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Emily Gallo: From Screenplays to Novels

Emily Gallo wanted to be a screenwriter.

Indie author Emily Gallo

But something she experienced with one of her scripts changed her mind. Gallo talks about this episode in the interview below.

Gallo also covers why she focuses on the underprivileged in her writing, how characters come to her, and more.

Emily Gallo is the author of five novels, all self-published. Her most recent is Murder in the Columbarium (paid link).

I hope you enjoy this interview with Emily Gallo.

Remember, writers whose work appears on Bidwell Hollow do not receive direct compensation. Please consider purchasing their books, or at least helping others discover them by sharing their work, or this interview, on social media. Thank you.

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Q&A with Emily Gallo

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

I was born and raised in New York City, in the heart of Manhattan, and attended a Quaker school from kindergarten through twelfth grade.

Although it was a Quaker school, there were not many Quakers in it and the religious aspect was kept to a minimum. We did have silent meeting once a week where the whole school got together and although we sang hymns and learned that there is no one God but rather God is in every one of us, we were never expected to identify ourselves as Quaker.

Cover of Emily Gallo's Murder in the Columbarium.
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What we did get from that unique education, however, was a sense of progressive politics including an opposition to war, caring for the poor, and accepting everyone no matter their race, religion, ethnicity etc. I went to Clark University in Worcester, Mass., got a teaching credential, and moved to San Francisco with my then boyfriend, soon to be husband.

I spent some years moving around the west coast: Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Seattle and settled down in Northampton, Mass. after my son was born. I taught elementary school in those cities and had my daughter in Massachusetts, but California kept calling me back so I moved to Davis, Calif. and raised my children and continued teaching.

My children grew up, my first husband died, and I married David and moved to Chico, Calif., where I live now on two and a half acres of fruit and nut orchards and an abundant vegetable garden. Since I moved here, I have been able to retire from teaching and finally follow my dream of writing.

I am an avid Pilates fan and work out five days a week. I enjoy hiking and playing piano and have dabbled in pencil drawing. The ocean is my true love and I try to spend as much time as I can at our condo in Carpinteria, Calif., a small beach town just south of Santa Barbara.

Emily Gallo on Becoming a Novelist

When did you start writing creatively?

I majored in English in college and have always written poems and stories, but I longed for the day when I could write full time. Finally, after my children were grown and I didn’t have to work, I was able to devote time to it.

I started by writing my autobiography, and I had only planned on writing a short version just as a way to wrap my head around being a writer. It turned into a long memoir but it did the trick, and I found it not at all daunting.

I had been the writing coach in my school and gave workshops to the whole Sacramento City School District on teaching writing to elementary students. I also did the California Writing Project at UC Davis (University of California, Davis) for a summer.

How did you go from writing screenplays to novels?

I started writing screenplays because I met a young man who was a screenwriter and we used to meet in a cafe to discuss writing. It seemed like it would be easier to write a screenplay than a novel and I had him to help me along.

I enjoyed writing screenplays and finished three of them when I started to search for an agent or manager to get my foot in the Hollywood door. I found a manager who was interested in my third screenplay, “The Columbarium.”

Emily Gallo quote: "That’s why and when I decided to turn to novel writing instead where I could be in control."

It looked like things were going well: he had backing from Italian investors, assigned a unit producer and was talking to directors, but then, in true Hollywood fashion, everything fell through. I later found out that this was the norm in Hollywood.

I hated that I had to rely so much on other people in the entertainment business and couldn’t get my work out there without going through umpteen different hands. And when it’s in the hands of producers and a director, you’re never being sure how things might turn out. My biggest fear with “The Columbarium” was that it would become a horror film!

That’s why and when I decided to turn to novel writing instead where I could be in control, especially when self-publishing. It was an interesting switch as there is much more description needed in novel-writing.

When writing screenplays, you have to constantly remind yourself to leave out descriptions as that is up to the director. I do find that my novels, like my screenplays, are heavy on dialogue.

Writing with Emily Gallo

You’ve mentioned that you like writing in cafes. How else do you like to work?

I have always been a cafe dweller, even as a teenager in New York’s Greenwich Village. I am not an introverted loner as many writers describe themselves and I find it easier to write surrounded by people.

I get many ideas from listening to conversations and the stories I might invent from people-watching. Many of my friends stop by throughout the morning, knowing I’m probably at Tin Roof Café, and I enjoy the breaks from being inside my head. I have never had a problem stopping and starting when I am writing.

What’s interesting about it is that I have an office in my house and a lovely studio in one of the outbuildings on our property, yet I like to write in cafes.

What’s the editing and rewrite process like for you?

Editing and rewriting is continual but there is no set amount or way I do it. Sometimes I’ll write just one chapter and reread it and sometimes I’ll write several before looking back over them.

My husband is my first reader and he gives me an overall impression from the moment I finish the first draft, knowing that I haven’t reread the whole thing in its entirety yet. I use his feedback and then print out a hard copy that I can write on and do my first whole book edit.

Emily Gallo quote: "This is another reason I like self-publishing, where I can continue to make changes in books."

Then I give it to my son who is a journalist for his overall impression. He gives more specifics than my husband and also gives me his ideas for the changes I should make.

I then do another rewrite and then I give it to my editor who does more of a fine-tune edit for better ways to say something, grammar, typos etc. I make those changes and then do one more reading before publishing.

What’s interesting is that after I publish the book as a paperback and ebook, I read it with my producer for the audio version and sometimes find other changes I might want to make.

This is another reason I like self-publishing where I can continue to make changes in books. I have even made changes after readers have mentioned something that I might agree with.

What inspires you to write books about underprivileged people?

My Quaker school experience, as I mentioned earlier, and my liberal Democratic family was a strong influence in my early years to help the underprivileged and disadvantaged.

I taught almost exclusively in inner city schools during my career, working with diverse, low-income populations of kids. I also taught 16 years in a school where orthopedically handicapped and autistic children were mainstreamed into our classrooms.

When I retired and moved to Chico, I started a writing group for the homeless in the local resource center. We published two books of their writing called Derelict Voice and started a blog.

I did that for several years and lately have been teaching writing to homeless families and the victims of the Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise, just ten miles from Chico.

I am constantly impressed by the level of writing that comes from people who are looked down on in society as being from a “lower class.”

How does a character and their story develop in your mind?

So many things contribute to the characters and stories, from my past to a spark that’s ignited by one story told me by other people. It might also be from something I read in the news or heard on a podcast.

Cover of Venice Beach.
Paid link

In my first book, Venice Beach (paid link), for example, an idea came to me because I couldn’t sleep one night and ended up turning on a documentary about Jonestown. I hadn’t thought about Jonestown in many years, and as an aside, am shocked to find that so many people under the age of 50 have never even heard about it.

I read a few books and articles and the story of Jonestown became a considerable part of that book as well as my next one, The Columbarium.

I become so fond of my characters when I’m writing a book that I continue to put them in my subsequent ones. Sometimes a smaller character becomes the protagonist of another one and sometimes they just show up briefly, but the thread is there throughout all the books.

I often get the idea for my next novel while writing the one before it. Sometimes I just decide on who I want the protagonist to be and then create the story after.

My five books (I am close to finishing my sixth) are not sequels exactly and can all be read by itself in any order, but it probably enriches the experience if read in order.

Who and What Gallo Reads

Who are some writers that you admire?

I have always been a huge fan of southern writers such as Carson McCullers, Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, etc. One of my favorite books of all time was Angela’s Ashes by Frank Mccourt (paid link). Finn, the main character of Venice Beach (paid link), in fact, was modeled after Frank McCourt.

Lately I find myself drawn to Michael Connolly, Robert Crais, and John Grisham, not because I am such a crime or mystery book fan, but because I like their writing styles.

Have you read any good books lately?

Educated by Tara Westover (paid link) and John Grisham’s The Reckoning (paid link).

Anything else you’d like Bidwell Hollow readers to know about Emily Gallo?

I write my novels to be quick easy reads that can be enjoyed by everyone. I want them to be the kind of books that people can read in a couple of days, but my hope is that the characters, circumstances and societal issues I bring up will resonate long after.

Thank you to Emily Gallo for this interview. You, too, could be featured on this blog. Use this website’s contact form to reach out. 

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