Gail Lukasik wrote her first short story and poem when she was seven years old. Her mother, an avid moviegoer, took her every Friday night to the local movie theater. That’s where she fell in love with stories of all kinds. Her dream was to be a movie star, a ballerina, or a writer. She’s realized two of those dreams: she was a member of the Cleveland Civic Ballet company in the early 1960’s. She is now the author of four mystery novels and numerous poems, essays, and short stories. Though never a movie star she was active in Chicago area community theater groups dancing, singing, and acting in productions such as Cabaret, South Pacific and California Suite. She especially enjoyed being a Kit Kat girl in Cabaret.
Raised in the working class city of Parma, Ohio, Lukasik spun stories to entertain her friends and family but at the time did not seriously considered pursuing a career as a writer. Although she never stopped writing, keeping journals, writing poems and short stories, it wasn’t until she won a prize in a national poetry contest in 1974, did she think she had what it took to be a professional writer. She believes that her years of training as a classical ballerina influenced her writing, teaching her the importance of timing, giving her a sense of aesthetics, and showing her how to harness her creativity. To Lukasik words on the page are like musical notes on a score.
After a series of career changes that ranged from a manager for Southwestern Bell Telephone to a freelance writer for McDonald’s Corporation and with her two children in school, she quit her job as Director of Public Relations at Robert Morris College in 1983 and became a graduate student in creative writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). At UIC she earned a M.A. and a Ph.D. in English with a specialization in writing poetry. Her Ph.D. thesis was published as a book of poems entitled Landscape Toward a Proper Silence in 1992. Lisel Mueller called the book “a splendid collection.” “In Country,” her poignant poem about her father’s death, was awarded an Illinois Arts Council award in 2002.
Gail Lukasik worked at UIC until 2002, teaching writing and literature classes while simultaneously managing the Internship Program and the Nonfiction Writing Program. Her innovative graduate internship program won a Woodrow Wilson Foundation Grant in 1999. It was during this time that she became hooked on female detective novels. At her son’s urging she decided to write a mystery novel entitled Destroying Angels (Five Star/Cengage; 2006). Kirkus Reviews called Destroying Angels “a riveting debut thriller.” Before writing the second book in what had become the Leigh Girard series, Lukasik, always ready for a new adventure, became a certified canoe instructor. She tapped into her experience leading such trips and teaching water rescue when writing Death’s Door (Five Star/Cengage, 2009), which Kirkus described as “fast-paced and literate with a strong protagonist and a puzzle that keeps you guessing.”
Her life-long interest in painting, American history, and Native Americans led Lukasik to write her first stand-alone mystery, The Lost Artist. The book concerns the hunt for one of the greatest lost art treasures of sixteenth century America. The secret to finding this lost art treasure is hidden in four murals, which have been buried under 175 years of wallpaper and paint in an old southern Illinois farmhouse. When struggling Chicago performance artist, Rose Caffrey, inherits the farmhouse, and uncovers the mysterious murals, her quest to find the treasure unearths buried crimes and secrets going back over 400 hundred years with the potential to transform American history. A history minor in college, Lukasik enjoyed the research for The Lost Artist from the sixteenth century French fleet lost off the coast of Florida to the process of restoring nineteenth-century murals to Illinois’ involvement in the infamous Trail of Tears.
Besides writing novels, she continues to teach creative writing as an occasional guest lecturer at Roosevelt University in Chicago and at various venues throughout the Chicago area.
She lives in Libertyville, Illinois with her husband. After years of vacationing in the resort area of Door County, Wisconsin, where her series takes place, she now has a summer home in Egg Harbor, Wisconsin.
The third book in her Leigh Girard mystery series, Peak Season for Murder, will be available September 2013.
And now from the author herself:
How I Turn my Ideas into Books
As a writer of mystery novels, one of the most difficult times for me is between books. I wrote my last two books back to back and after handing in the completed manuscript for Peak Season for Murder last fall, I felt that I’d earned a break. Not to mention that I felt creatively exhausted. Here’s the odd thing about being a writer, I immediately starting thinking about my next book. Between books is not a comfortable place for me.
I had a few ideas for a book—all very different. So how was I chose the “right” idea for the next book? Add to that dilemma, I was considering writing a literary novel. Several friends had suggested I write a novel that wasn’t a mystery because they’d enjoyed the 19th century section of The Lost Artist. So not only did I have to decide on one idea for a book, I had to decide whether or not to write another mystery.
I sometimes give book talks on how to turn an idea into a book and I’d like to share those tips as well as the process I went through before I began my next book.
The first thing I did was to write down my various book ideas in a few sentences. Fortunately or unfortunately three had promise. There was depth and breadth to each one. In other words I felt I could write about 80,000 words or so about each idea. I also saw that the three ideas lent themselves to subplots and multiple characters. Without getting too specific, in case I turn one of the rejected ideas into a book later, here are my three ideas. The first idea was based on a true crime that I stumbled across in a magazine article. The second idea sprang from an upmarket women’s novel that referenced one of Shakespeare’s plays. The third idea was a composite of personal biography and several books I’d read about Poland during World War II.
Since I was unsure about which idea would be my next book, I took the next step. I opted for the true crime article and started writing. Most likely I began with that idea because I’ve been writing mystery novels for over seven years and the conventions of the genre are very familiar to me. Since my writing process is to write organically from scene–to-scene, chapter-to-chapter, exploring characters as I write, I didn’t begin with an outline. But if you outline before writing, then at this stage of exploration, you should outline the book and see where it goes.
I wrote about 25 pages of the true crime idea and ran out of juice. Granted I could have pushed it another 25 pages, but something stopped me. Call it instinct or years of experience writing, but the book wasn’t sparking for me. I still liked the concept but something wasn’t working. So I put that book idea away and tried book idea number 2: the upmarket, women’s novel. I did more research on this idea before doing any writing. The bulk of the book would be set in the Caribbean. I read a few books, watched a few videos about the Caribbean, thought about the characters and started writing. This time I knew I was in trouble from the onset, mainly because I kept writing and rewriting the opening chapter. Never a good sign for me. Finally, I wrote a first chapter that I liked but then lost interest.
The last idea required quite a bit of research on an area of history I was both interested in and knew little about—occupied Poland during World War II. As I read diaries, watched videos, and read historic books on the period, I began to see that I was becoming engaged, taken over by the idea. Characters were presenting themselves to me as well as a loose plot. So I began writing this book in earnest about a few weeks ago. It’s still very early days, and like most writers I’m superstitious, and don’t want to say this is the next book until it is the next book. But fingers crossed it might be my next novel. Only time and writing will tell.
You can find more about Gail and her writing via…
- Website: www.gaillukasik.com
- The Lost Artist (hardback): http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Artist-Five-Star-Mystery/dp/1432825763
- The Lost Artist (for Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Artist-Five-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00CBTIT9M
- Death’s Door http://www.amazon.com/Deaths-Leigh-Girard-Mystery-ebook/dp/B005NIOETW
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