Murder, She Writes

An interview with critically acclaimed USA Today best-selling crime fiction novelist, Alison Gaylin of Woodstock


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Gaylin came to crime fiction after establishing a career in celebrity journalism.

As a young girl growing up in southern California, Alison Gaylin always loved to write, especially short stories. And though a single “B” from a high school English teacher (“She said she only gave As to people who could be professional writers”) sent her temporarily off track and into theater, she’s since more than disproved that teacher’s estimation of her writing talent with the publication of nine best-selling novels and a 20-plus year career in celebrity journalism. 

After studying theater and playwriting at Northwestern University, Gaylin hoped to get a job in script development back in LA, but an ongoing writers’ strike led her to pursue a career as an entertainment journalist instead. As a reporter for Star magazine, she had many exploits — including crashing David Hasselhoff’s wedding, intruding on Fred Savage’s bar mitzvah, and sneaking onto sets — all in the pursuit of the story. From Star, she went on to graduate from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. 

“I’ve always been drawn to pop culture and celebrity journalism, but my first love was always writing fiction,” says Gaylin. While at Soap Opera Digest in 2005, she published her first book, which grew out of a short story she worked on in a writing workshop in the ’90s. That book, Hide Your Eyes, was nominated for an Edgar award in the best first novel category, and followed by a sequel, You Kill Me; two stand-alone novels; a young adult mystery; and the popular three-book Brenna Spector series. The first book in that series, And She Was, won a Shamus Award and was nominated for ITW Thriller, Anthony, and RT awards. Gaylin’s work has been on best-seller lists in the US and Germany, and has also been published in the United Kingdom, France, the Japan, Norway, and the Netherlands.

“It’s a great time to be a female crime writer. There’s some really great, dark stuff out there,” says Gaylin, who counts Laura Lippman, Megan Abbott, and British author Alex Marwood as some of her favorite suspense writers. It’s also a great time to be Alison Gaylin. Mark Rubinstein of HuffPost Books compared her most recent book, What Remains of Me, published in March, to the work of, among others, Gillian Flynn, author of the wildly successful Gone Girl. “Crime fiction is a genre I’ve always been interested in — I love the drama of it and the fear factor as well,” Gaylin adds. “I’m fascinated by the capacity of both good and evil, and like exploring both ends of that spectrum.” 

Gaylin currently lives in Woodstock, where she shares a 1775 Colonial farmhouse with her husband, Mike Gaylin, screenwriter of the film No Escape and the owner of a video production company, and teenaged daughter. She describes it as a “nice artistic town” that’s particularly welcoming for the many moms and dads who live there who are writers, artists, musicians, and filmmakers. “I’m not an anomaly here,” she notes. 

Despite her success and acclaim as a novelist, Gaylin still keeps up with the Kardashians, writing and editing for Life & Style magazine three days a week. In fact, she says some of her best character and plot ideas for her books come to her during her 90-minute commute to the magazine’s Bergen County, NJ office. 

At her home desk, Gaylin is currently working on another suspense novel that takes place in the Hudson Valley, about a hit-and-run accident and all the lives it affects. In what little downtime she has, you might spot Gaylin in Woodstock, on a run, grabbing a bite to eat at Cucina or Joshua’s, checking out art at the Lotus Gallery, or browsing — and sometimes signing her own books — at her favorite local bookstore, The Golden Notebook.

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