Frequently asked questions
I'm always happy to answer questions for readers. There are some that I'm asked more often than others, so I've collected them here.
How exactly do you pronounce your last name?
I'm actually not asked this question that often, but I do notice people mispronouncing my surname from time to time. It's simple: GUR-LEE. Not Gur-lay, or Goo-ur-lee.
Are you related to...?
Possibly? There aren't that many notable Gurleys. I can think of a few, past and present: Helen Gurley Brown, editor of Cosmopolitan; Todd Gurley, running back for the L.A. Rams; Phineas Gurley, President Abraham Lincoln's pastor and eulogist; Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, feminist labor leader. Wikipedia has a few more here. You'd have to ask my grandmother, our family's genealogist, about relationships to any of the above or others.
What's your middle name?
Where are you from?
I was born in Texas, raised both there and in Alaska, and currently call Oregon home. I've also lived, at various times, in California, Washington, and Nevada.
What are you reading? What's your favorite?
I've begun to keep a reading list, where you can see what I hope to read, or have read, year by year, beginning with 2016. There are so, so many books I love. Of them, a few: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle; Contact by Carl Sagan; The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger; The Stand by Stephen King. Recent favorites are Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven and Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back, which my daughter and I read together.
How did you get started writing novels?
I just did it. I was seventeen or eighteen years old, and had few obligations other than my retail job. I'd heard the advice "write what you know". I didn't think I knew much, so I wrote what I wanted to know: life as a successful young author. That first novel is a train wreck, and its author didn't know the first thing about being a successful young author. It's an amusing train wreck, at least.
I heard that Eleanor took 15 years to write. How is that possible?
Eleanor was the first deeply personal novel that I attempted to write. I was young when I began, just twenty-three, and my life changed, and changed again, and changed even more in the years that I worked on the book. The more I changed, the more the book seemed to want to change, too. But those fifteen years weren't spent exclusively at the keyboard, writing. Many of the days and hours and months were spent rewriting, tearing things down, writing myself into corners, throwing everything away, starting over. And so forth, ad nauseam.
What finally made it possible for you to finish the book?
I took a short break from Eleanor in late 2012. I wrote a novel in about three weeks' time, both to remind myself that I could still finish a project, and to enter in a competition. Instead, I self-published the book. That book found readers, and I was a bit hooked on the instant gratification of it all. During the next eight months I wrote and self-published four novels and several short stories. That burst of work rebuilt my confidence, and I went back to Eleanor. That break gave me new perspective on the book, and I saw past what it was, and discovered what it could be. I tore the entire thing down one more time, and started again, and self-published it the next summer.
Where's book 3 of the Movement trilogy?
It makes me happy to be asked this question so many times! At the moment, book 3 is not yet written. I'd originally planned to release it a couple of years ago, but Eleanor and subsequent projects have intervened, and kept me busy. I know how the series will end, though, and I'm really looking forward to wrapping it all up.
Can I send you my short story? (Or novel, or poem, or writing sample, or query letter?)
Thanks very much for thinking of me, but unfortunately I have to say no. There's simply not enough time in the day to meet most of my own goals.
How did you find an agent?
When I self-published Eleanor in 2014, I was contacted by a film producer interested in the rights. That wasn't a conversation I felt confident enough to have by myself, so I sent a few queries to some agents. I'd queried agents in the past, and even briefly been represented more than a decade before, but usually without much success. This time it worked, to my surprise. This questions is usually asked with the hope that there's some secret handshake or code; I spent years looking for that sort of insider info myself. All you can do is write the best material you're able, be willing to continue working on that material, and be patient. Your goal should be to find the right agent, not any agent.
Will you introduce me to your agent?
My agent is the right agent for me; that doesn't mean he's the right agent for everyone. I'm not the right person to evaluate that for you, so I don't make a practice of referrals.
Did you go to school to be a writer?
I didn't! I took a creative writing class in high school, and that's about the sum of my literary education. I'm also a three-time college dropout, which means I'm just about the least-qualified person to answer questions about higher education. My personal belief: If you want to be a writer, write things. Write every day if you can. Read as often as you can, and as widely. Read authors who are so much better than you that they make you want to cry or quit. Then keep writing.
What advice do you have for an aspiring writer?
It's the same as the advice in the previous question. Read everything you can get your hands on. Read diversely and widely. Write often—daily, if you can. Learn to accept the ungodliness of a first draft; learn to love the act of revision. The sooner you embrace editing, the more quickly you may find yourself growing as an author. Write and rewrite and rewrite again. Then do it again. Focus on the work, not the ephemera around it: the sales, the book deals, the tours, and so forth. The work.
Are you a full-time writer?
No. I have a very satisfying career as a designer, presently for a tech startup. I write novels after hours and on weekends.
How do you balance a career with writing and family?
It's occasionally difficult, but lately I've found a nice rhythm that seems to work for everyone in my life. It helps to have a dedicated writing space, and a some blocks of time that are strictly meant for writing. For me, that's a couple of evenings each week—always after I see my family—and a full day each weekend.
What do you do besides write?
I spend every minute I can playing with my daughter, or just being with my family. I love movies and baseball, and will happily while away hours in any kind of ballpark or theater. I enjoy illustration, though I'm well aware of my limitations; I mostly work in pencil and ink, and do most of my color work with art markers. I dabble in watercolor, though not with any measure of skill. And of course I enjoy reading. Throw me in a hammock with a book and I'm good for hours.
Are you on tour?
Check the Events page of this site for any upcoming dates! I'm not often out and about, but when I am, you'll find that info there.