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Gwen Clayton, author of "Fermata Cellars"

The Open Book

Gwen Clayton, author of "Fermata Cellars"

Stephen H. Provost

Gwen Clayton released her debut novel, Fermata Cellars, in the fall. The first installment in her Riverine trilogy, it tells the story of a young marketing director and a haunted winery. The Amazon synopsis declares that the story will "challenge your religious and political beliefs as it dives into the concepts of spirituality, justice and free will. It is best read while drinking a bold, spicy California red wine." Gwen answered a series of questions about the book, the story behind it and her approach to writing.

The Author

Name, age and occupation: Gwen Clayton, age 47, freelance writer and publicist

Where and with whom do you live? Recently moved to Golden, Colorado with my husband, Eddie. Previously lived in Pine Grove, California. Born and raised in Reno, Nevada.

If you could co-write a book with any author, living or dead, whom would you choose? Mark Twain, of course. The man knew his whiskey.

Why do you write? I’m a slave to the muse.

Where do you write? Mostly in my head, but occasionally words fly off my fingers and onto my computer. Best time is when I’m alone, and in my room, which is small and cluttered. My muse has claustrophilia; she has to be a small, closed-in room. I would never be able to write in a large room like in The Shining, although I can relate to the typewriter tantrum Jack Nicholson had when his wife interrupted him to see if he wanted a sandwich. I have to remind my husband and daughter that when they hear me going clackity clack on the keyboard, that means “Do not disturb.”

What imaginary land would you choose as your home, and why? My old home in Pine Grove. God, I loved that house. Had my own den with wall-to-wall bookshelves. Quiet, dark street and a great view of the big-ass oak tree in the front yard. I named it Charles.

What animal, real or imaginary, would you choose as your constant companion? A penGwen [sic]

What do you collect? Stories, mostly in my head. Did you ever see that episode of House of Cards where Jack criticized Remy for choosing money over power? Well, I wouldn’t choose either. My goal is to die with as many memories and legends about me as possible.

What fairy tale describes your life, and why? When I was little, I made a wish on every dandelion seed and penny thrown into a wishing well that I would grow up to be Cinderella. Not that I was a poor orphan. Neither did I have an evil stepmother or stepsisters. But I was never pretty, rich or athletic, so I hoped some fairy godmother would magically transform me into Jaclyn Smith from Charlie’s Angels. I must not have properly pronounced “bippity boppity boo,” because I ended up becoming a writer instead. I fall asleep by midnight, though, so I guess I got that part of the spell right.

Your superhero alter-ego: Kelly Garrett from Charlie’s Angels. She was beautiful, brunette and bad ass.

Historical period you’d like to visit: I’d like to be a reporting working for a newspaper in Virginia City, Nevada, in the Old West.

Favorite board, card or video game: My new favorite game is called, “Typing a response to a political rant on Facebook, then deleting it before hitting Post.”  

As a first portion to a series this is a brilliant introduction to the main characters and themes of the story. I look forward to the continuation of the tale.
— Clay, Amazon review

The Book

Genre and length? I call it political science fiction, although that isn’t a bona fide genre yet. It could also be labeled as religious science fiction because the main ghost is the reincarnation of the snake from the Garden of Eden. Her adversary is the reincarnation of Adam who comes back in this life as a corrupt evangelical minister. The good reverend buys one of the city council members and gets him to condemn the winery as being unsafe for human occupation. The winery owners are Pagan, but they make the communal wine for the local Catholic church. I take a lot of liberties with zoning codes and traditional religious texts.

The length is only 46,000 words (128 pages), so technically, it’s a novella, but the story behind it is long. I’m debating whether to rewrite it into a full novel, or just leave it as is. The problem is that it was originally too long, so I had to kill some darlings. But I think I killed too many, and now it’s too short.  The story is told in 128 pages, and I don’t want to add fluff, but if readers tell me they want more character development, background, or setting, I’ll revise it one of these days.

When and where does it take place? It takes place between January 2002 and June 2003 in a fictional California city called Rivervine.

How did you come up with the title? A fermata is the musical notation directing musicians to sustain a note or rest. The winery is called Fermata Cellars because the land had laid fallow for 121 years before the Divinorums (the winery owners) purchased it. Then the grapes suddenly started to grow. Scientists attribute it to “some kind of bizarre weather phenomenon that shocked the plants into a funky dormancy that coincidentally rejuvenated when the Divinorums took ownership of the land.” But the truth is, the place is haunted.

What inspired you to write it? It was originally going to be a cheap romance novel that I started in 2000 when I was laid off from my job and wanted to make some quick cash. The main characters were Lily the farm girl and Dalton Burnett, the entertainment director for the town saloon. But then in real life, I befriended some winemakers in the Sierra foothills, and the story changed direction. Of course, every place up there has its ghost stories, so Lily and Dalton were demoted to supporting characters, and the ghost took the lead.

Is there a sequel in the works? Yes. It’s actually a trilogy. They all have the same story line, but they’re told from three different points of view. Fermata Cellars is told from the marketing director’s POV. Grimoire will be from the ghost’s POV. I haven’t given the third novel a title yet, but it will be from the newspaper editor’s POV. I’m finishing up Grimoire this year and will release it this August.

Where, how can you get it? I sell them at book signings, and I have two bookstores so far that are carrying it: Hein & Company in Jackson, California; and Why Not Books in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It’s also available through Amazon.

Describe your book in one word that most people don’t normally use. Piquant, like a bold, spicy zinfandel.

What would you select as your book’s theme song? Who would you choose to write the musical score? I’m torn between “Planet Hell” from Nightwish and Bruce Dickinson’s “The Tower” as a theme song, but if I had to choose a composer to write the musical score, I would have to go with Tuomas Holopainen.

What’s your most interesting chapter title? Lughnassadh.

Who would want to ban it? The Establishment - both political and religious.

To whom did you dedicate it and why? I dedicated it to my husband, Eddie, because he actually served in Iraq in 2003. The war in the Middle East is a significant factor in the storyline.

I love the setting, the intrigue and, especilly, the ending. The ending caught me by surprise.
— SUMA, Amazon review

The Hero

Name, age and occupation: Manuel Chavez, age 26, marketing director for Fermata Cellars.

Where and with whom does he/she live? Lives alone in an apartment not far from the winery.

Who would play your protagonist in a movie? Diego Luna. Confession: I don’t actually know who that is. I had never thought about it before, so I had to Google “Mexican actors” and picked one.

What real-life person would be your protagonist’s hero, mentor or role model? Cesar Chavez

What’s his celebrity crush? Ferdinando Valencia. I don’t know who that is either, but he was in the same list for Mexican actors.

What’s his biggest fear/phobia? Confessing to Father Armando that he’s gay.

Weapon of choice: A good, solid, well rehearsed speech in front of the city council.

At the beginning of the book, our hero is … Insecure