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Interview with Alison Gaylin 2016

Alison Gaylin  promo image

Alison Gaylin’s second superb second Brenna Spector novel, Into The Dark, has recently been published by Sphere. Here Alison explains to Chris High what went into writing the novel and – amongst other things – which fictional criminal she would like Brenna to pursue.

Brenna is a complex mix of confidence and insecurity. How do you manage to blend these aspects of her psyche together, whilst maintaining the relentless pace that you have created?

Thank you so much, Chris. What a nice thing to say. When I first came up with the character, I knew she’d be a real challenge to write. Due to her hyperthymesia, Brenna is literally haunted by the past, and I didn’t want that conveniently forgotten when it didn’t suit the plot. But at the same time, the Brenna books are also plot-driven. With all three of them – Stay With Me, the third book, is out in the US now – I did a lot of cutting and rewriting in order to find that balance. My first drafts tend to be horrible. Into The Dark’s first draft could be blackmail material.

Trent is certainly a one off character. How much did he evolve from their being a need to have such an exuberant character from which Brenna can bounce and is there anybody in particular that he’s based on?

Trent is a lot of fun to write and yes, I did want Brenna’s relationship with her assistant to balance the many complicated relationships in her life. It’s really a nice friendship, I think, as much as he annoys her. Trent isn’t based on a specific person I know, but more on a lot of young guys I’ve seen and overheard in New York and New Jersey.

Into The Dark is concerned with the exploitation of dreams via the internet in many ways. How much research did you undertake to get the details right?

I’ve long been fascinated by internet celebrities – there’s something so strange and intimate about that type of fame. In a way, they’re the opposite of the larger-than-life matinee idols of the past – they “live” on our personal devices. I’ve read up on webcam girls as well, but I didn’t want Lula Belle to be a typical webcam girl. I wanted to her to be doing something that appealed to voyeuristic tendencies on a different level. She’s naked but more importantly she also bares her soul, lets you into her thoughts... Confessing “secrets” seemed more shocking to me in a way than just someone doing porn. It’s so much more personal and seemingly vulnerable.  I thought that was an idea worth exploring, so I made up that character. 

Brenna has perfect memory, which is both a blessing and a curse. What do use to keep your memories alive and how does this help your writing?

I used to keep journals, but to be honest, I haven’t for a while. I do have a pretty good memory, though, and for me, music is an especially good trigger. Playing a song that was popular when I was in high school, for instance, will take me back to that time and enable me to write more credibly from that point of view. 

Of all the great detectives and heroes in crime fiction, who would you most like to team Brenna Spector up with and why?

I think it would be interesting to see her team up with Val McDermid’s Tony Hill. He’s such a complicated character with a unique skill. And like Brenna, his brain sometimes gets the best of him. I think they’d either solve a case in record time or drive each other insane. Or both.

Similarly, which fictional baddie would you most like her to hunt down and why?

Since her specialty is missing persons — and because I know the situation would hit home for her as a mom — I’d like her to hunt down Humbert Humbert and save Lolita. He’s also severely in need of a reality check, and who better to provide that than a person with perfect memory?

Which is the novel/s which gave you the ‘I want to write books’ bug and what was it about it / them that lit that particular creative fire?

As a kid I loved Judy Blume’s books. But the book that made me want to become a writer myself was definitely SE Hinton’s The Outsiders. I fell in love with those characters – they became real for me. My first literary crush was Darry, in fact. I know most girls liked Soda or Ponyboy, but not me. And when I found out that she had only been 16 years old when she wrote it, it made me want to be a writer myself.

You have been nominated for both the Edgar and the Anthony awards. In what ways do awards help writers?

In a couple of ways: They’re validation, which, for an insecure writer, is invaluable. Also, they get your name out there, they make your publisher happy – and the ceremony is a great excuse to buy a new cocktail dress.

With the Costa Award this year going to The Loney, a horror story, do you think that some of the elitism that some say exists between genres and styles is fading?

I’d like to think so! There are masterpieces and flops within every category of book.  Genre is really just a way to determine which shelf a book goes on in the bookstore, and I do think more people are coming around to realizing this.

What is your writing routine?

I work at a magazine three days a week and for a large part of the year, I also teach one night a week, so between my jobs and family stuff, I write whenever I can, wherever I can.  I’ve done a lot of writing on trains and busses, so carsickness is an occupational hazard. Ideally, I like to do revisions and polishes in the morning and new scenes at night, but by necessity I’m flexible.

Brenna and Trent would be a fantastic TV pairing. Who would you most like to see play their roles?

I’m so glad you think so! I think Rashida Jones would be an amazing Brenna, as she’s got the depth and strength but also the sense of humour.  Trent is a little tougher to “cast”. Most people picture one of the guys from Jersey Shore but I don’t think they can act. My daughter thinks Adam Levine should play him, which is pretty good casting actually!

Into the DarkWhat’s next?

As I said earlier, the third book in the Brenna Spector series, Stay With Me, is out in the states and I have another book, a standalone called What Remains of Me, that comes out in the US at the end of February.  I’m currently at work on another standalone then I’ll probably go back and see what Brenna’s been up to.

Chris’s review of Into The Dark is available here.


If you would like to comment on this interview with Alison Gaylin in 2016, please feel free to contact me - GUESTBOOK

“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit.” - Chris High 2003.
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