Sea Changes by Gail Graham


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.

You can visit Gail online at


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.

The author was kind enough to agree to an interview. This is what she had to say:

Could you please tell us a little about your book?

Sea Changes explores the question of what –at any given time – is reality. I am fascinated by the idea that reality is viewed differently in different cultures and at different times. Our perceptions of reality – of what exists – keep changing. For example, 500 years ago, we feared and respected the witches in our midst. We believed magic was real. 200 years ago, we burned witches at the stake, because we still believed in magic. Now, we no longer believe in magic, and if someone says she’s a witch, we medicate her. The protagonist of Sea Changes, Sarah Andrews, is a widow. In another time and place, she might have been called a witch. Witches were often older women, who were often widows. So there’s this powerful connection between widows (who are usually seen as weak and pathetic) and magic. Sea Changes begins with that connection, but places it in a completely modern context.

What cause are you most passionate about and why?

I love animals, especially dogs. So I am most passionate about doing everything I can to stop animal abuse. I support organizations that oppose experimentation on animals, organizations that rescue homeless animals, organizations that advocate for animals, and lobby groups seeking to improve the legal status of animals. I have a place in Puerto Penasco, and there’s a wonderful woman there who rescues street dogs and finds homes for them. So during the Fourth of July I’m doing a couple of readings and signings of Sea Changes in Puerto Penasco to benefit her charity.

In the last year have you learned or improved on any skills?

I’ve been learning classical Chinese. I already read, write and speak Chinese, but classical Chinese is as different from modern Chinese as Latin is from English. The great Tang poems were all written in classical Chinese, which was the scholars’ language. And many of the words are simply not translatable. So if you want to read Tang poetry in its original language – and I do – you’ve got to learn how to read classical Chinese. I’ve also been studying Spanish, because I love spending time in Mexico and want to be able to talk to all the wonderful people I meet there.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a novel called Straw Sandals, set in Tang China, about 700 AD. The protagonist is a young woman who has gone through life disguised as her twin brother, who was killed in an accident. Like all of us, my protagonist wants to live a good and meaningful life. But how can she do that? Who is she? What is a good life? Straw Sandals is about the conflict between agency, and chance; between what we can control, and what we can’t control.

What do you feel is your biggest strength?

My biggest strength is my imagination. I’m forever conjuring up stories and situations, and holding imaginary conversations with imaginary people. Probably, that’s why I became a writer. But imagination is a wonderful thing, especially when life is going badly. You can imagine things getting better. You can imagine different outcomes. You can imagine things the way you want them to be, and escape into your dream-world and be happy. Some people would say that’s a bad thing, but it certainly beats pills and alcohol. And imagination is empowering. When I finished my Masters, my husband urged me to go on and get a PhD. I found the idea completely daunting. I literally couldn’t imagine myself doing such a thing. But then I imagined myself getting my PhD – up there on the stage, with everyone applauding – and that gave me the courage to at least give it a try. And I did get the PhD, eventually.

Biggest weakness?

My biggest weakness is also my imagination. I can always see infinite possibilities in any given situation, and some of the possibilities are bad ones. So that can be a problem. I can get myself all worked up over something that hasn’t happened, and may never happen. Imagination is like magic. It has to be controlled. Especially at 3 AM!

What do you feel sets this book apart from others in the same genre?

Sea Changes doesn’t fit into any single genre. This was intentional. (It also made life difficult, as the huge, publishing conglomerates insist upon genres) But I tend to write the kinds of books that I like to read, and I don’t read genre fiction. So I don’t write it, either. Where Sea Changes was concerned, I wanted to write a book that was unique, and – from reviewers’ comments thus far – I seem to have succeeded. For me, the challenge is to push the boundaries, to do something different. Sea Changes does that. On one level, it’s a psychological thriller. On another level, it’s fantasy. On another level, it’s a romance. Reading is interactive and in the end, it’s the individual reader who will decide. As a writer that’s what I most value – that interaction with my readers.

What is the most important lesson you have learned from life so far?

Don’t give up. Keep going. Anything is possible. There has been a lot of tragedy in my life. My young son sustained massive brain damage in an automobile accident and – because we were living in Australia, where medical care is far inferior to what we have in the United States -- we had to watch him suffer, denied even the most basic care, for nearly 20 years. The sheer horror of it cost my husband his own life. And then I was left to struggle on alone. The last book I wrote was called A Long Season In Hell, and that’s what it was. On more than one occasion, I was close to suicide.

I couldn’t see a future. I couldn’t see a way out. But I couldn’t give up. I had to keep going, for my son’s sake. Ten years ago, I never would have dreamed that in 2009 I’d be living in the United States and publishing a novel! But you know what? Anything is possible. That’s what I’ve learned. Anything is possible.

What a fantastic interview! Thanks so much Gail for sharing so much of yourself. I wish you well in everything you do!