If you’re a writer it can be a lonely journey because to write, you must lock yourself away from the “real” world in order for you to enter the secret recesses of your imagination. If you’re a savvy writer, you belong to a writers’ group. I met Gail Priest at the South Jersey Writers’ Group where we are both active members. Gail was also one of the authors at this year’s Steampunk Granny Authors’ Bonanza. There are so many different sides to this fabulous lady and I wanted to learn more about Gail. Join me now as I put Gail on the hot seat.
You are quite the Renaissance woman in that you excel in everything you do. Please tell my readers about the many sides of Gail Priest.
Gail Priest: I have degrees in theatre and counseling psychology. I love teaching and began as an English teacher in 1977. Eventually I became a guidance counselor. I left public school for a decade to pursue my acting and directing career. Even then, I still taught acting at the Ritz Theatre in Haddon Township, NJ. I also did private coaching with actors. I began writing my first play, Eva’s Piano, when I spent the summer at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts. I followed that with a screenplay, A Thing with Feathers, which I rewrote as a stage play. I went back to teaching theatre as an adjunct at Rowan University. After five years, I decided I wanted to return to full time work in education. I began looking for guidance counseling positions, but ended up spending my final public school years as a theatre arts teacher in a high school performing arts program. It was the most gratifying work because I used all my skills as a teacher, counselor, coach, and writer with those students. Now I’m back at the Rowan Theatre and Dance Department as an adjunct. It’s perfect because I still have time to write and promote my books.
Where did you get the inspiration for your Annie Crow Knoll Series?
Gail Priest: My husband and I began renting a little cottage in a summer cottage community called Evergreen Knoll on the Chesapeake Bay in 2000. That setting inspired the Annie Crow Knoll stories. Evergreen Knoll became Annie Crow Knoll. The characters are fictitious, but the setting is based on this real and most beautiful place on the water. I’m sitting on the porch of Cockatiel Cottage right now as I answer these questions. I look out at this view, and I feel like I must be the luckiest woman in the world.
Tell us a little bit about the books and especially the newest addition, Moonrise.
Gail Priest: The series is a family saga that takes place on the Chesapeake Bay with themes of the healing powers of nature, art, and friendship.
Annie Crow Knoll: Sunrise begins during the civil rights time period on the Easter Shore of Maryland. Annie is a strong-minded girl, who battles with her secretive mother to uncover the truth about her grandmother’s suicide. At nineteen, Annie goes against social convention and trusts and relies on Bo, her family’s African American friend and her surrogate father, as she struggles to save the fourteen summer rental cottages left to her by her parents. When the family legacy of depression emerges in her early adulthood, and Annie faces estrangement from her husband and young son, she has the chance to embrace love and acceptance from someone who has been there all along.
Annie Crow Knoll becomes a place where people come to restore their spirits, heal their pain, and reclaim their lives. This is emphasized in the second novel, Annie Crow Knoll: Sunset.
Nate Bidwell blamed his mother Annie for his parents' divorce. Buried hurts and resentments between mother and son make Nate reluctant to risk his heart when his childhood friend Beth Ann offers him her own. Instead, he allows himself to fall in love with the fragile and dependent June, and Annie's opposition to their marriage reignites years of unresolved conflict with her only child. Nate swears that he will never return to Annie Crow Knoll, his family home on the Chesapeake Bay. He and June move to Manhattan where he opens his dream restaurant and tirelessly works to build his career as a chef. When near-tragedy strikes their lives, though, Nate is forced to return to the one place he hopes may save his wife: Anne Crow Knoll.
In Annie Crow Knoll: Moonrise, Annie Crow Knoll continues to be a place to grieve loss, accept change, and rebuild a life worth living.
Annie’s granddaughters, Breezy and Jemma, are world-class cyclists until violence at a race leaves Breezy with permanent physical disabilities and kills the man she loved. With her Olympic dream shattered, guilt and shame threaten to destroy her future happiness. Her sister Jemma escapes with only minor injuries, but the psychological damage she experiences shakes her self-worth, her Olympic potential, and her capacity to accept love.
The young women return to their childhood home on the Chesapeake Bay to heal and reclaim their lives, and with their parents and grandparents, struggle to make sense of life after this tragic and irrational incident.
Annie Crow Knoll: Moonrise is a story about the power to reinvent life after surviving loss and trauma. (This novel can be read as a stand alone.)
You also wrote a play, Eva’s Piano. Could you tell us about more about the play? What do you enjoy more writing books or plays?
Gail Priest: Eva’s Piano revolves around middle-aged siblings whose mother has just died. As Joy go through her childhood home in preparation to sell it, family secrets begin to weaken her already tenuous relationship with her brother. Complicating matters is a handsome, but much younger, neighbor who is falling for Joy and making romantic advances by encouraging her to act our scenes he’s written in an original play. The lines between memory, fantasy, and reality become blurred.
I don’t honestly have much of a preference between writing plays or novels, except a play is shorter and is all dialogue, which is my strong suit. It seems that the characters decide whether their story is going to be told on stage, on screen, or in a book.
Where do you do your best writing?
Gail Priest: I prefer to be near nature. At home, I have an office that overlooks our back yard with bird feeders. We get lots of birds, and we have rabbits and chipmunks. When I’m able to be at the cottage, I prefer to work on the front porch where I can best enjoy the view of the water.
What are you working on now?
Gail Priest: I’m busy marketing Moonrise. It takes a lot of time and effort. I am in the very beginning stage of mulling over my next story. I’ve worked on an outline and some character backgrounds. I’m looking forward to actually beginning the writing process.
As an author, how important is it to blog?
Gail Priest: I think it’s very helpful for building a platform and following. I’m miserable at blogging. I only do it sporadically, and it’s something that will require more of a commitment from me. I admire writers like you, Marie, who blog consistently. It takes real discipline.
As an author, do you find that belonging to a writers’ group is helpful?
Gail Priest: Yes, I have found the writing groups I belong to are very helpful. The South Jersey Writers’ Group is how I met you, for which I am very grateful. SJWG has a supportive membership. It’s been a positive experience for me. I also belong to the Eastern Shore Writers’ Association and the Chesapeake Bay Writers. There are several on-line writers’ groups I belong to as well. The networking made in these groups is essential, especially for independent authors. Writing is a rather isolated activity. Connecting with other writers, being able to ask questions, and having a chance to help one another all contribute to keeping the home fires burning.
How do you promote your books? Is it book signings, ads or social media?
Gail Priest: I do it all. I’m learning every day how to do it better. I read a lot of blogs and articles on promotion. With each book, I’m gaining ground, but it’s not for the thin skinned or weak hearted. I came up with a statement that helps me. “I am productive without attachment.” Although I can get discouraged, if I keep that statement in mind, I am able to stay on task, no matter the results.
What advice can you give to a young person who is thinking of writing as a career?
Gail Priest: Read, go to plays, and see films. Take writing classes. Keep yourself open to inspiration from unexpected places. Stay open to opportunities. Surround yourself with supportive, positive people. Let go of the ones who put you down. Stop the negative self-talk. Consciously attract what you want. Take a break when you need one.