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Locally Writ: Sarah Gailey’s ‘The Echo Wife’ focuses on personal relationships

It took some time for author Sarah Gailey to earnestly put pen to paper, but Gailey’s earliest memories were overflowing with story ideas.

“I tossed around wanting to be a writer when I was a teenager the way that when you’re a teenager, you kind of try on a new identity every other week,” Gailey said. “It didn’t quite stick then, but when I think back, the ways that I played as a kid … it all had a lot of story in it.”

Luckily for readers, Gailey gave the childhood imaginings another shot. “The Echo Wife,” Gailey’s latest novel, is the topic of the Northwest Passages Book Club virtual gathering at 7 p.m. Thursday.

“Martine is a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn Caldwell’s award-winning research,” the dust jacket reads. “She’s patient and gentle and obedient. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never be. And she’s having an affair with Evelyn’s husband. Now, the (cheat) is dead, and both Caldwell wives have a mess to clean up. Good thing Evelyn Caldwell is used to getting her hands dirty.”

After helping a friend get a few novels through the beta-reading phase, Gailey realized it might be time to put those well-honed editing skills to the test more personally.

“I started thinking, ‘Gosh, you know, he really takes all of my notes and seems to really incorporate them into his stories; I wonder if I could give writing my own stories a try,” Gailey said.

Despite the best and most relatable of intentions, Gailey usually starts writing in the afternoon.

“I spend most of the morning telling myself I’m going to start writing and then finding other things to do like, you know, laundry that urgently needs folding or a sock drawer that absolutely must be rearranged right away,” Gailey said.

But in the afternoon, once all possible tidying has been completed, Gailey sits down with a cup of tea and a warm blanket and, perhaps most importantly, a scented candle.

“I have a different candle for each project,” Gailey said. “I’ll start using it when I’m in the exciting, early stages where the book is flowing really fast, so that later when the book gets hard to write, I have a way to trick my brain into saying, ‘OK, you have to focus now.’”

“The Echo Wife” started taking shape several years ago. Gailey had written a short story about a woman who clones herself in order to study how other people see her.

“It was terrible – such a mess,” Gailey said.

But eventually, still intrigued by the inspirations behind it, Gailey decided to revisit the story.

With the success of earlier novels, Gailey had started to feel the weight of public scrutiny on and offline.

“It’s frightening to have that all of a sudden, and I often wished in that time that I’d had a way to study how to do it without the pain of learning,” Gailey said.

Gailey hopes that readers come away from “The Echo Wife” with a renewed approach to personal relationships.

“The relationships that I have in my life right now are relationships that nurture me and make space for me to grow and have turned me into someone who knows how to take breaks,” Gailey said. “But there are also relationships that make us feel small, like we have to hide who we are and what we want, like we have to destroy pieces of ourselves in order to be loved.

“I hope that this book leads people to evaluate which of those relationships are more plentiful in their lives and how they can nurture some and maybe take a couple steps back from the others.”

To aspiring authors, Gailey offered the following advice.

“Read as much as you can … there is so much to learn from the different ways people write in different genres and in different voices.

“The other thing I wish that more people would tell aspiring writers is that it shouldn’t feel bad to write. I think that it should feel challenging. And there should be times where it feels like you’re stretching, what you’re capable of and reaching for something that you’re not sure you can pull off.

“But … if it doesn’t feel joyful or magical … find a different way to do it, where you can feel the joy of it, because creating something like that should feel great. At least some of the time.”

“The Echo Wife” is available for purchase at Auntie’s Bookstore.

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