I resisted, since it was going to be a major undertaking. Then I plunged in, and am so glad I did. The book really came together at that point.
Gail Cleare – 2 January 2017
The Back Flap
When Mary Reilly turns up in a hospital hundreds of miles from the senior community where she lives, Nell and Bridget discover their mother has been hiding a second life. She has a lakeside cottage in Vermont and a series of complex relationships with people her daughters have never met. The thread of mystery leads back to the middle of the 20th century, and it knits together all three women, the sacrifices they’ve made and the secrets they carry.
Nell is a carpool mom and corporate trophy wife who yearns for a life of her own. Bridget is a glamorous interior designer who transforms herself for every new man, always attracted to the bad ones. Their mother Mary was an army nurse in the Vietnam War, then married handsome navy pilot Thomas Reilly and lived happily ever after…or did she? Mary’s cottage is the vault for family secrets never suspected, and the gateway to change for her daughters.
About the book
What is the book about?
It’s the story of Nell and Bridget, who discover their mother has been hiding a secret life for over forty years, and how their own lives unravel as they follow the thread of mystery into the past.
When did you start writing the book?
I wrote the first draft in 2011, titled it “Secrets We Keep,” and posted it chapter by chapter on the now-defunct HarperCollins website for authors, Authonomy. The manuscript rose to the top five and won a gold medal. Then it placed as a finalist for a Somerset Award. I submitted to Red Adept Publishing at the urging of two writers who were already published by this North Carolina small press and it was finally accepted in 2015 and retitled The Taste of Air. A year later it was released in ebook. The paperback edition will be released later this fall.
How long did it take you to write it?
Four years, on and off. I wrote most of another book during that time too.
Where did you get the idea from?
The idea came from a dream. I was walking through a cozy living room and knew it was my mother’s house, decorated in her favorite colors and style, but I didn’t recognize any of the furnishings exactly so it was familiar and strange, at the same time. I knew it was her private, secret house. I felt like an intruder. This is the scene in chapter one when Nell first walks into her mother’s secret cottage.
This dream was connected to a real-life event. After my mother’s death, my sister and I found out that the name she’d always used didn’t match the one on her birth certificate. This set me off thinking…did I ever really know her? What was she really like, when she was my age? What did she go through, that she kept a secret from us forever? What if there was a lot more to the story?
Were there any parts of the book where you struggled?
I had a hard time deciding who should tell the story. In my first draft, it was told in the voices of the two sisters, their husbands, and the two neighbors in Vermont. It wasn’t easy to transition from one head to another, and keep track of who knew what. My readers told me they were having trouble feeling close to any of the characters. My women readers said the male points of view and story tangents were actually boring to them. Scott Pack, the Authonomy editor who reviewed the first draft, pointed out that the story lost urgency when it veered off track away from the main mystery about the mother’s second home. Then my publisher Lynn McNamee asked me to rewrite it with just the three women’s voices to tell the tale. I resisted, since it was going to be a major undertaking. Then I plunged in, and am so glad I did. The book really came together at that point. That last draft is the one Lynn accepted.
What came easily?
Once I had decided to tell the story via Mary, the mother, and her daughters Nell and Bridget, I was able to recycle most of the material for the daughters’ chapters, but Mary’s had to be created from scratch. I realized I needed to do historical research and go back in time to when her story started, in the 1960’s when she met the girls’ father. I was on a smooth road from then on, I could see the whole book falling into place. It was a lot of painstaking work, but easy because I had a solid plan and knew it would be successful.
Are your characters entirely fictitious or have you borrowed from real world people you know?
All authors borrow voices, traits and stories from real people we’ve met. It’s how we breathe life into our characters. Every character in my story is a mash-up of at least two (probably more) real world people, with a hefty dose of pure fiction mixed in. The real qualities combine in some strange, mysterious way via the filter of my imagination, and frankly I don’t know how this works. My creative mind goes on autopilot, cooking up a stew of ideas, and the rational me watches and takes notes. The resulting characters really take on lives of their own, at that point. Each one becomes an archetype, with a role to play in the drama that I’m watching unfold. My friends and family will probably see or hear a bit of themselves from time to time, some more than others, but the characters are definitely fictional.
We all know how important it is for writers to read. Are there any particular authors that have influenced how you write and, if so, how have they influenced you?
My favorite author is Alice Hoffman, in terms of the most creative ideas, wonderful touches of magic, and most beautiful prose. She is The Master, for me. I love the work of Susan Wiggs for the way she pulls emotions out of the reader. Luanne Rice’s stories have always captivated me as well, and are probably the reason I write about sisterhood so often. Elizabeth Strout, Sarah Jio, Susannah Kearsley, and Sarah Addison Allen are a few more. It’s a long list!
Do you have a target reader?
This book is about adult women with adult problems, who work together to figure it out. Readers in their twenties and up would enjoy the story, which involves the three women at various ages.
Do you have a writing process? If so can you please describe it?
I use a combo of planning/outlining and the seat-of-the-pants method. First I get a good idea of where the story starts and where it ends, then I plan out the important moment between and get a rough chapter by chapter outline. When I start writing, the whole thing may change if my creative autopilot takes control and something unforeseen pops into the plan. I like to work first thing in the morning, before checking email, when my mind is still dreamy.
Do you outline? If so, do you do so extensively or just chapter headings and a couple of sentences?
Do you edit as you go or wait until you’ve finished?
Do you listen to music while you write? If yes, what gets the fingers tapping?
No, it’s too distracting for me because I love music so much. I start to sing along and then it’s hopeless. Oddly enough, I do write well with the tv or radio news on quietly in the background. Something about the sound of voices talking helps me focus, though I’m not really paying attention to what they say. It’s weird.
Did you submit your work to Agents?
I submitted this manuscript to at least a hundred agents, at various points in its evolution. Several seemed interested and read it, but nobody offered. The agents all seemed somewhat uncomfortable with a women’s fiction story, and more interested in commercial genres like category romance or mysteries.
What made you decide to go Indie, whether self-publishing or with an indie publisher? Was it a particular event or a gradual process?
Eventually I tried direct submission to my publisher, Red Adept. I have two author friends who are with the same company and they were very enthusiastic (one is Kate Moretti whose book Thought I Knew You became a NY Times bestseller), so I took the plunge.
Did you get your book cover professionally done or did you do it yourself?
It was handled by the publisher, as was a content edit, line edit, several proofreads and formatting. They do a terrific job at Red Adept.
Do you have a marketing plan for the book or are you just winging it?
I’m following the marketing plan laid out by the publisher, who has had excellent success at this kind of thing even though the company is just six years old. They have two NY Times bestsellers, and everyone keeps in touch via a private Facebook group where the authors and staff share tips and info. The support is terrific. RAP kicks in for some nice advertising, too. It’s very much a teamwork situation.
Any advice that you would like to give to other newbies considering becoming Indie authors?
If querying agents is getting you nowhere, don’t despair because you are not alone. It’s incredibly competitive these days, and agents are elusive. If you’re confident in your book and want to be sure it gets read by an acquisitions editor, try direct submission to a small press. You’ll be signing on to do a lot of the hard work yourself, like emailing a zillion book bloggers to ask them to read and review your book, but you’ll receive a much higher percentage of the profits than you would from a large traditional publisher.
The Kindle Scout contest is also a good way to break into the book business without an agent. Lots of authors workshop their books on WriteOn.com, then enter the Scout contest with a nice following already in hand. People vote for the manuscripts they like, and at the end of the month Amazon’s Kindle Press editors choose from among the best to publish.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Iowa but grew up in New Jersey and moved to Massachusetts when I entered Mount Holyoke College. I graduated, worked as an editor at UMass, met my husband and never left. I am a New Englander now and love it here.
What would you like readers to know about you?
Gail Cleare has written for newspapers, magazines, Fortune 50 companies and AOL. Her award-winning ad agency represented the creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. She was the turtle Leonardo’s date for the world premiere of the second TMNT movie, and got to wear a black evening gown and sparkly shoes.
Gail lives on an 18th century farm in Massachusetts with her family and dogs, cats, chickens, black bears, blue herons, rushing streams and wide, windy skies. She’s into organic gardening and nature photography, and can often be found stalking wild creatures with a 300 mm lens.
What are you working on now?
My work in progress is a lighthearted contemporary romance called Love & Chocolate, a romance with recipes. I’m workshopping it on WriteOn and you can read an excerpt there if you like. It’s nearly finished, and then I’ll be at work on the sequel to The Taste of Air.
End of Interview: