By Basil Sands
THE CALAMITY CAFÉ is an appetizing cozy mystery that leaves your mouth watering for great cooking, even as you’re shocked by what people will do to each other. And even better—there are recipes included in the back! As an avid cook, I will definitely be trying some out.
Gayle Leeson is an author who makes an imprint with her witty storytelling, compelling mystery thrills, and some seriously delicious-looking recipes. She also writes the Embroidery Mystery series as Amanda Lee, and as Gayle Trent for the Daphne Martin Cake Mystery series and the Myrtle Crumb Mystery series.
Leeson lives in Virginia with her family and is having a blast writing the Down South Café Mystery series. I had a chance to catch up with her this month for an article in The Big Thrill.
So, which Gayle is the real you?
Although my real name is Gayle Trent, I suppose I’m all of those Gayles. At least, sometimes I wish I had a couple more of me since I wear so many hats in a day. I’m a writer, of course, but also a blogger, a new columnist for RT Book Reviews Magazine, a mom, a wife, and I’m owned by pets who are pretty demanding.
How did you get into writing?
I’d read a book that was formulaic and predictable, and then I wrote a short story to parody that book and others similar to it. I allowed my college English teachers to read it, and they told me I had real talent. That little bit of encouragement was all it took!
Are the recipes CALAMITY CAFÉ your own?
Some were passed down through the family. Others were contributed by readers. I think it’s always fun to get readers invested in your stories. The readers whose recipes were accepted were acknowledged with their recipe(s) and received a small honorarium.
What are some of your fondest childhood memories?
My grandmother’s meatloaf recipe is included in CALAMITY CAFÉ, and I have stood at her elbow and watched her make it many times. She and I spent a lot of time in the kitchen, as well as driving on country roads in her Dodge Swinger with the windows down singing old show tunes. “You say banana, and I say banahnah.” We had such fun together.
How old were you when you decided you wanted to become a writer?
I’m not sure I ever made the conscious decision. When I was growing up, I thought being a writer was so far beyond my grasp that I went to college to become an administrative assistant. And I excelled at shorthand (yes, I’m that old!), typing, and proofreading. But even as I worked in that capacity, I used my lunch hours to write.
What inspired that decision to start writing?
I simply loved it and couldn’t ignore that nagging feeling that I had a story to tell. As it turns out, I had several.
Of your characters is there any single one that you identify most closely with?
I love them all, and I identify with each one of them on some level. I love that Amy had such a close relationship with her grandmother. That was taken directly from personal experience. My grandmother was my cheerleader, my confidante, and one of the most special people in my life.
Who are were some of your favorite authors as a young reader?
Caroline Keene—I loved the Nancy Drew mysteries; Enid Blyton—The Secret Seven series; and Gertrude Chandler Warner—The Boxcar Children.
How about as an adult? Who are some of your favorite authors now?
Dean Koontz—if you’ve never read Watchers, I highly recommend it, and also the Odd Thomas and Frankenstein series; Mary Higgins Clark; Brad Meltzer; Jude Deveraux; Jeffrey Deaver; Harlen Coben. I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting!
What advice would you have for new writers just getting to the point where they think they may want to start their first book?
Understand that your first book is going to need work. No matter how talented you are or how well you can tell a story, that first manuscript in particular is going to need a thorough edit—from someone who’s not afraid to hurt your feelings. For that matter, every book you write will need a thorough edit from someone willing to hurt your feelings! If you don’t believe me, ask my editor! But also understand that having to have your work edited doesn’t make you a bad writer. It actually makes you a better writer.
Now this is the part of the story where we get a little different from many interviews. My house mates, Fillii, Gnillii, Boffin, and Berthold (four leprechauns that live in a nicely decorated, Victorian style area of their own design in my crawlspace) would like to ask you a personality-defining question that will probe deep into the heart of Gayle Trent, to what readers can see as the “real you.”
Take it boys.
Miss Gayle, this is Fillii, eldest of the leprechaun brothers, and my brother Boffin, who is a connoisseur of fine dining…
Especially if it contains hot dogs!
Yes, thank you Boffin, especially where hot dogs are involved. We would like you to answer this question:
If you were to discover yourself unexpectedly stranded on an island somewhere where the weather is reasonably decent
- What kinds of food would you like to tide you over until rescue arrives?
- What kind of beverage would you want to be most plentiful?
- What kind of person would you hope was stranded with you to keep you company until said rescue makes its appearance?
I hope she says, “Hot Dogs, Beer and Leprechauns.”
Shut up Boffin.
Hi, fellas! What a pleasure to meet you! I’ve always loved leprechauns and other magical creatures. I’m sorry, Boffin, but I’m afraid hot dogs give me migraines. As much as I love them, I’ve not been able to eat them for years. Have one for me with chili, mustard, and onions, and enjoy it very much, would you? In the meantime, I hope you’d join me on the island and enjoy some Italian food—some chicken Alfredo, breadsticks…or maybe spaghetti and meatballs…and a chocolate torte. What do you say?
Could we have some sweet tea rather than beer? I don’t want to pass out and miss the boat!
And I would hope some intelligent, well-read, quirky leprechauns would keep me company, maybe regaling me with tales from their homeland and anecdotes about this person Basil they live with….
Gayle Leeson is a pseudonym for Gayle Trent, who also writes the national bestselling Embroidery Mystery series as Amanda Lee. She lives in Virginia with her family and is having a blast writing the Down South Café Mystery series.
To learn more about Gayle, please visit her website.
He lives in Anchorage Alaska with his wife and teen sons.