How "The Dream Daughter" Propelled Diane Chamberlain into a Leap into the Unknown

Adrian Liang on October 26, 2018

A thrilling moment for a reader can occur when she picks up a new book by a favorite author, consumes the first chapter, and then thinks, "It's a bit different than I expected, but I love it."

Diane Chamberlain's readers have likely experienced this moment with her newest novel, The Dream Daughter. Chamberlain is perhaps best known for her books The Silent Sister and Necessary Lies, but all her novels focus on family and the complicated relationships that pull us together and push us apart. None of them, until now, had an element of time travel in them. But when you read the following piece by Chamberlain, you'll understand why she embraced this new plot device as the perfect way to plumb the depths of a mother's heart.

It’s the preemies I remember best. Those tiny infants born too soon to survive outside their moms. All these years later—thirty-five years, to be exact—I still remember them. And it was thoughts of them that inspired The Dream Daughter.

Back then, I was a social worker in a high-risk maternity unit in a California hospital. I was the person called in to help parents after the loss of their baby, although anyone who has ever been close to such a situation knows there is little help to give. As the years passed and I gradually left social work for a career as a novelist, I remembered those babies born too soon to benefit from the medical advances that existed later. That is how the idea for The Dream Daughter was born. What if a woman living in 1970 learns that her unborn baby has a condition that is always fatal? And what if someone—her trusted and beloved brother-in-law, in this case—confides to her that he is actually from the future, where there is help for her baby? And he can tell her how to get there.

If you are a longtime reader of my novels, you may think I’ve lost my mind. Time travel from Diane Chamberlain? I wondered about my sanity myself a few times as I worked on this book. While I’m not a fan of science fiction per se, I am a fan of the phenomenal Outlander books and TV series. I also love The Time Traveler's Wife and Stephen King’s gripping non-horror novel, 11-22-63. What those three books have in common is that they place everyday, sympathetic, relatable characters into impossible circumstances that begin to feel possible by virtue of the rest of the story’s realism. I think The Dream Daughter falls into that category as well. The focus of the story is how far a woman will go to save the life of her child, a dilemma nearly anyone can easily sympathize with.

I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun writing a book. There was much to research. What technology existed in the time periods my protagonist visits? What was happening in the news? What did she have to do to fit in to an era unlike her own? And how does she get to the future?

Every author writing about time travel has to create the rules that govern that travel. In Outlander, such travel takes place through the means of a gemstone worn at the stone circle of Craig na Dun. In The Time Traveler's Wife, slipping through time is the result of a genetic disorder in the traveler. In 11-22-63, a single portal takes the traveler to a particular date in the fifties. Part of the beauty of writing time travel is that the rules are governed only by the imagination of the author. In The Dream Daughter, there are many portals available but all of them require the traveler to step off a structure at least sixteen feet above the earth—a literal leap of faith. Only a mother trying to save her child would have that sort of courage.

I think my UK editor describes The Dream Daughter best. He says, “It’s different, but it’s still vintage Diane Chamberlain.” My readers seem to agree. It’s the story of good people, a good family, and a mother’s love for her child…with a little time travel thrown in. I hope you enjoy it.

Diane Chamberlain

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