Alison Gaylin: The WHAT REMAINS OF ME Interview

What Remains Of Me by Alison Gaylin is a captivating story. The bestselling author Jeffery Deaver once said, “A thriller asks what is going to happen and a mystery asks what happened.” In this spellbinding story, Gaylin does both through her character Kelly Lund, portraying her as a teenager and a woman in her forties. There are multiple themes explored including the effect of secrets, how money and power corrupt, as well as how the media frenzy attempts to put a persona on a celebrity. These are all wonderfully intertwined throughout the story about the world of Hollywood.

Elise Cooper: Why write this type of story?

Alison Gaylin: I have always been fascinated with pop culture and having crimes tried in the media. I even wrote into the plot the journalistic character Sebastian Todd’s interview with the killer, Kelly Lund. It is based on an interview I read that Truman Capote did with Bobby Beausoleil, a former associate of Charles Manson, at San Quentin Prison. Beausoleil came across as very articulate. It seemed quite clear to me that Capote took poetic license to say and phrase things for this thug. What I wanted to get across is how an esteem writer can put words in the killer’s mouth.

EC: What influenced your writings?

AG: Although my family was not in the movie industry, my mom subscribed to the Hollywood Reporter and Variety. As a kid I read movie magazines. I blended that with my interest in true crime. I first became exposed when I was ten years old after reading a copy of the book Helter Skelter, thinking it was going to be about the Beatles, since they were one of my favorite groups.

EC: I was reminded of a quote in the book, “Would you still have killed John if he had been nice to you at the screen test?” What comes to mind is John Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman. Please explain.

AG: That is really interesting you said that. It may have been my subconscious. When I was in grad school at Columbia I wrote my master’s thesis about obsessed fans, and focused a lot on Chapman.

EC: Why the name Rocky Three and can you tell us about his character?

AG: My character explained they thought that was when the Rocky movies started to get bad. The name just came to me after thinking about the movie. A resource for his character was a friend who lives in Joshua Tree. There are really interesting and quirky people there. She told me about a guy who was a metal sculptor whose name was something like Moby Dick. This sparked in my mind the idea of having a chain saw artist.

EC: What about Kelly?

AG: Writing young and middle age Kelly was like writing two different characters. I try to figure out how every character justifies their actions. She was affected by her twenty-five years in prison. I think it stunted her and hardened her. I hope readers will develop some understanding of her. She as well as the other characters went down the wrong path. I wanted to write a story about someone very young and somewhat naïve who was accused of committing a murder. She was definitely convicted in the court of public opinion with people misconstruing what she said and how she acted.

EC: You also explored how the press attempts to define someone. Please Explain.

AG: The press can be as unreliable as anyone else. It is impossible to get to know someone from an article. A sense of that person is colored by the writer’s perception of that person. Facts as they are presented are many times different than facts as they are. This distortion is definitely true in high profile trials. We can never truly know our public figures.

EC: Does anyone come to mind?

AG: Marcia Clark, the Simpson prosecutor. She became well known in a murder case where a young actress was shot by an obsessed fan. She helped establish the anti-stalking laws. But after the O.J. case she became known as the lady with funny hair who botched the case. A lot of the Hollywood aspect is larger than life.

BTW: Clark is now a terrific mystery writer.

On the other side is Amanda Knox. The press created a persona of her because she didn’t act according to some prescribed script. That story inspired me. If your exterior isn’t viewed as likable, or if you don’t seem as contrite as people think you ought to be, a narrative builds up around you, and you become a ‘monster.’

EC: Why the twins angle?

AG: I am an only child and because of that I keep writing about sisters. Maybe I always wanted a sister. By having Kelly a twin, I was able to have a strong part of Kelly’s life where she feels loss. I thought what better than a fraternal twin whose shadow Kelly lived in, since she was more glamorous.

EC: Kelly wrote for, but “Ashley Madison” came to mind. Correct?

AG: Yes. I read this article about a woman who wrote profiles for “Ashley Madison.” I thought how dubious, to express yourself by writing profiles on a cheater website. It just struck a chord with me.

EC: Can you give a shout out about your next projects?

AG: Out in October is an anthology edited by Jim Fusilli called Crimes Plus Music. It is a bunch of short stories based on songs. I think nothing sets a time period like music. Since I have always been a rock fan I wrote about a song from the 1980’s punk rock band, “X.” The song is entitled “Johnny Hit and Run Pauline.” The story is very dark. My next feature book is about a hit and run accident, and how it affects a variety of families that takes place in Hudson Valley, New York.