft and fat like the Michelin Man. The passage went on to also describe his state of mind, his spirit, and left me thinking this writer’s words have heart. I’m wondering how much of your previous experience in film informs your work with novels. Tell us a bit about your evolution from screenwriter to novelist.

Gailey: Working as a screen and television writer, I came away from the experience with some important tools that I carried over to writing my first novel. I had learned the essentials of telling a gripping story: structure, character development, an ear for dialogue, and the importance of creating and maintaining conflict.  Although I enjoyed working on projects in film and television, I much prefer the process of writing a novel.  It’s more of a solitary journey.  In the film world, there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen (agents, producers, executives, and directors), so sometimes the original vision that excites a writer gets watered down a bit and that can be a let down. 

Clinton Greaves: I expressed in a previous interview my belief that some of the best writing in America is happening in genre fiction, crime novels in particular. Within the genre you see authors such as yourself dealing with some hot button social dilemmas. What drew you to the genre? Could you see yourself writing outside of crime fiction?

Gailey: Suspense thrillers and mysteries are the types of books that I read on a daily basis.  I enjoy the escapism in these genres and the sometimes dark, gritty subcultures. I also love stories that deal with redemption and seeking justice, and these genres have plenty of that.

DEEP WINTER and my current works in progress deal with somewhat ordinary individuals that find themselves in extraordinary (read dangerous) circumstances.  I like characters that make mistakes, then have to fight like hell to redeem themselves.

My next few planned books stay in this world, but I have a few stories in my head that don’t necessarily deal with crime and murder. So, I may venture out of crime fiction, but I doubt I’ll ever venture too far from suspense.

Clinton Greaves: I’m always interested in the process of other writers. Going into a book do you let the story come to you? Or are you a careful plotter with file cards and charts and an extensive story “bible”?

Gailey: I usually start with a character that I’m drawn to. And, I’m drawn to damaged characters who are dismissed by society and are put into situations that test their moral compasses.  From there, I create extreme conflict, then I write out a thorough outline of the story.  As I start the actual writing process, I pen the first draft freehand in notebooks.  I really embrace the freedom of writing the first draft in this manner.  Nothing more than a pen and paper, the ink flowing.  And as the writing process progresses, occasionally the characters take a turn I wasn’t fully expecting, and I veer off the outline so that the characters and their stories develop and resolve organically.

Clinton Greaves: I can’t imagine living with another writer. I know that your wife writes in a very different genre than you do, but how much has she helped in your development as a novelist?

Gailey: Ayn is vital to my success as a novelist.  She was the person that originally encouraged me to take a stab at writing a novel.  She saw that I wasn’t completely fulfilled by writing screenplays.  And beyond encouraging me, she helped me find the time and freedom to write DEEP WINTER.  She is my first editor, keeping me on track, pushing me to improve the story rather than be complacent, and she provides constant inspiration and tough love.  When I was ready to give up on finding an agent, she didn’t let me.

Clinton Greaves: I love to read as much as write. Do you have much time for reading yourself? What are some crime fiction books that you think should be on everyone’s bookshelf (or Kindle, Nook, etc.)?

Gailey: To me, reading and writing go hand-in-hand.  To become a better writer, I think it’s vital to read the works of other authors that can hold you captive with their words.  Larry Brown has been, and still is, my biggest influence.  His work (JOE, FATHER & SON, FAYE) isn’t necessarily crime fiction, but the stories and worlds he created are rural tales of intense human conflict and intrigue.  I’m a huge fan of Urban Waite’s THE TERROR OF LIVING, Joe R. Lansdale’s THE THICKET, Charlie Huston’s Henry Thompson series, Russell Banks’ AFFLICTION, and Alice Sebold’s THE LOVELY BONES.

Clinton Greaves: The rise of e-books has certainly changed the industry. It is much easier for a writer to get their work in the hands of readers today than years ago. How do you feel about the current condition of the publishing industry? Encouraged or discouraged? What has your experience been thus far?

Gailey: I’m frankly encouraged.  I believe more people are reading due to digital readers and more authors are getting a chance to break into the industry.  I think the digital devices make it easier for people to read on the go—at the gym, on the train, a lunch break at work.  Some people like myself, still prefer reading a paper book, but in today’s world, giving a reader more options is nothing less than a wonderful thing.

Clinton Greaves: Without giving away too much, I can say that the bloodshed in DEEP WINTER prevents you from revisiting some of these well-drawn characters. What do you have planned next?

Gailey: I’m currently working on a rewrite of my next effort, A MATTER OF TIME.  It’s the story of a young woman who witnessed a horrible accident in her family and how she comes to grips in dealing with the guilt and her complicity in the devastating tragedy.

And, yes there are drugs, stolen money, and a fair share of bloodshed.

Clinton Greaves: What’s one question you wish an interviewer would ask? And go ahead and answer it.

Gailey: Is there anything else you would want to do for a living?  My answer:  A resounding no.  When I’m not writing, I’m cranky and thoroughly unpleasant to be around.  If I am able to keep writing and make a living doing so, then I will be an extremely happy and content man.

Clinton Greaves: Thanks for agreeing to this interview. Any last thoughts?

Gailey: You bet, thank you for taking the time to read my book and share it with other readers out there.  Last thoughts?  To other aspiring authors out there…perseverance and believing in your story will pay off eventually!

Connect with Samuel W. Gailey online:

YouTube Author Channel:
Samuel W. Gailey on YouTube

Barnes & Noble

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