Today our guest is author, Nancy Gotter Gates. I first met Nancy a few years ago when I edited her novel Sand Castles. I was touched by Nancy’s characters, and their real-life struggles. I was thrilled when we were able to work together on her next novel, Life Studies! Welcome, Nancy, to The Editing Essentials.
Nancy Gotter Gates is the author of seven mysteries and three women’s fiction novels. Sand Castles, Life Studies and The State of Grace are stand alone novels featuring women in their fifties and sixties. Her mysteries include the Emma Daniels series set in Sarasota Florida, the Tommi Poag series set in Greensboro North Carolina and her newest, The Glendon Hills Retirement Center series, set in “Guilford City” North Carolina. She has also published numerous articles, poems and thirty short stories. Nancy lives in High Point North Carolina with her cat Callie. Visit her website at: http://www.nancygottergates.com/
Many mystery writers look for unusual backgrounds and quirky occupations for their protagonists to set themselves apart from others in the crowded field of cozy mysteries. I understand completely. If you’re not writing police procedurals or thrillers filled with spies, government types, or special agents, it’s hard to make one’s protagonist stand out from the crowd. However, I take a different tack. I prefer to write about everyday women, working in an ordinary job or retired, who happen to stumble upon a dead body and feel compelled to track down the killer. I feel the reader can identify with her because they have everything in common. She is not an expert in ancient languages or a famous chef or a biker. She is the woman next door, or in your book club. All of my protagonists are women of baby boomer age, some retired, some not. All are middle-class average housewives or office workers who stumble onto crimes that shock and appall them and are driven to find the perpetrator. Even though they have little knowledge of police procedure or access to crime labs and specialists, they manage to find the guilty party through passion, hard work, and determination.
I frequently tend to draw from my own experiences in my stories. For example in my Emma Daniels mystery series, she and her husband Paul move to Sarasota when he takes early retirement. My husband had to take disability retirement at a young age and we purchased a winter home in Sarasota. However, Emma loses her husband to a heart attack within months and is left on her own. In the first book, A Stroke of Misfortune, a neighbor helps her deal with her grief and they become fast friends. When this woman is killed and her husband is accused of her murder, Emma, who never imagined herself in such a role, is resolved to exonerate him and find the real perpetrator. I believe that readers will find Emma’s traits of loyalty, courage and determination admirable. And in subsequent books these same qualities come into play when she deals with scams on the elderly, and men who take advantage of lonely widows. I can only hope that if I found myself in similar situations I might find in myself the qualities I’ve given to Emma.
Tommi Poag lives in Greensboro, North Carolina which was my home for forty years. She also works in an insurance office as I did for a time. Tommi is a divorcee whose ex, a lawyer, dumped her for a younger woman in his office forcing her to go to work when she is too proud to accept alimony. My work experience was helpful when I decided to have an insurance policy play a large role in casting suspicion upon Tommi’s friend, Nina who is accused of killing her husband in When Push Comes to Death.
In my second Tommi Poag book, Death on Disaster Day, my role as the Public Relations Director of a Girl Scout Council led me to set the scene for the murder at a Scout camp where the girls are being judged on their first aid skills. Tommi has volunteered to be a “victim” and when her friend is shot to death at the perimeter of the camp, she is driven to find the killer. I was nervous about how the Girl Scouts would feel about having a murder on Scout camp grounds even though it was fictional so I had the local Executive Director read the manuscript before it was published. She loved it and even used the book as a fund raiser.
In the third Tommi Poag book I used our local reenactment of a Revolutionary War battle as the background. This annual event is a thrilling spectacle of uniformed soldiers advancing on each other with swords, muskets and cannons. I chose to have one of the sutlers, or merchants, who pitch tents on the periphery of the battlefield, be the victim.
Since I now live in a retirement center, I thought it would be fun to have my newest protagonist live in a fictional one set in “Guilford City” North Carolina. And so I began the Glendon Hills Retirement Center series featuring Viola Weatherspoon and her best friend Tyrone Landowski. Vi was an Executive Director of a Girl Scout Council in New England and Ty worked for the State Department. Neither has ever been married and their relationship is more like brother and sister, substituting for the siblings they never had.
The characters in my women’s fiction are also ordinary women dealing with the problems that beset their lives. In Sand Castles, Ginny has always been a stay-at-home wife and mother and when her husband decides to move to Florida upon his early retirement, she is loath to leave friends and family behind. But Leland has his way and after their move Ginny feels displaced and depressed. It takes a series of life-altering events for Ginny to find her way to happiness again. I feel that little attention is paid to the psychological and emotional effects of retirement and wanted to address them.
Life Studies features Liz Raynor who decides to pursue her lifelong interest in art when her husband dies at age fifty-five. Eventually she falls in love with her art teacher and together they encounter many roadblocks to their happiness which they overcome. I too lost my husband in his fifties and my art helped to heal me.
In The State of Grace, Grace Cousins, who works for a financial advisor, has never married. When her father dies, she moves in with her mother who suffers from dementia. She rents out her empty townhouse to a hydrologist, in town on a two-year contract, and eventually falls in love with him though many obstacles lie in the way.
I prefer to write about mature women with their rich histories who’ve dealt with all the ups and downs life has thrown at them. To me, they are the most interesting characters of all.
Thank you, Nancy, for joining us today, and sharing your experiences with us! Please feel free to make comments, or ask Nancy questions while she is here with us today. Thank you! 🙂