Many years ago, I participated in an online writing community that has since closed. Authonomy had a section of comment boards where different topics were discussed and one of the most helpful of those were the critiquing groups. They were organized by genre and Gail Cleare ran the Women’s Fiction Critique Group. When the site closed down, it was this group that many of us were most distraught to lose. And so we didn’t. We moved the group to another forum where it continues to run under Gail’s care.
I was able to read her new novel for that group and I’m thrilled to announce it’s being published today! Gail talked to me recently about her life as a writer.
When did you start writing and when did you start calling yourself a writer?
I wrote my first poem when I was ten. It was selected to appear in the literary journal at my school, the first time a fourth grader’s work had ever been chosen, and that was it for me—I wanted to be a Writer. I wrote stories all through high school, won two big contests, studied the craft in college, had my poetry performed in live theater in Boston, and then…remembered I needed to earn a living. So I wrote marketing/PR copy for many years, while dreaming of having the time to write novels because then I would be a real Writer. Instead, I raised three boys and settled for writing ads and content for AOL until 2010, when the stars aligned just right and I wrote my first full-length work, DESTINED, a novel of the Tarot. That’s when I started calling myself a Writer, though I had been a writer of another sort for my entire career.
Talk to me about your writing process. What is your preferred writing environment? How long does it take you to complete a book? At what stage of writing do you find outside feedback helpful? How do you sift through differing advice? When do you think about the audience your book appeals to?
I write in a blue room at the very top and back of my house, sitting in front of a double window that looks out over many acres of fields and forest. Birds fly by at eye level. It’s lovely. My first book took only five weeks for the first draft and I worked on it every day, straight through. THE TASTE OF AIR has been rewritten three times and took a total of five years, with several stops and starts. After the first draft, I took started looking around for an online writing group because I needed feedback, and I found HarperCollins website for authors, Authonomy. Unfortunately, that site is closed now, but it’s where I originally started the Women’s Fiction Critique Group (WFCG), which has since moved to WriteOn. I find it incredibly helpful to be critiqued by other serious writers in the same genre. If you get a dozen or more opinions all at once, you can see the trends and understand which comments are personal taste vs. which views are held in common, and clearly identify flaws in the work. At that point, I make a judgment call and go with whichever path seems both practical and likely to take care of the unresolved issues. I think about the audience for the book all along, starting from the first draft of the first chapter. I shape the voice and the story with that in mind.
You run an online critique group for writers of women’s fiction. What has that group meant to you as a writer?
Yes, I mentioned the WFCG above. It has meant an enormous amount to me, in terms of making friends like you, Katie, who I met there on Authonomy, and because access to the group mind has been invaluable. We share reviews, information, experiences, leads, jokes and sympathy. There are several writers’ groups locally where I live, but they are for all genres. I am much more interested in having my work critiqued by authors who like to read similar books, rather than by writers who enjoy science fiction or detective stories, for example. By going online, we’ve been able to collect WF authors from around the world, and many current and past members of the group are doing really well, I’m glad to say.
Your new novel, The Taste of Air, is being released today. What is the book about and who should read it?
The Taste of Air is the story of two sisters who discover their mother has been hiding a secret life for over forty years. When Mary Reilly turns up in a hospital hundreds of miles from the senior community where she lives, Nell and Bridget find out she has a lakeside cottage in Vermont, a Westie named Winston, and a set of complex relationships with people her daughters have never met. The family drama plays out from the middle of the 20th century into the present, revealing the sacrifices all three women have made and the secrets they carry.
If you ever wondered what your mother is really like, you should read this book. It’s a family saga with mystery/historical elements, exploring the woman’s journey through three strong main characters. Readers of Sarah Jio, Kate Morton, Susan Wiggs and Luanne Rice will enjoy this story.
What’s your next project?
I’m working on the second draft of something much lighter called “Love & Chocolate, a romance with recipes.” It’s the story of a young woman who has been burned by a bad marriage, and tries to protect her heart by substituting chocolate and cybersex for the real thing. Every chapter ends with a chocolate recipe, or a bit of cocoa trivia. This book is nearly finished and I hope to have it out next year.
I’m also working on a sequel to The Taste of Air. A young girl introduced at the very end of the first book becomes the main character of the second, and the saga of the Reilly clan continues.
More information about Gail Cleare can be found on her website.
Good luck with the launch of “The Taste of Air”, Gail! Thank you for sharing your insight into your writing life in this interview.
Thanks, Rob. I loved the interview, Katie’s questions were terrific.
great interview, katie.
gail’s description of how critique groups can be most useful is excellent.