Love Water Memory was inspired by a very big truth: a newspaper clipping. The Seattle Times headline read (in print edition): “His memory fails him, but his heart won’t forget. ” An Olympia man who went missing was found by his fiancée six weeks later in Denver, where he’d traveled after experiencing a rare form of amnesia called dissociative fugue. She went to get him and they began life together again, even getting married, though he didn’t remember who she was.
The questions this story evoked were too big not to write about. I wanted to get inside of that situation and figure it out: how do two people find their way back to their relationship after such a thing? Who are we, really, without our memories? And ultimately, what makes us, well, us?
I changed the genders and locations. I researched many cases of dissociative fugue and the medical information available about it. I created Lucie, a woman who “comes to ” standing knee-deep in the San Francisco Bay and Grady, her fiancé who comes to take her back home to Seattle, carrying a few burdens of his own.
And because dissociative fugue is caused by emotional trauma rather than physical, I imagined and wrote Lucie’s inducing trauma. It would take some time for me to realize that what I’d written was not completely fictional, even though I’d thought it was at the time of writing it. My own childhood trauma had surfaced. The fictional scene was far more dramatic, as fiction needs to be, but its roots were my own.
My first instinct was to erase it. How could I let this very private thing out into the world? But it was only from this place that I could be sure to write with some measure of verisimilitude, because that’s what it takes to write good fiction: a big dose of true emotion. And my own story needed a little sunlight, anyway, to take the toxic murkiness out of it. As clichéd as it sounds, the truth can set you free.
Perhaps this is what writing and reading fiction is all about: infusing difficult or scary situations with the emotional truth. That way, we arrive somewhere new and more fully realized than the real world can sometimes be.
Who is Lucie Walker? Even Lucie herself can’t answer that question after she comes to, confused and up to her knees in the chilly San Francisco Bay. Back home in Seattle, she adjusts to life with amnesia, growing unsettled by the clues she finds to the selfish, carefully guarded person she used to be. Will she ever fall in love with her handsome, kindhearted fiancé, Grady? Can he devote himself to the vulnerable, easygoing Lucie 2.0, who is so unlike her controlling former self? When Lucie learns that Grady has been hiding some very painful secrets that could change the course of their relationship, she musters the courage to search for the shocking, long-repressed childhood memories that will finally set her free.
Jennie Shortridge has written five acclaimed novels, including Love Water Memory and When She Flew. When she is not writing or volunteering, she stays busy as a co-founder of Seattle7Writers.org, a nonprofit collective of authors whose mission is to promote literacy in their community.