Donna Meredith interviews Gale Massey, author of “Girl from Blind River”

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DM:  What inspired a writer from Florida to set a story in New York state?  

GM: The very first images that came to me at the onset of writing this novel were of ice, sleet, and a young woman in a decrepit trailer. I stuck with those images because they spoke to me of poverty and physical need. It seems crucial to honor the seeds of a story in order to keep your mind open to receiving the whole story. Keeping those elements turned out to be a good choice considering how readers are responding to the sense of atmosphere in the novel. I am interested in writing a Florida story though and expect my next novel will be set here.

DM: What kind of research did you do for this novel? Do you play poker yourself?  

Donna Meredith

GM: I started learning how to play poker about the same time I started taking novel writing seriously. Poker is a complex game that requires critical thinking, a calculating mind, intuition, and years to master. At some point I started looking around the table wondering about the lives of my opponents, especially the women players. That’s when Jamie started to take shape and form into an interesting character. A few months later it occurred to me that she had to have been playing card games since she was a child and her mother, Phoebe, began to come into focus. Right then I knew that Jamie was the child of a card shark.

DM: Has gambling addiction affected people you know?

GM: Yes, it has. I have a couple of friends who got caught up in casino games and over-extended beyond their comfort level. Fortunately, they had the good sense to have themselves barred from Hard Rock. Not everyone has the insight to do that and I’m proud of them for making that choice.

DM: One of Jamie’s most endearing qualities is her desire to take care of her brother Toby. What do you see as her greatest strengths and weaknesses?

GM: Jamie is a survivor and she understands that society’s rules of right and wrong are meant to keep her in line, to keep her down, to keep her in a subservient role. She doesn’t always understand what she’d doing and she gets in plenty of trouble with bad decisions, but she possesses an instinct fueled by rage at her situation and chooses to fight for her future. Her greatest weakness is being blind to her family’s dysfunction, which leads her to trust the wrong people.

DM: Toby is an intriguing, complex character. You avoid labeling him, but he seems to be autistic. Late in the story through a few subtle images, you suggest he is just beginning to recognize that he is gay. Could you discuss your vision in creating Toby?

GM: I don’t think Toby is autistic. He is a troubled young man at the threshold of adulthood and learning about himself. He has an infantile love for his mother that is a result of her incarceration and their separation during much of his childhood. I don’t know anyone like Toby and believe he is the most authentic creation in the book. He didn’t let me know about his inclination until the absolute last moment and I love him dearly for opening up to me.

DM: Uncle Loyal’s name proves ironic. Some of the greatest twists in the plot emerge from Jamie’s discovery Loyal’s true nature. Any comments on Loyal?

GM: Loyal. I have no idea where that name came from but I loved it right away. He’s just a guy living in a rough world. He wants what he wants and is willing to do what he must to get it. He’s had his heart broken in several ways but ending up with two kids to raise didn’t jive with the idea of the life he’d wanted. His biggest flaw is his primitive notion of loyalty.

DM: Most adults in the novel aren’t trustworthy, long a trend in fiction with adolescent protagonists. What do you achieve as a writer by making the adults unreliable?

Gale Massey

GM: Adults are just children grown old. They have more experience in getting what they want and they have more tricks in their bag. They exist in positions of power over adolescents and often willing to abuse that power. As a writer I feel obligated to discuss this power imbalance. If fiction serves as a commentary on our culture, I think I’ve done my job.

DM: What writers have influenced your work?

GM: Answering this question sounds like bragging, but other writers have compare my writing to Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote, and Daniel Woodrell. One reviewer said my work was reminiscent of Raymond Chandler which is a truly remarkable compliment.

DM: What are you working on now?

GM: I’m working on a Florida based thriller with themes of gambling and corruption. Stay tuned.

DM: Can’t wait to read the new one when it’s finished. Thanks for sharing these insights into your writing life.

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