Alison Gaylin’s latest series features Brenna Spector, a missing persons investigator with complete autobiographical memory triggered by her sister’s abduction. When her own daughter goes missing it ties to her tragic past in her latest, Stay With Me. We caught up with Alison before she joins us with Megan Abbott on Thursday, June 26th at 7PM to talk about the book and writing for such a unique heroine.
MysteryPeople: So much comes to a head in this third book. Did you have the idea of a trilogy when you started?
Alison Gaylin: When I first proposed the series to Harper, I had planned on Clea being Brenna’s “one armed man” — her disappearance being the one mystery that haunts Brenna and drives her, throughout however many books the series turns out to be. But by the time I was writing And She Was — and focusing more and more on what happened to Clea myself — I became impatient to tell the whole story. Three books seemed a lot more reasonable, and more satisfying as well.
MP: Family has always played a part in the series, but here it is involved in the plot and practically every sub-plot here, particularly with the female characters. What did you want to explore about dealing with female family members?
AG: I’m so glad you noticed this! Yes, Stay With Me is all about being a mother — the joy and terror of it. There are all sorts of crimes in this book — abduction and murder included — but to me the most frightening thing in it is the realization that your child is a separate human being just like you are, with complicated emotions and secrets you’ll never know about. You can only keep them so safe. You can only get so close (Wow, I’m scaring myself again….). Anyway, like Brenna, I’m both a daughter and a mother and I wanted to explore those very complicated, very consuming ties.
MP: What made you decide to threaten Trent, Brenna’s womanizing assistant, with fatherhood?
AG: Well, in the previous book Trent was almost killed. I thought, What could throw him even more off balance than a violent brush with death? The positive pregnancy test seemed like the obvious answer. On another level though, I like for all my characters to experience the consequences of their actions — and Trent has seen a lot of action. Being a possible dad-to-be makes Trent have to answer to somebody other than himself. He starts to see the world differently and relate to Maya’s disappearance in a more personal way. Life slaps everybody around in this book, Trent included. It’s sort of interesting to see him take something seriously.
MP: How does having a lead character with total recall influence the writing?
AG: Brenna’s memories are visceral, incorporating all five senses. They take her out of the moment when she is experiencing them, so in order to make them feel more immediate, I write them in the present tense (the present action is told in past tense). I do a lot of editing on the memories and try not to have them go on for too long unless they are integral to the plot, but it is definitely a challenge. I think Brenna’s total recall makes the storytelling a little more complicated than it would normally be.
MP: What did you want to convey about the condition?
AG: It’s perfect autobiographical memory. Not perfect or photographic memory. So, for instance, if Brenna was reading a police report ten years ago but thinking about what she was going to eat for lunch, the contents of the report wouldn’t be in her memory; the lunch plans would. What I wanted to convey in this book is that, despite Brenna’s sometimes enviable condition, there is a lot that she doesn’t know. Brenna’s mother tells her that perfect memory doesn’t necessarily mean she’s right about everything. And that’s a very important idea in the book.
MP: If you could tell Brenna one thing, what would it be?
AG: Well after this book, it would probably be, “Get some rest!”
Alison Gaylin will read from & sign her new novel here at BookPeople on Thursday, June 26th at 7PM. You can pre-order signed copies of Stay With Me now via bookpeople.com, or find a copy on our shelves in-store.