Gayle Leeson is no stranger to writing, although her name might not be immediately recognizable. That’s because she writes under multiple pseudonyms, including Gayle Trent and Amanda Lee. She is an animal lover, and, of course, a lover of cozy mysteries. In this interview, she discussed the story behind her latest release, Silence of the Jams.
A young girl’s lesson shapes Silence of the Jams
When Leeson was young, she discovered a valuable lesson—looks can be deceiving. The lesson had a strong influence on Silence of the Jams. Leeson said, “I’ve seen this over and over in my life. In our small town, there was a woman who was always walking up and down the streets. She was dirty, looked like a vagrant, and was constantly getting thrown out of the grocery store on suspicion of shoplifting. Our family would ‘tsk’ and shake our heads as we drove past her or heard stories about her.
“I was in the seventh grade, and we had a school dance. I danced nearly every dance with a handsome boy who’d always struck me as shy before. When I got home, I was telling my mother about him. She told me he was the son of the ‘vagrant’ woman. That gave me–even at that young age—insights into both my friend and his mother. No longer was the woman just an unkempt nuisance to shop owners, she was a mother—of three boys, as a matter of fact.
“Who knew what had happened to make her life fall into such disarray? Her son who was my friend always came to school clean and nicely dressed. Was he responsible for his appearance? Did she see to his welfare, or did he and his brothers see to hers? I never found out the answers to those questions, but I always tried to look beyond the surface and not be as quick to make snap judgments after that.”
Series characters beware
Leeson said she’s “a teeny bit ruthless” about killing off existing characters in a series. “I like for the conflicts to arise naturally out of the personalities of the characters I’m dealing with.”
One of her characters in the first book of this series, The Calamity Cafe, was George Lincoln, an obnoxious man likely to make a lot of enemies. In Silence Of The Jams, Mr. Lincoln dies at the Down South Cafe during breakfast. Onlookers and even the police assume the man suffered a heart attack, but an autopsy shows he was murdered, landing cafe owner Amy Flowers smack dab in the middle of a murder investigation.
“Like Amy,” Leeson said, “I grew up in a small town such as Winter Garden. Our big deal of the summer was when the carnival came to town. My cousins, brother, and I would plan for it as soon as we saw the first flyer. We started deciding what we wanted to ride, wondering who else among our friends might be going on the same night we would be there, and talking about what we wanted to eat. The food was part of the celebration. Others had their appetites whetted by cotton candy or funnel cake, but I looked forward to the caramel apples.
“I liked to get the apple just before I left so I could enjoy it on the way home while clutching some pitiful little toy that I’d won or had my brother win for me. The apple was another way to prolong the evening, and the toy would remain a reminder of that night throughout the coming year. In Silence Of The Jams, I wanted to embody some of that excitement in Winter Garden’s Independence Day Celebration.”
A love of animals
The cover of Silence of the Jams includes both a dog and a cat. An animal lover herself, Leeson currently has a dog and three cats. Two of the cats are feral. Leeson’s husband was the first to spot the feral cats in their backyard. “One day we noticed a big tom cat going under the pine tree. Soon thereafter, the mother cat left. I was afraid the male would hurt the kittens, so I hurried to investigate.
“The male was merely lying there with the kittens, and I realized he was babysitting. He reminded me of O’Malley from The Aristocats and was actually the first of the cats to let me pet him. I was eventually able to trap the mother and her kittens (Dad was too street smart for that) and take them to be vaccinated and spayed. Mom and one kitten lived here until their deaths, and the other two kittens still live here. I think they would classify this as a good home.”
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Leeson is also the mother of boy/girl twins and described them both as “wonderful.” Of course, where there are kids or pets, there are stories. For instance, several years ago, Leeson read a church brochure and decided to ask each of them to share one reason they loved the other. “My son looked across the table at his sister and said, ‘Your mom.’ My daughter, with a hand flourish toward me that would make a game show model envious, said, ‘Ditto.’”