Name: Gwen Mayo

Age: 58


Fiona: Where are you from?

I’m from Grayson, KY currently living in Safety Harbor, Fl.



Fiona: Tell us a little about yourself `ie your education Family life etc.

I grew up in a large Irish-American family in Eastern Kentucky. That’s large as in 72 first cousins, with no desire to count the number of second, third, etc. Noisy is the best description of my family life. I am the only one of my siblings to have just one child.


Education is a bit eclectic; I actually started school in one of the last one-room schoolhouses in Kentucky. I sometimes joke that my best subject was closing down the school. Four-Mile School closed when I was in first grade; from there I went to Shellrock, which closed when I was in third grade. Prichard Elementary followed. I think the schoolhouse survived by not letting me in the building. They were overcrowded by all the country schools closing, so I attended classes in trailers, community centers, even a closed furniture store. I spent a couple decades in the workforce before going to college, then got an associate in business at the local community college before changing to politics and history at the University of Kentucky.



Fiona: Tell us your latest news!

My second Nessa Donnelly novel, Concealed in Ash is out.



Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?

I began telling stories long before I started writing them. When my younger sister was about five, she had trouble sleeping. I would make up stories for her. She kept wanting to hear the same story again, so I started writing them down because she could remember them better than I could.


Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?

When I won a scholarship for my poetry that helped pay for a couple of years in college. Before that, writing was something I did to entertain others or to express what I was feeling, not something to take seriously.



Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?

I have to give credit for that to the Sisters in Crime. I created Nessa for a short story in our chapter’s anthology. The other writers in the group encouraged me to consider a book-length mystery.


Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?

I am a plotter. I have to know the characters and how they think before I begin writing. That is particularly true for the crime. My first two books involved secret societies and the kind of people drawn into them. Then I have to figure out how Nessa finds out what they plan.




Fiona: How did you come up with the title?

Fire and ash play a recurring role in the book, starting with the hotel fire where the victim is discovered. The title was a natural fit to the material.


Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Kentucky’s decades of discord are unique. There is no other time or place in the USA quite like Kentucky between the Civil War and the turn of the century. The state was both and neither Northern or Southern. It brought out the best and the worst of human nature as the society struggled to figure out a new identity. I think Nessa exemplifies the struggle for identity that is going on all around her. After pretending to be her brother for more than a decade, she has lost herself.


Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?

That’s a tough question. I have immersed myself in the history. There is enough written material to get a feel for the character of the actual historical figures that appear in the book. I included author’s notes in the back of the book so the events, people, and places written are as accurate as I can make them in a work of fiction. Beyond that, I try to weave the lies that make up a novel into a universal truth. I want people to walk away feeling the struggle for justice in a world of injustice.


Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Only with Doc Haydon. He is based on a dear friend of mine and I have tried to give him as much of the real Dr. Haydon’s personality as I could. He was a brilliant surgeon, man of honor, brutally honest, and had a passion for life, medicine, golf, and music.




Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? A mentor?

There are too many books to list. I read constantly growing up. Gurney Norman, my creative writing professor at the University of Kentucky, had a big influence on my writing. That’s about as close to a mentor as I’ve known. I also had some excellent advice from Sue Grafton, who generously agreed to read the first fifty pages of my debut novel, Circle of Dishonor. I still have her letter.


Fiona: What book are you reading now?

Come to Harm by Catriona McPherson


Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

Gwendolyn Kiste’s short stories crack me up. She is one of the most inventive authors I’ve read.


Fiona: What are your current projects?

“Murder on the Mullet Express” a mystery novel set in Florida in the 1920’s that I am writing in partnership with Sarah E. Glenn, “Blues, Booze, and Bolita” a non-fiction book on the Tampa Bay mob in the 1920’s, and a short story set in France during WWI.


Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.

The Sisters in Crime. It is an awesome organization.


Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?

Not at this time. I think it is unrealistic to see writing as a career unless you are able to write a couple of books a year and have been doing that for the last five years. There are exceptions, but the reality of writing is you need to do something else to pay the bills until you are well established.


Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?

I don’t think so. I like the book, but I’m totally biased. I am sure avid readers could point out weaknesses I don’t see.


Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

I think it grew with my interest in books. I am one of those readers who spot plot weaknesses in other writer’s books and think about what I would have done differently.




Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?

I would be happy to. In Circle of Dishonor, the matchmaking Mrs. Hamm introduced her young cousin to Ness Donnelly, eligible bachelor (‘Ness’ is actually Nessa). Nessa enjoys Mary Katherine’s company and has continued to see her. Below, Beulah, her housekeeper and confidant, gives Nessa a lesson in propriety.



“Mrs. Hamm will be with us all evening, Beulah,” I said. “Nothing improper will happen.”

“You is wrong, Mr. Donnelly. All this finery don’t make a dirty lie proper. Just last week you took Miss McGuire out picnickin’ at that concert in Cheapside Park, and now you is escortin’ her to this here party. You’ve given every appearance of courtin’ her.”

The accusation stung.

“I am not. Miss McGuire is just a friend.”

“She ain’t no such thing,” Beulah insisted. “You can’t go pretendin’ that you is a man and have women friends, at least not with nice women. You can’t socialize with her the way you do with those fancy women over yonder.”

Beulah waved in the general direction of Jenny Hill’s Main Street brothel as if there was some doubt over which fancy women she had in mind.

“What are you gonna do when Miss McGuire’s pa wants to know your intentions? What are you gonna say then?”

Beulah wouldn’t stop talking long enough for me to reply.

“You didn’t intend to hurt her? Humph. A lot a good that’ll do. Like as not you’ll ruin her reputation and get yourself shot.”





Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

I have trouble with the degree of violence. Secret Societies committed atrocities that can’t be sugar coated in the books and remain true to the history.



Fiona: Who is your favorite author, and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

Only one? I guess Agatha Christie is my all-time favorite. Her plots are so well constructed. There are at least a dozen others that I could list, and all of them for different reasons.


Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?

I can’t afford travel as much as I should to promote my books, but it is impossible to avoid some travel. Readers want and should get to meet the authors of the books they read.


Fiona: Who designed the covers?

A friend in Germany designed the covers based on what I told him about the books. He prefers that I not give out his name since he is not supposed to freelance.


Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Finding time to actually sit down and write. I still have that day job I mentioned earlier.


Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

That after a while your mind will fill in words that are not on the page. I have to step away from the manuscript for a while then come back and read it with fresh eyes.


Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?

Don’t quit your day job when you land that first book contract. One book is not a career.


Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers? 

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for choosing my book. It makes my day to see my book in the hands of a reader.




Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?

No. That was way too long ago.




Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?

I work in a children’s hospital; the children make me laugh and cry daily.


Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?

Hypatia of Alexandria. She is one of the most fascinating women in history, in charge of one of the world’s greatest libraries: an author, teacher, philosopher, and scholar of mathematics and astronomy.



Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?

The End. Because it is time to close the book and think.




Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?

Writing isn’t a hobby, but no. I have a job, a family, a home, lots of books, and my writing. That’s a full life.




Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?

I am a huge Big Bang fan. Other than that I don’t watch much TV. I love movies, comedy, science fiction, mystery, super heroes.




Fiona: Favorite Foods/Colors/Music/?





Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?

I’m not a “what else” kind of person. At different times in my life I was a farmer, a locomotive engineer, a student, a chocolatier. I’ve gone to Central America to help Habitat for Humanity build a school and been part of an arts exchange in Trinidad and Tobago, and traveled by motorcycle up the great Northwestern Trail. If I find something I want to do I don’t hold back. We all get one life. I believe we are intended to make the most of it.




Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?


Amazon Authors Page

Link to Concealed in Ash: