Gabrielle Luthy spent her teen years on a mango plantation in Central Queensland, Australia. While her brother quickly got his driver’s permit so he could go play in the closest big smoke (60,000 people), she was content to stay home and write tales of people playing in other big smokes (San Francisco was a favorite, and remains so). She moved to Melbourne for the career opportunities and the coffee before heading off to Paris (where the coffee sucks). After five years of working for the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, she’s back in Melbourne, sharing an apartment with 2 18-year-old cats who don’t realize they’re geriatrics, and planning a move to another big smoke. New York City’s topping her current list, although Montreal holds a certain appeal.
Her writing has won numerous awards, most recently the 2009 Golden Rose and the 2009 Beacon Unpublished with The Lake Effect, which also won the Single Title category and Grand Prize of the 2009 Launching A Star contest. You can read more about Gabrielle and her writing on her website. Here’s a little about her Golden-Heart finaling manuscript in the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category, THE LAKE EFFECT:
Twenty years ago, wide-eyed Midwesterner Farris Degraw went to summer camp in Maine and came away with five friends who would change the course of her life: Lucy, hiding secrets behind a flamboyant exterior; Tucker, whose quirky outlook gets them through the dark times; self-contained Down-Easter Craig; and Sara, the kind, clever Bostonian Farris wishes she could be. And then there’s Dan. The child of career diplomats, Dan Owens learned to be different things to different people, without learning to be himself. For years, Farris followed him around the country—until she asked him to follow her and he said no.
Now, with Sara terminally ill, the friends gather at a lake in Maine for one last Christmas. A successful designer who’s come a long way from star-struck teen, Farris is determined not to fall under the spell of the man she left seven years ago. But it turns out that—like old insecurities—first loves aren’t easily vanquished, and Dan isn’t quite the bad guy Farris remembers. Things are busting wide open at the lake house, with all six forced to confront the complexities of friendship, betrayal and the enduring links between past and present. In doing so, Farris must learn to let go of past disappointments and rediscover what matters most: love.
And here’s a little bit about Gabrielle…
1. How long have you been writing?
Since I was thirteen. I was reading Book 3 of a beloved series and couldn’t believe the author killed off my favorite character. So I rewrote the book, saved the character, and found my calling in the process. (See? There is a place for righteous indignation in this world!)
2. Did you always want to be a writer or is this something you fell into later in life?
Apart from a few short months when I was about six and thought I might try becoming a ballerina, I can’t remember wanting to be anything else. Once the writing bug bit, nothing else mattered. I remember being in a chemistry exam and shocking the teacher by asking for more paper. He thought I’d given up on that class, and he was right: I’d circled A, B, C, D for the multiple choice questions then used the essay time to work on whichever angst-ridden YA I was obsessed with at the time. Years later, I stood in front of the how-to-write section of a Barnes & Noble in New Haven, CT, and thought, “Well, someone’s making a living from this, why not you?” That’s what I’ve been working on ever since, and every job I’ve ever had was to keep the cats in kibble until that happens.
3. What do you do in your “other life”?
Try to escape it <g> Actually, I work in IT with some really cool people. And I watch people. I live in a bayside suburb known for its hijinks, so I’m guaranteed writing fodder every time I step out of my apartment. (Actually, I can stay home for that. The lane beside my bedroom is often the setting for late-night drama, and I’m still trying to figure out what my upstairs neighbor does for a living.) When I’m not watching people, I’m watching copious amounts of TV. I write visually, with everything playing out in front of me, and some of my best writing lessons have been from shows such as E.R., Friday Night Lights, Californication, Breaking Bad, Being Erica, The West Wing, United States of Tara and Rescue Me. (Great excuse, huh?) When not doing that, I’m making scented candles and taste-testing my latest attempt at creating the perfect margarita.
4. Who are your favorite authors?
Yay! My favorite subject! My auto-buys are Emily Giffin, Julie Buxbaum, Megan Crane, Jonathan Tropper, Sarah Addison Allen, Armistead Maupin, Barbara Samuel, mystery writer Earl Emerson, and Caleb Carr—whether he’s writing historical fiction, historical non-fiction or cranky letters to the editor, I’m there. I get a physical buzz from writers who twist the English language into something bold and rambunctious: Hunter S. Thompson, Denis Leary, Diablo Cody, David Foster Wallace, and San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford, whose collection, The Daring Spectacle, I’m giggling my way through. I also read a lot of YA (I just finished and adored Keris Stainton’s Della Says: OMG!) and non-fiction, mainly pop culture and current affairs. My most treasured book is Robert Redford’s The Outlaw Trail, a photojournalistic account of the horseback trip Redford and a National Geographic team took in 1975, from the Canadian border all the way down to Mexico, as they traced the path the outlaws rode and chronicled a way of life that’s since disappeared.
5. Do you have an agent?
Not yet, but all offers will be entertained 😉
6. Where do you see yourself in five years?
Weird thing: a few months ago, I had this image of me living in an apartment just like Josh’s from The West Wing. I don’t know where exactly, just that it was East Coast (maybe Brooklyn, maybe D.C.) and I was watching snow fall outside. So, as freaky-deaky as it sounds, I’ll say I’m going to be living in that apartment, with several of my books on the shelves, working like crazy to complete the others I’m contracted for and continuing my hunt for the perfect margarita during my down time. Yeah. That sounds just about right.
And now, in Gabrielle’s own words…
Setting: much, much more than just a place
A few days before NaNo 2008, when I was committed to the task but with no idea what I’d write, my first question was, “Where is this set?” The answer came back to me almost instantly: in Maine, on a lake with a winter storm closing in. Never mind that the most time I’d spent in Maine was a day trip to L. L. Bean, or that I had no idea which lake, or what it was like to live through an ice storm. Because, while many writers start their manuscripts with a character or a situation, more often than not, I start with setting—and once it’s determined, I can’t change it without changing the whole book. Let the research begin!
It’s fair to say I’m obsessed with setting. It dictates the characters, the season, sometimes even the events. It also dictates my reading. Contrary to what I once heard an editor say, some readers do buy based on setting. It might not be a deal-breaker/clencher, but I’m very happy that Amazon allows me to search by whichever setting I’m in the mood to read; I’ve found a lot of favorite writers that way, most recently Julie Buxbaum, whose NYC-set book The Opposite of Love I might have missed. And that, my friends, would have been a travesty.
I’ll admit it: screwing up setting can prejudice me against a writer. I stopped reading a massive bestseller after only a few pages because the character drove from Paris’s Ritz Hotel to the Louvre via the Opera Garnier—something you just wouldn’t do when you’re supposed to be rushing to a murder scene. Extreme, perhaps, but I didn’t feel I could trust the writer because his characters were out of synch with his setting. I knew I was going to have a hard time with a former critique partner when she set a manuscript in NYC, left out any mention of setting apart from a trip to Central Park, and told me it was an editor’s job to include the detail.
Have I screwed up setting? Oh yeah. I once wrote a scene where a character drives down a Paris street, then later walked it myself—and found huge bollards that prohibited driving. I was lucky that I had the opportunity to check out my setting in person. I’m sure that wasn’t the only mistake I’ve ever made, but not for lack of trying. In the days before Mapquest then Google Earth made things easier, I’d pour over maps, vacation guides and Yellow Pages, to get an idea of layout, topography, local businesses—anything that would help me walk the streets just like my characters. Historical writers, you have my admiration for bringing to life places that may have changed drastically—or may no longer exist. Futuristic and fantasy writers? You make me feel lazy!
Setting also influences character and creates conflict. Although The Lake Effect takes place in Maine, the character of Dan is rooted in the kids of the friends I made while living in Paris—smart, sophisticated Anglophone teens straddling two cultures and not always sure how they fit into either. There’s a big difference between a kid from that world and one raised, as The Lake Effect’s lead character Farris was, in a small Midwestern town. No matter how much she wants out of that town, there will be things she won’t understand in the world she chooses, which leads to conflict. And while I do my best to avoid character clichés, there are some details that just make sense. For instance, in Learning How To Stay, set in L.A.’s Topanga Canyon in summer, my characters drink margaritas creek-side and chow down on Double-Doubles from In-N-Out Burger, while in The Lake Effect, the characters crave Fribbles from Friendly’s. (Did I mention that I love to vicariously eat and drink via my characters? Coz I do, almost as much as I love vicariously living in their fabulous houses!)
An unexpected, happy consequence to being setting-obsessed is the people I’ve met, both online and in-person, in my quest for detail. I’ve found that the majority of people enjoy helping writers—even if they can be a little suspicious at first. I once had a lady in San Francisco ask me if I was carrying a gun before she invited me into her house to check out the period features and design. I’ve also struck up an online friendship with the person who lives in the house I’m using in an upcoming manuscript. I knew the house’s address, found photos on Flickr and mailed the poster, asking for information on the logistics associated with living in a hillside house accessible only by stairs. She answered all my questions and more. It works the other way, too: when my friend was writing a book set in my ‘hood of Montmartre, I was able to help her out with the apartment building she’d chosen for her protagonist—because, out of all the buildings in Paris, it just so happened that my landlady lived there.
How about you–does setting play a major part for you, or is it a bit character? Are there particular places you keep coming back to in setting your books, or do you prefer to revisit the same one and introduce new characters to it? What tips can you share on researching your setting?