Karen Thompson Walker Discusses Process for Writing The Dreamers
Photo: Dan Hawk Photography

Photo: Dan Hawk Photography


And so much of this life will remain always beyond her understanding, as obscure as the landscape of someone else’s dreams.

- The Dreamers, Karen Thompson Walker

Author Karen Thompson Walker's new novel The Dreamers, out last month, is set in the fictional college town of Santa Lora, California, where a mysterious virus has arrived in a college dorm, placing its victims in a perpetual dream state. Soon, the disease extends outside the dorm walls. The book wraps readers in a tranquil dream while keeping them turning the pages to uncover the cure.

Walker wrote the novel in chronological order, juggling several characters' points of view and doubling down on that challenge by writing them in close third person, and in the present tense. She began with Mei, a quiet college student who doesn’t quite fit in with the others in her dorm. “I have an affinity to people who feel apart or distant from others” Walker told Spine. That is the case for several of the characters in the story.

Close third person can be difficult to write, even from a single character's perspective. Doing it for several characters could overwhelm a writer. Walker explained that her approach was to begin with Mei and then “follow the advice of Charles Baxter to 'crowd your characters.’”


Cover Design: Anna Kochman


Once Mei had a voice, Walker searched for other characters “who would logically reside” in the college town she created. From the college students who go from partying, to mourning, back to partying, to the father who builds a doomsday shelter in the basement of his home, to a biology professor who visits a friend in the hospital, to a couple with a newborn baby girl coming to terms with the way life is versus the way it once was, Walker has expertly braided authentic and relatable characters into the novel.

Walker began writing the novel in the past tense but turned to the present. “It felt right,” she said. “It added urgency” to the dire situations each character was facing. Walker's story not only pulls the reader in to the lives of its characters, but also, through their actions, thoughts, and especially their dreams, into their deepest desires and fears. Writing in the present tense offers the reader a chance to understand a character’s motives as they are developing.

The mystery of the virus’s origin and its effects on those who succumb raise a number of questions: How long will they sleep? Will they survive? What are they dreaming? Walker balances these worries with moments that will warm readers' hearts, and others that might crush them into a million pieces. A persons’ dreams are unique to them. That’s true in the real world and within The Dreamers.

Find Karen Thompson Walker online at karenthompsonwalker.com.

E. M. Panos's passion for fantasy and mystery began forming at a young age, with episodes of Godzilla and Scooby-Doo. Later, she became enthralled with the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Shirley Jackson, Anne Rice, Marvel Comics, and Joss Whedon. Today, Panos is an avid reader of all things fiction. As an author, she pens short stories, novellas, and flash fiction which contain elements of the supernatural, mythological, and/or fantasy. Find her on Twitter @EMPanosWrites.