Please welcome Alex Gordon to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews! Gideon was published by Harper Voyager on January 6, 2015.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Alex: Thank you for having me!
English was my best subject in grade school and high school, and teachers always complimented my essays and reports. I wrote a few stories, but they were class assignments. Unlike so many other writers, I didn’t write outside school--I wrote a few pages of an SF novel while in college, but that fizzled. Fast forward to the early 90’s, when I was in my early 30’s. I don’t recall any particular flash of inspiration. I simply decided to take a creative writing course of some sort. All my friends were returning to school for their MBAs. A writing class was going to be my MBA. From there, I went on attend writers conferences and science fiction-fantasy conventions, and kept plugging away.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Alex: I would say 75% pantser/25% plotter. I can follow a vague outline that I set out beforehand in a short synopsis or on an index card, and I know the ending. But the twists and turns of the plot and the actions of my characters don’t sort themselves out until I actually write the scenes. Too many times, something that makes complete sense in the planning fails to work out on the page. It’s frustrating. There are times when I envy plotters. I have yet to make a lasting peace with my process.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Alex: Focusing. I am so distractable. Wow—look at that smudge on the window. I really need to clean it NOW. And heaven forbid I look at a bookshelf. I have to page through at least one book I haven’t touched in years.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?
Alex: John Le Carré. Two of his books in particular, the classics TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY and SMILEY'S PEOPLE. He described spycraft and the people who practiced it better than anyone else I've read. Then the world changed, the Cold War ended, and he retooled, stayed fresh, found new adversaries--arms dealers, pharmaceutical companies.
Terry Pratchett, the author of the Discworld books, can define a character with a single thought or action. He manages to sneak the sadness and poignancy into humorous stories, and to say so many things without lapsing into lecture mode. He is also the creator or co-creator of two of my literary crushes, The Patrician from the Discworld series and Crowley, from GOOD OMENS.
Gillian Flynn—I envy her ability to make unlikeable, troubled, troubling characters compelling. I enjoyed GONE GIRL, but SHARP OBJECTS is, I think, an even more profound example. Camille Preaker—I wanted to take her by the shoulders and shake her, protect her, and run and hide from her all at the same time.
TQ: Describe Gideon in 140 characters or less.
Alex: I’ll use a line from the book: "just because you don’t know your past doesn’t mean you don’t pay the price for it.”
TQ: Tell us something about Gideon that is not in the book description.
Alex: The story describes the very first stages of the entrance of the otherworldly into this world, and vice versa. In a way, it’s a First Contact story. Even though we have told tales of ghosts and demons and other non-human entities for thousands of years, and many people believe in their existence, these are individual, personal experiences, not the event that leads to the first faltering steps toward formal rapprochement.
TQ: What inspired you to write Gideon? Your publisher describes the novel as "...a superb blend of mystery, urban fantasy, horror, romance, and the supernatural." What appealed to you about writing a genre bending novel?
Alex: I initially intended GIDEON as straight urban fantasy, with a heroine on the run from demons and the humans who thought they could control them. But I opened with the chapters that took place in 1836, and my editor at the time didn’t feel that the heroine on the run part worked as well as those chapters did. After a lot of trial and error, I finally, finally realized that the main story was very personal—a woman finding out about her father, learning that he wasn’t what she thought he was. Combine that with the history of witches, and the genre mix—the elements of mystery, horror, romance, etc--evolved as the story developed. I didn’t have to purposely add anything. All the elements made organic sense. They were necessary aspects of the story.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Gideon ?
Alex: Lots of historical research—details about the Sudden Freeze of 1836, the Chicago Fire, the Civil War. Many thanks to all the local historical societies and groups that post historical documents online—I don’t know how I would have found some of the personal accounts of the Freeze and the Fire without them. I also researched clothing of the 1830s and 1870s. I drove around the area of north central Illinois in which I set Gideon, and imagined the layout of the town, the description of the surrounding area.
I took several REI classes—kayaking, camping, outdoor survival, first aid. Lauren Reardon is a woman comfortable with the outdoors—there are things she would know and do as a matter of course. She is the type of person who carries a go-pack with first aid equipment, flints and blankets and other emergency gear in her car. She prefers to wear technical clothing. She adapts quickly. It’s funny, admitting that my fictional character knows so much more about a subject than I do, that I had to take classes in order to keep up.
I read about the Pseudepigrapha, ancient writings that are attributed to authors who really didn't write them. I was particularly interested in the Testament of Solomon, which was supposedly written by him and contained information that allowed him to control demons. I used that information to develop the Book of Endor, the guiding text of the witches of Gideon.
Some research I did went into scenes that wound up getting cut or rewritten. CPR. Google street routes through Seattle. Woodworking tools.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Alex: Eliza Blaylock Mullin was surprisingly simple. She had Blaine figured out from the start, and she had a single goal—keep him from coming back from the dead. She was a very focused character.
The hardest character was my protagonist, Lauren Reardon. As I discussed above, I had a devil of a time figuring out who exactly she was and what her story was. Then I had to figure out how much she knew, how much she discovered along the way. How much did she know about her own magical abilities? Working out all the reasons for her to move forward, her transition from businesswoman to practitioner and guardian without letting it appear forced, too convenient—it was a struggle at times, a challenge always.
TQ: Which question about your novel do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Alex: Is “The Laird o’ Windywa's,” the bawdy ballad that turns up throughout the book, a real song? Yes! It’s been recorded by a Scottish folksinger named Jeannie Robertson. If I ever give a reading of the first chapter, I’m going to have to sing it. Fear this moment.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from Gideon.
“Disappointment made her sound kind.” Because I think I managed to nail this person’s character in five words.
"Gideon stood wrapped in silence, a doll’s town swaddled in cotton and packed away.” The description of Gideon after the Freeze and subsequent snowstorm.
TQ: What's next?
Alex: I am working on JERICHO, which is the follow-up to GIDEON. Lauren Reardon is still the protagonist and primary POV.
In JERICHO, the stakes are much greater. In GIDEON, I drop hints that magical influence stretches well beyond one small town in Illinois, that there are other ’thin places’ that may not be as well-guarded as they need to be. In JERICHO, Lauren is going to learn just how pervasive that magical influence is, as well as who else is interested in that power. The world as it exists is very, very different from the one she’s familiar with. Her hero’s journey continues.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Alex: Thank you.
Harper Voyager, January 6, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 432 pages
Preston & Child meets Kim Harrison in this edge-of-your-seat debut thriller—a superb blend of mystery, urban fantasy, horror, romance, and the supernatural.
When Lauren’s father dies, she makes a shocking discovery. The man she knew as John Reardon was once a completely different person, with a different name. Now, she’s determined to find out who he really was, even though her only clues are an old photograph, some letters, and the name of a town—Gideon.
But someone—or something—doesn’t want her to discover the truth. A strange man is stalking her, appearing everywhere she turns, and those who try to help her end up dead. Neither a shadowy enemy nor her own fear are going to prevent her from solving the mystery of her father—and unlocking the secrets of her own life.
Making her way to Gideon, Lauren finds herself more confused than ever. Nothing in this small Midwestern town is what it seems, including time itself. Residents start going missing, and Lauren is threatened by almost every townsperson she encounters. Two hundred years ago, a witch was burned at the stake, but in Gideon, the past feels all too chillingly present . . .
Alex Gordon resides in Illinois. She is currently developing her next thriller and is having too much fun doing research. When she isn't working, she enjoys watching sports and old movies, running, and playing with her dog. She dreams of someday adding the Pacific Northwest to the list of regions where she has lived.