By Tania Carver
It’s Wildcard Tuesday again and here’s another interview by Martyn, the male half of Tania. Edgar-nominated crime novelist Alison Gaylin has long been a favourite writer of mine. Entertainment journalist by day and crime writer by night, she’s writing some of the best PI novels around. We first met at Bouchercon in Baltimore in 2008 when we shared a panel and immediately hit it off. In San Francisco Bouchercon in 2010 we both took the title roles in a reading of Declan Hughes’ play about Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman, ‘I Can’t Get Started’. She was great. If you’ve already read her you’ll know how good she is. If you haven’t, (and why not?) here she is . . .
And She Was, the first in the Brenna Spector series, came out in February. It’s a fantastic book, I loved it and it’s been a thoroughly deserved bestseller too. Can you fill us in on the background to it?
Firstly, thank you Martyn! That means a lot, seeing as I’m a huge fan of both you and your darkly seductive alter ego, Tania Carver. The book’s success has been really satisfying for me, especially since it was such a long time coming. I signed a three-book deal back in 2008 based, not on a manuscript, but an idea for one. The book itself didn’t come out til February of this year. I’m always a big rewriter (is this a word? My spell check says no. Anyway….) I rewrite a lot. But I think I worked harder and did more revising on this book — both in proposal form and the manuscript — than any of my others.
Brenna Spector herself must be one of the most interesting and engaging characters in contemporary crime fiction. She’s also got a very memorable affliction (geddit?). Where did she come from – and what came first, the character or the affliction? Or were both things the same?
The affliction came first. Back in 2007, I saw a magazine article about someone with hyperthymestic syndrome — perfect autobiographical memory. So, as opposed to someone with photographic memory (ie The 39 Steps) this is a person who remembers every day of their entire life in perfect visceral detail, with all five senses. After reading the article, I thought, “Man that sounds awful!” And then, as I often think when I read about something particularly horrifying, “Hmmm… Maybe I can write about it.” The thing that fascinates me the most about this disorder, which is very rare, is not so much the ability to remember — but the inability to forget. What a tragic burden, to carry every mistake you’ve ever made, forever in your mind…
In creating Brenna, I thought about how that disorder would affect not just a detective’s career, but her interpersonal relationships, and I sort of took it from there.
Your background is in journalism, particularly in the entertainment industry. How did you go from that to writing crime novels? And what made you want to write crime novels in particular?
I have my masters in journalism and my undergraduate degree in theater, so writing for entertainment magazines was a career I naturally fell into. But my interest in crime came first. I’ve always loved reading crime books — both true crime and crime fiction. It goes back to what I was saying about liking to write about things I find distasteful. In a way, it’s an opposite form of escape. Instead of going into an idealized world (as you might with a romance novel or a fantasy) you take a trip to the darker side, and then you come back to reality thinking, “Hey, this isn’t so bad.” I love writing crime because you can take very basic human emotions — envy, guilt, the desire for vengeance etc. — and magnify them until they’re terrifying. And hey…. that’s kind of true of writing for celebrity magazines too when I think about it.
And in one of your previous novels, Trashed, the heroine is working for a Hollywood celeb tabloid, using underhand means to get stories and going dumpster diving. Is this autobiographical in any way? (And could you explain what dumpster diving is to those of us who’ve never had to do it for a living?)
Ha! Yes. Outside of the murder stuff, and the fact it’s set in present day, TRASHED is pretty autobiographical I’m embarrassed to say… One of my first jobs out of college was as a reporter for The Star. This was before its current glossy incarnation, when it was a down-and-dirty tabloid whose competition was the National Enquirer. Publicists refused to talk to us, celebs spit on us and slammed doors in our faces. So we had to resort to getting our information in other ways…. Posing as extras on the set of movies or cater waiters at weddings, crashing parties, hanging around the waiting rooms of plastic surgery wards, chatting up bouncers and yes, Dumpster diving… which means sifting through celebrity garbage cans in search of… I have no idea. A story? This was many years ago, Martyn. Anyway, a lot of that real-life experience found its way into TRASHED.
And have you any salacious Hollywood gossip you can pass along? Just between ourselves, obviously.
Hmmm…Oh, I know! What best-selling, darkly seductive female author is really a 6’2″ dude and his wife?
You missed out handsome. Now Lee Child gave what I think is the best description of your work: ‘A perfect blend of ice-cold suspense and warmhearted good humour. I’m not sure how she does it but believe me she does it.’ You seem to be able to combine dark, noirish plots with such a deft light touch without compromising on either. How do you manage it?
Oh thank you so much! I think it’s just the way I look at the world in general. Most of the time, I try to see the goodness in people and the humor in dark situations. It’s a survival tool more than anything else. As for fiction, I think pure darkness loses its impact when it’s portrayed as such. You want to distance yourself, and I’m not big on writing that distances me. If I’m going to be involved and scared and everything else, I have to care.
Is it true you have terrible taste in music?
Absolutely, positively NOT. I have the best taste in music I know. And no, you cannot see my iPod…
I’m not surprised. And finally, what next? More Brenna hopefully.
Yes! I’m finishing up revisions on INTO THE DARK — the sequel to AND SHE WAS, which will be out next February. I also just sold my first YA mystery, REALITY ENDS HERE — about a 14-year-old girl who’s on TV’s longest running reality show along with her six-year-old, sextuplet half-siblings, and whose life takes a dark turn when receives a gift, on camera, from her presumed dead dad. It was sold to PocketStar/ Simon and Schuster and it’s got lots of celebrity stuff and humor and murder in it.
And here’s an action shot of that play reading in San Francisco. I’m the tall one, obviously. Seated: Mark Billingham, Christa Faust, Brett Battles, Megan Abbott and Declan himself.
Thanks Alison, it’s been a blast, as always.
And here’s a link to Alison’s Amazon page. Here.