Best-selling author sets new thriller on Manitoulin Island

Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s new thriller is set on the Island.

‘The Almost Wife’ by Anderson-Dargatz

SALMON ARM, BC – British Columbia writer Gail Anderson-Dargatz’s new thriller, ‘The Almost Wife,’ asks the question, ‘if you almost had everything that you wanted, how hard would you fight to protect it?’ Much of the action takes place between the beach and the forest on Manitoulin Island, where the main character, Kira, fights to save what is most important to her. “Manitoulin Island not only provided the mood of the novel, but the beach and bush offered the tools of conflict,” Ms. Anderson-Dargatz said. 

The author completed considerable research for this novel but there was no personal inspiration for the book. It is total fiction, she said, except for this: “My husband and I owned a summer house on the Island for many years, where we gathered with family. We made the trek across country from rural BC every year to spend summers on Manitoulin, even living on the Island for an entire year as we contemplated living there full time. But moving back and forth between these two very different regions, I found it hard to fully commit to either location and was deeply homesick for both. You’ll see that ache and indecision as an undercurrent in ‘The Almost Wife’.”

She had truly fallen in love with Manitoulin Island but then her husband’s mother passed. “We could no longer justify or afford making the trek across country each summer and had to sell our home there. I was genuinely heartbroken. Setting this novel on the Island was my long goodbye, a way to submerge myself within the landscape, even as we let it go. Anyone familiar with the Island will know that I took great liberties with the setting in service to the story, but you will see recognizable bits throughout the novel.”

“Locals often don’t like it but that’s just part of the fiction writing process. The Manitoulin in ‘The Almost Wife’ is a fictional Manitoulin, just as the Shuswap of my previous novels is a fictional Shuswap. If you know the region, then you’ll recognize parts of it within the fiction but it’s still very much an imagined landscape.” Readers will take their own version of Manitoulin Island into the fiction and that will undoubtedly differ from her own, she said. “The reader builds the novel right alongside the author.”

The characters arose from the research into the topics she was exploring in the novel and from the thriller structure, the domestic or psychological thriller structure. “For the writers out there who are interested,” she said, “Check out Jessica Brody’s ‘Save the Cat! Writes a Novel’ and you’ll see what I mean. Pacing and suspense is everything in the thriller, so, as is always the case with a novel, structure is the real work. And so is building up to those twists and surprises in a satisfying way.”

‘The Almost Wife’ may be her first commercial thriller, but Ms. Anderson-Dargatz has been working with the structure for years. Thriller elements are incorporated into many of her novels, beginning with her first, ‘The Cure for Death by Lightning,’ published in 1996. “While teaching within the University of British Columbia Creative Writing optional-residency MFA program for nearly a decade, and now privately, I’ve worked with a great many other writers on their thrillers both as a mentor and developmental editor,” she said. “I was asked to write a thriller for a literacy initiative by ABC Life Literacy many years ago.” 

She went on to write three more of these adult literacy-learner or hi-lo thrillers for Orca Book Publishers and is working on another hi-lo thriller for middle school readers right now. “I really enjoyed writing them and asked my agent about writing a full-on commercial thriller and she found me a supportive agent at HarperCollins. ‘The Almost Wife’ is the result.”

Another adult thriller is nearing completion and she plans to write more. “I’m also applying what I’ve learned in writing the commercial thriller back into my literary works,” Ms. Anderson-Dargatz added. “In any case, I’m always trying something new to keep writing fresh for myself. I work in many genres. I started out as a poet and short story writer. My first writing gig was as a small-town reporter, cartoonist and photographer.” Many if not most writers work in multiple genres, she said.

The response to the novel has already been amazing, more than she expected. “Writing the thriller is a playful process that I very much enjoy and promoting it is turning out to be just as much fun.” There was a book launch on Twitter. Ms. Anderson-Dargatz and her husband put together an author reading that was a bit of sketch comedy on coming out of isolation to record a reading at the tail end of the pandemic which includes some Manitoulin references (Look for The Author Reading at gailanderson-dargatz.ca).

“You have no idea how much I miss Manitoulin and in particular, Providence Bay,” she said. “I felt genuine grief at leaving, as did my husband and kids. I weep when looking back at photos of the Island (which are all over my website). We’re still in touch with friends there and I hope when it’s truly safe to travel again we can go back and visit. I send my love to everyone there.”

Ms. Anderson-Dargatz  will appear virtually when she joins the Manitoulin Reads Facebook group for a discussion of ‘The Almost Wife’ in September.