An Interview with Stephanie Gayle, Author of Idyll Threats

idyllthreatsStephanie Gayle is the author of the mystery Idyll Threats (Seventh Street Books – September 8th, 2015). Her first novel, My Summer of Southern Discomfort, was one of Redbook magazine’s Top Ten Summer Reads, and her short fiction and non-fiction have appeared in Kenyon Review Online, The Potomac Review, Punchnel‘s, and several other publications. She has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Ms. Gayle is also the co-founder of the popular Boston reading series Craft on Draft.

Dead Darlings was delighted to talk to Stephanie about her new novel, the first in a mystery series featuring Thomas Lynch, a closeted gay police chief working in a small town. Author Stephen McCauley described Idyll Threats as “A fascinating mystery-and a believable, complicated hero.”

Stephanie Gayle will be reading from Idyll Threats at Porter Square Books on Thursday, September 17, 2015, 7:00 PM.

What inspired the story of Idyll Threats?

Thomas Lynch’s voice. It makes me sound insane, but I often “hear” a character’s voice first in my head, and that drives the book. I followed Thomas’s voice. That is not to say the story emerged, fully fleshed out. (How I wish that were true.) But his coppish, clever, and jaded perspective is what started the whole project.

Idyll Threats isn’t your first novel, but it is your first mystery. Did writing My Summer of Southern Discomfort prepare you to write in this different genre?

Actually, the very first book I wrote was a mystery. That’s using the term “book” and “mystery” loosely. I wrote it during my junior year at Smith College. I even shopped it around to a few publishing houses after college. Wisely, they rejected the manuscript. Writing My Summer of Southern Discomfort taught me how to write a good book. That was good preparation for writing Idyll Threats.

Do you have anything you want to say about the idea of “genre” vs. just fiction?

How much time do you have?

I find “genre” useful only in terms of quickly defining content. But it’s a loaded term that for many implies inferiority. I don’t hold with that prejudice. In terms of finding audience and community, writing in the genre of mysteries has proven fantastic. There are many conferences aimed at mystery writers and several awards that are mystery specific. If you write non-genre fiction it can be harder to find these things.

Did you approach writing Idyll Threats differently? Did you have to outline to make sure all the plot clues were laid out? Do you usually work from an outline?

Hold on a second. I think I just punctured a lung laughing. Whew! Outlining might’ve worked if I’d had any idea who the culprit was in Idyll Threats. I did not. I wrote it in much the same fumbling, beginning-to-end way, I wrote my first novel. I then had to revise and backfill in clues. I have written outlines. But I inevitably veer from them. With the book I’m currently writing I know who the bad guy is, but I still suspect I’ll end up inserting many of the clues in later drafts.

How was the publishing process the 2nd time around? Was it easier? Different?

It was different, and, in small ways, easier. I had some knowledge of how things worked. The social media landscape has increased, and that wasn’t the case when my first book was published. I think I also deliberately forgot how fatiguing it is towards the end when you’re checking the copy edits. You’ve seen the same sentences for what feels like a thousand times.

When did you realize that you wanted to continue writing about Thomas Lynch in a series?

I think it was after I finished Idyll Threats and found I was still interested in him. I hadn’t felt that before. I thought, “I wonder what happens next?” and then I thought, “I could write that!”

Lynch has such a wonderful, laconic voice, both externally and internally. What inspired his character?

As I mentioned, his voice was the inspiration for his character. But when I really began writing him I wanted him to be distinct, different from other police detectives I’d encountered. It became clear he was the blue-collar sheep in a family of academics, that he has strong opinions about justice. He’s also gay, and that colors a lot of his perspective.

What was the most fun (or the most weird or the worst or all of the above) thing you did to research the novel?

Great question. When I was younger, I wanted to become a defense attorney, and although that’s no longer true I still enjoy researching all the legal details involved in a mystery. I’m also interested in the forensics. I spent a lot of time learning about autopsies, from start to finish. If anyone got hold of my computer’s browser history I’d probably be taken for a murdering sociopath. But I’m not.

You are the co-founder of the Boston reading series Craft on Draft. Could you tell us about the series and how it came about?

The alumni of GrubStreet’s Novel Incubator program wanted to create a reading series, in part to highlight alum’s novels. My favorite parts of readings have always been when authors tell stories about how they work or how their book came into being. I like seeing the “deleted scenes” and learning what went into the whole process from manuscript to novel. So I determined early on I wanted a series where three authors discussed one element of craft and talked about how that element worked and was refined in their novel. Sometimes authors read earlier versions of a scene and then the final version. Seeing the evolution of work is revealing and inspiring.

You worked full-time while writing this novel. Could you talk about how you balance your creative life with your work life? Does one influence the other?

Balance implies equality. Sadly, there isn’t. I work 8-5 each day, Monday through Friday. On a very good week I write a quarter of that time. I write after work and on weekends. I describe my job as training staff and doing basic math for a professor too smart to do basic math. The content of my job doesn’t directly feed my novels, but the daily interactions do. Office jobs have politics, lingo, and daily rituals and though this isn’t replicated exactly in my books I find that these types of details are transferable.

You asked an author this question recently in an interview, and now I’m going to ask you– Imagine I asked you a really great question you’re dying to answer. What’s the question? What’s the answer?

What character are you most like in the book?

Mrs. Dusnmore. She’s behind the scenes, she has information on everyone, and she isn’t afraid to challenge people.

Stephanie Gayle will be reading and discussing setting with Dead Darlings contributor Patty Park and recent guest contributor Anjali Mitter Duva at the next Craft on Draft event on October 6.

For more information on Stephanie Gayle, including future book event dates, please check out her website.

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