Please welcome Lois Gilbert, author of the stunning new suspense novel, Returning To Taos!
Other titles by Lois Gilbert:
Returning to Taos by Lois Gilbert
Publisher: Five Star (ME) ISBN: 1594144370
Over-awed by grief, Elena Waters returns to her one-time home of Taos, New Mexico upon hearing of her son Johnny's untimely death when he's found murdered and left abandoned on the side of the Rio Gorge Bridge. Johnny, who had finally found some fame in the big time world of rock and roll, was much too young to die at a mere 22 years of age, and El can think of no one who would commit such an atrocious act, yet is even more dubious of the detective's version of a random act of violence. But as the two had been somewhat estranged since he left home at sixteen to return to Taos to live with his father Tom, El knows little about his life and even less about the enemies he might have made along the way.
Since his return to Taos, Johnny had moved in with El's long time best friend Maggie and Maggie's husband Jack, both big time record producers and the ones responsible for Johnny's rise to fame. But as El begins to investigate on her own, she senses that there are many secrets that those she thought she knew are holding. And when Johnny begins to speak to her in unsettling visions warning her to back off from her dangerous inquiries, visions that all too soon come to fruition, El only intensifies her search for the truth, a search that will eventually lead her to doubt all she thought she knew and loved.
Sometimes amongst the throng of everyday entertaining releases in this genre, it's possible to find an outstanding original gem, one that rises above mere entertainment with such clarity and vision that it's truly awe-inspiring. This is one of those times. This beautifully poignant and suspenseful book is nothing short of an act of grace in its scope and ability to enthrall and to evoke several emotions at once. Lyrical writing, true-to-life characterizations, a heartrending exploration of grief, and a mystery worth its weight in gold, all backlit by the vividly and beautifully detailed environs that make up this part of the country, combine for one of the best reads possible. So whatever you do, don't miss this one, its originality and many strengths will amaze.
Please welcome Lois Gilbert, New Mystery Reader's featured author for April. Now and again we're lucky enough to stumble across an amazing author we're unfamiliar with, one whose impact and originality far surpasses those we've come to recognize as household names, and as sometime these special authors can get lost in that crowd, we feel a certain duty to help get the word out. So join us in getting to know a little bit about this creative and inspiring author whose latest book is a great reminder of why we love to read.
1. Lets begin with a brief background of your previous novels, what were they about and when were they published?
ďRiver of SummerĒ was published in 1999. Itís an age-crossed romance about a thirty-nine year old woman from Santa Fe who buys an RV and heads west to find meaning in her life after a painful divorce. She runs into a good-looking vagabond eleven years her junior, and in spite of the secrets they keep and the lies they tell, they eventually learn the hidden truths about each other and fall in love.
Shortly after I finished ďRiver of Summer,Ē I wrote ďWithout Mercy,Ē published in 2000. Itís an intimate murder mystery that takes place during a blizzard, when a family is snowed in together in their farmhouse in upstate New York. The narrator of the story discovers a strangerís dead body in the woods on the farm property, and as a result, old secrets come to life. She eventually realizes that every member of her family is a suspect in the murder.
2. It seems your first title fell into the general fiction category. Why did you begin to diverge into the mystery/suspense genre with your second title and continue it with your third?
I think stories come to us first as an irritation, a ďwhat-if?Ē sort of thought that wonít go away, and this thought grows into an obsession. You spend time rolling the thing back and forth in your own head, then huddle over your laptop worrying it to death, and if you persevere with it, that little irritating thought becomes so lacquered by your efforts that you finally achieve the pearl of a book. Why do some thoughts stick in our heads and others donít? I donít know. But if youíre obsessed with a story that wonít let you sleep at night, you probably have a book in there somewhere. The first irritating story I couldnít get out of my head was a romance, but since then Iíve been possessed by the itch to write murder mysteries. Itís really as simple as that.
3. Is the approach different with suspense than general fiction? Do you write as you go, or do you know beforehand where you'll end up, or is it different in each case?
The approach is the same, and itís always a good idea to know where youíre going before you begin. You start out thinking of somebody who wants something. A woman might yearn for a man, or she might want to know who killed her son. Either way, you have a character with an urgent desire. Then you have to let them suffer. No matter what genre youíre writing in, if your characterís not in trouble, then youíre in trouble.
When I began writing, I had no idea where Iíd end up in the plot. I was playing fast and loose with structure, which was fun, but a lot more work to tie it all together in the end. Now if Iím writing a mystery, I begin by picturing the murder. I know who did it, and why. Then I write all the scenes the book needs to make the murder seem inevitable. Writing the murder scene first is the most efficient way for me to align the structure of the book, because I know where Iím going, I know who will be sacrificed along the way, and who did it, and why.
4. Your background indicates you've been spending some time on the other side of publishing, such as lecturing and manuscript editing, how is it looking at the process from the other end? What would you consider the most important advice you might give to a struggling author?
Reviewing other writersí work has been just as rewarding for me as writing. The talent out there amazes me, and humbles me too, especially when I know a writer is better than I am at stringing together eloquent sentences, or presenting research in a dramatic way, or creating lively, interesting characters. Other times I have to groan when I see writers making my mistakes. One problem I see over and over again is the wandering plot, when a writer combines several different goals at once. We want to write about everything that appeals to us, and glue it together somehow. But story telling demands logic. Readers know this logic, and if a writer cheats us out of any element of a story, we feel bored. If youíre a writer, you have to start with the basics for a successful character: yearning and obstacle. Each chapter should pique our interest about the characters by establishing and reinforcing their desires and illuminating their conflicts.
5. Now in your latest, Returning to Taos, you explore grief and loss with such empathetic detail that it's difficult to believe this is mere fiction, this had to have been a difficult subject of focus?
Iím not a mother, so I can only imagine what it would feel like to endure the death of your own child. Iíve known mothers who have suffered this loss, and my empathy for them helped me create the emotional tone of the book. But the book is fiction. It was a challenge to throw myself into Elena Watersí world, to feel what she felt, to suffer what she suffered, and there were times I was scared to death to be in her shoes.
As one who loves, and is very familiar with, the area in which your book takes place I must give you extra kudos for grasping its diversity and unique beauty. Why did you choose this place in particular?
Taos was my introduction to New Mexico. I moved to Taos in 1978 and lived there for five years before moving to Santa Fe. The first winter I lived in Taos we had blizzards every weekend, and I thought Iíd die of the cold. Now Iíd give a lot to see a winter like that again. Iíve lived in New Mexico for twenty-eight years now. It was pure self-indulgence on my part to write about my favorite places around Taos Ė the gorge, the Rio Grande, the Truchas Peaks.
6. It's difficult to determine which you've made more real, characters, place, or plot, in your latest, which was the most challenging of the three to bring to life?
Plot is always the most difficult for me. So many threads need to be intricately knotted and woven together, and the logic has to be impeccable. Sometimes you just want to push your characters along so you can reveal what you need to reveal, but you have to make sure everyone is moving naturally, logically, smoothly toward your goal.
7. The easiest and most enjoyable?
Itís all good. But I do love my characters. That little cameo role of Russell Black Crow, the Lakota man who ran the sweat lodge Ė I donít know where he came from, or how I dreamed him up, but I love him. I wish he were real, so I could meet him.
8. Who was your favorite character and why?
Oh, no doubt about it. Elena. Sheís so torn up inside, so filled with crazy grief, so desperate to find the answers she needs, and sheís so brave. Brave enough to talk to her dead son. Brave enough to put herself in danger. Brave enough to help herself when no one else will help her. And brave enough to fall in love again.
9. Now some general questions. After your book is in print, what percentage would you say you would change if you could?
I noticed the proofreader made some changes to punctuation I would have left alone, if Iíd been reading the galleys carefully enough to catch them. Otherwise, I like the book. There are passages that still give me goose bumps, no matter how often I read them.
I've spoken with other authors who feel a certain pressure to commit to a "series" in order to publish, is this something you've considered?
No, never. To write a book is such a long, tough commitment, I donít think I could do it because of the pressure of the market. I donít think I could commit myself to the work unless I felt passionate about every aspect of the future book.
10. Now to the nitty gritty, would you still write novels knowing you'd never publish?
Unfortunately, Iím stuck with this brain, and it wants to write. Itís like having a dog you must walk. Whether you want to take it for a walk or not, you know it has to be done or it wonít leave you in peace.
11. And, finally, please tell us you have another in the works, if so, details!
My latest novel is an archaeological mystery set in the Gila wilderness, and Iíll be sure to let you know when it comes out.
Lois Gilbert is the author of "River of Summer" (Penguin-Putnam, 1999,) "Without Mercy" (NAL Dutton, 2000,) and "Returning to Taos," (Five Star, 2006,) as well as dozens of published articles, reviews and essays. Her work has been translated into German, Russian and Italian. She lectures on creative writing around the world for Norwegian Cruise Line, evaluates manuscript submissions for University of New Mexico Press, and has twenty years of editorial experience. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or view her website at www.loisgilbert.com