Award-winning scientist Evelyn Caldwell never expected that her husband would steal her research and create a clone of her that’s the complete opposite. Then the cheater kicks the bucket, and it’s a domestic thriller about abuse and recovery featuring near-future science. In today’s interview, author Sarah Gailey stops by to talk about the process behind The Echo Wife, including the original setting, bits of research, and vaguely what we can look forward to next.
Crafting The Echo Wife
Which aspect came to you first? Was it all Evelyn or something else?
The first thing that came to me was the notion of a clone as a concentrated source of self-consciousness. Evelyn, as a character, is simultaneously highly curious about herself and afraid to look too closely at herself; for that kind of character, a clone is a frightening and fascinating prospect.
How did you decide a near-future science fiction was the right genre for this story?
I tossed around a few potential settings for this one — I got a lot of mileage out of the phrase “traumatized clones in space” while I was trying to land on the right one. Ultimately, though, this story is best suited for near-future SF because it needs to stay so grounded in the people and relationships involved. I didn’t want to spend my time and energy researching and grounding more complex scientific aspects, and I didn’t want my readers to get caught up in a lot of tricky worldbuilding that would allow them respite from the emotional beats of the book.
How much research did you do for the cloning aspects? Was there anything that didn’t make it into the book?
Most of my research was focused on lab dynamics — I wanted to be sure that Evelyn’s relationship with her lab assistant, Seyed, was grounded in actual trust and care. When I was writing the science of the cloning process as described in the book, my research focused primarily on making sure I didn’t step too close to actual science. I invented most of the science in the book out of whole cloth, then trimmed away things that were too much like reality, so I wasn’t at risk of misrepresenting or disrespecting the work of real-world scientists.
What was the experience of drafting this book like?
Brutal and magical. I drafted the book while in a state of immense upheaval in my life, and it happened all at once. I think I needed to be exactly the person I was, in exactly the place I was, to make The Echo Wife happen; if I’d experienced even one ounce more stability, the book would have fallen apart before it began.
What were some things that changed immensely in revision? Was there anything that stayed the same?
The biggest changes that happened during the revision process revolved around diving deeper into the emotional connection between Evelyn and Nathan. It was too easy, in early drafts, to make him wholly disposable — but ultimately, the pain of his betrayal needs to be grounded in a real relationship, and I ended up adding a lot of depth to the marriage that is essentially the prologue to this story.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on the manuscript for my third novel with Tor Books (hopefully out in 2022). I can’t say too much about it just yet, but I can share that it’s a whole new realm for me to be writing in, and I’m having a blast with it.
Once we’ve pulled ourselves out of a reading hangover, what do you recommend we read next?
I’ve been getting through the stress of book launch by throwing myself into Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut books. They’re totally absorbing, and a perfect way to recover from The Echo Wife.
Hugo award winner Sarah Gailey lives and works in California. Their nonfiction has been published by Mashable and the Boston Globe, and their fiction has been published internationally. Their novel, Magic for Liars, was an LA Times bestseller. You can find links to their work at www.sarahgailey.com. They tweet @gaileyfrey. Photo credit ©Allan Amato 2019.