Guest Post: Gail Graham, Author of Sea Changes

I’d like to welcome Gail Graham, author of Sea Changes, to Savvy Verse & Wit. Today, she’s going to provide us with some insight on her writing and the struggles she most recently faced. Please give Gail a warm welcome.

When my husband died, I was devastated. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t even talk to anyone for more than a couple of minutes without bursting into tears. And of course, I couldn’t write.

Over time, things got better. I managed to go back to work. I could interact with my students and colleagues. I’d lost a lot of weight, and people kept telling me how good I looked. But I still couldn’t write.

It was as if part of me had died. And not just any old part of me, but the best and most important part of me. All my life, I’d thought of myself — and described myself — as a writer. But whoever heard of a writer who couldn’t write!

People said, Give yourself time. It’ll get better. But years passed, and it didn’t get better. I still couldn’t write.

But I dreamed, incredible, complicated, detailed dreams. Almost every night, my subconscious mind conjured up people I had never met and places I had never seen, all in vivid color and detail. Sometimes, the dreams would continue over several nights, picking up where they’d left off. My dream life was as colorful and exciting as my waking life was dull and drab. In my dreams, I felt alive.

So I started writing them down, every morning. They didn’t make much sense, written down. There was no story line, no plot. The characters continually changed, and so did the places. Still, it was writing. Maybe it would lead to something. Maybe it would lead me back to the person I used to be.

More years passed. My dream life was more real to me than my waking life. I often thought of Chuangzi, the Chinese philosopher who fell asleep beneath a tree and dreamed he was a butterfly. When he awoke he asked himself, Am I Chuangzi who dreamed I was a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I’m Chuangzi?

I felt that I was living in two worlds, simultaneously. One of them was real and the other was imaginary. I knew that. I wasn’t crazy. But the world I preferred was the imaginary one. And that was how Sarah Andrews, the protagonist of Sea Changes was born.

Sarah seemed very real. And it was easy to write about her, and to describe her walk to the beach for that final swim. Hooray! I was writing again! But where was this going? What would happen to Sarah as she swam out towards the horizon? I had absolutely no idea. And suddenly, there was Bantryd.

The mind is a wonderful thing. The imagination is a wonderful thing. And all of this has taught me that the world is a wonderful place, a place where truly, anything is possible.

Thanks, Gail, for sharing your experiences with us and for taking the time out of your busy schedule to stop by Savvy Verse & Wit. Please check out the book synopsis and excerpt below for Sea Changes.

About the book:

When Sarah’s husband dies suddenly, she is left with no anchor and no focus.

Grief is an ever-present companion and counseling a weekly chore with minimal results, but when Sarah decides to end her life her suicide attempt takes her to an underwater world where she finds comfort and friendship. Afterwards, back on the beach she wonders – Was it a dream? Was I hallucinating? Or am I going mad?

Her efforts to make sense of the experience lead to Sarah’s becoming a suspect in the alleged kidnapping of a young heiress. Now her worlds are colliding – and the people she trusts are backing away, not believing a word she says. She must decide what is real and what is not. Her life depends on it.

Excerpt from Sea Changes:

She doesn’t have to get up if she doesn’t want to. She doesn’t have to do anything. Propped against the pillows, she watches the changing patterns of light filter through the branches of the tree outside her window. She could lie here until Friday and nobody would know or care. But that would be giving up. You’re not supposed to give up. You’re supposed to keep trying, whether you feel like it or not. If you keep going through the motions, sooner or later, something will kick in.

So she gets up and dresses, even though she’s not going anywhere. She puts on clean underwear and clean, pressed clothes. Her appointment with Kahn isn’t until Friday, but that’s not the point. You can’t spend the day in your nightgown.

There’s nothing much in the newspaper. There rarely is. It’s Australia, only eighteen million people in the whole country. Sitting at the kitchen table with a second mug of coffee, Sarah tackles the crossword puzzle. It was years before she mastered Australian crossword puzzles, which contain fewer words than their American counterparts and are shaped differently, more like skeletons than grids. The spellings are different too.

She hasn’t eaten since yesterday and she ought to be hungry, but isn’t. French women don’t get fat because they don’t eat unless they’re hungry. Sarah looks in the refrigerator, but nothing tempts her. She needs to go shopping. Later, perhaps, when it’s not so hot. She wishes she had a ceiling fan, or better still, central air conditioning. Nobody in Sydney has air conditioning. They don’t think it’s necessary, not with the beach so close. Nobody has central heating, either. They say it doesn’t get cold enough, but it does.

Sarah picks up a novel from the library and tries to concentrate. It’s not a very good novel, although it’s supposed to be a bestseller. That doesn’t mean anything, these days. Everything’s a bestseller. The protagonist has left his wife, is having an affair, has just learned he’s got cancer. He’ll probably die at the end. Sarah thinks he deserves to die and dozes off on the couch. When she opens her eyes, damp and sticky with the perspiration of an afternoon nap, it’s already getting dark.

The telephone rings. Nobody calls her, except telemarketers and sometimes Kahn, when he needs to cancel a session. If it rings five times, the machine will answer it. Five, six, seven. Maybe she’s forgotten to turn the machine on.

About the Author:

Gail Graham’s previous novel, CROSSFIRE, won the Buxtehude Bulle, a prestigious German literary award. CROSSFIRE has been translated into German, French, Danish, Finnish and Swedish. Three of Gail’s other books were NY Times Book of the Year recommendations. Gail lived in Australia for 32 years, where she owned and operated a community newspaper and published several other books, including A COOL WIND BLOWING (a biography of Mao Zedong) STAYING ALIVE and A LONG SEASON IN HELL. She returned to the United States in 2002, and now lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Check out this giveaway:

1 copy of Holly’s Inbox by Holly Denham, here; Deadline is June 10, 2009, 11:59 PM EST