Book People | March 2022 | Nate Pedersen

The Book of the Most Precious Substance : An Interview with Sara Gran

Credit: Eliza Gran

Sara Gran, LA novelist and screenwriter, has a new bibliomystery out entitled "The Book of the Most Precious Substance." We featured her book in Rebecca Rego Barry's Spring 2022 Books About Books Roundup, where Rebecca called it "easily one of the most compelling biblio-novels out there." We have interviewed Gran twice previously on the blog (in 2013 and 2019), as bibliophile elements have featured prominently in her Claire DeWitt mystery series in particular, but The Book of the Most Precious Substance is Gran's first full foray into bibliomysteries. And it's a page-turning stunner that also packs a hefty emotional punch.

Tell us about the genesis of the idea for The Book of the Most Precious Substance.

I'd always wanted to write a bibliomystery. Books have been a huge part of my life since childhood and I wanted to explore that affection/obsession. And while I love books as physical objects, there also seems to be something about them that can transcend the physical realm and connect us with something else. Books contain little pieces of our souls, and I like to think that has some power, if a slim one.  

Courtesy of Sara Gran

Do you have experience working in the rare book trade yourself? The novel and its characters felt very "real" to me, as someone who has worked in the trade.  I'm wondering if you have personal experience in the trade or if this feeling of authenticity came about from your research.

I do have a little experience. I worked in used bookstores in my twenties, and I bought and sold books on my own through my early thirties for extra money. I still go to book fairs for fun. I'm a very poor collector--my only criteria is "looks cool"--but I have some of the book-buying addiction that the characters in the book have.

On that note, could you tell us about your research and development for this book? I'm hoping you got to travel the world as much as Lily does in the novel.

Unfortunately the most autobiographical parts are the bad parts--I wrote this book while caring for a number of ill family members. The visceral experience of trying to preserve the life and health of someone you love is not one I'd seen in fiction often, if ever (with the exception of caring for children, of course). On a brighter note, some of the travels around Europe were inspired by pre-Covid book tours across France and Germany.

Was there a particular real-life book that was the inspiration for The Book of the Most Precious Substance?

No one book, but many years of hearing both occult lore and bibliophile lore were a big influence. I think a lot of books come from the idea of: what if this rumor is true?

Tell us about yourself as a collector.  What areas do you collect in?

My collecting tastes are nuts. I am not a completeist in anything and aim to surround myself with books I find inspiring. I collect field guides, vintage guides for the beautiful illustrations and new guides for the information (knowing the names of the living things around you brings joy and vision to your life--try it!). I collect Dell mapbacks because I find the format existentially thrilling and relevant to my idea of what a mystery can be. I used to collect around the occult in general and tarot cards in particular but I'm less interested now (for reasons that will be obvious to you if you read The Book of the Most Precious Substance). And a good folklore book at a good price (surprisingly rare!) is an automatic purchase for me.

While your previous books have been issued by major publishers, I'm wondering if you could tell us about the development of your own small press, Dreamland Books, and the decision to publish this book through that channel:

I'd always wanted to start my own small press. This seemed like the right book for a bunch of reasons. I knew, given the big role sex plays in the book, and the straightforward nature of the story (woman looks for book) I'd have an easier time moving copies than I would with some of my other books. I had some money to burn after working in television as a writer and showrunner nonstop for a few years. And my last publication with a big New York publisher had not been successful or pleasant, and I just didn't want to do it again.

Can we expect more books from Dreamland Books anytime soon?

I plan on publishing most or all of my work through Dreamland in the future, and eventually taking on other authors as well. The whole process really has been fun.

Will there be a return to the Claire DeWitt series sometime soon as well?

Yes! I'm working on the next book and pulling together a bunch of short stories in the Claire DeWitt metaverse.