Valerie Laken's work has appeared in Ploughshares, the Chicago Tribune, Michigan Quarterly Review, the Alaska Quarterly Review, the Antioch Review, and Meridian. Her honors include a Pushcart Prize, the Missouri Review Editors’ Prize, two Hopwood Awards, and an honorable mention in The Best American Short Stories. She is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, where she teaches creative writing.
Her new novel, Dream House, was inspired by her own experience buying and remodeling a home in which a murder had occurred.
From Laken's Q & A with Bobby Tanzilo of OnMilwaukee.com:
OMC: Did you write "Dream House" here?Read the complete interview.
VL: I started "Dream House" in Ann Arbor but finished it here. The novel tells the story of a young couple whose lives are upended when they discover that the historic fixer-upper they've just bought was once the site of a gruesome murder. The book interweaves their story with the story of the man who committed the murder and has recently been released from prison. It turns out that he actually grew up in the house and is devastated by the fact that his family lost the house after he was incarcerated.
The truth is, the basic kernel of the novel is based on what actually happened to my husband and me: We bought a hideously decrepit old house in downtown Ann Arbor while I was in grad school, and two weeks after we moved in, a neighbor came over and told us that a murder had occurred in the home.
The rest of the novel is fiction, but the house in the novel is a pretty close representation of the house we were actually living in while I wrote it, and sometimes I felt a bit claustrophobic living in that house both in real life and in the imaginative space of all my writing hours.
Part of me had really hoped to finish the novel before we sold the house and moved on, but the truth is that once we moved out of the house and to Milwaukee the novel became much more easy to write. There's something about getting away from the true source of any story that liberates your imagination. So I don't think the book would have been the same had I stayed in Ann Arbor to finish it.
The Page 69 Test: Dream House.