A Conversation with Gerri Brightwell
Torrey House Press will publish Turnback Ridge by Gerri Brightwell in August 2022. The novel takes places in a near-future Alaska, in which both global warming and immigration policy are wreaking havoc on lives and land. Nash Preston is trying to hold his family together, so he ignores his expired visa. Fleeing Immigration, he and his sons become caught up in a sinister plot to stop the climate warming.
Gerri Brightwell is the author of the novels Dead of Winter, The Dark Lantern, and Cold Country, as well as many short stories. She has master’s degrees in creative writing from the University of East Anglia and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and a doctorate in English from the University of Minnesota. Originally from southwest Britain, Brightwell has worked in Greece, Israel, Spain, Thailand, and Canada, and now lives in Fairbanks, Alaska, with her spouse, Ian C. Esslemont, and their three sons.
READ: Tell us about a book that shifted your perspective in some way, and/or made an impression on you.
On a trip to Canada to visit friends last spring, just as the pandemic was getting going, I read Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. Each day more of the life we knew was shutting down around us. Each night, I’d fall back into Tokarczuk’s world. Winter in Poland. An older narrator who carefully prepares herself for bed, just in case she’s hauled away by ambulance in “the Night.” Early in the novel a man dies horribly, and the mystery of what happened—and what is going on, as more deaths follow—is delivered to us together with the narrator’s slow-burning anger. This novel isn’t simply a mystery but an examination of a woman driven to right wrongs that have gone unnoticed. When at last the lens of the novel shifts so that we understand what underlies her clawing fury, and how exactly she has acted on it, the impact is startling. The novel’s outrage about the predations of our culture still hasn’t left me. A year and a half later I find myself stepping back more often than ever to wonder how future generations will judge us.
REVEAL: What was revealed to you in the process of working on your book?
I started Turnback Ridge with an image of a man beside a broken-down truck. It took me a long time to discover why he was on that roadside, and to unearth why his story might matter. All of that only became clear when I saw him as part of the biological world. As I researched the novel, I was astonished by just how wrong our ideas about the natural world have long been. Where we saw competition, there is also cooperation; where we assumed simplicity, there is staggering complexity. As a species, we have underestimated the other forms of life that share this planet with us.
REEMERGE: What is feeding/nurturing you these days? What are you looking forward to or stepping in to?
Like everyone else, I am looking forward to stepping back into social interactions that aren’t carried out over screens or phones. In the meantime, while I am largely limited to the virtual world, I have been making friends and nurturing people who I will likely never meet in real life, many of them involved in the baking world (not that I’m any great baker). Reaching out to people with kindness and encouragement, to try to inject humanity and caring into online interactions, has become crucial to me.
Why Torrey House Press?
I thought for a couple of years that Turnback Ridge would never find a home—it doesn’t fit into any of the boxes that the major publishers like to squeeze novels into, and the issues it tackles are inherently political. I knew that I needed to find a press that cared about those issues, and was lucky enough to come across Susan M. Gaines’ novel Accidentals, and to discover in Torrey House Press a publisher that clearly did care about issues that many big houses are not interested in. What a relief it has been to have conversations about the novel, and to feel as though we are working on it together. This is what being published is supposed to feel like.