Author’s Roundtable: Gae Lynn Woods

How long have you been writing? Has writing always been something you wanted to do?

Writing has always been something that I’ve wanted to do, but it’s only within the last five years or so that I’ve worked up the courage to put words to paper. I’ve always loved reading and have many voices clamoring for attention in my head. I wrote my first “book” when I was about eight years old. My family had moved from Dallas, Texas, where I was born, to Dayton, Ohio. That first story was my way of working through the trauma of leaving my friends behind and adapting to a new culture and physical environment. It was written in response to a class assignment, and although I don’t remember what kind of grade I received, I must’ve been pretty proud of it because I “bound” the pages with orange yarn, colored the cover and added illustrations throughout!

Other than for school assignments, I didn’t write creatively again until 2007 when I left the corporate world. I wrote one novel, thought it was wonderful and sent out a few queries. Although I received almost zero response, I immediately started writing my second novel, re-read the first and realized how dreadful it was, and shoved it into a drawer secured with a kryptonite lock. I think that experience helped me get a grip on the type of story I want to tell and the quality I know I have to produce to be taken seriously as a writer.

What books or stories have you written? Published? Can you tell us a little about your books? What are they about?

I’ve published one novel, “The Devil of Light,” which is the first book in the Forney County series. I’m working on the second book now. The first novel that I wrote back in 2007 is still cowering in that drawer, but with some serious editing I think it’ll become the third book in the series.

I write crime thrillers, suspense, mystery novels. The Forney County series is set in East Texas and follows the path of a young detective, Cass Elliot, as she finds her feet in the county sheriff’s department. Cass is from the wrong side of Forney County’s tracks, and she’s working furiously to gain the respect she deserves, battling her family’s white-trash history, the effects of a violent event in her past and her need to seek vengeance from the man who hurt her. She’s never told anyone about the attack that left her scarred, physically and emotionally and doesn’t trust anyone enough to ask for help in hunting this man down.

In “The Devil of Light,” Cass and her partner Mitch Stone’s investigation of a murder reveals a delicate web of conspiracy woven by religiously-inspired vigilantes. The members of this cult have ruled Forney County from the shadows for almost a century, perpetrating their brand of justice through blackmail and violence. Their initiation rituals require brutalization of the innocent, and Cass and Mitch must identify these men and stop them before they hurt – or kill – someone else.

How did you get inspiration for the characters?
I’ve traveled quite a bit and love to meet new people and absorb different cultures. Many of the people I’ve had the pleasure to meet have stuck with me, and I’ve got a cast of characters roaming around my brain, all clamoring to be let out! As I write, a mental image of a new character seems to form in my head, and I’m able to peel away the layers forming that character’s personality and underlying motivations. Getting to know my characters, learning their secrets and what drives them, is fascinating to me.

Are the books based on personal experiences?
No (and boy, does my husband breathe a sigh of relief with that answer!). For some reason, my imagination tends toward the gritty side of life and human behavior, and I hope that leads to interesting crime novels.

Is there any advice you have been given that you could give to a young up-and-coming writer?

Just do it. Your first effort may be less than stellar, but focus on improving. If you have the desire to write, you won’t be able to resist it, so give in and get started. Learn everything you can about the fundamentals of solid writing, keep putting words on paper and never stop polishing those words.

Can you talk a little about the benefits of getting your work professionally edited?
I haven’t used a professional editor yet, but hope to at some point. I’m blessed with an “advisory board” of early readers who each bring a different aspect of editing to the table. They’re also brutal with their feedback, which is an admirable trait in this situation. Some read early drafts for grammar and punctuation, others read for story and character development. This process worked well with “The Devil of Light,” and I hope to have book two in their hands before the end of the summer.
What are some of the hardest things you’ve had to overcome as a writer, in order to be published?
Working up the courage to self-publish. I agonized over whether “The Devil of Light” was interesting enough, well-written enough, to interest readers. I wish I’d pushed through the process faster – without sacrificing the advice my advisory board provided – and just gotten over my lack of confidence.

How do you find enough time in the day to write?
I think most writers find this a challenge. It’s a matter of discipline, and there are definitely times when life gets in the way of writing. I’m a morning person and prefer to write early in the day when my energy is strongest. I was living in London, England, when I wrote “The Devil of Light,” and I took my laptop to the local coffee shop every morning to write. Even through the noise of the shop, I was able to get into that “zone” where the imagination takes over, and words fly off the fingertips.

Do you think writing has any benefits, and if so what would they be?
Definitely. Writing is almost therapeutic. Watching a story form and seeing characters develop is incredibly satisfying to me. I “live” in my stories, as strange as that may sound, and feel a deep connection with the imaginary people who inhabit imaginary Forney County. Helping them have their say and work through their challenges is a blast! Time slips by during a good writing session, and I feel energized afterwards.

Do you like to read? If so, what are your favorite genres and why?
I love to read. Just like I step into the world of the characters I’m creating, I can dive right into a well-written book and engage fully with that world. When I’m editing, I try to read authors whose writing “flows,” authors like John Connolly, Stephen King and Daniel Silva. Reading their work while I’m editing my own is inspirational to me.

Most of the books I read are thrillers and usually crime thrillers. Why? I suppose there’s some satisfaction in seeing a problem resolved, whether in favor of the hero or the villain, and the urgency of a thriller keeps me hanging on and needing more. While I have my favorite traditionally published authors, I’ve also found some amazing indie authors. People like Russell Blake, Toby Neal, John Paul Davis and Dan Chamberlain write great thrillers set in a variety of locales and time periods. But I’ve also expanded into more “life-related” works by Alle Wells, Wright Forbucks and D.G. Torrens; horror by Carrie Green; and even sci-fi by Joshua Bigger. It’s astonishing that some of these authors haven’t been picked up by traditional publishers – the stories are interesting, and the writing is excellent.

Can you talk about how important reviews are to writers? What kinds of information do reviews offer authors like yourself? Have you ever received a bad review? If so how did it make you feel?

Reviews are incredibly important to indie authors – readers who might be wary about picking up a book by an unknown author use reviews to judge whether or not the story and writing are worth their time and money. In that way, reviews are a form of advertising.

I’m always fascinated by the reviews “The Devil of Light” receives, and I try to use what readers have to say to make the next story better, more compelling. Each reader sees something different in the plot or the characters, and it’s rewarding to know that people are engaging with the book. I’ve received one three-star review, and I’m okay with that. The reader was disappointed that I left part of the story hanging, but that’s part of the way the series will develop. Life is like that – all the ends don’t wrap up neatly, and some problems never get resolved.

Before I go, I just want to say I’m tickled for the opportunity to talk with you and your readers. Thanks so much for asking me to visit your blog!

5 thoughts on “Author’s Roundtable: Gae Lynn Woods

  1. I loved this interview with the very talented Gae-Lynn Woods. I read “The Devils of Light” some time ago and it was truly an amazing read it flowed like water from page to page and I was hooked! Thank you so much for including me alongside some great authors in your interview Gae-Lynn I feel so humbled. It was lovely to read more about you. 🙂

  2. I’m delighted to learn more about Gae Lynn Woods, a thriller writer who I’d also classify as horror (as you’ll be sitting on the edge of your seat while reading “The Devil of Light’ to see what happens next). I deeply admire her original voice which authentically brought to life both police procedures and cattle ranching. Hard to believe that she wrote that book while in London! She created a uniquely Southern small town with characters that feel like old friends. I look forward to her new books and I highly recommend her first one!

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