An Interview With Crime Novelist Dianne Gallagher

Dianne GallagherDianne Gallagher grew up in rural Minnesota and attended the University of Minnesota, where she graduated with a BFA in Theatre, focusing primarily on playwriting. Upon moving to Los Angeles so her husband could attend film school, her interest shifted to screenwriting. Eventually, she moved to Chicago where her focus would again shift, this time to novels.

Before her debut novel, Too Dark to Sleep, was released, Dianne took up various projects that involved editing, critiquing, and ghost writing. Too Dark to Sleep has been given five stars and a seal of approval by IndieReader, and is a finalist in the Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards this September.

In our interview with Dianne, she discussed her upcoming novel, Indigo, and the field of digital and self-publishing.

LC: Why did you choose to publish with an independent/small press?

DG: Initially, I was represented by Trident Media Group. My first novel, Too Dark to Sleep, went up for auction and didn’t sell. Later a representative from Random House told my agent the protagonist and plot were too unconventional. I was told to write something a little more marketable, maybe with some supernatural element, and well, that’s not really my thing. By the time I finished a draft of another manuscript, my agent had left Trident and was no longer interested in representing fiction. So I had a book I thought was my best piece and it was dead in the water. All of the major publishers had seen it and passed, so I had to decide to let the project die or do something independently. With the way the market was going, I decided to go independent.

LC: In this digital age, many publishers are evolving to produce ebooks and some are creating only ebooks. How do you feel about your work in a digital format? Do you ever see the printed book going away?

DG: The digital format is a great way to get your book out for little or no money. The trick is to make sure it looks good. That’s easier to do if you’re producing a physical book. The layout, the typography, the cover, everything that makes the book and the writing more attractive is right there. That said, I do love to turn pages. A lot of readers do. So, although digital is a great format, I think printed books will be around for a while.

LC: How has living in Chicago influenced your writing? Did it have an impact on your development as a writer?

DG: Too Dark to Sleep is a Chicago book. The city was a huge influence and was the perfect setting for something a little more noir and grittier. Chicago has that very unique, very distinct personality that pairs perfectly with crime fiction. I’ve spent time in other major cities including Los Angeles and the thing that makes Chicago great is there’s always something going on. Always something to do. People don’t avoid downtown. They flock to it. As far as impacting me as a writer, I don’t know. I think the writing culture is very active in Chicago. There are tons of groups to join. Tons of events. However, I tend to be a hermit when I write. No one gets to see the project until it’s done. I don’t share pages, so maybe not so much impact in my writing development, [but a] huge impact as far as a canvas for stories.

LC: What do you think of self-publishing? Do you think it should only be used as a last resort, or do you think it has more of a place with specific genres?

DG: That’s a complicated question. I opted for self-publishing as a last resort. I know a lot of writers who just go straight to it. Honestly, I’ll probably be looking for agents when I finish Indigo, but I won’t waste as much time trying to land one. That’s the other big difference. The conventional route of publishing takes forever. Working independently cuts that time to market way down and gives you a great degree of control.

The thing with self-publishing, and this has been said before, writers are too quick to toss things into the marketplace. A lot of authors produce multiple books a year. As a former freelance editor, I just don’t see how you can get quality pieces that quickly. I’m not saying it’s impossible. It’s just rare. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to get work out, and independent publishing lets you do that. But as writers, we really do need to spend the time to make that work as good as it can be. Self-publishing makes it a little too easy to get books to the marketplace before they’re ready.

That said, I do think independent publishing is changing the market. Conventional publishing is stuck in a rut. Fewer publishers want to take chances on new authors, especially genre writers. It’s a business, yes, but that business is more and more reticent to take risks. Consequently, great writers go unread. Independent publishing allows readers access to good books that maynever have seen the light of day. And yes, it probably benefits some genres more than other[s]. There are some hugely enjoyable sci-fi and fantasy books out there that may not have made it through the conventional route. Cozies do well independently as do other mystery genres. Probably the harder sell as an independent publisher is literary fiction.

LC: Do you become very picky when editing your work? How do you strike a balance between getting everything just right without getting too caught up in the editing process?

DG: Ha! I am extraordinarily picky when I’m editing and rewriting. Indigo has been held up because it’s still not quite right. I keep futzing with it. But every rewrite gets a little closer to what it’s supposed to be. The bottom line is the book has to be the best it can be before you give it to readers. The amount of time that takes varies with every writer because everyone has their own approach.

It’s tough to know when to stop. If you’re only changing a word here or there or rearranging sentence structure, you’re done. Stop. Nothing good will come of tuning it anymore. It’s the characters, the plot, the bones of the story that need to be solid. You’re not done until those elements are as good as they can be. And if you put it away for a while, then read a chapter and forget you wrote it, that’s golden. You did your job. Get it to your readers.

LC: Can you give a brief synopsis of your upcoming book, Indigo? What was your inspiration for it and how was the process of writing it and getting it published?

DG: Indigo introduces another damaged protagonist, Sid Adler. She has a PhD in neurospsychology and is a therapist for people with neurological disorders and their families. But work is hard to find, for a variety of reasons, many personal. Sid has a hard time making eye contact, an even harder time meeting new people, and she carries around a set of tics that are impossible to ignore.

The sleepy suburb she lives in is rocked when a teenager doesn’t come home. And not just any child. An Indigo child. Spiritual, intelligent, hypersensitive to surroundings, Indigos are here to change the world, or so say the other members of the Indigo group.

Sid Adler is not so sure. She’s had experience with Indigos. So when she is contracted to interview the friends and family of the missing girl, Adler is sure something’s not quite right. Joe Elliott, the small town detective running the investigation, would prefer Adler just step away. She’s glitchy, unprofessional, has zero social skills — everything he can’t stand. But she also happens to be right more times than he can afford to ignore. And as they delve deeper, it looks less and less like the teen ran away and more like someone was responsible for her disappearance.

This is the book I wrote when my agent told me to try something with a supernatural element. Like I said, it’s not my normal fare, but research is. I do a lot of it, so I started researching the supernatural and stumbled across an interesting trail of breadcrumbs that led to the construction of Sid Adler. It’s been a painfully slow writing process. Slower than usual. Probably because Maggie Quinn is a tough act to follow. I hope to finish the final rewrite in the next two months and then I’ll spend a very short amount of time looking for an agent. If that falls through, I’ll go independent again.

LC: What was your experience with writing and publishing Too Dark to Sleep?

DG: I finished a major freelance project. About 7/8 of the material was mine and 1/8, including the premise, was the client’s. I was not allowed to touch those pages. I researched agents, drafted and sent query letters, and the project was placed with Writers House, which is huge. But the client’s agent wanted that 1/8 to be rewritten. That was a wake-up call. I needed to be writing for myself. Too Dark to Sleep was my next project. I’m a slow writer. You know how I said some are too quick to throw work into the marketplace — I’m too slow. My husband calls my writing style organic. Really, it’s just inefficient. I research a ton, then ruminate a ton, then overwrite. A ton. Everything goes in, then I slice it down to what is necessary. Maybe produce 800 manuscript pages and cut that down to 500. That approach is time consuming, but [it’s] the only way I seem to be able to write. My pieces tend to be character-driven, so once I got a firm handle on the protagonist, Maggie Quinn, many things fell into place. Plot is trickier for me, so it took a couple whacks at it to get the structure in shape. Thrillers also demand a good sense of timing, so I was brutal in the editing. When I was finally happy with Too Dark to Sleep, I sent it out to agencies. Eventually, Trident Media Group agreed to represent the project, and you know the rest of the story.

LC: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

DG: Write. Don’t stop writing. Also, your drawer is your best editor. Once you finish a product, don’t rush to send it out. Put it away for a while, then take it out and read it. You will be amazed at what jumps off the page at you. And that next rewrite, the one after it’s lived in the drawer, that’s the one you put out. That’s the one you show to agents or readers. And don’t get caught up in what other people think. Everyone has an opinion and will love to share it with you. Just remember you will never, ever write a book that everyone loves, so write the book you love. Oh, and remember this: write.

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Sarah Tassoni

Sarah is a graduate student in the MA Writing & Publishing program at DePaul University and an aspiring horror writer. She also loves cats and is a goth kid at heart.

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