Debut Author Snapshot: Samuel W. Gailey

Posted by Goodreads on February 3, 2014
In a tiny Pennsylvania town with no stoplights, one post office, one high school, and two churches, everyone knows everyone. But as writer Samuel W. Gailey will tell you, people still keep their secrets. He should know. The debut author of Deep Winter grew up in the small town of Wyalusing, Pennsylvania, where the population is just 375 people. It's the perfect setting for his novel about a brutal killing that leaves a small community shaken. Gentle giant Danny Bedford, a man mentally impaired since a childhood accident, is the prime suspect in the murder of Mindy, the one woman who was kind to him. Gailey tells his suspenseful story through multiple perspectives, including Danny, the town's deputy sheriff, mean drunk Mike Sokowski, and Mindy's vengeful twin brothers, Scott and Skeeter.

Now a Los Angeles resident, Gailey worked as a screenwriter before turning to novels. He shares with Goodreads some images of rural living that inspired Deep Winter.

"Hunting is a way of life for many of the characters in Deep Winter and inspires some of the more powerful metaphors in the novel."
Goodreads: Small-town life is often framed as idyllic rather than cruel and violent. Why a murder for your rural Pennsylvania story?

Samuel Gailey: Small-town life is rather idyllic. I speak from vast experience. It's a postcard kind of community with rolling mountains, countless cornfields, salt of the earth people, and very little crime. Most folks in that area farmed or worked at the local meatpacking plant or owned small businesses. It was the kind of place, as you might imagine, where everyone knew everyone, you didn't lock your doors at night, everyone hunted during hunting season, and we had no mall, no movie theater, no bookstore—not much of anything. The town was nothing like certain aspects of what I depicted in my book.

What drew me to write about a community like the one I was raised in is that it's so far detached from other urban centers and that you really have this sense of isolation—of being removed from everyone else. I thought that would make it an ideal setting for a murder. So I reimagined and heightened real-life elements of the town I lived in to trap my characters in a place in which their only rescue could come from within.

Spring Hill Road, Wyalusing, Pennsylvania. "This is the road that Danny Bedford walks to reach the ice pond and in other key scenes of Deep Winter." Photo: Michelle Fisk Swank.
GR: Tell us about your inspiration for Danny and Sokowski—two contrasting characters. How did you develop their unique perspectives?

SG: In literature and in film I've always been drawn to characters on the fringe—outsiders who are often overlooked or ostracized, fair or not. Characters who are misunderstood and underestimated have always intrigued me. I wanted to create a central character who was marginalized and distrusted by the society he lived in.

Growing up, I knew a kid who was much bigger than the rest of us—taller, heavier, stronger—with an unchecked volatile side about him. He was quiet and kept to himself—he walked the hallways alone, ate by himself, always sat in the back of the classroom. Later in life I discovered he took his own life, and that always stuck with me. As an adult, I look back and realize nobody understood him. I'm not sure anyone even tried to. This real-life character, along with wanting to explore the concept of a child trapped in a man's body, inspired Danny. I wondered what would happen to someone like that if they were accused of a violent murder. Danny is someone who is emotionally and intellectually stunted, yet somehow unintentionally transforms the lives of those around him. I ended up building a character with all the cards stacked against him and put him in an impossible situation, then had everyone he's ever known turn their back on him and forced him to find a way to vindicate himself.

When it came to the Sokowski character, I knew I wanted someone menacing, but I didn't want to create a one-dimensional antagonist. He is completely different from Danny. He is an alpha male. Strong and aggressive, with a sense of entitlement to him. But he also shares some qualities in common with Danny; he is damaged in his own way and was emotionally and physically abused as a child, too. Sokowski has a small deformity—a cauliflower ear—but rather than shrink away from possible ridicule as a kid, he overcompensated for his physical defect by becoming the aggressor. In creating other aspects of the character for Sokowski, I drew upon the experiences of being around people who succumbed to addiction, along with the self-hatred and self-destruction that often goes hand in hand with dependence. His choices are impaired, and as the story progresses, his mistakes and bad choices tragically multiply.

GR: Are you a lover of noir and crime novels? What are some of your favorite books and authors in the genre?

The author working at his favorite Los Angeles coffee shop, Paper or Plastik. Gailey writes the first draft of every manuscript by hand.
SG: I am a huge fan of noir and suspense thrillers. Most of the books on my nightstand and bookshelves are filled with these types of novels. I am drawn to characters who are flawed, grappling with right and wrong, exceptional in the fact that they constantly make the wrong choices, then have to fight like hell to redeem themselves.

Larry Brown has been a huge influence on me as both a reader and writer. He started writing fiction later in life, but when he did, incredible stories poured out of him. There's a real grit to his writing. Characters who are grounded in reality, beaten down by both the society that they live in and the poor decisions that they make. I've read all his novels and love each and every one of them. If I had to choose my top three, I guess I'd have to say Joe, Father and Son, and Fay.

Urban Waite is another writer I'm passionate about. Both his novels, The Terror of Living and The Carrion Birds, are rock solid. Great storytelling with a hell of a great pace.

Some of my other favorite writers—and my favorite books—are Donald Ray Pollock (The Devil All the Time), Russell Banks (Affliction), Kent Haruf (Plainsong and Eventide), Scott Smith (A Simple Plan), Andre Dubus III (The Garden of Last Days), Wiley Cash (A Land More Kind Than Home), and Joe R. Lansdale (The Thicket).

GR: What's next for you as a writer?

SG: After I completed Deep Winter, I knew I'd go crazy or fall into a dark funk if all I did was focus on waiting to get a literary agent, so I kept writing. And writing. I'm most at peace when I am putting pen to paper, so it was important for me to keep moving on, exploring new ideas and stories. The frustrating aspect was that it took almost two years to get an agent to take a risk on me (thank you, Natasha Alexis with Zachary Shuster Harmsworth). The good news is that once I did, I already had two additional novel manuscripts written.

The working titles for my next two novels are The Deep End of Shallow and A Matter of Time. The Deep End of Shallow is a suspense thriller with a supernatural twist that takes place in the same area of Pennsylvania as Deep Winter. There are drugs, bloodshed, false hope, and betrayal. A Matter of Time is also a suspense thriller, but about a teenage girl who is responsible for the accidental death of someone she loves and her journey surviving that. They are both dark stories with glimmers of hope and redemption.

Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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message 1: by Trista (new)

Trista Sam and I were in a writing class together so I got to see some early drafts from the beginning of this novel. I expect this to be nothing short of amazing.

message 2: by Tom (new)

Tom A like a good Suspense Thriller. This fits the bill. Well written from a local Author, Samuel W. Gailey.

message 3: by Peter (new)

Peter Carrillo Great book and I read it before it was edited. We are very proud of your Sammy.

message 4: by Bonnie (new)

Bonnie Rohrer haven't read the book but lived close to where he's from. Meshoppen Pa. smaller than Wyalusing.

message 5: by Toni (new)

Toni We have a very close friend who lives in Wyalusing. His family has been a part of thetown for over a hundred years. Can't wait to read this novel!

message 6: by Ali (new)

Ali dadash 1 geron nayarzeid chon man motevajeh mozo nashodam !!! batashakr ali

message 7: by Ann (new)

Ann I will read this book, because, like the author, I grew up in Wyalusing!, I, too, loved the small town. The people were great.

message 8: by Sharon (new)

Sharon Smith I purchased my copy of "Deep Winter" on Amazon. I am a "local" and thoroughly enjoyed the writings of this novel. It was interesting, suspenseful and had many unexpected changes of events. I'm anxious to read more of Samuel Gailey.

message 9: by Louise (new)

Louise Sharer I also live in Wyalusing and I can also say that I worked at the Friedenshutten Restaurent for 17 years !! I also have family on Spring Hill close to the road which is in the picture... and Michele Fiske Swank is a member of our church !!Cant wait to read !!

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