The Memory of Water

THE LOST GIRLS was born of water. Not just any water, but the very particular lake water of my childhood. I first saw the ocean as a teenager, and its grandeur made me so dizzy it knocked me off my feet. But the water of White Earth Lake – fecund and drawn close with mystery – was a part of my life before I could walk, and it always seemed primal to me in a way the ocean, for all its amniotic brine, did not.

When I was a girl, my family spent a month each summer at White Earth. Five miles long and two hundred feet deep, the lake was a gash carved in the bedrock of northwestern Minnesota by a glacier tens of thousands of years ago, and it remembered every last one of those years. Its water was so clear you could drink it, but the years it carried made it look dark, almost black, full of the kind of secrets from which stories are born. Stories like the ones the Chippewa told around their campfires and my family told around our bonfires, of monster fish, spirit wolves, and dead men.

So when I started to write the book that became THE LOST GIRLS, I began with only two things: a woman, and that lake. I put the woman on the metal dock I remembered from my childhood, faced the water, and waited for the story to come.

It came slowly, like something I’d forgotten but the lake had not. First, a name: Justine. Then, her two daughters and Lucy, a mysterious, dead benefactress who left her a ramshackle home at the water’s edge. Why she was there, what she wanted, and how she would try to get it came as a haunting, and soon the very spirits of the dead – Lucy, her sisters, their terrible secrets – laid their claim on the story, too.

Six years later, the story the lake yielded is one of memory, and family, and the ways people find love, or fail to find it. From Lucy, recalling the last summer of her childhood, to Justine, finding a strength she doesn’t know she has in the chilly solitude of December, and all the mothers, daughters, and sisters in between, THE LOST GIRLS is about the power of the past, the price of betrayal, and the meaning of salvation. But through it all, it’s also a story of water, glittering in the summer sun and frozen in the ice of winter, the quiet sort of water that bears witness to generations and remembers every secret.

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After a decade practicing law and another decade raising kids, Heather decided to finally write the novel she'd always talked about writing. She holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and is an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop and the Tin House Writers Workshop, all of which helped her stop writing like a lawyer. She lives in Mill Valley, California, with her husband and two teenaged children. When she's not writing she's biking, hiking, neglecting potted plants, and reading books by other people that she wishes she'd written.

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  1. Heather. This was so, so incredibly written. I sometimes have to step away and look at you through new eyes, because as much as I have always loved and admired you, and knew you had tremendous talent, it is truly humbling to see you now and how your talent in writing takes my breath away. I love you sis.

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