"Hi. I'm the dead girl in the alley,” said Carolyn Gale.
At the moment, she was the waitress behind the bar, it being lunchtime at the Tavern. But sometime before Christmas, she will be on the back cover of the next Shallow End Gals' novel, as she requested.
“She insisted that if we're taking photos, she's going to be the dead lady in the alley,” said Vicki Graybosch, the books' lead author. “We said, ‘We don't even have a dead lady in the alley in the book.' She said, ‘You do now.'”
Here at this pub on a homey block in Niles, Mich., pretty much everyone has a part in the Shallow End Gals' books.
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Erika Canter, a local company business manager eating a burger at a booth, is the friend they hired to be their editor. And bartender Sadie Corban wasn't going to be left out.
"One day I told Vicki I wanted to be in the book," she said. "Next thing I knew, I was Spicey the Voodoo Mistress."
Sitting at the bar's L-shaped end, which gave rise to their nickname, were the self-published authors — the Shallow End Gals. They are a group of women friends who have been lunching together at the Tavern, a mainstay of this small town in southwest Michigan 100 miles from Chicago, for years.
They aren't writers by profession. Graybosch, 62, the lead writer, is a retired mortgage originator. Linda McGregor, 61, is a mortgage broker and the zoning administrator for Howard Township. Teresa Duncan, 52, works on a deployment team for UPS. Kimberly Troutman, 42, is a mortgage loan officer, a dealer at Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo and Graybosch's daughter. Mary Hale, a member of the group until her death last February, was a retired schoolteacher.
But they were talkers. "There's a constant flood of conversation, with all of them talking at the same time," Gale said.
One day a couple sitting in a nearby booth overheard them, Graybosch said. "They came up to us and said, 'You know, you guys should either write a book or get help.' We just looked at each other and said, 'Let's write a book.'"
They wrote three in 18 months — a trilogy that ranges from South Bend, Ind., to New Orleans, encompasses 1,300 pages and features a cast of more than 50 characters, many based on (and named for) people in Niles. Including themselves, albeit themselves in the hereafter.
The first book opens with four women friends — the authors by their real first names — getting killed in a car crash, except for Kim. They come back as "somewhat unready angels," Graybosch puts it. They have to go through angel training, which includes helping "mortals." And the mortals they are assigned to help — with assistance from Kim, the only mortal who can hear and see them — are two FBI agents trying to solve crimes including serial murder, drug trafficking and child pornography.
The crimes are heinous, but the narrative can be humorous. The series is "a police procedural/paranormal/comedy/drama," Canter said.
Turning themselves into characters has its perils. Kim Troutman is not always pleased with her mother's writing, and not because of its style.
"She makes me look stupid," she said.
"She does not," McGregor said.
"She got me arrested," Troutman countered.
"Oh. Well, that was kind of funny," McGregor said. (In the third book, bystanders call police because they hear Kim complaining to her angel mother, whom no one else can see, that she is tired of hearing about murder all the time.)
The Shallow End Gals have sold nearly 8,000 books, including e-books and paperbacks, through Amazon. Several movie production studies have asked for their contact information, though none has gotten in touch. The women are working on a fourth book (featuring one of the trilogy's characters).