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  • Writer's pictureCheré Dastugue Coen

Southern Writer Spotlight: Bellamy Gayle

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

Death lurks in unexpected places in New Orleans mystery.

Book: "Keep Me Safe" (The Sazarac Series Book One)

Hometown: Lafayette, Louisiana

Gives us a brief description of your book.

He arranges her murder…he thinks…but it’s far too late to think again.

Before she learned to fear her husband, Barley—before she was shot and he was killed—Cecile dreamed of living a normal life among the mossy oaks and exotic scenery of her hometown. A whiz in a New Orleans court of law, her husband has turned her into a wimp in the real world, and now a killer stalks her. She has no idea where this peril has come from, or why she’s in such danger. The DEA and U.S. Marshals join forces to keep her safe, but hidden deep in a village near the bayous of Cajun Country she’s flooded by danger that catches everyone by surprise. One thing is certain: Death lurks in unexpected places.

What brought you to write these stories?

When I stopped to think about it, I believe my love for writing must be very typical of many, many writers who are much more talented and prolific than I am. I grew up in a reading, writing family with educated parents who spent their free time with books, newspapers and magazines—so many magazines! We had no television back then (Papa brought a TV home one day, but almost immediately returned it because it drove him mad to see his children peering at a small, staticky screen), and I can well remember waiting for the Saturday Evening Post to arrive in the mail, hoping there would be more Norman Rockwell art on the cover.

When there was “nothing” to read, Mama would give me a sharpened pencil and a stack of Papa’s business paper discards to fill with the stories of imaginary heroes and heroines that had tumbled into the house with me from the games outside with my brothers. Living as we did in a citrus orchard on the levee of Bayou Lafourche, we were able to play in the thick vines growing in the oaks along deep ravines which emptied into the bayou. Even today, I draw on those memories in my writing.

bayou lafourche
Bayou Lafourche, Thibodaux, Louisiana

Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

My writing is character-centric. The settings swirl about Cecile, the main character, as the story progresses. In "Keep Me Safe," the complexity of the plot derives from today’s opportunistic men and the dangerous world of illegal drug trafficking. Those ideas seem to enter my thoughts by osmosis and then are chewed up by my brain and spat out (what an awful image) into my stories. My pencils are long gone now, their erasers gnawed away, all of them replaced by my present-day computer. There’s still no replacement for the dictionaries and thesauruses, but even Google and Wikipedia can add some useful detail.

Where does the story(stories) take place?

"Keep Me Safe" begins in New Orleans in the area known as Uptown, but our heroine is sidetracked to Puebla, Texas, before returning to the Cajun village of Oak Alley, situated not far from New Orleans, where the story reaches its climax.

How does setting play in the telling of the story?

Cecile DuMond’s lovely bungalow, set among the spreading mossy oaks and the riotous blooms of its gardens, has been in Cecile’s family for generations, even before the city of New Orleans grew around it and named the roadway Octavia Street, and certainly before the streetcars that took her to school began clacking up and down nearby St. Charles Avenue. Cecile loves her home and her family history, and feels she only survived the trauma of losing her parents because her great aunt Hattie took her in and adopted her as a child. Together, they cherish the house and yard, tending them with tender care, and Cecile learns life lessons by watching her old aunt.

I grew to love Aunt Hattie as I wrote about her influence on her little ward so much that I knew I had to write her story as a prequel to "Keep Me Safe," and her story—"Hattie: An Ordinary Woman"—is in its second draft at the moment.

What do you think makes a good story/book?

Though books can certainly be instructive, novels are usually written to be entertainment. Many of them are lighthearted and others are less so, but well-developed novels immerse readers so deeply that the story embraces them and holds them in thrall. The best stories leave readers sorry to see them end.

bellamy gayle
Bellamy Gayle

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I think I always knew! With my guidance counselor’s encouragement, I started my high school’s first newsletter. It was she who entered my writing into the National Teachers of English competition, which I won for the state of Louisiana. As an adult, I became a stringer for the local newspaper’s sports department, of all things, then never again really stopped writing in some way.

When did you write your first book? And how was that experience?

"Keep Me Safe" is my debut novel, which I began five years ago when I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Since that time, the book has twice been completely rewritten. During the process, I barely scratched the surface about how to write a novel. I thought I had a grasp on what to do and how to write, but brother, was I wrong! Instead, I learned how much further I still had to go to become even an average writer. I tell people: I’m a prime example of the truism, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

Is writing your primary job or do you have another career?

Yes, writing is my primary job, but that’s because I’m retired. I’m so far from being a spring chicken that no one can tell what kind of bird I am anymore. I’ve had several careers so far in my life, owning travel agencies, being in politics, selling real estate… I could go on…

What does your family think of your writing?

My family couldn’t be any more supportive. My husband is my rock. He is so smart and has such good ideas. He should be writing a book himself, as should each of the kids. They are all brighter lights than am I. I’d like to challenge every one of them to become authors themselves.

What was the most surprising thing you learned writing your stories?

I was most surprised to discover that my characters themselves had definite ideas about how they wanted to be portrayed and where they wanted to go with their stories.

Did writing your book(s) lead you to other things?

I learned I disliked querying agents as part of traditional publishing, which lead me to the self-publishing world. That is eye-opening, for sure, and quite a learning experience.

What suggestions do you have for aspiring writers?

The world hungers for new books with fresh ways of presenting stories. Writing books focused on the reader doesn’t mean you can’t write about what you love. Learn everything you can about who you want to have read your writing. You’ll be surprised at how much information there is out there and where you’ll find it.

How can readers find and purchase your books?

"Keep Me Safe" ebooks and paperbacks are available on Amazon. The ebooks will be on Kindle Unlimited for three months, after which they, like the paperbacks, will be available on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Overdrive, and Scribd.

Weird, Wacky & Wild South is written by travel journalist Cheré Dastugue Coen, who also writes novels under the pen name of Cherie Claire. You can learn more about her Southern-based mysteries and romance at


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