Kim Edwards’ debut novel, “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter,” sold more than 4 million copies and spent 23 weeks atop the New York Times bestseller list. Her second book, “The Lake of Dreams,” is just out and tells the story of another family haunted by the past.
A professor at the University of Kentucky, is on a nationwide book tour that brings her to Warwick’s Jan. 25 at 7:30 p.m. for a signing. She answered questions recently by e-mail.
In what ways did the success of “Memory Keeper’s Daughter” make writing your new novel easier?
Well, I learned a great deal about novel writing from the experience, and I took that knowledge with me into “The Lake of Dreams.” Also, hearing from so many readers, and having such a positive response to the novel here and in many other countries, was both exciting and affirming. I felt a great freedom writing “The Lake of Dreams.”
In what ways did it make it harder?
Making the transition from the very public act of touring to the very private act of writing was difficult at first. It took me a few months to regain some tranquility. Fortunately, I’d begun “The Lake of Dreams” well before “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” was even published, and I was glad to get back to the story.
Where did the idea for the story come from?
I can’t point to a specific generating moment the way I sometimes can with stories. Rather, the ideas and images accrued over years. The idea that the comet would be an interesting way to tie generations together came to me while I was still a student, for instance.
Early on you have your main character, Lucy, wonder, “Could the past ever be just the past?” I’ll ask you the same: Can the past ever be just the past?
Good question. That’s really Lucy’s quest in this novel, to resolve the lingering mysteries and sorrows of the past so she can move forward.
Secrets play a role in both your novels. Why are you drawn to secrets?
As Hawthorne knew, and Dostoevsky too, secrets provide a strong narrative tension that can serve to highlight the deeper themes of a novel. In “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” the reader knows the secret right away, while many characters don’t. In “The Lake of Dreams,” I set myself a different challenge; I wanted to write a story where no one knew the secret — or even that there was a secret — going in.
The novels have wanderers, too, and lots of self-discovery. What do you discover about yourself and your characters as you write?
The characters, and the stories themselves, are always a discovery; I don’t know at the beginning what will happen in a book. Finding out is one of the thrilling parts of writing, in my view. I leave each book changed in some way, too, though it tends to be more subtle than the changes my characters undergo.
A lot of the discovery here has to do with Lucy’s family tree. Why do you think so many people are interested in genealogy?
Maybe because it can give a sense of connection to the past. My husband can trace his family back to the American Revolution, and in fact several of his ancestors were among those killed or wounded at the battles of Lexington and Concord. Knowing that really brings the historical accounts of those battles alive
In what ways were you shaped as a writer by your family history?
I’m something of an anomaly; there are no other writers, at least that I know of, though one great-grandfather was a musician.
You grew up in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. In what ways did you draw on that experience as you wrote the book?
I drew on that experience very deeply. Though the Lake of Dreams is a fictional place, it’s very much informed by the years I spent in that region and by my sense of the history and geography.
What if any is the significance of the story being set near a body of water?
I wanted to set the novel in the Finger Lakes region, a place I know and love. And water, like glass, moves easily between states of being.
How does teaching at the college level help your writing, and vice-versa?
It’s very helpful. Of course, the writing I do informs my teaching. My classes usually focus strongly on revision, an essential skill for writers. At various times in the writing of both novels I used writing exercises that I assign to students to help me explore my characters more deeply
Why do you write?
Writing has always been one of my greatest pleasures.
Read more interviews with Kim about The Lake of Dreams