I spent most of last week curled up in a cabin in northern Wisconsin, staring at Lake Michigan’s white-capped waves, marveling at how the water changed from slate gray to bright turquoise (we called it “Corona Blue“) as the clouds rolled across the lake, how the seagulls looked black or white according to the angle of the sun, how much the contours of the beach changed as the waves grew higher and the tide rolled right up to the edge of the sea grass. It was beautiful, but it was very windy and cold, and we spent much of our time curled up under blankets, reading.
Unfortunately for me, I’d already read Little Gale Gumbo — I read it back in August, the day I got it, because once I started reading it I couldn’t put it down — and didn’t like the book I’d brought, so I ended up reading one of those books that always seems to be in cabins, something fluffy and vapid and completely forgettable. WHY DIDN’T I JUST RE-READ LITTLE GALE GUMBO? Major reading fail on my part.
Seriously, folks. If you are curled up in an autumn cabin, preferably with a roaring fire and a big cozy sweater and some dangerous weather happening outside your window, ideally with some amazing New Orleans-inspired stew simmering on the stove — or if you’re in your boring old apartment with the neighbors playing Rock Band upstairs and the house smells inexplicably like old socks even though you just did laundry, but obviously you’d PREFER to be in a cabin with sweater, lake, weather, and stew — then you really ought to be reading Little Gale Gumbo.
Molly: As all Debs know, the process of writing your first novel can be a challenging one. Was there ever a time (or times?) when you thought you couldn’t do it or when you came close to giving up?
Erika: Oh, absolutely. But fortunately Little Gale Gumbo was the 14th manuscript I’d written (and submitted!) so I never worried that I would give up on writing, but I will admit that because this novel came closer to publication than any of the others, the idea of not seeing this story out in the world was harder than it had been for any earlier manuscripts.
Molly: Fourteen! You are amazing! So when the writing (or re-writing) got rough, were there certain characters or scenes you used as a touchstone to reassure yourself of the story’s worth or importance?
Erika: I know we all love our characters–even the baddies–because they are OURS and they come from our hearts. For me, there was always something so magical in the blending of these people who came from such different worlds. I would sit there and imagine them all waking up in this big old drafty house, Camille in her favorite kimono and Ben in his chamois shirt, so hopelessly in love with this woman who couldn’t have been less like anyone he’d ever known–Dahlia and Josie, every bit the sisters who are best friends but will fight to the death over a favorite pair of shoes–and Matthew, loving each sister in very different ways. They were such a family in my mind. I wanted to eat the day’s leftovers with them every night in the window booth after they closed the cafe. I wanted to get drunk with Dahlia on her porch and laugh ourselves sick. I wanted to make pralines with Josie and eat the whole plate before they’d cooled. I wanted to help Camille dress a love candle. I believed in my characters the way every writer does. And I loved them unconditionally.
Molly: “The way every writer does” — ha! I once had a dream that I stabbed my protagonist with an ice pick. But your characters are so fabulous, I’m sure you never had thoughts of violence toward them.
M. Molly Backes
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