In Spanish filmmaker Arévalo’s Alice’s Island (Atria, Apr.), widow Alice Williams travels to an island off Cape Cod to try to find out the big secret her late husband was hiding from her.

What inspired Alice’s Island?

After my fourth feature film, I needed to kind of reinvent myself, do something different, and I couldn’t think of a better way than to get inside the skin of a woman, because in all my films the protagonists have mainly been male. And so I wrote a screenplay, which basically ended up being the skeleton of the novel.

You also entered the manuscript in a competition under a female pseudonym. Why?

I wanted to make sure that if someone reads this novel and doesn’t know who the author is he or she will think it’s been written by a woman. I wanted to make a portrait of a woman that women would relate to, would understand. I submitted to Spain’s Planeta Prize as “Julia Ponsky,” and when the members of the jury gave the awards, they told me they were impressed, because they really thought that the author was a woman.

Why did you decide to set the novel in the U.S.?

At first I tried to set it in Spain, but it has nothing to do with our idiosyncrasies. The way Alice doesn’t tell anyone about her quest would probably be impossible here. I think in Spain Alice would probably gather all her friends and would cry and tell them what happened. And then her friends would just help her to discover what was going on.

Did you base the island on an actual island?

I took several trips along the East Coast, and I didn’t quite find the island that I needed for my story. So then I decided, this is fiction, why don’t you invent your own island? And so I took things that I saw in all different places and made up Robin Island. For me, the island itself is a metaphor for the place that we’re always looking for, that microcosm that confirms our own little world. Everything I’ve written, it’s always about the need to find your own place in the world and to learn to be happy even with all the difficulties.

What was your biggest challenge?

The secret itself. When I originally wrote the screenplay, it was already 200 pages, and I didn’t get around to the secret. I was very concerned that anything you reveal might not be satisfying enough. So when I started writing the novel, I didn’t know what Alice was looking for. I just went along on her journey and finally one day I got this idea that really clicked. For me it was like being in the middle of the ocean, I was starting to drown—and finally seeing land.