Western Pennsylvania offers a serene setting in the fall. Mild temperatures and brisk winds bring with them shorter, but cooler days. The small town of New Engburgh is picturesque enough to bespeak of the Pennsylvania of old, yet sprinkled with enough modern touches thanks to the evolution of the local college.
I'm on my way to talk to the one and only Gwen Amaya, one of the memorable characters from my two novels, THE GAZE and THE NEXT CHAPTER.
The house at the end of the cul-de-sac is inviting, charming in its small town elegance. As soon as I pull up into the drive, I hear the gruff bark of the Amaya's dog, a chocolate Lab named Bailey.
The door opens and Bailey bounds up to me, tail wagging. I offer my hand to her snout and after a moment of careful consideration, I see approval in the furry face.
"You're punctual," Gwen Amaya observes from the front porch.
"Tony mentioned you appreciate punctuality."
She smiles, producing two deep dimples that crease her right cheek. Her eyes are a pale blue, the icy hue is at odds with the warmth her bright smile exudes.
"Have a seat," she offers me one of the rocking chairs."
We exchange small talk to work off the nerves. I've been looking forward to this interview for quite some time. Gwen is a busy mom and homemaker and summer has demanded her every waking second. With her two little girls at school, she's finally agreed to this interview.
"Well, I guess you'd like to get started," she says after placing a mug of coffee before me.
"Thanks. You ready?"
She tucks a strand of brown hair behind her ear and nods after taking a deep breath.
JR: Despite only a short time in circulation, you have become a fan favorite. How does it feel knowing people are speaking your name with a smile on their faces?
Gwen: I can't really believe that. I mean, the competition would be pretty fierce. Samantha is practically Ms. Center of the Universe, and there's Lewis, who easily upstages the rest of us. It's definitely nice to know I made an impression.
JR: You most certainly did, especially as a person of integrity. Most notably, a lot of readers wonder what makes you so forgiving or accepting of someone like Samantha.
Gwen: Oh, it wasn't easy at first, but through it all I did get to know her and really care for her. Samantha is the definition of hot mess, but she's also a terrific friend. She can be funny, pushy, and who wouldn't get drawn to her drama. It totally gives you a better perspective on life as an adult. I think I started seeing her as a kid who refused to grow up. She sort of drew me into the same role and there was a lot of self-discovery as our friendship progressed. I got to love her like a sister, and whatever wrongs on her part... Well, she just has a way of getting into your heart. I'll say one thing without spoiling it for anyone. We all have histories, and sometimes they need a certain closure. I don't want to go into specific details, okay?
JR: Understandable, thank you. So, readers get to know you as Tony Amaya's wife and mother of Brooke and Emily, and although we get glimpses of Gwen, the woman, who would you say she is?
Gwen: She started out as a girl without direction. That aimless path led to more than a few mistakes until I found Tony. We had a rocky, but intense start and suddenly life seemed pretty clear. Gwen is an everyday woman who wants to live the best way she can by providing for her family. She is an honest friend, someone solid, dependable even. But don't let all that fool you. She does have a wild, and even minxy side. (laughs)
JR: I've gotten more than a few comments from readers who wish to have a friend like you.
Gwen: That's really sweet.
JR: After everything that happened in The Gaze, you return, this time as not only Samantha's Matron of Honor, but also as a compass for Lewis. How did your friendships evolve with them during The Next Chapter?
Gwen: There was a lot of soul searching done before I agreed to go. I love Samantha like a sister, and our bond became more relaxed, even more meaningful. I had my fun putting in my little digs although she expected much worse, and I had my chances, don't get me wrong, but... (shrugs)
JR: Yes, she did say you gave her plenty of frights. Something to do with a black eye?
Gwen: (laughs) You know Samantha. She's a total drama queen.
JR: How about Lewis?
Gwen: Oh, Lewis... (sighs) I love that man. He's just everything anyone would want in a friend. He most definitely helped me through my hard times, so when things got to him, I was determined to be there for him. I'm glad he trusted me enough to let me in. It was amazing to get to know him like I did and we've become very close. I really can't say enough about him. I'm kind of jealous that Samantha saw him first, and that she's had him by her side for so long. I met him as some kind of a lovable flirt, but when I was in London, he uncovered so many layers until I got to know the real Lewis. It's something I will never forget, and he and Samantha will be forever a part of my life.
JR: What's next for Gwen Amaya?
Gwen: Hmm, you tell me. I still have a home to keep, two girls to raise, and a husband to put up with, who's always giving me something to read. Ah! The man can write! Sometimes the fragile ego of a writer is more than I can take, but I'm glad to give him the encouragement to keep going.
JR: Behind every good man, there's a great woman?
Gwen: Samantha did say you have a way with words. So, same question for you. What's next?
JR: As Tony could very well tell you, more writing. I've a few more ideas to flesh out, along with two manuscripts that need revised. I'm glad you had the time to share a few things with us about your role in the lives of Samantha and Lewis.
Gwen: Happy to do it. Now, do I get the books?
Gwen stares at the cover of The Gaze for a long moment.
"Before you leave, tell me. Who's this supposed to be, Samantha or Gwen?"
I grin in reply. "Some mysteries should remain mysteries. Don't you think?"
Gwen actually pouts. "Will we see each other again, Mr. Author?"
The breeze pushes her hair over her face, forcing her to sweep it back. That Tony is a lucky man indeed. "The best thing I can tell you, Gwen, is that those pages haven't been written yet. Say hi to Tony and your girls."
I pull out of the drive looking through the rear view mirror at Gwen, crouching down to scratch a grinning Bailey behind the ears. I have the image of a blank page in my mind, and as I leave New Engburgh behind, I know just what to write.
If you want to get to know this wonderful woman, I recommend you read The Gaze and The Next Chapter. Maybe you can find out what she meant by "minxy side".
Javier A. Robayo