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Books Gail Anderson-Dargatz: ‘When the book is ready, it will find a home’

A two-time finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, Gail Anderson-Dargatz is the author of The Cure for Death by Lightning and A Recipe for Bees, among other books. Her awards include Britain's Betty Trask Prize and the B.C. Book Prize for Fiction. Anderson-Dargatz, who lives in south-central British Columbia, just published a new novel, The Spawning Grounds.

Why did you write your new book?

In writing The Spawning Grounds, I was interested in exploring the waters between real and imaginary worlds, between the environment and the spirit, and between our First Nations and settler cultures. While I didn't want to write a novel with a specific political aim, I did want to express my personal grief over some of the environmental and cultural issues that we're facing as a country, as well my hopes for change. I've lived my life near salmon-bearing streams and rivers and, largely because of that connection, I felt the river was the right situation in which to explore these complex issues.

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Would you rather have the ability to be invisible or time-travel?

I time-travel daily as I write and read, so I'll take the ability to be invisible, please. Here's why: I would like to skinny-dip in the river as I did when I was a kid, but I really don't want to inflict that sight on anyone now that I'm … a mature woman. If I were invisible, I could disrobe at will and jump right in and no one would be the wiser.

What's the best advice you've ever received?

When I was a young writer, my own mentor, Jack Hodgins, told me the biggest mistake apprentice writers make is to publish too soon. We focus on getting our book out there when we should be focusing on craft, on making the manuscript the very best it can be. That decision comes back to haunt us, usually when the project doesn't get the attention it might have otherwise. So that's now the first piece of advice I pass on to the writers I mentor: Don't rush your project. Take your time. Hone your craft. Write for the pleasure of writing, not to publish. When the book is ready, it will find a home.

What's your favourite bookstore in the world?

I have so many favourite bookstores. Mosaic Books in Kelowna, The Mulberry Bush in Parksville, the Laughing Oyster in Courtenay, [B.C.,] Audreys Books in Edmonton and in my home town of Salmon Arm, [B.C.,] Bookingham Palace. But my all-time favourite would have to be Munro's Books in Victoria. With its high ceilings, glorious architecture and amazing light, Munro's is a cathedral for book-lovers. I applied for and landed a job there many years ago, when I was a creative-writing student at [the University of Victoria]. I should have taken the job, and I would have, except that when I got the call, I had just taken another job at the UVic bookstore. Still kicking myself over that decision. I would have loved to work at Munro's.

What's more important: The beginning of a book or the end?

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The beginning. Definitely. That first paragraph of a book grabs the reader, or it doesn't, so the opening is everything. I encourage the writers I work with to draw readers into the scene in these opening pages – to engage readers' emotions and senses – so they are there. I also believe that first paragraph should contain the ending in some fashion – an image that links the beginning to the end – so when a reader gets to the last page, she feels that sense of completion, of coming full circle.

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