And the winner is. . .LORI LAKE! Thanks, everybody, for participating and stay tuned. Another author is joining me on Friday. Yee-ha!
Hi, peeps! Here we are with another author on the Fall Fiesta Tour here at Women and Words. Which is sometimes Dudes and Words. Today, author Greg Lilly joins us to chat about his work, which is published at Regal Crest Enterprises and Cherokee McGhee Publishing.
Greg is giving away a copy of his historical fiction book, Under a Copper Moon, about a woman in the 19th century who goes West to a mining town in Arizona. More about it below. If you’d like to be in the drawing, leave a comment on this blog. Do not include your email address in the body of the comment (the elves are trying to save you from the evil empire of spambots), but do include it in the comment fill-out form. The elves in the back can see it, thus, but nobody else can. Swear. For reals.
We’ll do the drawing tonight at 10 PM Eastern Standard Time US. Please check back here, because I post the winner right afterwards. That’ll give you your heads-up to expect an email from me. I notify the winner within 30 minutes of the drawing, so if you see your name here, but you don’t have an email from me, check your spam filter. 😀
Greg grew up in Virginia and ended up in North Carolina. Later, he lived in Arizona for a bit before returning to the Southeast. He was a technical writer at a large family-owned corporation but his southern roots made him susceptible to the southern tradition of storytelling, and the rest, as they say. . .
Greg is perhaps best-known for his mysteries starring Derek Mason, a man at odds with his family because he’s gay. But he’s also got historical fiction (and he’s giving that away!) on his published book list. So let’s have a look at some of his work.
source (re-sized here)
Derek Mason goes back to North Carolina for his aunt’s funeral, which opens a whole can of worms because some members of his family sent him away because he revealed he was gay. In the middle of all that, Derek uncovers some mysteries surrounding the death of a family gardener, possibly at the hands of his uncle. What other secrets will he uncover, with the help of hunky reporter Daniel? A hidden lynching? A dark love? Read it and find out!
source (re-sized here)
Two friends, Myra and Topher, deal with their entwined lives. Her husband beats her and his lover ignores him. They manage to keep heir friendship even caught up in the stresses of their lives. But in spite of Myra’s increasingly violent husband and Topher’s love for the partner who doesn’t love him back, they don’t realize how much their lives parallel each other. Finally coming to a point of no return, the two find the strength to leave their respective relationships and strike out together. But Myra’s husband comes looking for them. Will he find them and exact revenge? Hmm. Guess you’d better read it.
source (re-sized here)
Something’s not right in Sedona, Arizona. The town’s inhabitants are divided by urban growth and some entrepreneurs are trying to make a quick buck, but at the expense of the place’s natural beauty. Derek Mason is trying to help his aunt Ruby find her place in the New Age haven, but instead they find her real estate agent dead in an empty condo, scalped. Who killed him and why? Here Derek meets Myra and Topher, best friends with a shared secret from Devil’s Bridge, and Kimbo Blue, a former child star from Hollywood. He also has to deal with Clarity Received, the victim’s girlfriend, and a whole cast of quirky characters that both help and hinder Derek’s search for the killer.
And now for Greg’s historical fiction, which was a finalist in the 2008 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
THIS HERE BOOK IS UP FOR A GIVEAWAY!!!!
source (re-sized here)
It’s 1894 and a young woman is alone and hopeless following the death of her mother. She finds adventure in a newspaper ad and strikes out for the booming copper town of Jerome, in Arizona Territory. Here Inez will meet her future husband, find friends and foes, and learn to make her way as a woman on the cusp of a new century, who refuses to adhere to the conventions of her sex.
(Did I mention this book is up for a giveaway? :D)
There you go. Let’s go have a chat with Greg!
ANDI: Hi, Greg! Thanks for joining us at Women and Words. Glad to be able to catch up with you and see what you’re up to. So let’s jump into this and talk about how you got your start in this here fiction writing thingie. You were a technical writer before you started writing fiction. You’ve said that stories started to emerge from the tech manuals you were writing for a large family-owned corporation. Tell us how that worked, and how those tech manuals inspired a fiction outlet.
GREG: The first incident was when we implemented a new procedure that went to our sales force. They were supposed to read the information before I arrived to do the training. They never did, so I made the overview a short story about a woman at one of the retail stores, who has lunch with a friend from another store that already converted to this new computer system. They talk about the implementation while at a fast food joint, but scattered within that technical information is a bit of gossip about the other people coming into the Hardee’s restaurant (I think it is called Carl’s Jr. on the West Coast). The people at the store loved it and read it, but my VP thought it was too risqué to make up gossip about people, whether fictional or not, who may be working in our stores. He suggested I take up writing fiction on the weekends and leave the work writing as non-fiction.
ANDI: Ah-HA! A supervisor who actually steered you in the right direction! See, readers, it can happen. 😀 Sometimes your bosses are tuned in to what we should be doing. Heh. You’re a Southerner, but you’ve clearly cultivated a love of the West, especially Arizona, which plays a role in your Derek Mason mysteries, your Mason spin-off, Devil’s Bridge, and the historical fiction novel about late 19th-century Jerome, Arizona. How did this love affair with the West come about?
GREG: My partner and I discovered Sedona, Arizona on a vacation many years ago. We went back every year for vacation after that and eventually moved there. The West is so different from the South in terms of attitude, landscape, and personal space.
ANDI: It is indeed. I’ve lived in the South, and things are different in a lot of ways.
GREG: Maybe it’s the lack of humidity, but things seem crisp and clear. The big sky of the West allows for some big ideas and thinking. I felt a lot of creativity there, so many of the books are set in the West. I was inspired by the landscape.
ANDI: I like that idea of “big sky and big ideas.” I get that sense out West, too.
GREG: The West to me meant vacation and creativity. The South was work and chores and grocery shopping and commitments. . .I think that’s why I place fun things in the West.
ANDI: Interesting, how you associate certain things with certain regions of the country. And it seemed to work out for you, because you got a lot of writing that came out of the West. Let’s talk about some of your work. Your mystery series character, Derek Mason, has a strained relationship with his family of origin, and the fact that he’s gay plays into that. His family is Southern, religious, and monied, so they’re all about “keeping up appearances.” Is Derek’s experience one that resonates with you for personal reasons? Or have you known men like him, who were estranged from their families of origin because of those reasons?
GREG: I think it’s mainly making him an outsider. He’s a scapegoat for the family problems. I have never set a book with a gay or lesbian character in a city’s “gay ghetto.” Maybe it’s because I have never had that experience. I have always lived a life in a mixed environment: straight, gay, black, white, white-collar and blue-collar or whatever. With that mixed setting, a certain group is always singled out to be the cause of all the community’s woes.
ANDI: I think that’s why Derek can resonate, though, with so many LGBT Americans who don’t have that experience of growing up or living in areas surrounded by other LGBT people, of LGBT-friendly businesses and support networks. I certainly didn’t. I grew up in a rural area and didn’t find LGBT networks until college, and even then, my friends and surroundings were, like yours, mixed. All kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds.
GREG: I found that in the South, the what-will-the-neighbors-think mode of denial is strong. People whisper about Uncle Fred’s drinking or Cousin Jenn’s loose ways or the rumor that Stevie is gay. No one openly talks about it, yet everyone knows. That makes great story.
ANDI: And I’d argue that a whole lot of excellent literature has come out of those Southern traditions, flavored with Southern gothic overtones. All kinds of drama, from family to community.
GREG: My family wasn’t bad about my coming out. The Lillys aren’t particularly rich or religious. But, appearances did matter. There was the worry of what people would say, and I think it was better that I lived 300 miles away at that point. I had heard of many people who were banished from their families because of the social stigma for the family. Gay people were the outsiders, the scapegoats. Usually being gay was coded to a more polite term. I didn’t realize those polite phrases until I had moved away. In Sedona, a long-time lesbian couple lived across the road from us. These women had met each other in the 1950s — Lorraine used to say they were together longer than I had been alive.
My mom came to visit and thought they were great, but when she referred to them, she called them “the old maid sisters.” I kept correcting her, telling her that they were a couple. That Southern code of “old maid sisters” or “bachelors sharing expenses” still exists.
ANDI: Ah, Southern euphemisms! Doesn’t mean code words for “gay” don’t exist in other parts of the country. Still, I sure did come across some colorful sayings in the South.
GREG: Things are changing fast in the South. It looks promising for living here, but progress is hell for juicy stories. Gay isn’t much of a scandal anymore. Thank goodness.
ANDI: heh! Sounds like you’ve got a mixed blessing tone going there. Scandals lend themselves to stories, but as the air of “scandal” clears, guess you’ll have to find others to write about. 😀
I want to talk a bit more about your work. Women play a prominent role in it. Derek has close female friends and relatives, and you yourself have mentioned that your best friend in college was a woman. You’ve also written a historical novel about a young woman who goes West in 1894 and ends up in an Arizona mining town. Tell us a bit about Inez, the main character in Under a Copper Moon. Where did she come from, and what got you interested in this topic?
GREG: I love women, but not in THAT way [wink] My best friends have always been women. Don’t tell the guys, but I prefer the company of lesbians.
ANDI: LOL! Your secret is safe with me, good sir! [and all the readers here. . .ha!]
GREG: Inez came from my research of women in the West at the turn of the 20th Century. Jerome, Arizona seems to be snagged on the side of a hill west of Sedona. It was a copper mining town in the 1880s through 1930s. Today, it’s a ghost town and tourist draw. There are legends about what happened on that hill. Many of them involved single women and the miners.
I wanted to illustrate how a young woman — an outsider in this environment — could survive in a mining town back in a period when women could not even own property. I researched women during the pioneer times and the few options open to them. I used real anecdotes from the town’s history to add subplots to the book. Under a Copper Moon is one of my favorites because it shows a family-of-choice, that is, how Inez made the women of the parlor house her family.
ANDI: Most excellent. I’m a historian by academic training, and one of my areas of specialty is the American West, with an emphasis on gender, sex, and sexuality. So I was darn interested in this here work of yours! But I’m also interested in history in general. You moved back to the South from the West. Have you found any local history in Virginia that might inspire another historical novel?
GREG: Now that I’m living in Virginia, I have a work-in-progress about a woman accused of witchcraft in the 1690s and her descendents in present time. It’s a tricky book to write because of the cause and effect connections I’m trying to draw. Of the four main characters, three are women. Irish mythology also plays a symbolic role in the lives of the characters.
ANDI: OH, super excellent. I’ll be interested to see this!
GREG: I got hooked on Ancestry.com. So, I have traced my lineage back to Jamestown in the 1640s. I love being here where the ancestors walked. I can’t say a great-grandmother was ever accused of witchcraft, but there were several witch trials in Virginia and one conviction. Again, a theme of being an outsider and a scapegoat bubbles up in my writing.
ANDI: Beat me to that. I’ve noticed that sense of “outsider-ness” in your work, and I think a lot of people — whether LGBT or straight — can identify with it. I’m a Westerner my own self by birth and soul, and the Western ethos and mythos instills in a lot of Westerners a sense of “individual.” That is, relying on yourself and yourself only, which can also create a sense of disconnectedness to other people. That, too, can be further exacerbated if you’re part of a minority group. So Westerners have this weird sense of individualism, loneliness, but need to create community, too. It’s a weird paradox, and one that I didn’t see until I had lived in the South, where community and family are tantamount.
At any rate, the second Derek Mason mystery deals with some of my favorite subjects about the West: the uneasy bargains its residents make with developers, including the undercurrent of cultishness and New Agey-ness in some areas. These aspects end up being characters in this book. You lived and worked in Sedona, so you know whereof you speak. How did this mystery tale come about?
GREG: Everyone complained about over-development, yet we were all in Sedona because of the landscape, the art galleries, the New Age openness, and the wonderful restaurants. The tourist trade that brought most of the residents in the first place was viewed as a blessing and a curse to the locals.
I needed a victim for Derek and Aunt Ruby to investigate. The real estate agent was a perfect choice because few people like them and a murder of one would have a LOT of suspects. Add to that the different cultures represented there and I had Yavapai Apache, tourists, New Agers, artists, hustlers, con men, illegal immigrants, legal immigrants and some crazy-ass small business owners, all adding to the mix.
ANDI: And it creates such a great milieu for the other aspects of the story.
GREG: I pulled in Topher and Myra from my novel Devil’s Bridge to show the differing viewpoints of a tourist town: visitor (Derek) and local (Topher). I had been both roles in Sedona. The magic wears thin when you have to go to work every day. Yes, it’s a beautiful location, but the grocery store and dry cleaners are still errands that have to be done in the crush of lackadaisical tourists.
ANDI: I’m nodding here, because the town where I grew up made a devil’s bargain with tourism when the mining industry nearby closed up. Sure, the downtown’s revitalized and there are some great shops and cafés now, but you can’t get a parking space downtown anymore, and there are people everywhere from about May through September. But hey, tourism has become an integral part of the community, and with that comes development. The key is figuring out how to balance growth and effective development.
GREG: When Scalping the Red Rocks was published, I presented at the Sedona Book Festival. I talked about the book and “Setting as a Character.” The organizer introduced me as someone who “knew where all the bodies are buried in Sedona.” That’s true. Sedona is small enough that the workforce knows each other and happy hour at the Javelina Cantina can be a genuine bitch session. Lots of real life situations were fictionalized and woven into the book. That’s the fun of writing about a real place. It adds subplots that you could never have created from your own imagination.
ANDI: I couldn’t agree more. I write about New Mexico, which is where I was born and where I spent about 15 years of my adult life. Writing about real places with local issues and politics is great fodder for subplots. So tell us about your writing process. Do you have a set time each day? Do you write to music? Do you have a special place you prefer to write?
GREG: I teach workshops and tell the people to set aside a certain part of the day to write — do as I say and not as I do! Honestly, I grab time when I can. I may go weeks without writing fiction, then spend three solid days on it. At one point, I would get up in the morning and go for a jog, then write for an hour before getting ready to go to work. Now, I work from home and have become less structured. I promise I will get on schedule soon.
ANDI: I know other writers who have that “spurt” kind of style. I try to do an hour or two every day, but on weekends, I might go for an hours-long session. I love those. But I don’t always get them. Do you have music going when you write?
GREG: I like to write to ambient noise like a fountain trickle or my Black Forest cuckoo clock ticking (my office is so junky). If I listen to music, it must be instrumental. Lyrics steal my attention.
ANDI: Because otherwise, you’d grab the hairbrush and you’re right there belting out “Don’t Stop Believing.” It’s okay, Greg. I totally get it. 🙂
GREG: [he’s totally not going to go there with me. . .ha!] I do a lot of mind-work while doing chores. I can plot while cleaning the bathroom or mowing the lawn. I work out characters and subplots while jogging. It may look like I’m staring into space, but I’m plotting. By the time I steal a few hours to write, I know where I’m going.
ANDI: I like that. I do the same thing. I know other authors who also plot in their heads when they’re doing things unrelated to writing. Now for some gossip. What’s something not many people know about you that you’d be willing to share. Like, are you a champion ultimate frisbee player? Maybe you groom dogs on the side? Or you’re a pianist?
GREG: I was attacked by an owl.
ANDI: Holy moly.
GREG: Back in Charlotte, N.C., I would jog before work. About this time of year I would head out the door before daylight and run about three miles around the neighborhood. We lived a few miles south of Uptown Charlotte (actually where Walterene and Ruby lived in the book Fingering the Family Jewels) — an urban area.
In the glow of a street light, I saw what I thought was a big tom cat sitting in the middle of the neighborhood road. As I jogged closer to it, it didn’t scurry away. I ran past the shadow and its head rotated in that eerie slow movement that only owls and Linda Blair can do. I thought it was so cool that I had run past a real great-horned owl — until the baseball cap was snatched off my head without a sound, just a shadow of a large bird gliding up and under the street light.
I shrieked like a little girl. I stood in the dark shaking wondering what to do. Would he come back? Where did he take my hat? Did I wake the neighbors with that scream? Did someone see what happened? I was embarrassed and terrified, so I just ran all the way back home in record time.
ANDI: Well, of course. Baseball caps. For the owl that has everything.
GREG: As the Native Americans say, the owl is my Spirit Animal. I had intimate contact with one and lived to tell the tale.
ANDI: So maybe that was a visit from an owl to remind you of your place in the world. 🙂 So what’s next for you in the writing pipeline? Inquiring minds wanna know!
GREG: I am just about finished creating a nonfiction book with insider tips and some honest advice on writing. I call it a guidebook to the writing life. I’m writing full-time. Some words pay better than others. This project started as a way to package handouts for my workshop classes and has grown to be about all parts of writing and publishing. I’m having a great time with it.
ANDI: That sounds way cool.
GREG: The novel about the Virginia witch and her descendents moves forward at a good pace. I’m loving the characters. There are about five other ideas I have for novels. I love writing, creating, daydreaming (wait — let’s call that plotting)!
ANDI: And let’s hope the plot thickens! Thanks, Greg, for hanging out with me here at Women and Words. Good luck to you, and we’ll keep our eyes open for your new books.
There you go, folks! You can learn more about Greg’s work at his website and at Regal Crest and Cherokee McGhee.