Linda Gould is a career bureaucrat, now retired from the Department of Labor. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Western Maryland College and a master’s degree in political science from American University in Washington, DC. Gilded Prisons is Linda’s sixth self-published novel. She previously published Secretarial Wars, The Rock Star’s Homecoming, Let’s Play Ball, Handmaidens of Rock, and Sycophants.
Welcome to Reader Views, Linda. It’s great to have you back! Tell us about your new novel, Gilded Prisons.
As usual, Gilded Prisons seems to elude an exact definition when it comes to genre. Like my previous novels, this one combines chick-lit, sports, social commentary, and political intrigue in what I hope is a fairly unique way. The one thing I can’t call it is romance, knowing that readers of that genre tend to prefer more definite “happily ever after” conclusions.
What was your inspiration behind the storyline?
Apparently, I get a lot of inspiration from watching baseball! Every season, every game, even every at-bat is high drama. The players themselves have rich back stories. When my Washington Nationals won the World Series in 2019, after many years of falling short, it set me to thinking about the challenges that players go through to acquire the skills necessary to play this game at the highest level. That led me to wonder: what if a popular and accomplished player found himself on the edge of ultimate glory, only to have his life blown apart through no fault of his own?
The cover of “Gilded Prisons” is HOT, very chick-lit, but the story delves deeper, incorporating baseball and politics into a steamy sordid tale. I love the unexpectedness of the baseball angle. When did you develop a passion for baseball?
My dad took me to my first games in the spring and summer of 1960, when I was around seven years old. Those were at Griffith Stadium in DC, long since demolished. That ballpark was evidently not designed to be kid-friendly, as there always seemed to be a pole blocking my view. At my first game, our Senators predictably were no match for the hated Yankees. I think I whined through the whole thing, complaining that I was tired and bored, and that our team never seemed to score any runs. Still, my dad refused to leave early. I think he was trying to impart a lesson about perseverance and patience. When we got home, I found I had laryngitis from yelling with the crowd. Evidently, I’d managed to get into it. From then on, I was hooked.
Is Gilded Prisons the sequel to Let’s Play Ball, which you released in 2010? What prompted you to put out the sequel after a number of years?
Yes, it is a sequel, set about seven years later, with many of the characters featured in Let’s Play Ball taking supporting roles this time. In a new era of both baseball and politics, I thought it might be intriguing to explore how a repeat of a long-ago incident, the kidnapping of a ballplayer by an adversarial nation, might have different consequences and lead to more long-lasting results.
Tell us about your protagonist, Justin Moore. What makes him tick?
Justin has all the arrogance that one would expect of a rich, successful ballplayer with movie-star looks. He knows that women fans lust after him, and he could have as many affairs as he chooses. Perhaps he considers himself self-sacrificing not to indulge in such behavior as many other ballplayers might. But he also learned a hard lesson early in his career, when indiscretions with an up-and-coming actress nearly cost him his marriage to his high school sweetheart, April. Now more mature, he cherishes his family, and thanks his lucky stars every day that he corrected the earlier mistake before it was too late.
Love that your antagonists are two strong-willed, driven female powerhouses! Can you compare and contrast Guadalupe, the future First Lady of Cuba and Dierdre Smith Gordon, the President of the United States?
I, too, love strong women, even if they’re not angels! Guadalupe and Deirdre are adversaries on the surface, one representing a Communist nation and the other something of a neo-Fascist. Yet they recognize each other as sisters under the skin. In their mutual lust for power lies the potential for a lucrative partnership, which they find prudent to keep under wraps as much as possible.
Which one of these women was your favorite character to develop (and why)?
I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of making the antagonist of one story the protagonist of another. In Let’s Play Ball, Guadalupe comes off as pretty much straight evil, with no known redeeming characteristics. In Gilded Prisons, although she continues to do bad things, I tried to portray her as a more nuanced personality. There has to be a reason for her warped character. At times she feels ashamed of her actions, although she always justifies them. As with Deirdre, nothing stands in the way of her goals.
Do you let the characters dictate your stories or do you map them out first? Talk about your process.
I’m always hoping that the characters will be strong enough to tell me what they intend to do! I start out with an outline of sorts, or just a list of plot points, which I violate continually. The ideas don’t tend to come from the outline. I have to push ahead with the actual writing, sometimes blindly, and if I’m lucky, some ideas will spark up and push me in a new direction.
You also cover different types of government and political issues in Gilded Prisons. How does your prior experience as a career bureaucrat working in Washington, DC influence your writing?
Everything about working in a Federal agency is affected by politics. That is a fact of life even for us ordinary career bureaucrats who are not supposed to be political. A change of administrations is a particularly fraught time. It means a total shift in direction, and almost negates the agency’s mission established during the past several years. I went through several of those in my time. It’s either a joyous or a horrible feeling, depending on your affiliation. The ups and downs of politics infuse even social life in DC. Unfortunately, the current gridlock in high places has the potential to damage friendships as well.
What did your research for the story involve?
The Cuban scenes required some online research. Cuba is a place I’ve never been to, although it’s on my bucket list for sure. In my book it’s something of a fantasy place, but I wanted it to have realistic touches. Inevitably, certain details had to be altered to suit the plot. For example, pictures of the presidential palace’s exterior show it to be a grand and forbidding place, which suits the plot fine. But lacking pictures of the interior, I had to invent those. Likewise, I Googled as much as I could find out about the topography of the country, the area around Havana, and local prisons. An “enchanted” forest at the edge of the city, perhaps not totally realistic, had to be added.
What kind of feedback have you received from readers so far?
I’ve been pleased to get some favorable feedback, especially since I had some reservations about the book myself. I worried a little about the non-consensual sex scenes and the other occasional violence. Also, I wondered if I could reasonably try to redeem Guadalupe’s character after all the crimes she committed. I’m glad to discover that these elements don’t seem to be all that shocking to modern readers.
There is also the matter of story lines that may strike some readers as not fully resolved. I can only point out that this is a political novel, not a detective story. The latter type of narrative requires a clear “whodunit” resolution at the end, or readers would feel cheated. By contrast, a political scandal is rarely resolved cleanly. We still haven’t discovered the absolute “smoking gun” for many of the scandals that have roiled American politics. So when dealing with political subjects, I think it is fair at times to imply the truth rather than to spell it out.
What was the most challenging part about writing Gilded Prisons?
Actually, compared to my previous novels, Gilded Prisons came out fairly easily. Usually I end up tearing out my hair while trying to tie up all sorts of loose ends. Sycophants, my last book before this one, was a particularly hot mess for years. I believe that while I was trying to sort that one out, Gilded Prisons was writing itself in my head. It’s a comparatively straightforward story, with fewer secondary characters, so that pleased me. Of course, the fairly fast initial writing didn’t negate the need for the usual endless rounds of editing.
What do you like to read and which authors influence your own writing?
I love authors who tell lush stories with many well-developed characters and complex story lines. Authors like Gail Godwin and Pat Conroy seem to make their own rules, without worrying too much about keeping it concise. Traditional commandments like “show, don’t tell” and “eliminate adjectives and adverbs” don’t mean much to them.
Tell us about some of your passions outside of writing.
I love spectator sports, which is evident from my stories. Baseball absorbs much of my time during the warm months, but I also like football and ice hockey, and am eagerly anticipating the upcoming Olympics. My love of music is also reflected in my writing. Pre-pandemic, I enjoyed attending live concerts, mainly featuring well-aged rock and country artists. I’m hoping it will soon be possible to resume that, but until then, I’ll keep classic rock radio constantly blasting.
What’s next? Do you have another project in the works?
I feel a little tapped out from self-publishing and trying to market six novels in eighteen years. I realize that is not a large output compared to many authors, but for me it was pretty intense, since I tend to edit and second-guess everything to death. Even when I started publishing, I was no spring chicken. I do hope to keep on writing, if for no other reason than to stave off senility. I’m tempted to go in an entirely different direction, maybe with a space opera. It would have to be a comedy, since the plot would be so improbable. I’m currently reading Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for possible inspiration, and laughing out loud a lot.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
For those going the indie route, it’s imperative to make our work look as professional as possible. Don’t give the industry elites an excuse to call us unprofessional or inferior. Of course that means endless self-editing, getting objective opinions from beta readers, and then editing some more. If we’re not graphic artists capable of designing an eye-catching cover, or experts at formatting, we should probably pay for those services. Since a rising tide lifts all boats, success for individual indie authors reflects well on all of us.
Where can readers connect with you and learn more about your work?
I have a blog at http://letsplayballbook.wpcomstaging.com. I opine about writing, self-publishing, travel, my current reading, politics, sources of inspiration, and anything that agitates me at the moment… without too much ranting, I hope.
Thank you for joining us today Linda, and sharing a bit about yourself and your work!
Thank you for giving me the chance to share aspects of Gilded Prisons and revisit the process of writing it.