Gail Anderson-Dargatz is a Canadian writer.
Her first novel, The Cure for Death by Lightning, won the UK’s Betty Trask Award, the BC Book Prize for Fiction, and the VanCity Book Prize, and was a finalist for the Chapters/Books in Canada First Novel Award, and a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Her other books include A Recipe for Bees, A Rhinestone Button, The Spawning Grounds, and Turtle Valley.
Her latest book, The Almost Wife, is her first thriller.
Gail also mentors writers around the world and hosts a fall writing retreat at Sorrento Centre, British Columbia.
Talking About Books interviewed Gail about her new book and her work on mentoring writers.
TAB: The Almost Wife is your first thriller, and it deals with issues like childhood trauma, child abuse and emotional manipulation. Why did you choose this genre to raise these issues?
GAD: The Almost Wife is a domestic thriller; the darker elements of domestic life are intrinsic to this genre. In the domestic thriller, our everyday fears about domestic life are pushed to their limits on the page. This genre usually features a female protagonist who is undervalued in some way and comes to know herself and gain confidence through the challenges and fears she faces, so it can be a structure about empowerment. Through her trials, the protagonist becomes her most authentic self. That was my hope for this novel.
TAB: Your books always have an element of magic realism, which adds to the atmosphere you create. Can you tell us more about this?
GAD: I grew up hearing stories about premonitions and ghosts from my parents, who were both great storytellers, so it was only natural that these elements filtered into my writing. British Columbia, where I was raised and where I continue to live, is a landscape that cultivates magic realism in its artists. You’ll find many writers of magic realism, like my own mentor, Jack Hodgins, in this province. Walk into the wilderness, which surrounds most of us here, and you’ll find that magic. A sense of spirit permeates the landscape.
TAB: For you, what is the most difficult part of the writing process?
GAD: Making a living! 😊 It’s a very hard way to earn an income and getting harder. When it comes to the writing, as long as I enter it with a sense of play, then I don’t find it difficult. When I make it work, then it gets hard. And, of course, as a teacher, mentor, editor, and parent, I simply find it hard to find the time to write, as most of us do. But writing always came easily to me. My mother wrote and my children write. I grew up in a household where reading and writing was valued and passed that on to my kids. And, very likely, there is a natural ability there. But it comes down to cultivating that ability with training, mentoring and habit. Once you’re in the habit of writing, the flow, you won’t want to do anything else.
TAB: Your books have a strong sense of place and are often set in rural areas. What is it about rural communities that draws you to write about them?
GAD: Once you step off the concrete, anything can happen. And within small towns and rural communities, there is more connection, more gossip, more conflict, more drama. Things matter more on a community level where there are fewer people, who must depend on each other. We’re in each other’s faces in a way, perhaps, that we aren’t in urban settings. In the city, we are expected to keep a distance from each other. In a rural setting, we can’t afford to. So more is at stake in interpersonal relationships. From a writing perspective, that makes for good situation, good drama, good conflict. In any case, I’ve lived in rural communities and in small towns for most of my life. I prefer the lifestyle, so that filters into my writing. But I also believe the setting, the landscape, should be as much a character as the protagonist. For me, rural and small-town settings have more personality. Urban writers would, of course, see things differently.
TAB: What inspired you to become a writer?
GAD: Becoming a writer wasn’t a decision. I just wrote. I felt compelled to write, from a very young age. My oldest sister tells me that at age seven I told her I would be a writer. I have a note in storage that I wrote at that age to that effect. I wanted to do other things, of course, like become a scientist, but the writing was always just there. I couldn’t stop writing if I tried.
TAB: You now mentor other writers. What do you enjoy most about that work?
GAD: Everything! Mentoring brings a social aspect into what can be a lonely work life, the writing life. Each day that I teach I learn something new myself. And most of us come to an age where passing on the torch becomes the important thing. We step back so others can step forward. While I continue to write and get books out there, I’m now more keen to celebrate the work of others, the writers I’ve worked with.
TAB: What, in your view, are some of the common traps for aspiring writers?
GAD: I’ll pass on the best piece of advice I ever received, from my own mentor, Jack Hodgins. He said the number one mistake writers make is to publish too soon. Now, with the ease of self-publishing and opportunities to publish online, newbie writers often throw their work out there before it’s fully cooked. The thing is, we only get one kick at the can. When it’s out there, it’s out there. And if we send an underdeveloped manuscript to a publisher, we likely won’t get another shot with that publisher. Or if the book is published, it will sink quietly and the publisher is unlikely to publish a second book. So, get it right. Learn your craft and make the project the very best it can be before sending it out. That takes time, patience, mentorship and practice. A lot of practice.
TAB: Thank you for sharing your thoughts on writing. I love your books, and the atmosphere you create.
Read my reviews of The Almost Wife and The Cure for Death by Lightning.
4 thoughts on “Domestic Thrillers and Rural Communities: An Interview with Gail Anderson-Dargatz”
I find it so interesting to have a writer’s feedback. And as G. A-D’s previous novels aren’t thrillers, I’ll go and check them out!
Thanks for this Q&A Suroor!
Read her first one, The Cure for Death by Lightning. I loved it.
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