Allison here: I’ve judged the Thriller Awards nearly every year, and my favorite category is Best First Novel. Why? Because a writer’s first book is usually one of their best. They’ve written it from the heart, because there was no contract, no expectations, no responsibilities. First books are written with passion and love.
Permanent Press is a small publisher who has TWO books nominated for Best First Novel in ITW’s Thriller Awards. I am so pleased to have these two nominees here on my blog today and tomorrow! J.J. Hensley interviews Gwen Florio today … tomorrow catch Gwen’s interview with J.J.! And wish them well … being nominated is certainly an honor (and the competition is stiff!)
J.J.: I’m sure you’ve been asked if your previous career in journalism affects the way you write novels. So let me ask you this: Now that you have started writing fiction, do you think you could go back to writing like a reporter? Why or why not?
Gwen: I could if I had to. They’re such different disciplines, despite the surface similarities. I think I’d probably resent the necessity to “color within the lines” that journalism rightfully demands, rather than taking off on the flights of fancy that fiction allows. And I’d get really mad if somebody said “no comment.” In fiction, everybody comments.
J.J.: In Montana, you do a wonderful job in describing the setting. Do you find that the story influences the way you describe the environment, or at some point does the setting help guide the way the story unfolds?
Gwen: With me, the environment always comes first. That was true even back when I was writing short stories years ago. I pick a place and then try to figure out what kind of story would fit there. In the West, the landscape is so dominant that it demands a key role in the story.
J.J.: I know we are similar in that we both conduct a good deal of research. I read recently that for your second novel – Dakota – you researched exotic dancing. What did that… reveal?
Gwen: It revealed that I needed to drink a couple of shots in my motel room before I worked up the courage to go over to the bar! The bar itself was about as depressing as I’d expected. The surprise came in the fact that it felt mutually exploitive, with the women trying to lure the men into spending ever-increasing amounts of money. The other surprise was that every body type was on display, from near-anorexic to downright zaftig. I’d been in upscale “gentlemen’s clubs” – also for work purposes! – and was struck by the obvious plastic surgery that produced such Barbie-doll sameness. The women in the oil patch were a different lot. But they were pulling down $1,000 a night.
J.J.: Montana has now won an award (Pinckley Prize) and has been nominated for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers organization. While positive reader reviews are great, what does this kind of validation mean to you?
Gwen: That 20 years worth of rejection – along with an occasional short story published in small literary magazines – has been worth it. Honestly, I got so many rejections that I stopped keeping them all. Somewhere along the line I must have gotten better. It’s still hard to believe. The first time I saw myself identified in print as a novelist, I burst into tears.
Gwen: I guess I wish I’d had the maturity to start writing younger. I see some work produced by people in their 20s, and curl up in envy. Me, I’m the ultimate late bloomer. It took years of real life before I felt confident in making stuff up. Journalism, by the way, was really helpful in that it exposed me to so many different situations, and thoroughly grounded me in the research that makes fiction believable.
Do you have a question for Gwen? Ask away!