Sunday, February 14, 2021

Gwen Florio

Gwen Florio grew up in a farmhouse filled with books and a ban on television. After studying English at the University of Delaware, she began a thirty-plus year career in journalism that has taken her around the country and to more than a dozen countries, including several conflict zones.

Her first novel in the Lola Wick mystery series, Montana won the Pinckley Prize for Crime Fiction and the High Plains Book Award, and was a finalist for the Shamus Award, an International Thriller Award and a Silver Falchion Award. She has since released four other books in the Lola Wick series and one standalone novel.

Florio's new book, Best Laid Plans, is the first installment of a new mystery series.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Best Laid Plans is actually the first time a title I gave a manuscript was still on the book when it was published, something that makes me inordinately happy. I think it lasted because it works in three ways: It’s a play on my protagonist’s name, Nora Best. It’s the title of the book that Nora was supposed to write about her cross-country trip with her husband in their new Airstream trailer, a book about choosing adventure over the well-planned, career-climbing lives so many people lead. Most of all, it’s a nod to the fact that Nora’s own best-laid plans go straight to hell within the first few pages of the book.

What's in a name?

I had Nora’s name before I chose the book’s title, although obviously the one led to the other. I borrowed Nora’s last name from my then-editor at the newspaper where I was working at the time. Kathy Best is a nationally known talent and one of the (ahem) best editors with whom I’ve had the privilege of working. She also has a terrific name and graciously agreed to let me use it for my protagonist.

My other favorite name in the book is Forever, the “trail name” of the outdoorswoman who befriends Nora. Forever is a through-hiker, someone who hikes the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the like. I gave her the nickname because of her preference for forever being in the outdoors, rather than constrained by the rules of towns and society. She’s utterly self-reliant and I admit to envying her competence in the outdoors.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

My teenage self would be delighted and also surprised by the subject matter. I was a flashlight-under-the-blankets reader – still am, actually, although now I read books on my phone into the night – and I couldn’t imagine a better life than being a writer. But I figured I’d write books about horses: think Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series, Marguerite Henry’s books and (as I got older) Dick Francis’ novels. I did put a horse in my first novel, Montana, an Appaloosa named Spot. However, although I’ve always read mysteries, my younger self couldn’t have imagined doing the sort of plotting required – a feeling that comes back to me whenever I bog down in the middle of a manuscript.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I nearly always know both the beginning and ending of a novel when I start. As I’ve often said, it’s the 89,000 words in the middle that are the problem. Knowing the ending really helps when I’m stuck in the murky middle – it's the light at the end of a very long tunnel, guiding me on my way. That said, I’ve changed endings on two different novels, once at the suggestion of an editor and once at my agent’s suggestion. One change was fairly minor; the other significant, but each made the novel in question stronger – the best possible outcome.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

My characters are generally far braver than I. They take crazy risks! Sometimes, as I type, I find myself muttering, much as one does at a scary movie, “Don’t open that door! Don’t sass the man with the gun! Can’t you tell that guy is going to do you wrong?” With Best Laid Plans, I deliberately chose an older protagonist because of the freedom afforded women whose kids are grown, their career boxes checked, and (in my protagonist’s case) are newly single. The idea of someone who’s shed the responsibilities of her thirties and forties and now can do whatever she wants was enormously attractive, and something with which, to an extent, I can identify. I just have more sense than to backtalk the bad guy.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I grew up on a wildlife refuge and nature has always been extremely important in my novels. In fact, most generally started with a particular place, and then I came up with a plot that revolved around something that might happen in that place. For years I had a job that required roaming around the Rocky Mountain West, where many of my novels including Best Laid Plans are set. While many people think of mean city streets when it comes to crime fiction, I find the vast empty spaces of the West infinitely more intimidating. Out here, if you get into trouble, it could take police or a sheriff a very long time to reach you. You’ve got to rely on your own skills to survive.
Visit Gwen Florio's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Gwen Florio & Nell.

My Book, The Movie: Best Laid Plans.

The Page 69 Test: Best Laid Plans.

--Marshal Zeringue