Interview with Emily Gallo
Updated: Aug 31, 2020
I was drawn to Emily Gallo’s writing because she loves misfits, outsiders, and the loners. She writes about the members of society who are ignored, forgotten, misunderstood, and misinterpreted. I like a quirky character or two or three. I like character-driven, dialogue-heavy, escapist, immersive novels. I love when scenes play out like movies, when reading feels cinematic, when my imagination is firing off in full color and sound. In summary, I thoroughly enjoy Emily’s work.
Emily is the sort of person that you’d cherish as a friend. A former educator with a heart of gold, Emily spent her interview singing the praises of her talented and generous friends and reflecting on her opportunities to assist her communities. She is a musician, a novelist, a screenwriter, a dog lover, and a beach fanatic. In the span of an hour (that really only felt like a few minutes) Emily made us feel like old friends, and that warm, comforting feeling is reflected in her work. We need more passionate, compassionate, giving people like Emily in the world. Without further ado, I’m pleased to present my conversation with Emily below.
If you had to describe yourself as an ice cream flavor, what would it be and why?
This is the hardest question there is there! I did a lot of thinking about it and decided hazelnut gelato. I do happen to like gelato better than ice cream, but that isn’t why. I Wikipedia-ed gelato, and one of the things it said is its less air. I am direct and honest. What you see is what you get, so less hot air. It’s denser and smoother (than ice cream). I’m easy to talk to. I’m not particularly nervous or anxious or depressed. I’m an optimistic person. Smooth. And hazelnut because I’m a little nutty, off-beat, and fun.
What are some books that have inspired you as a writer or reader, and what are some books you’re currently enjoying?
The ones that inspire me…I’m going to start off with Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. He came from Ireland and was a high school English teacher, actually. His book was about his mother. My first book has a character named Finn McCoy who is like Frank McCourt. It’s a different character than the author, but that’s how I do characters. A little bit of this person, a little bit of that. His book was really my favorite book for many years. When I was younger, I was really into Southern authors. My favorite author then was Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, The Member of the Wedding. Because I write about very quirky characters, and she writes about very quirky characters. I like Southern writing because it was different. I write character driven stories.
As for what I’m reading right now, I do a lot of easy, quick crime novels. I like Michael Connelly and Robert Crais and John Grisham. They’re good stories and easy reading. I just finished reading Mitch Albom’s latest book called The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto. This book was just incredible and is actually helping me for the book that I’m writing right now. Just by accident! I go on Kindle and take books out of the library, and this popped up. It just works perfectly for the book that I’m writing right now. Somebody’s up there watching over me.
Tell me about your writing process.
I was a teacher in Sacramento, lived in Davis, and then met my husband online. He was a professor at Chico State, so we got married and I moved up here and I didn’t have to work anymore. He said you get to write, which is what I wanted to do all my life. I had been writing some screenplays before, but the idea of writing a novel was going to be some time in the future because I had to work. My writing process is I write in cafes. I grew up in New York City, and as a teenager that was where I would spend time. I grew up in the time of the beatniks where you go to cafes down in Greenwich Village and you drink espresso and the poets are there. I’ve always been someone who likes to go to cafes, and I’ve written every one of my books in The Tin Roof Café in Chico. In fact, the covers for three of my books were done by graphic art students who worked as baristas there.
I do have a studio in my house, but I like to be around people. I’m not a loner kind of person.
What does your editing process look like?
I wrote my first book, Venice Beach, when I was in a writing critique group. I started the editing process in the writing group. In that writing group is a wonderful, wonderful writer, Daniel, who’s a friend. He doesn’t get it together to write, which is nice for me because he helps me. He is my editor, and he is fantastic. I don’t do the writing groups anymore; I just do Daniel. My son was a newspaper editor, and he’s a fantastic writer. He’s my first go-to. He does the read, and we’re back and forth with changes that he feels I should make. Then I do the re-write, which is an on-going thing. And then it goes to Daniel and my husband. I see what they say and put it together and that’s it. Then Daniel and my son, Chris, do the real line by line. I do my own audiobooks. I find that when I’m reading it for the audio, I come up with some changes. It’s great for the typos. It’s an added editing process that works well.
On your website it says that you write about "the misfits, the forgotten, the eccentrics, the loners." Tell me a little about your inspiration.
I went to a Quaker school for 14 years. My parents were very strong liberal, progressive Democrats so they were very focused on social issues. We did not have a lot of money. My father was an immigration lawyer, so he didn’t get paid for a lot of his work. A lot of it was barter. That started things. I grew up in the time of Civil Rights and hippies and the Vietnam War and that played a large part. I went away to college in Massachusetts in a small liberal arts university.
I’ve always taught in ethically-diverse, low-income schools in all the different places where I have lived. I liked those kids and I liked those parents. When I started writing, I was the office manager in the Obama campaign up here in Chico. When we were finished and he won, he said everyone should do community service of some kind. There were a couple of other people in the office who were writers as well, and we decided to teach writing to the homeless. We volunteered at the Jesus Center in Chico. We started a writing group and did it from 2009 to 2014. I need to tell you that as much as I thought I was a social activist and I knew poor people, I thought we were going to be helping them write job applications, but they were incredibly educated and good writers. I remember this one man had piles and piles of books he would just take with him wherever he went. We published two magazines with their writing; we were just the editors. It was certainly eye-opening, and it was really a great experience. They did some editing on my screenplays with me. It was really powerful. In my first book I wrote about a homeless man
named Jed lived on the Venice Beach boardwalk. He is my favorite character in all my books.
You began writing screenplays and then transitioned to novels. Tell me about these different processes.
The screenwriting started when I was still living in Davis, and my kids had finally grown. It was time to focus on me. I was going to take a screenwriting class at UC Davis, and the class didn’t happen; there weren’t enough people. I emailed the instructor asking him to give me the names of the people that had already signed up so I could see if they wanted to get together. One responded. He was a young man the age of my son who had screenwriting experience and was also a teacher. We used to get together at a café every week or two, and I started writing screenplays and he introduced me to Final Draft, the screenwriting software. I started writing screenplays because it seemed easier to me. They weren’t so long; a novel is sort of daunting. We met weekly or biweekly until I moved to Chico.
They always say in screenwriting that it’s your third screenplay that’s the best. Don’t ever worry about the first or the second because they’re terrible, and the third is the good one. So, the third one I said it’s pretty good. It was The Columbarium, which was my second novel, and I sent it off to some people to see what they’d do. I actually got interest. For several months we went back and forth, and they got money from Europe for the screenplay. Everything was going well. He had a director and a unit producer and blah, blah, blah. And then all of a sudden…nothing. They’ve made movies that are just sitting on shelves. That’s apparently the way it works in Hollywood. So, I said well screw this, I want to be more in charge of what I’m writing. You know with a screenplay I’m not about to get the actors and the directors and everything. That’s when I decided I’d move to novels. I did Venice Beach. I had written the screenplay for it after The Columbarium.
It is very different, but my books are very dialogue-strong rather than descriptive. I don’t go into flowery descriptions because in screenplays that is a huge no-no. You let the director decide how the scene is going to be. When I started writing novels, I had to write some descriptions. Most people write the opposite direction where they write a novel that is turned into a screenplay. It was something I had to think about very hard. I have had many people who have reviewed my books say they could just see it on the screen, and they didn’t know I used to write screenplays.
I get all my character ideas from talking to people. Listening to people talk is how you can get to know someone really well.
How do you plan a mystery novel?
I was surprised as I went. As I said, I like reading them, but I never thought about writing one. Murder at the Columbarium was the hardest book that I wrote, by the way. When I finished the book before that,
Roads Not Taken, my husband said, “why don’t you write a mystery now.” I loved The Columbarium, and I love my character Jed, so I decided to go back to that for the setting. I knew the very basic theme
and story, but I don’t outline so it was hard. That was one where I really had to think about what I was putting down to place clues without giving too much away.
What advice would you give to new and struggling writers?
I was the mentor teacher for Sacramento City School District and gave workshops to other teachers on how to teach writing. I said to them and I say the same to my students: there is no one way. There is no one right way to do it. You write from the heart, and that’s it. You just write. And if you end up throwing things away all the time, that’s okay too. Pretend you’re telling it to someone. Write it like you would speak it. You can worry about editing it and fixing it later. It’s very common advice to just write, but that is because it’s the right advice. Don’t try to emulate someone else.
Tell me about your publishing journey.
When I finished Venice Beach and decided it was ready, I had remembered getting an email from someone who knew me from the homeless writing project. He was someone who writes (Dan O’Brian, I’ll give him a hooray), and he offered to help in publishing. For not that much money, he was the one who showed me how to self-publish. But let me back up. As I said, I went to a small Quaker school. Our whole grade level was 25 students. Most of us went from kindergarten to twelfth grade, but I left New York right after high school and never lived there again. We had a class reunion. Vera Wang happened to have been in our class, and it was going to be at her Park Avenue apartment. I thought it would be fun, which is not something I would normally do. One of the guys who was in my class is a literary agent, and Dr. Ruth is his client. I was talking to him at the reunion before I had written my books. We kept in touch, so I contacted him, and he was the one who said to self-publish. He said, “do not bother to send out a hundred query letters.” Of course, I had already sent out a few and gotten rejections, very nice ones. Anyway, he said it’s crazy because you’ll end up doing just as much work, and you’ll have to give them 15% of your royalties, so what’s the point. That was 2015 and when I published Venice Beach. Now I’m teaching other people how to self-publish.
How have you fostered your love of music?
I learned how to play the piano when I was growing up the typical way with the scales and the classical pieces. I’m a rock and roll and blues kind of person. When all this retirement shock happened, I decided to go back to the piano and learn blues. I already knew notes and how to read music. I found a guy to teach me who’s my age and likes the same kind of music I do. Glenn Tucker, I’m going to throw out these people’s names, they’re so wonderful. I started taking lessons from him. He does this thing in Chico called Living Karaoke. We go to a bar and his band plays and anybody can get up and sing. I said, “what the hell, I’ll try it.” I can sing decently. Everybody has some little dream of being a rock star. He produces his own music, so that’s how we moved into doing the book trailers. I do the piano, and he does the guitar and the drums and he puts it into his computer and creates the song. Because he’s an audio producer, he’s also my Audible producer.
If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Emily’s many novels, listening to her music, or learning more about her, please check out her website here. The many social issues she touches upon will speak to your heart, build your empathy, and spread a little more light into our world.