Lucy Jarrett, Kim Edward’s protagonist in The Lake of Dreams, is at a crossroads. She’s living in Japan, in-between jobs, and mentally stuck. So after 10 years away, she goes home to confront her past – her father’s drowning, a first love, and eventually, her family’s dramatic history.
As the character discovers clues to her ancestors’ story, she doesn’t know what they mean, or how they connect to a bigger picture at first. As she wrote the novel, Edwards – author of the bestselling 2006 novel "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" – didn’t know either.
“I figure out the plot happenings as I go along,” the author explains just days after the book’s publication, during a talk at Boston-area Brookline Booksmith. “For me that’s the great pleasure of writing. I get to find out what happens.”
Many authors approach writing quite the opposite, with their plots already determined before they sit down to put it on paper.
“Writers fall on different places along that spectrum,” says Edwards. “For me it’s always been that intuitive seeking of the story and then pausing to do the intellectual shaping of it.”
Early on in the process, she sets a goal of 1,000 words per day, and then explores.
“I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do with the book, but nothing concrete,” she says. At first, she wrote it from her protagonist’s mother’s point of view, in the third person. “I just kept running into walls. Finally I realized it was not [the mother’s] story.”
While writing, Edwards conducted research on a wide variety of subjects involved in the plot: the 19th-century suffragette movement, stained glass art, and lock picking among them. She visited women’s activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s home and took a glass blowing class. As for the lock picking, she assures readers that, despite her research, she never mastered the skill.
Lucy’s story is not that of her creator, Edwards. Still, they do share similar roots.
Edwards, like the main character, grew up in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, near a series of long and narrow lakes formed two million years ago by glaciers. She tried to use Seneca Lake as the book’s primary setting, especially because the area shared land-use issues with a plotline in the story.
“But then I had a problem, I was so constrained by reality,” Edwards said. “So I just made up a new Finger Lake. I took a little poetic license from the geography.”
Edwards also gave her protagonist one of her real-life experiences.
“Like Lucy, I wandered about the world for a while when I was in my 20s and early 30s,” the author said. Edwards lived on the rural east coast of Malaysia,
Cambodia, and Japan for a time. She based many of her short stories, some in her collection “The Secrets of a Fire King,” on those travels.
“The Lake of Dreams” opens with Lucy living in Japan, just as Edwards did.
“The first summer that I lived in Japan there was an underwater island forming off the coast and there were consequently a lot of earthquakes, almost constantly. The earth was always trembling,” said Edwards. “I thought that that was a wonderful metaphor for Lucy’s state of life, so I gave it to her here.”
Nora Dunne is a Monitor contributor.