Interview with 2009 First Place Winner: Gail Zerrade

GAIL: Before we start, I would like to thank you both for setting up this wonderful contest. I know it must take a colossal effort on your part to bring it all together. And I would like to thank all of the agents and editors who left such useful and insightful comments. I have learned so much from this experience and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to participate.

RACHELLE: One of the editors commented on the fact that Overlander is set in a time period that’s rare for historicals. What made you decide to pick Independence, Missouri in 1847? Did you have to do a lot of research?

GAIL: Independence was the jumping off point for the Overland Trail. I actually live on the Oregon Trail, so the setting came naturally to me. The period is very well documented and easy to research. Before I started writing, I read authentic pioneer diaries. Then it was just a matter of filling in the specific details necessary for each scene. I did visit a few local museums and Yellowstone National Park to get a feeling of how things must have looked back then.

The hardest part of research was matching up the plot points to the landmarks and timeline, which were inflexible. For example, there is a scene where a wagon overturns in the river, and the heroine rescues some children. That scene could only work in the Snake River and it would only work if her character had already grown out of the timid character you see in the opening. I probably discarded a dozen scenes because the landmark and the character were out of sync.

RACHELLE: I love the way your hero and heroine meet – so original. How’d you come up with the idea of their meeting?

GAIL: You ask the nicest questions.

My characters live in two very different worlds. The heroine lives a very sheltered life in a Catholic girls’ home. She’s only allowed out of the church complex to work. Eight months of the year, the hero is riding the Oregon Trail, leading greenhorns across the country. In the winter, he makes a small fortune selling pre-stocked wagons to pioneers who are getting ready to head out on the trail. So the market seemed like the only place where their paths would naturally cross. After all, a rough rider like John Baker would never step foot in a church!

The Virgin Mary bet was a natural outgrowth of the heroine’s character. Catholicism was very unpopular in Missouri at this time, so they tease her with the nickname. And she can’t keep a job because she’s clumsy, which is what you would have seen if the selection had been a wee bit longer.

RACHELLE: Can you tell us more about Overlander – what’s the story about?

GAIL: John Baker wants a winter wife, someone to warm up his bed during the four months when it’s too cold to ride the trail. Sarah has always dreamt of having a traditional family. But the stigma of her illegitimate birth limits her choices in Missouri. Hoping for a fresh start, she decides to stowaway on the wagon train to Oregon. Without any supplies, it’s a risky gamble. Her fate is in John’s hands. But he thinks only a fool would take a woman on the trail with him, especially one as clumsy as Sarah.

RACHELLE: Now, tell us about Gail Zerrade. Who is she and why does she write?

GAIL: I am a stay at home mother of four. I write because I can’t drive by a historical marker without getting a story in my head. The characters won’t leave me alone until I put them on paper.

RACHELLE: As many people have noted in your comments, you are great with description. We could smell the coffee, feel the rain, and were impatient right along with John Baker. Does this ability to create and weave in such sensual details come naturally to you or is it a struggle? What do you struggle with, as a writer?

GAIL: You are very kind. My first drafts are skeletons. I have wonderful crit partners who point out where I need to add details.

The hardest part for me is making the big choices. Do I want to write a YA novel, or do I want to steam it up? Is the piece dark or humorous? Which scenes do I include, and which do I skip over? Again, I’m lucky to have very patient crit partners who are willing to read three versions of the same scene and tell me which one works best.

RACHELLE: Is Overlander your first book? Do you have other projects you’re working on?

GAIL: Overlander is the first book I’ve tried to market. Right now I’m working on two other historicals set in the United States. One is a YA Civil War romance told entirely through letters. The other is about a homestead in the Cascade Mountains.

For variety, I’m also writing on a contemporary romance between an American soldier and an Iraqi doctor. I lived in the Middle East for five years, so I have a good knowledge of the heroine. Translating that into a likeable character for an American audience is a fun challenge.

RACHELLE: Are you a published author? If so, who do you write for? If not, what does your dream of being a published author look like?

GAIL: So far, I am unpubbed. I write because I enjoy it. My dream job would be any job where I get to write fiction every day.

RACHELLE: Is there anything you’d like to add?

GAIL: Again, I really appreciated getting expert feedback from all the editors and agents. I treasure the insights they shared on all the entries.

I would also like to thank everyone who took the time to vote for me. I am always amazed at how kind and supportive the writing community is. My crit partners and my RWA chapter members have been so very helpful in so many ways. I can’t imagine a better work environment.

And of course, I want to thank Rachelle and Leigh again for sponsoring this exciting contest. It is absolutely the best writing contest I’ve ever entered.


One response

2 05 2010
Phyllis Eckfeldt

I read the first three chapters of From Bagdad with Love on my Kindle and loved it. When and where can I purchase the complete book?

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