Wind Tails

At a side-of-the-highway diner on a mountain pass, during one extraordinary, windy day in 1977, the paths of an odd assortment of travellers cross. The stories of each circle around points of departure: what sets one on one’s journey. These seemingly unconnected—but oddly interconnected—stories involve strange twists, turns, and the kinds of chance encounters that change the way we see the world. There is the old woman who, told she has just weeks to live, tells everyone exactly what she thinks of them—and then doesn’t die; the water witcher who comes to terms with his gift instead of drowning in it; the woman who never leaves her own town but travels vicariously through the tales of the hitchhikers she picks up; a trucker with a kind heart; and the proprietor, Cass, and the story that haunts her. Central to this remarkable day is Pink, travelling in whatever direction the wind takes him, and Jo, a young waitress whose own life twists—family betrayal, and the birth and adoption of a baby—have left her anchorless. For Jo, Cass’s Roadside Café is a waystation, holding her until a series of interactions with strangers give her permission to find her own point of departure, and embark upon her own journey.

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Anne DeGrace, author of 2005’s Treading Water, sets her new novel during a single day in 1977 in a remote diner in a B.C. mountain pass. The story is primarily about Jo, a troubled teen waitress still recovering from an unexpected pregnancy, and Cass, the owner of the diner. But the staff at Cass’s Roadside Café are only a launching point for an expansive novel that encompasses each and every person who enters the diner during the day. The full cast totals more than a dozen, with twice as many characters in supporting roles. Read More>>


A self-described ‘story vulture,’ Anne DeGrace confesses her second novel Wind Tails (McArthur & Co. $29.95) arose from a pub night in Nelson when a friend described a hitchhiker who would only travel in the direction the wind blew. A second friend added a true story about a driver who asked hitchhikers to send him postcards from wherever they wound up. Read More >>


It’s the first day of the third week. Jo never thought she’d get used to starting work at six a.m., but the truth is, she’s starting to like it. Even college classes, when she last attended, didn’t require rising so early, and then mornings included the bustle of her mother heading off to work at the clinic, her father’s newspaper rattle at the kitchen table, the morning banter—on the good days—between them. It’s September: she should be at home, just starting second year, perhaps sharing an apartment with other students.  Read More >>


Book Club Questions

  1. Being true to an era means, for a writer, including small details that set us firmly in time.  A CB rather than a cell phone for a trucker; an urn-style coffee percolator rather than an espresso machine in a restaurant. What are some other details in Far from Home that set us clearly in the 1970s.
  1. Eamon is a poser, pretending to be something he is not in order to get what he wants. What are some other examples of people pretending to be what they are not: in the novel, in the news, and in people you’ve encountered in your own life?
  1. Jo opts for adoption rather than abortion. Why? Why doesn’t she choose to keep the baby? What might the times have to do with her decision?
  1. Sometimes it is a particular event that sets us on the road, or changes our direction.  Eunice has a near-death experience; Evelyn’s husband is having an affair; Carson is framed. What sets Pink on the road to Canada? Is it one thing, or an accumulation? What makes him alter his rule of the road? What have been the turning points in your life?
  1. The people we encounter in our lives change the way we see the world.  Sometimes it comes by way of advice, sometimes it’s a negative experience, and sometimes it’s so subtle we can’t see it at all. What advice does Jo receive, either subtly or overtly? What’s the best advice you’ve ever received, and where did it come from?
  1. Eccentricity plays a large role in Far from Home. Aunt Bea collects cut-out eyes from magazines; Evelyn is a floral kleptmaniac; Granny lives in the woods, and Pixie brings her food in exchange for stories. These characters are all based on real people. Eccentric people color our lives, but when does eccentricity cross the line to become mental illness? How do we know? Discuss eccentric people you have known.
  1. Evelyn collects hitchhikers. Pink collects rides. The seed for Far from Home took root when the author was swapping hitchhiking stories with friends. How has the culture of hitchhiking changed since the 1970s? Have you ever hitchhiked? Picked up a hitchhiker? Would you? Swap your own stories.
  1. Kindness is doing a good turn for its own sake. It’s being empathetic to the feelings of others, perhaps recognizing or anticipating a need. What are some examples of kindness in Far From Home?
  1. Far from Home features a disparate cast of characters, some more likeable than others. What characters do you like? Not like? Why? What do you think was the author’s intention?
  1. What decision does Jo make at the end of the novel? Where will she go now? Suggest what might happen to Jo in the next month, or even year. Compare outcomes with other members of your book group.


This interview for Far From Home (U.S.) published by HarperCollins/Avon (Wind Tails in Canada) appears in the A+ section of the trade paperback edition.

The stories in Far From Home are each distinct and yet interconnected. How did these connections come to you?

I really do see people as vessels full of stories, as Granny tells Pixie. These stories include the stories of one’s life, and the stories we collect as we encounter the stories of others. They all touch us in some way. At times, it’s obvious: we’re touched by something, and it changes the way we see a person or situation, or even ourselves. At other times it’s less obvious; it’s the layering of stories that slowly, over time, changes us. In Far from Home I started with Jo and Pink: two young people in search of something. I also had a number of stories and characters in my back pocket, so to speak. With each new character who entered the story I thought: who is this person? What do their stories mean to them? How will they touch Jo, and how will Jo, in turn, touch them? As I wrote, the characters and their stories—just sketches at first—grew through the telling, and then took on another dimension at Cass’s Roadside café. For Jo, the stories she picks up are subliminal, but the reader knows the true story.

If there’s one thing the travelers who come through the diner have in common, it’s that they are all misfits in some way. Do you see yourself that way?

We all see ourselves as misfits in a way, I suppose, or perhaps we like to think of ourselves that way, because I sets us apart. When does “different” become simply “odd?” It’s a fine line, and one that fascinates me. I love eccentric people; I seem to surround myself with them. They are the out-of-the-box thinkers, the artists, the wacky scientists for whom the world seems just a little more colourful, its spark burning just a bit brighter.  I wouldn’t say I’m a misfit, but some days, I aspire to be one just for that reason.

What are your thoughts about the connections between people? Do you believe in coincidence? Does everything happen for a reason?

That’s a great question. The practical side of me believes in the randomness of all things, and I admit I take some comfort in that. I am delighted by serendipity, and the magic of coincidence. And then there’s the random serendipity of coincidence that is so pointed there’s nothing to do but sit up and say: Wow. Obviously, there’s a lesson to be learned, here. When that happens, it’s hard to imagine there was no orchestration involved. And so I suppose I was playing with that in Far from Home: the convergence of seemingly disparate people propelled by unusual circumstances that, encountered by one person, change that person’s view of the world. The nice thing is that we don’t really need to know if life’s serendipities are random or divine in order to appreciate them.

At one point in the book Eunice says: “You know what I’ve figured out? That life keeps slapping you in the face with a lesson ’til you learn whatever the lesson is you’re supposed to learn.” I really believe that.

Many of the characters in the novel express a certain amount of longing, sometimes regret. Is there a message here?

I try not to write with any overt message in mind. To me, fiction—like all art—is a reflection of what we see around us. There is longing in the world, from the abstract—longing to belong, longing to be loved—to the concrete: longing for a warm bed or a hot meal. It’s pretty universal, just as regret is something everyone experiences. By exploring a theme through writing, I suppose I learn something about it on a subtle level. There are other themes in the book as well, you could say, such as optimism or hope, or the value of the journey, rather than just the destination.

I don’t think about it all that much when I’m writing, honestly. There’s just a story I want to tell. But I like that themes do emerge in the process. I suppose a painter experiences the same thing, when, through layered applications of paint, an unexpected quality emerges.

The characters in Far From Home come from different backgrounds. Do you have to do a lot of research into things like midwifery or dowsing?

The short answer is that the amount of research I do is just enough. Research, in itself, is very seductive. It’s awfully tempting to go deeper and deeper into the minutiae of a subject and never write a word. Writers of period novels, or political or scientific novels, really do need to know their subject. You can’t fudge the details, because someone out there is an expert and they’ll call you on it. Literary license is a wonderful thing, but you can only push it so far. So I try to make sure I know my stuff, but not spend so much time researching that the book won’t get written. One thing I always do is ensure I have plenty of readers who will catch my mistakes, so if there weren’t cell phones in 1977, Archie had better not be talking on one.

What about those readers? Are they friends? Other writers?

I have a writing group to whom I owe a great deal. Each brings something to the critique I hadn’t anticipated, and we often wind up with lively discussions about whether a character would say a certain thing.  They ask me hard questions that need to be asked. When we’re finished critiquing one another’s work, we have a “staving artist” dinner: soup, bread, cheese, and wine.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I believe anyone who wants to write, at any stage, should find a writing group. When the first draft of a manuscript is finished, I have several writers and friends, in addition to the group, who give me feedback.

Have they ever told you to start over?

(laughing). Yep.

When do you write? Do you have a set time?

Not really. I admire writers who, say, get up at 4 am and write ’til 7 am every morning. When my kids were all still at home—I was a single mother—I had the computer in the living room, partly so everyone was forced to interact with one another. I think in too many families, kids wind up sequestered in a “computer room” or in their own rooms. But the other reason the computer was there was because there really wasn’t another place to put it. Consequently, I wrote whenever the thing was free. I often wrote when the kids were at school, but if I was on a roll, I became very good at tuning out whatever was going on around me, short of a house fire. It drove the kids crazy, in a way, but they got used to it, and there doesn’t seem to be any lasting damage. And I got the book written.

You write on a computer, then. Do you ever write longhand? Does it come easily?

Sometimes it does, and then—this is going to sound a little flaky—it’s as if the muse is sitting just above my right shoulder feeding me words that travel through my fingers and out onto the keyboard. I imagine this thing to look something like Gizmo the Gremlin, only perhaps green and more disheveled. Other times, Gizmo’s off starring in some 80s movie and I’m left with paralyzed fingers. That’s when bizarre things happen in my house, like a sudden cleaning of the cupboard under the kitchen sink. My house is never cleaner than when the words won’t come. I never write longhand. I can’t read my own handwriting after about five minutes.

Did you always want to write?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a visual artist, a painter or an illustrator. Writing surprised me by being a more comfortable creative medium, as I discovered when I began writing a regular column for a newspaper about the local arts scene. It’s not always easy to erase a line or paint over a canvas, but words are endlessly malleable, and I love that. I love that if you come back to your words a day later, they have suddenly acquired their own distinct personalities, somewhat separate from their writer. It’s lovely. I’ll look at something I wrote, delighted to make a new, vaguely familiar acquaintance.

I admire all creative people. I revere the dancers, the actors, the filmmakers, the painters, the musicians. If I could choose any art to be something I did well, it would be music, for its ability to evoke emotion so immediately. You have to pick up a book, but you can catch a song when you’re riding a bus, and it becomes the soundtrack for your day. Without even expecting it, it can warm your heart, or make you cry. As a writer I try to do the same thing—it just takes me three hundred pages to do it!

It sounds like music is important to you. Does it have any influence on your writing?

Funny you should ask. An early draft of the novel was set during the Vietnam war, at the height of student protest and the Civil Rights Movement. So my personal soundtrack included songs like Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, Blind Faith’s Can’t Find my Way Home, and Neil Young’s Ohio. I let David Crosby sing to me about the Chicago Seven while I wrote. When I re-set the story in 1977—in part, ironically, to regain my original sense of direction—I had to update my playlist! So my new soundtrack became the kind of am radio tunes I imagined Jo would have listened to around that time: Wish you Were Here by Pink Floyd, Fly Like an Eagle by the Steve Miller Band, Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way, and Long May you Run by Neil Young and Stephen Stills. I could clearly imagine Jo wiping the counters at Cass’s while, on a tinny two-knob plastic radio in the kitchen, Bruce Springsteen sings: Baby, you were born to run.

When you read, what makes a perfect novel for you?

I want a good story, and I want characters I care about. There doesn’t need to be a lot of action, but there does need to be enough depth to make me think, and make me care. I can admire a writer for the crafting of the story, or the character development, or my need to turn the page. But the very best writers are painters with language. Or master chefs. They make me want to eat the words, to savour them. These are the writers I admire most.

Any advice for up-and-coming writers?

Trust. It takes a tremendous amount of trust—in yourself, in the story you want to tell—to be able to write. If you can trust, you’re halfway there.